It's that holiday program time of year. Whether you love them or hate them if you have children or grandchildren you will be attending at least one of these programs this holiday season. I just love seeing the kids all dressed up and excited to sing their little hearts out. What I don't like is the mad rush for those front row seats. Let's face it. We can't all get front row seats. So how do you still get good photos in those dark auditoriums from some place amid a crowd? Let me give you some tips that might help.
This first one is a no brainer. Find out where your child will be and sit accordingly. That doesn't always mean sitting directly in front of them though. I have often sat near the edge on the opposite side of my child so that I could get a sideways view of them. Just sit where you can get a mostly clear view. Don't forget about the balcony if your school or church has one. Many times you can get a great view from up there and you might even have more room to move. This would also be a good place to be if you are planning on using a tripod.
See if there are dress rehearsals you can go to. There you can practice taking pictures and see what settings will work best to be ready for the big night. These are most likely less attended too so you may have a better view. If you get some great shots here you can just enjoy the show the night of the performance.
Use a high ISO setting and a low f-stop lens. This will allow you to not use your flash (it won't really help in the auditorium anyway). Set your ISO as high as you can without getting too much noise in your images. I'm not going to lie. Some cameras will handle this way better than others. I just upgraded my camera and am amazed at how high I can bump up my ISO and still get decent pictures. My old camera, not so good. The high ISO combined with a low f-stop will allow more light to enter the lens and let you set a higher shutter speed. With a huge group of kids you want as fast a shutter speed as you can. They aren't all going to stop moving just so you can get a good picture.
So you have no idea what I just said in that previous paragraph? That's OK. Chances are you have a point-and-shoot camera or just aren't familiar enough with your camera settings. That was mostly for the DSLR users out there. Most point-and-shoot cameras now have different scene modes built in. Look in your users manual and figure out how to get to the scene modes and read about them. Settings such as Party/Indoor and Night Portrait should help you get some settings that will work better in the low light of the auditorium. Some point-and-shoot cameras also offer settings you can change manually (like ISO) so check into those as well.
So you are in a good seat, you can see your child, your camera is set up, you take the first photos, and then realize that your camera isn't focusing on your child but on the head a few rows ahead of you! I know that this has happened to all of us at some point. As great as cameras are now, sometimes they just do too much for us. That is what is happening here. If you are in Auto mode Auto Focus will focus on what is closest which is not always what you want it to be. If you have changed your ISO settings you are most likely not using your Auto mode on your camera which is good. Just be sure to put your focus selector on what you want to be in focus and adjust from there.
Even doing all of these you still might not get the 'perfect' shot and that's OK. Most schools will let you get a few shots right from the front before the performance starts and if you can, have your child keep their costume on afterwards so you can get a couple of shots of them in costume. There may be people in the background but at the very least you will have a few pictures to help you and your child remember this fun day.
Here are a few photos from our oldest sons program last night. I was fortunate to be in the front row (I played flute for a portion of the program). All photos taken with my Nikon D7000 with the 18-105 f/3.5-5.6 lens, ISO 2500. (Children's faces blurred as a courtesy).
I hope you learned some helpful tips. Just remember: see your subject, bump up your ISO, use a low f-stop lens, and get off that Auto mode. I hope using these tips you'll get some great photos of your favorite kid this holiday season. Thanks for stopping.