How to Photograph a School Play


1/160, F 2.8, ISO 1000

Arrive Early & Sit Front(ish) and Center:

Getting a good seat is paramount. You’ll be able to get a few keepers anywhere you sit, but to capture the showstoppers, pun intended, you’ll need a seat that gives you a natural advantage. Center is good. Front is good. However, keep your gear in mind.  If it’s a small stage and you’re shooting with a 70-200mm, sit a few rows back unless you want all head and shoulders shots. If you opt for a wide angle lens such as a 35 mm, you’ll want to be right up front to maximize your odds of capturing facial expressions. Sit farther back with a wide angle lens and you’ll have plenty of images featuring the width of the stage, but not many where you’re close enough to the actors to capture emotion.

No Flash. 9/10 times it won’t be premitted.

Know your equipment and settings:

Prime lens or fixed aperture: hover around 2.8

Zoom lens with variable aperture or kit lens: As wide as you can get, around 4.0 usually

ISO: Even though I shoot with a full frame, I still try to keep the ISO as low as possible. This eliminates as much noise as I can in camera and then whatever noise was unavoidable, I reduce afterwards in camera RAW. For a well-lit play with a prime or fixed lens, try starting at 1250 ISO at 2.8 and 1/160 SS. With a zoom or fixed lens, your aperture will be smaller and thus your ISO will be higher. Try ISO 2000, 1/125 SS F4 and adjust accordingly depending on available light. That brings us to the next point… light.

Wait for the light!

ESPECIALLY if you are shooting with a cropped sensor. Even the most basic school productions will most likely have one moving spotlight to illuminate your subject. It will be bright and it will be your friend! If you’re having trouble getting crisp images, wait for the light. The spotlight will allow you to increase your shutter speed to freeze motion and hopefully lower your ISO a bit. Find your settings for the spotlight and when that light comes around, shoot! The image directly below was shot using the spotlight as a keylight with the fun blue stage lights adding interest to the backdrop.

A couple more shot directly in the spotlight:

Below the main spotlight was on another character, but the secondary light was sufficient, albeit not as bright, to grab this cute smile from one of the Whos.

Colorful Light

Use it! It’s fun, playful and adds interest. Just be aware colored light waves are never as bright as white light, so adjust accordingly.

For more examples of photographing the stage check out the full Seussical gallery!