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Children's Concert in an Auditorium

Hi - I just got another volunteer opportunity, and it is to photograph a children's holiday concert. When discussing what sort of photos they wanted, I asked about photos of the actual concert and the audience, and was told "as long as the camera is quiet, and you don't use a flash". I know I have to get there early and check out/ask about what kind of lighting will be in the auditorium, but here is the exposure-triangle stuff:
- If I open my lens wide to suck in more light, I won't get the depth-of-field to put 4-5 rows (I'm assuming) of kids in focus, so I will have to increase the f-number.
- I probably will have to have a shutter speed of at least 1/30 to freeze any movements of the singers, so even less light comes in, especially if I need the depth-of-field
- Jack up the ISO. But I have found on my camera 3200 is just 'acceptable", but I may have no choice but to use that or 6400 if my camera even goes there.
I have a Canon T3i, a 40 mm F2.8 prime lens, and a 28-105 mm F3.5-4.5 zoom, which I have found will stay at 4.0 up to 70 mm.
I had the idea of being in the back of the hall with my 40 mm on a tripod for the kids singing, but I will have to wait to see the place.

Any opinions regarding "if I am missing or forgetting anything" would be appreciated.



  • I was the (volunteer) photographer for my son's high school band when he was in it. Generally, when shooting concerts in auditoriums, my rules of thumb:

    - Don't be intrusive. I often shot from the side aisles (standing to the right or left of the audience). When I moved to the other side, I did so quietly and at appropriate times (ie. when a piece finishes and the audience is clapping). Occasionally, I would shoot from a seat in the audience (typically at the back, center). My goal was to not be between an audience member and the stage.

    - No flash is a given. Along with that, if it is a dark venue, even reviewing images on the LCD can be a problem.

    - Go easy firing shots. The shutter on an SLR is not silent, so try to be judicious about when to shoot. You don't need to capture every little thing in the entire concert - just pieces here and there.

    - I would typically use a 70-200. Depending on the venue and where you are, it may not be wide enough to capture the entire group, but often, those wide shots were not that interesting anyway. I didn't want 150 photos all looking roughly the same with the entire group in every shot - that would be very boring. So I would try to capture soloists, duets, quartets, sections, etc. so you can clearly see kid's faces.

    - You mention getting photos of the audience. I very rarely did that (on occasion, such as if there was an award being given to a kid and you knew the beaming parents). Otherwise, I generally avoided getting any trace of the audience in the photos.

    - In terms of shutter speed, you mention 1/30 second. To me, that would be grossly too slow to the point where nearly every photo will be blurry except for the rare occasion you get a lucky shot. You might get away with that for very wide shots, but for the shots I was usually taking, I would need much faster than that for sharp, clear shots. The kids are moving, after all.

    - Other camera settings: I would typically shoot in manual. My Nikon cameras have an auto ISO facility where I can shoot manual and select the shutter and aperture I want, and the camera will automatically adjust the ISO for a correct exposure. I would sometimes use that, or if the venue had very consistent light, I would shoot full manual with me setting ISO, shutter, and aperture.

    - You mention concerns about the aperture and depth of field. DOF increases with distance from the subject so if you were shooting a group from a fair distance, you likely wouldn't need to worry about it even shooting wide open. With closeups (eg. say at 200mm f/2.8 or f/3.2 or f/4) even from a distance you do need to worry about it, but with closeups you want to isolate your subjects anyway.

    - Experiment before the concert starts. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, take some shots and try to "dial in" where you plan to be for the rest of the night. To me, the priority is: shutter speed you NEED (to freeze any camera and subject movement), aperture you WANT (for DOF and sharpness you are looking for), and let ISO go to where it needs to given the first two (and cross fingers that it doesn't go above what your camera can do well).

    - Don't frame too tight in camera when you are shooting. Leave a little bit in case you need to rotate a little (to straighten) or crop after the fact.

    - Shoot RAW which allows a lot more flexibility/quality in changing things after the fact, such as white balance.

    - When post processing, use noise reduction judiciously to reduce grain but not smudge details too much. Pay attention to straightening. This can be tough when shooting from the sides, but I don't like the look of stages not being horizontal, etc. so you need to consider it. It also helps to consider this when shooting too.

