A Devil of a Time Shooting Angels


Shadow dancer

Shadow dancer

The more you think you know, the less you really know. I proved that once again last Friday night.

For the third straight year I took photos of a dance show at the #1 son’s high school. The dancers are called the Angels, and these talented girls can fly through the air with the best of them. Because in the past I had done a decent job under difficult, demanding conditions—different, changing lights that are never strong enough for better-quality lower ISOs—I figured that this year’s show would be a slam dunk to shoot. Of course, I was wrong. Taking quality action photos in a dimly lit auditorium is never easy, no matter how well prepared you are. Especially when you forget one important thing: Last year’s camera settings!

Poor, pitiful, washed-out Nick

Poor, pitiful, washed-out Nick

See poor Nick above? He was one of the announcers who does skits in between dances, so the girls can change into their costumes. See his handsome face? Right, you can’t! That’s because on stage key lights are used in certain spots. If one of the students happens to be under that key light, their face is horribly overexposed. Parents don’t want to buy photos where only their kids’ knees are properly lit. Key lights are bad for business.

So, naturally, I’m clicking away with my Nikon D300 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens, noticing how overexposed my photos look on my LCD review screen. And then it finally dawns on me: In the past I had set the exposure compensation to -.7 to try to balance the key lights; I had forgotten to do that, and it was ruining my pix. Headslap . . . I could’ve had a V8!

Sidebar: Exposure compensation (increasing or decreasing the amount of light allowed in by the camera) comes in very handy with backlit subjects. In this case, you focus on the person’s face, increase the exposure compensation (usually done with a dial on the camera), and shoot. Just be sure to always reset back to zero when you’re done.

High-flying Angels

High-flying Angels

Once I fixed the setting, my photos looked a lot better. It still was difficult to properly balance the lighting and keep the shutter speed high enough to stop the action (my ISO was set at 1600; I used Noise Ninja in Photoshop to help decrease the graininess). I opted for the 85mm f/1.4, because it gave me the reach (I was sitting pretty far back) and lens speed (it lets in more light at high ISOs) I needed. Anyone using a digital SLR to take indoor dance or sports photos should invest in an 85mm lens (the less-expensive f/1.8 usually does the trick); the 18-55mm kit lens that comes with dSLRs is too slow to stop the action (the aperture is f/3.5-5.6, which won’t allow for a fast-enough shutter speed).

Sophomore dance

Sophomore dance

Me and my shadow

While I was taking photos of the first solo (the first photo above), I became intrigued by the shadow the dancer was making on the curtain. Sometimes I would focus on the shadow; other times, I would key on the dancer herself. There were only two solos, but I was able to capture a few of these shadowy pix.



Good for a laugh

The Angels’ parents always have their own show-stopping number. My friend Janet did her best to try to hide in the background, but I was glad when she stepped forward, and I was able to snap her photo and embarrass her in front of the entire internet. You can thank me later, Janet!

The moms strut their stuff!

The moms strut their stuff!

The dads also were good sports and seemed to enjoy hamming it up for the audience and their daughters.

Hard to properly expose for those white shirts!

Hard to properly expose for those white shirts!

At the end of the show’s finale, streamers are shot across the stage. Did I remember this was going to happen for the third straight year? Of course not! Fortunately, my camera still was at the ready to document the moment.


outlook-not-goodIf I take photos of the Angels show next year, will I actually remember the proper settings for my camera? Hmmm, let me turn to my handy-dandy Magic 8-Ball for an answer: Outlook not so good!

10 responses to “A Devil of a Time Shooting Angels

  1. Hi Susan! I have been to the Angels show several times. Betsy was my drill team director when I was in high school. She is just great and the Angels are so lucky to have her. I wish she was at our high school. You did a great job! I can never get decent pictures at dance recitals!

    • It’s so hard to get good photos at dance recitals due to the poor lighting and possibly your location. What kind of camera are you using?

  2. I am looking forward to the rest of your Angel pictures. They are great. It is so nice to be able to enjoy the show knowing that you are taking those awesome shots and I can just sit there and watch for a change. I’ll be sad if you decide not to do it next year.

  3. Susan,

    You are too funny! Great shots of the Angels.


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