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School Dance Photography

by Erin Peloquin on February 20, 2014 · 5 comments

If you show up at any event at your child’s school with a camera in your hand and then you share at least one good photo with another parent from that school, odds are you are going to be asked to take portraits at a school dance.

school dance copy

Should you decide to volunteer (and it is a fun thing to do), I can make some other predictions about what your experience at this school dance will be like:

  • Odds are, the lighting will be abysmal.
  • Odds are, you are going to have a long line of sugared up kids waiting to get silly in front of the camera.
  • Odds are, if this is a father daughter type dance, the dads are going to want sweet and loving photos instead of crazy ones.

When the chair of the Daughter Dance asked me to take the portraits again this year (as a volunteer), I had a couple of conditions to accepting, based on prior experience:

  • 2 Photographers – the dads always complain about how long the photo line is
  • Lots of volunteers for crowd control

What I’ve learned from doing this dance in the past is that there is no way I can go faster. I am not willing to distribute photos with rushed poses or bad lighting and have them associated with my work. You have to protect your professional reputation. So, I told the organizers that not having a 2nd photographer would be a deal breaker for me.

I’m so glad I did. Here were my statistics – these numbers don’t include photos from the other photographer, who was working just as fast as I was:

  • 314 photos (after deleting the tossers)
  • 2 hours total shooting time
  • 2 to 3 photos per couple or family
  • About 125 couples/families
  • About 1 minute per family

 

My Equipment

Lights – I used my Elinchrom D-Lite set. Having lighting is generally a necessity in school buildings after dark.

If you shoot with another photographer, make sure you know how to change the channel on your flash receiver. My partner’s  camera fired my lights each time she shot! school dance lighting

The first time I did this, I used 1 speedlight, set up off camera. That worked ok, but it’s not big enough to light larger groups easily.

I had an octobox on one light and bounced the other off an umbrella. You can see their reflections in these balloons:

school dance light reflections_edited-1

 

BackdropSavage 107 inch wide seamless in Thunder Gray. And even though I taped it down thoroughly, it still moved and got torn up from all the traffic. Having a super wide backdrop is so helpful when you are taking photos of more than 2 or 3 people. I have a heavy duty backdrop stand similar to this one.

Decorative Van Gogh knock off in the background – (see photo above) the organizers supplied this because it matched the starry night theme. Be careful with these – the background is very reflective and I have bright hot spots from my lights in many images.

Balloons – same as the Van Gogh cardboard – I don’t love those hotspots. If only my original plan hadn’t been a total Pinterest Fail. Who’d have thunk that helium balloons couldn’t hold a bit of tulle and some flowers without crashing to the ground?

The Process

We used the music room next to the cafeteria for the photos. This room has two doors. People lined up from the cafeteria, through the hallway, to the first door of the music room while waiting.

A volunteer stood at this door to explain the process, remind kids to take their coats off and to direct them to the first available photographer.

I posed the couples, using a stool for the little ones. After their photos, they walked out the 2nd door where someone handed them the card below. I’d suggest adding info about the date when the photos will be ready if you use something similar.

school dance card_edited-1

Post-processing

I used Lightroom only for these photos. A few photos needed cropping where the backdrop stand was showing.

Other adjustments:

  • My backdrop is neutral gray. I used it to set white balance on the first photo and then synced these settings to the other photos. You could use a gray card for this also.
  • Darkened Highlights to tone down the hotspots on the balloons and the Van Gogh.
  • Brightened Blacks on a few photos where a dad’s black suit was too dark.
  • Sharpened.

The beauty of shooting with good lights is that your processing time is minimal. I spent less than 30 minutes processing these photos.

Distribution

I will post the photos in a password protected gallery on my website. They will be grouped by photographer’s name into 30 minute increments. That way, people won’t have to look through many photos before finding theirs.

Downloads will be free and I’m providing a copyright release so that people can print the photos anywhere they’d like.

If people would like me to print them, I will charge my standard print package rates. They will be able to place those orders through my website.

Decisions to Make Before You Get Started

You’ll want to think some things through before you ever get started, and communicate your decisions to the volunteers who will help.

How many photos per family unit? If a dad shows up with three daughters, he might want one group photo, and then one of each girl with him alone. Other dads and kids want photos with friends. Decide ahead of time if you will be able to take all these photos, and have your volunteers communicate this to the people waiting in line.

Kids love silly photos, and you can often get a good smile if you tell them they can be silly for the next photo. But this is a time issue also.

Props? I used mustache props the first time, because they fit our theme. However, it takes that much longer to get  kids posed if they are playing with props. If you choose this option, you need another volunteer to ensure that subjects have their props chosen and ready to go before it’s their turn to get in front of the camera.

So, if you’re going to do the portraits for a school dance or any other big event, I hope these tips help. Remember to think the process through and plan it out. And don’t forget to enjoy hanging out with the kids on this special night!

 

 

 

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joyce February 20, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Erin,
Do you worry if they get the photos printed on their own that the quality could be sub-par affecting how the pictures look?
Thanks for sharing all your insight :)

Reply

Brenda March 7, 2014 at 2:38 am

You hit the nail on the head! I’m a hobby shooter, but the PTA BEGGED me to do the portraits for the father/daughter dance tomorrow night. OY! I tried to get out of it, I really did, but they said if I didn’t, there wasn’t anyone else. FOR REALS? No one else in the world?
So, I bought new lighting, new umbrellas and I’m just praying that this thing goes off without a hitch.

Reply

Erin Peloquin March 13, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Brenda, it is great experience! And you’ll be able to use that equipment elsewhere too. I hope your shoot went great!

Reply

Cheryll Ann April 28, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Hi Erin,

Totally love this post and am planning a presentation for our school. I have never done this before so am studying the details. One question, you mention using the wide Thunder Grey Backdrop but also mention that the school provided the Starry Night Background. Did you work with both… and if so how did you incorporate the Starry Night background?

Thanks,

Cheryll ANn

Reply

Erin Peloquin May 1, 2014 at 2:40 pm

HI Cheryll Ann, you can see the starry night board in the image above.

Reply

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