10 Steps to better photos of stage productions and graduations

It's difficult to take great pictures of a play or school graduation or similar event. Even simple digital cameras can do a pretty good job if you choose the right settings.

1 -Take your camera off the "simple" setting! (P Mode or green rectangle).

Some cameras, such as the Panasonic LZ7, have a special scene mode for stage performances. Otherwise, choose the action mode.

2 - Turn off the flash. It only throws about 10 feet and theater management usually won’t allow it anyway. If you use a flash, the backs of the heads of theatergoers in front of you will look white.

3 - Set ISO to highest number. ISO refers to sensitivity to light. High numbers = greater sensitivity. There’s more “noise” but you need the higher speeds to get acceptable shutter speeds.

4 - White Balance – set to tungsten (icon of a light bulb) so the image doesn’t look too red/orange. (Ignore this for outdoor, daytime events)

5 - Image stabilization – if your camera has this feature, make sure it's ON. This helps compensate for unsteadiness at slow speeds.

6 - Tripod or monopod – highly recommended. Even if you're seated, you can usually extend one leg part way to touch the floor.

7 - Use the two-stage shutter release technique.

  1. Depress the shutter (gently) half-way until the focus is set and the imaging sensor is charged and ready to shoot.
  2. Squeeze off the last fraction of an inch to actually take the picture.

8 - Tweaking the controls: The stage is usually brightly lit but the background is dark. Your camera sees this and averages out the two extremes, setting the exposure somewhere in the middle. That means your subject is too bright – the highlights are “washed out.” Most cameras have a +/- control. Figure out how to use it and experiment with setting it to the minus setting until your subjects look right and the background is pretty dark.

9 - Get close! Your zoom lens will help but it also magnifies the shake of your hands.

10 -Shoot at times of least action, and pan the camera along with the action.