How to photograph a show

For me, dance has a special place in my life and in my heart. I don’t always practice it, but I always enjoy very much a dance show, whether it is ballet, contemporary dance or conceptual dance. Moreover, it gives me great pleasure to take photographs of what is happening on the scene. I believe that in dancing, much the same as in photography, it is all about emotion, idea, concept, and message.

Last week I had the pleasure to photograph the dance show “In Fact” (De fapt_) choreographed by my good friend Simona Dabija. I was very impressed with the idea, concept, and staging! Tons of congratulations to you, Simona!

In this article, I want to highlight some key aspects that should be taken into account when we photograph a show.

To photograph a show, where the only thing you can control is the camera, is no easy feat.  The rapid movement on the stage, the play of lights, the inability to use the flashlight and, most importantly, having your access limited to just few spots are some of the challenges faced by the photographer.

In order to take successful pictures of a show and be able to convey at least a small part of its idea it is recommended to follow some fundamental principles.


© Luiza Boldeanu, Nikon D750, f/ 2.8, 1/40, ISO 4000


Let’s start with the location

It is very important to know the venue where the show will take place, because it is the only way to find out what are the best places that allow you to take pictures easily, without disturbing the audience and, of course, to obtain the desired images.


© Luiza Boldeanu, Nikon D750, f/ 2.8, 1/15, ISO 400


It is preferable to have seen the show before, at least during rehearsals

Before the show, try to go and see at least one rehearsal, so that you would know beforehand which are the important moments, when you can take photographs and when it is better not to (for example, moments when the music stops). If can’t make it to a rehearsal, you could ask the choreographer / production designer to tell you what the key moments are. It won’t be the same, but it will help you a lot.


© Luiza Boldeanu, Nikon D750, f/ 2.8, 1/100, ISO 2500


Choose your station point(s) carefully

If you’ve already seen the venue and the show, it will be easy for you to choose your station points, either next to the stage, as it was the case for me at Simona’s show, or at the back or between the seat rows.


© Luiza Boldeanu, Nikon D750, f/ 2.8, 1/200, ISO 3200


Equipment used and camera settings

When we talk about a show, we talk about darkness, movement, play of lights. It is recommended to use a photo camera which allows for an ISO value as high as possible. And the lenses used should have fix diaphragm, with an aperture that is as big as possible.

Then, depending on the hall (which is why we insisted above on the importance of seeing the location beforehand), you can use wide-angle or telephoto lenses. For Simona’s show, I used the 17-35mm lenses, f/2.8 from Nikon. If you’re taking pictures in a theatre or opera hall, then you’ll need telephoto lenses so that you’re able to shoot narrow frames of the dancers.

I don’t put much value on the technical aspects, I’m a proponent of stories told through images, but when it comes to shows, similar to sports, it is crucial to know your photo camera. I’ve met many people asking how to change a certain setting right before the show.

In a show, if you’ve missed a moment, you may recapture it during the next show… if you’re lucky and it takes place in the same city. Read the user manual for the photo camera you are going to use and get familiarised with its functions.


© Luiza Boldeanu, Nikon D750, f/ 2.8, 1/20, ISO 2000


Focus, focus, focus.

When I photograph moving subjects, most of the time I have my camera set on Continuous Autofocus (AI Servo AF for Canon and AF-C for Nikon). We all want our images to be focused, but even photos that are unintentionally unfocused can be very nice, as they render a bit of what’s happening on the stage. The recipe is just as easy as planning: longer exposure times and follow your subject.


© Luiza Boldeanu, Nikon D750, f/ 8.o, 1/5, ISO 400


Also, I’m not a big enthusiast of the most precise white balance. I wish to capture the atmosphere on the scene. The play of lights is often very interesting, and the resulting images will have great impact.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid of the unknown, in particular of the “so-called mistakes”. We don’t have to always take the most correct photographs, it is preferable that our images are relevant and make an impression on the viewers and draw them to see the show. The images should be those photographs that are perfect for the location, moment and/or show.

PS: I don’t think it is necessary to point out that we shoot in RAW format. 🙂





© Luiza Boldeanu, Nikon D750, f/ 8.o, 1/5, ISO 400


Author: Luiza Marinaș (Boldeanu)

Copyright: Luiza Marinaș (Boldeanu)


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