How to Photograph Dance Recitals Like a PRO

Struggling to make your dance recital pictures look amazing?

You’re probably telling yourself:

  • Why are my photos too dark or bright
  • All my images are blurry and out of focus
  • I just can’t figure this out

how to photograph dance recitals like a pro

It can be challenging and fast-paced but with the right equipment and know-how, I’m going to show you how to photograph dance recitals like a pro. 

If your a photographer looking to sell your pictures, check out my article on how to make money selling dance recital pictures – 3 proven ways.

Whether you are photographing spring dance recital or holiday performances, the tools and techniques that I will cover are specific to photographing at a performing art center or a facility that has stage lighting.

I’m going to cover the 5 most important things you need to know about photographing dance recitals. 

    1. What equipment to use
    2. The perfect camera settings
    3. When and Where to take pictures
    4. All about the composition
    5. Capturing dancers in Action

Once you have a little understanding of what it takes to create those stunning images, you need to practice

Photographing dance recitals can be overwhelming with a lot going on. Whether its other people in the audience or all the dancers on stage. 


Being comfortable with your camera and anticipating the next shot will vastly improve your pictures.

WHAT EQUIPMENT TO USE

It all starts with the right camera and equipment. 

If you’re using your phone…… SORRY this article is not for you

You don’t have to have the newest and greatest gear but it does help with a few basic items.

    • DSLR Camera (Canon, Nikon, Sony)
    • Lens (70-200mm) basically any lens that is greater than 100mm.
    • Monopod
    • Large memory card (recommend 64gb+)

–Camera–

When it comes to the main piece of equipment you don’t have to spend $5,000+ on a camera.

I use a Canon 80D which is a cropped sensor camera and not a full-frame camera. This helps give 1.6x multiplier with whatever lens I use and allows me to get tighter shots of the dancers on stage.

You can even use the canon rebel model or a brand that is equivalent. 

Along with the camera you want to make sure you have a memory card 64gb or great.

  • You don’t want to be photographing a lot of images to find out that you just ran out of space and have to change out cards mid-performance.

–Lens–

The whole point to photograph dance recitals is to be able to capture the dancers on stage.

You will have limitations if you are using a wide-angle lens. I recommend using a zoom lens and that is greater than 100mm.

I personally use a canon 70-200mm 2.8 lens but have also used the stock lens that comes with the 80D kit (18-135mm).

Having a low f stop is great in low light but what I have found, the shutter speed is the most important setting. Most performing art center stage lighting is bright so you won’t necessarily need a low f stop.

–Mono Pod–

This is another great piece of equipment but is not necessary. Handholding your camera gives you some flexibility in movement but if you want that extra stability, go with a monopod (not a Tri-Pod).

    • Your images will be sharper and you still have flexibility in moving around.

 

THE PERFECT CAMERA SETTINGS

Ok, now that you have your camera in hand your wondering what settings on the camera do I need to have.

You can go the easy route and place the camera in full auto mode.

BUT……

Let’s take it a step further and actually adjust some settings ourselves, so we have a little more control and consistency. 

how-to-photograph-dance-recitals-group

You need to first understand the 3 settings that control the exposure of an image

ISO Speed:
Controls the light sensitivity of the camera sensor or in the film days (film)

    • Keep in mind the higher the number the more grainy your images will be

Shutter Speed:
This controls how fast the shutter will stay open, allowing a certain amount of time for light to expose the camera sensor

    • If you use a slow shutter speed your fast-moving subject will be blurry or if your hand holding your camera you will also have a fuzzy image due to camera shake

Aperture: 
This controls how much light will pass through the lens to the camera. Lower the f stop or aperture number, more light will pass through the lens.

    • Having a low f stop will definitely help photograph in a low light environment and will also give you a high depth of field (blurred background).

So now that you have a general understanding of the 3 settings lets go through a few steps in changing this in your camera and create the perfect balance.

how-to-photograph-dance-recitals-action

Step 1: Change your ISO speed.

I would recommend keeping it between 1000-1600.

I have found that too low, then you will have to have a low shutter speed and aperture.

If you go too high, say for instance 2000+, then your images will start to get really grainy. 

This will be your base and shouldn’t have to change it while photographing in different lighting settings while the dancers are on stage.

Step 2: Change your settings dial to shutter priority (TV)

I will say this will be your easiest way to photograph dance recitals without going into full manual mode where you are having to adjust both shutter speed and aperture. 



