How to Photograph Performers on Stage

by Ibarionex R. Perello

Festival of Cultures dancer
Festival of Cultures dancer
© Ibarionex R. Perello
All Rights Reserved
Whether it's a performance in a theater or a public festival, the goal for me is to capture a telling moment. It's not enough to make a nice "picture" of someone on stage, but rather to create a photograph that expresses the energy and joy of the moment.

This can be particularly challenging, because the photographer often doesn't have much control over the lighting, the setting, or the background. You have to be ready to make the most of what circumstances present you.

To capture photographs of individual performers, a telephoto zoom in the range of 70-200mm is best - and the faster the better. Though a variable-aperture zoom may be adequate when there is an abundance of light, a telephoto with a fixed aperture of f/2.8 or faster is needed when shooting under low and limited lighting.

For this photograph of a dancer, I used a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. Because the lights on the stage werenít producing much light, a fast aperture was a must. Even with my camera's ISO set to 1600. I was only able to use a shutter speed of 1/200 second. That shutter speed was just enough to not only freeze the action of the dancer but also ensure that camera motion wouldn't result in a soft image.

I positioned myself on stage right so that the background would be as simple as I could make it, a dark curtain. I followed her as she moved around the stage, taking images in rapid succession when her arms and legs moved in a poetic flourish. Because her body position was changing so fast, firing several frames one after another was important to get at least one image that worked.

Of over the 60 images that I captured of this dancer, this is the one that I love most. The gesture of her arms and body, the veil billowing behind her and the rapturous expression on her face really capture the moment for me. Itís everything that I was hoping for.

Note: Though increasing the ISO to a high number introduces more noise into the image, I prefer having a noisy image that is sharp, rather than a noiseless image that is soft. There is always something that I can do with the former, but not the latter.

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