I have a Nikon D5100 and need to know how to use it properly to take pictures in low light (dance recital). I can't use a flash. I've tried but don't seem to get clear pictures. They come out very blurry.

I usually use the camera on automatic setting and haven't really played around with it much because I'm scared I'll mess up the settings and not be able to get it back (silly, I know). Thanks in advance!


2 Answers 2


You are trying to shoot in one of the toughest condition imaginable. Low-light and action are the most demanding, so keep in mind that you need to set expectations and shoot tons of images to get some to work out.

What you need first is a fast shutter-speed. In order to get that in low-light, you need to select a high sensitivity. I therefore suggest you select the highest ISO which is acceptable to you, say 3200 or even 6400. Yes, it gets noisy but you do not have much to work with.

Then select a fast shutter-speed by entering Shutter-Priority mode (S on the mode-dial) and dialing the control-dial. You will need at least 1/500s if not more. If you dial in something, say 1/2000s, and you see the aperture flashing in the viewfinder, you have reached the limit of your lens.

If this is important to you, I highly recommend you get a bright lens for it. They are expensive to buy but can be rented for $50 or so per day or weekend. Something like a Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm F/2.8 should be available everywhere and let in 4 times more light than a kit-lens at the end of the zoom.

To improve your odds, set the camera to continuous drive so that when you press the shutter, it captures a burst of images. It will do so at 4 FPS which is kind of slow for fast movement but better than nothing. Use the fastest memory card you have, otherwise the camera will lockup for a long time between bursts.

If that is still not enough, it is time to get a better camera. Should this be a rare event, go ahead and rent one too but rent it a day or two before. Using a lens on a camera you know is easy but using an unfamiliar one requires way more practice, so shoot as much as you fast action in low-light the day before and remember to recharge the battery over-night before the recital.

  • \$\begingroup\$ While much less flexible compared to the Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm F/2.8 you mentioned, a prime lens with a maximum aperture F/1.8 is relatively affordable. \$\endgroup\$
    – akid
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 11:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ The 70-200mm is a classic example but not the only one. The main point to consider is if your position at the event is constrained then a zoom is preferable. If you can move about, then it can be a tough choice. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ THanks so much! the lens that I am currently using is Nikon DX AF-S Nikkor 18-300mm. Will that make a difference? I really appreciate your advice, as you can see I'm relatively new at this. I usually just use auto w/o changing anything so if I sound inexperienced, I am :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Gina
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 15:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Gina - Your lens is very dim. It does not let much light in which is why you get slow shutter-speeds and that makes your photos blurry. You need a bright lens. If you use the 18-300mm near the middle of its range than a 70-200mm F/2.8 will be great. If you use it towards the end, you may consider something longer and bright but those get really expensive but can be often rented for such one-off events. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 16:38

The lens you are using presently doesn't allow much light to pass through it. In the absence of flash light, your camera is forced to keep the shutter open for a longer duration to collect enough light to get a properly exposed picture. This does make the pictures blurry, as you are not capturing a split second of action.

Best thing you can do is buy a cheap but effective lens by nikon, the 50mm f/1.8 lens. Due to the larger aperture, it allows maximum light to pass through when the aperture chosen is wider. After you have got the said lens, you can put your camera on "aperture priority" and select an aperture like f/1.8 or f/2 and set the ISO to 3200 and grab the picture.

If the shutter speed chosen is still less to arrest the dance movements, you need to plan when to press the shutter. Press the shutter just before the peak of action is reached. If a dancer is jumping, at the top of their jump their speed is going to be zero.

Finally, take your own sweet time to photograph. You may not get very many pictures which work, but you will be conscious of every action you take and you can be deliberate. Best of luck.


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