Of all the things I've written in my life, this feels the most important, the most personal, the most universal. In fact, if this could be read and taken seriously by everyone on the planet, I'm certain that world peace would ensue. If you're intrigued, read on...
Across America, families and interested onlookers are gathering to see kids perform in all kinds of settings: choir performances, preschool shows, ballet, you name it. And at nearly every one of these an announcement is made on behalf of the state fire marshall. Usually this announcement includes a welcome to the show, a call to notice the exits in case of a fire, and another very important warning:
"For the sake of the safety of the performers, please, NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY."
I've recently attended a few performances where this was intentionally ignored. It's unbelievably annoying to see flashes going off inside a dark theater- for ALL of us. In a dark theater, one flash is blinding. I've seen performers fall after flashes go off. As a videographer, the flashes interfere with the video I'm making for all the other parents. It's a really bad thing to use a flash in a dark theater! But instead of continuing this post in the form of a rant (which is not helpful), I shall now turn to a set of tips intended precisely to be helpful.
Here's how you can make excellent photos at your child's next performance without using your flash:
- First, turn your flash off. Sounds simple, but sometimes you have to know how to do it. If you're using a DSLR, do not use the fully automatic mode (the green square with rounded corners on a Canon or a Nikon), as this mode will pop up the flash in a dark room. Put it on P or "Program" mode (I say the P stands for "Professional") if you still want to have the camera do the exposure settings for you. There are other settings that will work as well, but P works fine.
- Crank up your ISO. ISO controls the sensitivity of your camera: a higher ISO setting means less light is necessary to make a good picture. There's a trade-off, though: higher ISOs mean you can use a faster shutter speed (less of chance of a blurry shot), but it also means more noise. Try not to go higher than 1600 ISO.
- Now, you're about to experience the best part of the whole process. You're going to make better pictures! Here's why: for most theatrical productions, lighting designers pay a lot of attention to the way the lights are pointed at the people on the stage. Good lights throw flattering light on the actors' or singers' faces and cast gorgeous shadows across the rest of their bodies. With your camera set to the modes above, you'll be in a position to capture that lighting and see the way the directors want you to see them. Try it! It might take some practice, but you'll figure it out quickly.
- Have you ever taken pictures (using your flash) where the people in the foreground that you didn't care about are well lit, while the people on the stage are in the shadows? That's because even a very powerful flash unit has a very short throw. Your camera adjusts to expose the objects the flash can reach rather than the subject of your photo. It's rare that a flash can project very well past about ten or fifteen feet. Have you ever been to a concert or football game where people in the stands are taking flash pictures of performers or players down on the field? It's pointless. There's no way the flash can reach that far.
- Final tip: if you decide to invest in a cool new accessory for your camera, get a "fast" lens. A fast lens is one that lets more light in. The thing to look for is this: what is the lens's widest f-stop? Most consumer zooms are somewhere around f4.5 to f5.6. Get one with the lowest number you can afford. I have a 200mm f2.8 that makes wonderful pictures.
But before you spend any money, start this exercise by turning your flash off and turning up the ISO setting. Click away at your child's next performance. That flash wasn't doing you any good anyway, and it was annoying everyone else in the theater. You'll notice immediately that people around you are less angry, your are loved more, and, best of all, you have much better pictures!
I've already started working on my speech for the Nobel Peace Prize which I'm sure I'll be awarded if you help make this blog go viral. There's a pretty handsome cash award for the Prize, which I will of course use to buy lots of cool new photo gear! But for the love of God and humanity, please turn those flashes off and take some great pictures!