Tiny Dancers

By Roger (19 June 2014)

Whenever possible, I'm a firm believer in taking charge of your photo-shoot and working out a plan for getting the best results. When you're out in the real world, however, that is not always possible. You may find yourself in a bad location, with questionable lighting, and very little knowledge of exactly what's going on. I had a perfect example of that, last weekend, as I attended a dance recital starring my granddaughters. (Well, for 4-5 minutes of the three-hour ordeal, they were my stars.)

I had never been to the auditorium, and I wasn't allowed to walk around or move up to the front during their performance. The lighting, as in all such shows, was constantly changing, and flash was forbidden. I was pinned in the middle of the audience. The auditorium was packed, so seat hopping wasn't an option. I had no choice but to work with the situation as it was. The results show some of these problems.

Down in front! 

Down in front! 

These are family snapshots, not a paying gig, but, to me, that means they are even more important. You don't want to dismiss your family snapshot work or use them as an excuse to put in minimal effort.

There were several steps to working through the challenges of this shoot. Your situation probably won't be the same as mine, so your mileage may vary. Part of a photographer's job is to find the right compromises to get the photos.

I usually set my color balance to a constant setting, but, in this case, I went to an auto setting. I knew the lights were going to give me some funky colors, and I figured the camera's computer had a better chance of keeping up than I could. My hands were full trying to keep the dancing princesses in my frame and focused. When I got to post-processing, the color balance only required some minor tweaks.

I sat up as tall in my seat as possible. The grandparents behind me would only let me go so far. This kept the dark silhouettes of heads to a minimum. I knew I was going to have to go into Photoshop, but I wanted to reduce the amount of work as much as possible.

Put the camera into aperture priority. Most of the time, I'm in manual mode because I like to fine tune the exposure solution and then forget it. But, again, the constantly-changing lighting was going to ruin that plan. I moved the setting to a wide-open aperture to allow in the maximum light. Because I wasn't very close to the stage, my depth of field was sufficient.

When your little hoofers come onto the stage for their number, shoot lots of photos. They, each, had about 3-4 minutes for their number, and I clicked throughout their performance. I had photographed a couple of prior numbers to validate my exposure solution. I made sure my ISO was high enough to give me a workable shutter speed.

The camera settings and practice during non-family-member routines made the post-processing much easier. The auto white balance worked well. My subjects were in focus. I took photos at a point in their routines when they were not so close to the other dancers. This kept my clone stamping to a minimum. Here is a sample.

The original photo - too many dancers, on a slanted stage.

The original photo - too many dancers, on a slanted stage.

Cropping and straightening helps, but there are random body parts still visible.

Cropping and straightening helps, but there are random body parts still visible.

The final image after cloning and white balance tweaks.

The final image after cloning and white balance tweaks.

In the end, everyone had a good time, and we got some nice photographs of the girls. Thinking through the problem gave me the best possible solution. All of this was basic stuff, both in camera and in Photoshop. It was a fun exercise.

From the first blog image, after cropping and cloning.  Ain't she sweet?

From the first blog image, after cropping and cloning.  Ain't she sweet?