In particular, lower light. I will be shooting plays and other stage performances. Low light. Really not good light at all until their lights are upgraded.

I know I can't expect miracles, but how can I calculate what shutter speed to use to stop the subjects? I can't see good enough to tell if the subject is blurred on the LCD screen. Everything looks good on a screen that small.

I'm thinking of buying a Nikon D90, if that matters. Don't know what ISO I'd need.

The subjects will be from 15 - 40 feet away, but mostly 15 - 20. I cannot use flash. Lens will be 1.8 - 2.8 (either a prime or a Tamron zoom). Typically children, but some are older high school kids. I don't know how far I need to be or what focal length is needed at a give distance to fill the frame with a 6'tall person. Those are all the variables I know.

Thanks for any advice.


1 Answer 1


Your best best for a lens on an DX format (APs-C) camera for those distances will be a 24-70mm zoom. A six-footer will pretty much fill a vertical frame at 50mm and 20 feet; you'll want to be able to go considerably wider in order to capture more than one person at a time from your near-shooting distance, and you'll want to be able to get in just a little bit tighter for the little ones. If you need to rent a 24-70mm/2.8, it would be well worth the money to do so. (If that's the Tamron 24-70 VC, so much the better.)

Assuming that the light is low, you'll want to keep your ISO relatively high — as high as you can stand it, really. If 1600 is usable on the D90, then use it. (If I recall correctly, ISO 3200 is not great, but if you are shooting for a newsletter or website, then a cleaned-up and downsized ISO 3200 shot is many, many times better than no shot at all, or blurry ones.)

You'll want to keep your shutter speed at or above 1/250. Higher for dance segments. Now, I say "you'll want", but what you want might not matter very much. If you find you need to be shooting at lower shutter speeds, then you'll need to pick your moments more carefully. Things moving toward you or away from you won't blur nearly as much as things moving across the frame. A lot of emotional moments happen when nobody's moving at all. There are moments in song when notes are being held, so you can get the expression without worrying too much about the lips moving. Dance has moments of stillness; leaps have moments at the top where the dancer is essentially hanging motionless in mid-air, and a little blur of just the hands and feet will, if anything, make the shot more magical. Practice panning before the shoot — shots where one person is relatively still and everything else is rushing past tell the viewer more than a perfectly frozen moment ever can.

You may find that you can't freeze everything, given the constraints. And you may find, in turn, that that actually leads to better pictures. So much so that when (if) they upgrade the lighting, you'll turn down the ISO instead of turning up the shutter speed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As a D90 owner I'd aim for ISO 800 and have 1600 in reserve and can concur that having the f/2.8 lens or even taking a punt on a prime for a much wider aperture at the cost of having to crop a bit. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 4, 2014 at 12:53

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