Digital Focus: Picture-Perfect Photo Editing

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Q&A: How Do I Get Better Pictures in an Auditorium?

I've been trying to use my new digital camera to take pictures of a choral group as they perform on stage. I'm obviously in a dark auditorium. I position myself in the first row, which puts me about 50 feet away from the action. So far, the pictures have come out terribly. Is there any combination of things I can try to produce acceptable pictures?

--Ted Whitney, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

That's a tricky task for almost any digital camera, Ted. The problem is that your camera's flash doesn't have enough range to illuminate the stage, and without the flash, your camera is forced to use a slow shutter speed and blur the scene.

If your camera has a hot shoe, you might consider buying an external flash unit. While the built-in flash is good for only about 10 feet, external models may have the reach to illuminate a stage from the front row.

If that's not an option, increase the camera's ISO setting. Push it all the way to 400 or 800 (or whatever the highest value is). That makes the sensor more sensitive to light, and might allow you to shoot with a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action. On the downside, your pictures will be noisier--they'll have stray pixels of random color--so be sure to reset the ISO to the minimum when you're done with the concert.

Finally, I recommend setting the camera on a tripod and leaving the head loose. That way you can quickly reposition the camera and shoot anywhere on stage, but the tripod will steady the camera and eliminate the wobbliness that comes from hand-holding your camera at slow shutter speeds. If you try these suggestions, I think you'll find that the quality of your images will improve dramatically.

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