I set my shutter speed to around 100. 

Any lower than that, you run the risk of your images being blurry.

Having your camera set to shutter priority you are only controlling the shutter speed and the camera will set the proper aperture automatically, depending on how your camera meters the scene. 

If you are photographing a bright scene you can even bump up your shutter speed even higher to make sure you have tack sharp images.

This will be the only setting you will be changing throughout photographing a dance recital.

Check the back of your camera screen to make sure your images are not too bright or dark and adjust your shutter speed accordingly. 

Step 3: Change the file format.

You can photograph dance recitals in JPEG format (compressed image) but I always recommend, depending on your skill level, to also photographHow-to-Photograph-Dance-Recitals-Like-a-pro-graphic in RAW format. 

RAW doesn’t compress your files and gives you a lot of leeway and control in editing. Whether you are needing to adjust colors or lighting. 

The name of the game is to take pictures without having to edit your pictures but if you want to give yourself a little buffer room, then I would suggest shooting in RAW

Just keep in mind your files will be very big

Step 4: Set your white balance settings.

OK, so I’m not going to go way too deep on this because this can be a whole other article just on white balance. 

You just need to be aware that depending on what lighting is used on stage you will need to adjust this setting. 

Most cameras have auto white balance and this will do the trick 90% of the time but if you’re having trouble with the color of your images then play around with your white balance settings to fit the stage lighting.

Alright, so those where the steps to take to get the right settings to use for your camera. I want to give you a little cheat sheet so you have a quick way to reference the settings and steps.

CHECK LIST

    • ISO Speed (1000-1600)
    • Shutter Priority TV (minimum 100+)
    • Format (JPEG or RAW)
    • White Balance (Auto or adjust as needed)

WHEN AND WHERE TO TAKE PICTURES

Ok so you have the camera and you know what settings to use now you need to know how to position yourself to get that perfect shot.

I always recommend photographing dance recitals during the dress rehearsal. 

The majority of the time a dance studio will have a rehearsal for all the dancers either a week before the performance or the day before.

How-to-Photograph-Dance-Recitals-Like-a-pro-location


You will have the most flexibility in photographing the dancers on stage, during this time. 

You will be able to:

    • Move around more easily (in the auditorium)
    • Have multiple opportunities to photograph different angels
    • Get up close to the stage
    • Fewer distractions from the audience

If you can’t photograph during a dress rehearsal and you are sitting in the audience I would recommend positioning yourself in the center and a few rows from the stage. 

ALL ABOUT THE COMPOSITION

When you are photographing dancers on stage you have a few options, depending on what you are trying to achieve

Are you wanting to get multiple dancers in the same frame or are you wanting to focus on one person?

You need to make sure whatever the result that you frame the picture where you are not cutting off any body parts (heads, hands, feet, legs)

(GOOD) Proper framing 

(BAD) Cropping off a body part

You also want to decide whether you are wanting to photograph a horizontal or vertical picture. I normally just photograph all horizontal pictures and then if I want a vertical image, I will just crop it later. 

CAPTURING DANCERS IN ACTION

Ok, now this is what all dancers want the photographer to be able to do. 

Capture someone in mid-air or leap.

This is not something that you can just pick up the camera and expect to do right off the bat but with a little practice, you can get real good at it.

How-to-Photograph-Dance-Recitals-Like-a-pro-action
The key is to anticipate the jump and you want to press the shutter release button just before they hit their peak (top of the jump).

If you press the shutter button right at the peak you are already too late.

The easiest way to photograph action is to set your camera to multiple shot mode instead of single-shot mode.

    • When you press the shutter release button it will take 3-10 consecutive shots (depending on your camera model)
    • This gives you a little buffer room instead of taking one picture and hoping for the best.

Again, there will be a lot going on stage (running, leaping, crawling) you need to be focused and ready for that action shot. 

I want to end by telling you that the most important thing on how to photograph dance recitals like a pro, is to just capture the dancers on stage smiling and in costume. 

The jumps and leap images are definitely sought after by the older more advanced dancers but you will only be able to capture so many of those images compared to all the other images you will be taking.

Good luck and practice, practice, practice

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About the Author

Aaron creates content that encourages photographers to chase their passions and grow there business through dance photography. Aaron hopes to spread his story and be an inspiration to others who want to change their lives.

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