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I was asked to be the photographer at a school fundraiser dinner. I am not a professional photographer & will be using my Canon 60D with a Canon 24-105, 18-55 lenses & a sigma 10-20 lens plus a 430EX II flash.

One segment of the event will be boys performing in a choir. Any tips on how I can get good pictures of that? They will be on a stage in 3 rows. I will be dealing with other parents walking right up front, taking pictures as well.

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    Can you attend a rehearsal to gauge the lighting ? You'll basically need to raise ISO as high as needed and try and keep aperture wide (f-number low). – StephenG Feb 22 '17 at 21:19
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    What model canon 24-105 is it? f4L or the IS STM? – Crazy Dino Feb 24 '17 at 12:02
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Don't be afraid of higher ISO. It's unlikely anyone will be printing posters from this (right?) and you can afford to use high ISO in order to get a deep enough aperture and fast enough shutter speed. You should be able to use manual mode — find the value for the correct version of the lighting and just keep it there.

You definitely should shoot RAW or RAW+JPEG, but I'd also recommend setting a custom white balance in advance just to reduce the work needed later.

But all the that said, my primary advice is to ask that it be announced that you are the photographer for the event and will get good photographs including all children, so parents can enjoy the show — and ask that they stay in their seats and out of your way.

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    If you ask parents to do that during the show, they will mostly ignore you, because they won't trust that you'll get good pictures of their kids. So I wouldn't bother making that announcement. That said, do consider taking a few minutes for an "official picture" at the end just to be absolutely sure that you get a few good photos, and ask the parents to stay out of the way while you do that. :-) – dgatwood Feb 25 '17 at 21:27
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    Your experience may vary, but I've been at events with similar announcements which worked. It wasn't the photographer asking, though — it was the person introducing the event. – mattdm Feb 25 '17 at 22:35
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    My experience when doing videography is that even with the "Please, no flash photography" announcements, the average number of flashes per minute (~3) is high enough to make them a very reliable and easy way of synchronizing video from multiple cameras, because there will be a flash within the first ten or fifteen seconds of every single segment, and with a "please, no outside videography" announcement, the average number of outside camcorders is about 7 or 8 (many of whom also bought copies of the official recording, amusingly). But as you say, YMMV. :-) – dgatwood Feb 25 '17 at 23:05
  • @dgatwood Haha using the flashes from the parents to synchronise your video - brilliant. – Jannik Pitt Feb 26 '17 at 12:41
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First off I will disagree with using a tripod. The canon 24-105 has a minimum of 3stop Image stabilisation (the Mark II L and IS STM have 4). The shutter speed you will need to avoid motion blur (generic people motion and mouths) will be more than adequate. You will be contending with parents getting pictures of their own children and it will just get in their way and most likely knock it. It will also be a pain to change position.

Aperture. Use as wide as possible but keeping everything in focus. You say there's three rows. But are we talking three rows of eight, or three rows of 80? If you have to get further back to get everyone in you can can probably use a wider aperture then if you were closer.

Shutter speed. You don't want this to be to low. Start out with 1/100. If you need faster, increase it. If 1/100 is more than adequate, maybe look at decreasing it.

ISO. Again as low as possible. Higher results in more grain.

White balance. Shoot in RAW. Chances are with these sorts of things you may have to tweak afterwards. RAW gives you more control.

Lenses. Leave the kit lens at home it's dead weight, you have the same focal length in the 10-20 and 24-105. Bring the UWA as you could get some full auditorium pics, or if you're closer the the choir, get more in frame.

Flash. Others would disagree but again I would save leave at home. It's just something else to have to worry about. Rely on the ambient. The use of flash, especially with people in rows could result in some harsh shadows.

  • Could someone explain the DV? – Crazy Dino Feb 25 '17 at 16:53
  • I'm not sure I necessarily agree with leaving the kit lens at home. You might want those extra few mm of width in some situations. But I'd keep it in your pocket unless you determine that you really do have to use it. – dgatwood Feb 25 '17 at 21:23
  • @dgatwood OP does have a 10-20 as well,so focal ranges are covered. Missed this bit from my answer. – Crazy Dino Feb 25 '17 at 21:58
  • Ah, I missed that part in the original post. Then yeah, I'd definitely skip the kit lens. – dgatwood Feb 25 '17 at 23:01
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I've been shooting similar photos for quite a while. Although a lot depends on the particulars of the venue, here is what I have found works for me.

