If you do take up any stage performance assignment, here are some points that may be of use to you.
Focus on the Objectives
The major objective of photographing a dance school show is for parents and for archive. Many photographers do too many close-up shots of dancers but not enough group and general shots, and that’s typically frowned upon. What I do is to take general stage shots on Day 1 of actual performance by positioning at the last row of the venue, then do close-up shots on Day 2 by positioning closer to the stage. Along the way, grab those artistically-styled images.
If you have more than one photographer hired for the event, you can then cater for more range of styles. Photographers should be assigned to different positions and to focus on shooting different things. Make sure that each photographer covers different areas, or else you end up with duplicate images.
Framing Close-up Subjects
If the dance item is a solo or a couple, it’s quite easy to zoom in and grab the subjects. The challenge comes when it’s a mass dance item, which is mostly the case for dance school performances. Who do you shoot? How do you frame? Whatever you do, you risk missing someone out in the frame. Students who are dancing at the back rows will not get photo coverage. As a photographer, I try to observe and frame groups of dancers logically. But if the dance item does not allow me to achieve that, then I will simply zoom in and shoot in sections. Parents will buy the photos as long as the faces of their children appears in it.
Even a photographer should rehearse the shoot! By attending rehearsals, you are more likely to get better photos because you can anticipate the dance formation and highlights. Shooting rehearsal is just as rewarding as shooting actual performance. You have greater freedom in shooting at inaccessible places, like shooting towards the audience, or on stage near to the dancers. If you take up assignments for any stage performance, be sure to attend the rehearsals to increase your chance of getting good photos and delivering satisfaction to your clients.
Shooting for stage performance with constantly changing lighting effects is horrendously challenging because you cannot rely on your in-camera exposure meter. I say this again: NEVER use your in-camera auto metering for stage photography. The only way to achieve correct exposure is to constantly change the exposure manually. the camera will always over-expose because the dark areas occupy the major bulk in the frame, which averages out to be interpreted as underexposed.
My workflow is: take a photo, check the LCD, then quickly adjust the shutter speed and carry on shooting. Even if you get the correct exposure, you still have to continually adjust the exposure depending on lighting changes. Use your intuition: when you see lighting is dimmer, reduce the shutter. When the lights get brighter, increase the shutter. Do this constantly, depending on how frequent the lighting changes are. Shoot in RAW allows you to recover lost highlights in the event of an over-exposure within 2-stops.
No Flash (and that’s fine)
Flash? Don’t bother. You never need flash for stage photography, because the stage lightings are sufficient to give you ample exposure. Even if the lighting is dark, your flash will not help to boost unless you are in close range. And remember: your flash adds another light source to the stage lighting, and what turns out in your frame is not a representation of what is being presented. After all, if a dance scene is meant to be dark and in silhouette, then you should reflect that same light intensity.
Presentation of Photos
After 5 days of shooting during rehearsals and actual performance, I captured 2500+ photos, and eventually processed 1000 photos. Photobooks are popular, efficient, and a unique way to showcase the photos. I compiled all the 1000 photos into a 200-page book, and instead of using a generic contact sheet template (meaning, each page shows fixed 3×5 photos like a photo album), I arranged the photos such that group photos are larger sized (so that the faces can be seen clearer). I even did a 2-page spread on the finale shot, and it really look great.
Cost-wise, it’s certainly cheaper than printing 1000 4R photos at 20-cents. This 200-page softcover photobook was printed for less than S$100 using Blurb, an overseas on-demand print vendor.
To see more photos of the event, visit the album at Facebook.