There’s something really special about taking good photographs of beautiful children for their parents. As an example, “Coppelia” was performed by the Lodi Ballet in 2016 at Hutchins Street Square. I remember laughing to myself each time I knew the camera had grabbed another satisfied expression of accomplishment.
I was sitting about half-way back from the stage (75 ft.) with the trusty 70-200mm f/2.8 on a cropped-sensor camera. I played with the manual settings for a while, then settled on an ISO of 2500, aperture of f/3.2 and shutter speed of 1/200th of a second. That ISO gave me good light sensitivity with only modest noise. The aperture gave me a slightly better depth of field than f/2.8. And those settings produced a shutter speed slower than I preferred (1/200th), but with a good monopod for stability and lots of concentration … it turned out OK.
Three things to know when shooting an event like this with theatrical lighting.
- Inexpensive lenses change their maximum aperture as you zoom in and out. The best lenses maintain one maximum aperture opening throughout the zoom range. They give you a constant, reliable exposure.
- Shoot in the “M” Manual exposure mode if you can. You were born with a complex visual system that makes automatic exposure corrections within a large dynamic range. Your camera is good, but stupid in comparison. In AUTO, it will set the exposure based on the average amount of light that it’s metering. That may be why the pale face or bright white costume of your little one is over exposed.
- Most better digital cameras allow you to generate either RAW or JPG images. Both standards are useful.
Your default camera setting will produce JPG’s. These files are compressed, meaning they take up less room on your memory card. If you have a choice between “standard” and “fine” JPG’s, pick “fine” for best quality. Shooting JPG’s means your camera is doing most of the processing for you.
RAW files, on the other hand, require compatible software to process your photos. However, this allows you to make a wide range of image adjustments (brightness, contrast, color temperature, sharpness, etc.) and produce customized JPG photos. This approach to image processing may consume lots of time, but it can also be a very satisfying part of the hobby.
I usually shoot theatrical productions in RAW because the lighting is high contrast and I want the added flexibility of controlling bright highlights and deep shadows.