  1. Shoot the full group shot from as far back and as high up as is feasible. If the facility you are in has a projection room, elevated sound booth, or any other similar alcove or raised platform near the rear of the venue that location is your best bet. It helps you to get the best angle to make sure the faces in all of the rows can be seen. It also gets you above the floor where all of those parents are walking around. Even if they are seated the cool glow of their iPad or other large tablet will get in the way if you are down on the floor. You can move about the room for other shots and leave a tripod¹ with a quick detach head set up in advance at the raised location.

  2. Use the longest focal length that fits the full stage within your FoV for the full group shot. By shooting from as far away as possible your depth of field will increase for the same aperture and focal length. I use careful manual focus from the tripod using magnified Live View, a wired shutter remote, and sometimes even mirror lockup if the shutter time is longer than about 1/100 second.

  3. Set exposure manually for the highlights. If possible do this prior to the event under the same lighting that will be used during the group shot. Use a three channel histogram that shows separate graphs for red, green, and blue to ensure you're not blowing out an individual channel. Write down the ISO, Tv, and Av in an index card and tape it to the tripod so you can dial them in quickly during the performance. If possible set a custom white balance before the event by filling the center of the frame with a white or neutral gray target. You'll need to be much closer to the stage when you do this to catch the target under the stage lighting that will be shining on the performers.
  4. Save the raw data. Either RAW only or RAW+JPEG is fine, but be sure you leave with the raw data on your memory card. It will give you much more latitude in post processing to even out hot spots and dark spots on the various areas of the stage and performers. It will also give you more freedom to correct for exposure and color.
  5. If you are going to be moving about the venue during the event to capture different angles and closeups as well as group photos, dress as inconspicuously as possible. When I'm shooting an event in a darkened auditorium I'm in my Johnny Cash ("The Man in Black") wardrobe. If in a venue with house lights up then a neutral grey or khaki or lighter color is also good. Dayglo orange is not! Also try to be as accommodating as you can of others within the framework of getting the shots you need. Dressing like a professional and wearing an "official" looking lanyard badge will go a long way towards getting others to yield the access you need when moving about. Returning the favor as much as is possible while still getting your shots will also build good will that usually pays off in cooperation from parents and others. Don't block anyone's view if you can avoid it. If it can't be avoided, then get your shots as quickly as possible and move on.
  6. The way I've usually done the posed shots is to do them immediately following the end of the performance. The director is very good in his closing remarks before the last song informing the audience that we will be taking an "official photo" for use in various publications (yearbooks, programs, publicity shots for competitions and festivals) and instructs them regarding which areas need to remain clear during the photo. He then promises them that once we've got what we need the students will be held in position for another couple of minutes so that they may move closer to the stage and take any photos they desire to take. If you're all set up in advance the posed shot shouldn't take more than a minute or so. All of that goodwill you built up following #5 above, along with announcing that the group will remain posed for a couple of minutes after the "official" photo, goes a long way towards giving you the line of sight you need if it communicated properly to the audience.

Posed shot
Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EF 50mm f/1.4, ISO 1600, f/4, 1/160 second.
I framed this one fairly loose to allow for different aspect ratios as needed for various usages. In this case I set the entire camera/lens/tripod/remote up, including exposure and focus settings, before the event and left it there. I only returned to the projection room late in the last song. I was using an EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L on another body while shooting from side stage, from the orchestra pit, from the far right and left aisles, etc. Sometimes I use the 24-70 to zoom in a little tighter if I've got time to set it up before the end of the last song.

100% crop

A 100% crop of 1320x880 pixels (displayed inline here at 660x440) from the middle from the above shot. Focus was aimed at the music stand in the middle of the front row. Notice that the conductor's stand and podium have been removed following the final song.