    Anyway, some thoughts - hope it helps.
  • Thanks, Nikonguy, for the great tips. I will definitely be checking out the place for 15-20 minutes beforehand.
  • I find with concerts and other performances on stage that the subjects are usually very well-lit and you would not need a flash even if you could use it. Now, if they are in a gym or other space, not on a stage with stage lighting, you have a problem. 

    If they're on stage and well-lit, I'd use spot metering on one child's face and go with that. You run the risk of overexposing the kids if you go with another metering mode. I'd use as low an iso as you can but don't sacrifice on depth of field. For shutter speed, 1/30 is going to be way too slow for singing children (or playing instruments). Plus with no flash. You need to get that up to 1/125 if you can or better.

    If they're not on a stage and if the lighting isn't great you're probably just going to have to jack up the iso. Plus you'll need to keep the aperture pretty low to bring in more light. And in that case get some nice isolated close-ups or rows of kids on same plane. Get a lot of solo shots anyway, even if you do not have to. 

    I would not bother with audience shots unless they've asked for it.

    I disagree with Nikonguy on his advice about being unobtrusive. I'm not suggesting you get in the way or be distracting at all. But don't sacrifice your shots just to be out of the way. I think the school and parents want nice photos and won't care if you get front and center from time to time to get them. I'd get right down in front of the stage, front, left, right, move quietly and duck down. Don't make yourself the show but do what you need to do to get the shots. If the stage is big you might even get up on stage in the wings or extreme sides to be on the same level as kids. If you do that then, yes, be very discreet. And fast. Don't take shots from your seat. Won't work.
  • Thanks, Skip. Spot metering is a good suggestion. Also, I will have to talk with the event coordinator - this isn't a school - and ask about shots of the crowd. I have a good idea on how to be unnoticed. I will ask about getting down low in front.

    I'm copying a lot of the suggestions from you and Nikonguy into my notebook to take with me.

    The thing I like about event photography - so far - is I feel I have to really think quickly, it forces me to really know my camera, adjust and understand why. I did a cider-tasting event last month for this particular organization, and they asked me to do another event. So, I'm trying to do my best so they will keep asking me, as I know they have a really wide range of charity events.

  • Ok! Good luck.

    When I said duck down in front I meant in-between shots. You'll probably need to stand when you're shooting.... Depending on level the kids are at.
  • Skipperlange,

    I said that on occasion I would shoot from "a seat" in the audience (center at the back). I didn't say shoot from "your seat." I would do this if I wanted the entire group shot, dead center framing, etc. So I would go to a seat dead center at the back of the auditorium and shoot some shots and then move on.

    On intrusiveness, we can agree to disagree. On the one hand, you say not to get in the way or be distracting. On the other hand, you say "don't sacrifice your shots" to be out of the way, and you suggest walking in front of the stage (presumably in front of the first row of the audience) taking photos and even get up on the stage?? But then be discreet while doing all that? At school concerts I shot at, that simply would have been unacceptable. Nobody wants those photos that badly.

    dbruno, on this last point, I would inquire about where is ok to shoot from. It would be good to clarify expectations on that. Given that they said they are expecting no flash and that the camera is quiet, I suspect they also want you to not be very noticeable either.
  • Hey, Guys - it was me who asked the coordinator about shots during the concert. There is something like a reception afterwards for the kids, and that is probably where they want the majority of photos taken. I will find out more about how much they really want concert shots, because I was the one who asked, it was not asked of me. But, since they want me there during concert time, I'm assuming they want them, but it may not be a high priority.

    I *think* I have been in this auditorium before, briefly. My first inclination was to set up a tripod in one of the back rows of seats behind the audience to get some shots of the stage, as you go to the rear of the place there are elevated levels of seats. Then I was going to take the camera and roam around but only if it's OK. I will get an idea Sunday where I can and cannot be.

    If I can be at some point way off to the side of the stage somewhat unnoticed, it might be a good place to get shots of the audience and some side-view/closeups of a few of the kids at a time.


  • NG: I didn't mean to be hypocritical. It's always a balance. But I do think if you've been asked to cover something then you get the best photos you can and do what you need to do to get them and err on the side of being intrusive. Get your shot and get out of the way. You never want to say two days later 'Sorry I didn't get the shots you wanted but I didn't want to be in the way.'
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