School is back in session, and that means it won’t be long before the start of school plays, concerts and athletic events.
If you’re a parent planning to document your child’s moment in the spotlight on the stage or on the football field, I’ll give some beginners tips on capturing better photographs.
This week, I’ll address photographing non-sports activities inside the school. Next week, I’ll deal with athletic events in gyms and on the field. The conditions in schools can be tricky to work in, but with a few of these tips you might improve your chances.
1. Boost your ISO — The most common problem with all indoor photography is a lack of light. Increasing your camera’s ISO will help. Your ISO setting on your camera is a numerical scale that represents a photographic film or digital camera’s sensitivity to light. If you are familiar with adjusting this on your camera, I would suggest raising your ISO to between 400 and 800. On most digital cameras, you can set your ISO to “automatic,” which will increase the ISO as light decreases.
2. Shutter speed — A common complaint I hear among new photographers is that their images are blurry. Tip No. 1 should begin to help. But the other thing you can do is set your camera on “shutter priority” and then choose a shutter speed not slower than 1/60th or maybe 1/30th a second. Even these speeds may be too slow if there is much movement on stage.
3. Flash — You might think that I would recommend flash, but in most of these school situations I suggest you turn it off. Assuming you have an average point-and-shoot camera, you really need to be within 15 to 20 feet to have a flash make any difference. Beyond that, all you’re doing is lighting up the back of people’s heads in front of you and being slightly obtrusive with the bright flashes.
4. Positioning — The famous photographer Robert Capa once said, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Sit closer to the stage or choose an aisle seat so you can change your position and find better opportunities. Extending your telephoto zoom out too much to compensate for not being close creates problems. When zoomed out, telephoto lenses require more light, which will require a slower shutter speed, which means you’re back to blurring your photos. I always consider my feet the best zoom lens.
5. Tripod — A tripod can enable you to shoot below 1/30th a second without worrying about blurring your pictures because of camera shake. Of course this only works if the moment you are documenting remains relatively still also. But in situations like choir performances or stage plays, there are always moments where action ceases creating good photo opportunities.