¹IS is great and can get you very close, but there is no substitute for a tripod when taking such photos under challenging light conditions. The difference can be seen on a 20 inch computer monitor with 2MP+ resolutions.

  • Added 100% crop to answer. – Michael C Feb 25 '17 at 0:17
  • Would you say that a white neutral grey target is more white or grey? Schrodinger's grey card? – Hueco Mar 1 '18 at 5:34
  • In photography everything from pure black to pure white is just a shade of gray. It is a tonal value without any hue. If one uses a white target, one must underexpose so that the resulting image records it as gray in order for it to be useful as a calibration tool. If any of the channels are fully saturated in the calibration shot the results will not be valid. – Michael C Mar 1 '18 at 9:30
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The only concrete suggestion I have is to use a tripod. That way you can eke out a lower shutter speed and not have to compensate by unnecessarily increasing your ISO nor having too wide of an aperture (if your lenses go that low, e.g. 1.8, 1.4 etc)

Next, you'll probably want to get a better idea of the lighting conditions. If it's a pretty well, evenly lit stage? Cool, easy. Weird tungsten lights? Maybe tweak your white balance or shoot in raw to batch post process later. Pitch black darkness? Good luck.

Finally, you can ask the organizers or whoever else for permission to use some off camera flashes to add some light as well. But this is a bit trickier but always a nice option to look into. This is probably the most obtrusive, so I'd recommend making sure this is kosher.

  • Unless you're able to be in the light booth, I tend to disagree about the tripod. In theory, yes, if you use a big enough, obnoxious enough setup, some people might think twice before standing up in front of it, but then again, you might end up holding the tripod over your head while standing on a chair because of a really tall person standing up four rows in front of you and blocking your view of a particular performer. If you're more mobile, you just slide a few feet to one side and be able to see through a gap. It all depends on the room and how people are arranged. – dgatwood Feb 25 '17 at 21:11
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A tripod is a must, as stated above. You may also want to look at a remote control and the mirror lockup function for you camera (see this thread here on Stack Exchange Properly Using Mirror Lock With Canon EOS 60D And RC-6 IR Remote ), but note that with the kids moving around this may not be 100% effective.

Be careful with increasing the ISO too much, as the photos will become grainy.

But, ultimately, your best bet is a wide aperture lens. Cheers.

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    How do you suggest keeping everyone in focus with the narrow depth-of-field you get with a wide aperture? – Philip Kendall Feb 24 '17 at 10:55
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    shoot from further away to get more of them in focus. i.e. if you shoot at 20mm f2.8 you will have a much shallower DoF than if you stand further back (to get same composition) and shoot at 100mm f2.8. This of course depends on the lenses you have to allow that. – Andrew brough Feb 24 '17 at 13:40
  • Live view also would avoid mirror slap, and lets you put the camera in a place where you can't put your eyeball (e.g. a foot above your head). Also, assuming you have decent IS, I'm not convinced the tripod will do anything but make it harder to move around when (not if) somebody stands up in front of you. If you are shooting video, then yeah, use a tripod, but otherwise, unless the lighting is really bad (check in advance), I would leave it at home. – dgatwood Feb 25 '17 at 21:31
  • IS gets close enough for viewing on a phone, a tablet, or a 20" monitor. It usually doesn't do as well compared to a properly used tripod if you're printing at 20+ inches along the long side. – Michael C Jun 22 '17 at 6:20
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Here are a few helpful tips:

  • If the auditorium has internal aisles (xxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxx), place yourself on the inner end of one of the outer sections. That way, you have several feet of empty space in front of you with no people, and more vertical height above the nearest head.
  • If you can't be in a light booth, consider being mobile (no tripod) at the back of the room so you can move from side to side to avoid obstructions when shooting close-ups. This requires a long enough lens, obviously. Check out the location and see what you can do with your longest lens ahead of time and see if that will work.
  • Live view is your friend if you need to hold the camera up over your head to avoid obstructions.
  • If possible, have the kids also come back out for a few official photographs at the end, so that you can guarantee an unobstructed view. (Ask the parents to move out of the way.)
  • Remember that what parents like most are photos where they can see their kids' faces. Take lots of close-ups—10x as many as you think you'll need.

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