Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment

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Rich Gibson
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Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
9 months ago

I've owned Nikon DSLR gear from the D100 through the D3 & D700 then switched to the Nex-5n, 7 and now the 6.  I still own the 6 & 7.  Up till now I've shot a lot of outdoor kid stuff and a ton of travel photography.  Travel and posed group shooting is leisurely and one-off work and I've enjoyed it immensely and learned how to use my gear.  I have been fairly successful and am pleased with my work.  Now my grandkids are teen agers and are involved in concerts and theatrical work and this is proving to be a real challenge.

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains.  I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0).  It was an unmitigated disaster.  Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights.  In desperation I popped the 55-210 on the 6 used A mode, auto ISO , wide open, and things went much better.  Turning down the EV I was able to pull back the blow out.

Yes, I've read the friendly manual, a couple of times. First of all, the 7 is going on the block; I've ordered the A6000 based on the focus of the NEX-6 alone.  Would any of you care to throw me a few tips for shooting successfully in a theatrical environment?

Thanks, Rich

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Miki Nemeth
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Rich Gibson wrote:

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights.

Hi Rich, let me share my recent experimenting manual focusing my Canon FD 80-200/f4L on A7 in a theater performance. I set the shutter to 1/100 and aperture to F8. I took about 200 photos and about 70 percentage was quite OK; I am just a progressing beginner, though.

Manual focusing on slow moving theater scene is quite manageable.

I still in the process of deciding whether I am more efficient with AF or MF. I am sure you are decades much more experienced than me, but I am so enthusiastic to have the chance of learning MF with the A7. Miki

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Chad Hardy
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Rich Gibson wrote:

I've owned Nikon DSLR gear from the D100 through the D3 & D700 then switched to the Nex-5n, 7 and now the 6. I still own the 6 & 7. Up till now I've shot a lot of outdoor kid stuff and a ton of travel photography. Travel and posed group shooting is leisurely and one-off work and I've enjoyed it immensely and learned how to use my gear. I have been fairly successful and am pleased with my work. Now my grandkids are teen agers and are involved in concerts and theatrical work and this is proving to be a real challenge.

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights. In desperation I popped the 55-210 on the 6 used A mode, auto ISO , wide open, and things went much better. Turning down the EV I was able to pull back the blow out.

Yes, I've read the friendly manual, a couple of times. First of all, the 7 is going on the block; I've ordered the A6000 based on the focus of the NEX-6 alone. Would any of you care to throw me a few tips for shooting successfully in a theatrical environment?

Thanks, Rich

Hi Rich,

Anytime you have major differences in the contrast in a scene (such as black background and theatre flood lights) your multi metering mode will not perform well.  What you want to do is change to spot metering, then meter for the skin tones of the actors.

To do this easily you will want to program your camera to AEL Hold.  So you target grandkids beautiful face, then hit the button to lock metering.  Then you can continue to shoot at that meter without issue.  Practice this at home, and be sure you can do it quickly.  You don't want the Shutter button to re-meter when you press it.  It should lock in and stay there unless you turn the camera off or hit the AEL hold button again.

Second was the slow focusing, which is a different animal.  At the long end the 55210 is at f6.3, which is pretty slow by indoor shooting standards.  I shoot my son's choir now and then in the theater, and it is tough.  Truthfully at ISO 6400 you are beyond the limits of the sensor in terms of getting a noise free picture.  I would try your best to ratchet this down to 3200 or even 1600 if possible.

You can try a few different things:

1.  Easiest is to try and decrease shutter speed a bit to gain some stops (light) back.  You probably don't want to go below 1/125 or your risk motion blur.  You can of course try.  Go an hour before the performance starts and take shots of people to test.  If you can get the shutter speed low enough it might get you the light your camera needs to AF well.

2.  Next gets a bit more expensive  You may ultimately need a faster lens.  By faster I mean wider aperture.  Bigger opening = more light in.  Think f2.8 range, maybe f4 if you are lucky.  The lower the better.  Of course this is where things can get expensive; larger aperture = larger glass=$$$.  From here you need to decide what focal lengths (55mm, 200mm, etc) you need.  Most of the E mount telephoto zooms are going to have smaller apertures due the the nature of the system.  Sony wanted compact lenses i.e. smaller glass.  There is a Zeiss 16-70 f4 that might work, but you are limited to 70mm and it is $1000.

3.  Flash could help, but you would need to be closer and probably have a stronger than on-camera flash with a diffuser.  However, in my experience you would be limited to only the times the MC allows you to take photos.  During the performance it would be forbidden

Best of luck, looking forward to hearing how things go!

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Chad Hardy
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Miki Nemeth, 9 months ago

Miki Nemeth wrote:

Rich Gibson wrote:

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights.

Hi Rich, let me share my recent experimenting manual focusing my Canon FD 80-200/f4L on A7 in a theater performance. I set the shutter to 1/100 and aperture to F8. I took about 200 photos and about 70 percentage was quite OK; I am just a progressing beginner, though.

Manual focusing on slow moving theater scene is quite manageable.

I still in the process of deciding whether I am more efficient with AF or MF. I am sure you are decades much more experienced than me, but I am so enthusiastic to have the chance of learning MF with the A7. Miki

Rich to give you some perspective here:

1.  Miki is on a full frame sensor, which has better low light performance than the sensor in the NEX cameras.

2.  The 80200f4 lens means an adapter was used, it required manual focus, and that lens by itself is over $1000.

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Philnw2
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Theater varies enormously in the amount of light used for different scenes.  And spotlights often throw off camera metering.  The suggestion you got to spot meter off the faces is a good one.  Thats what usually makes good pictures, the quality of the faces.  You need some F2.8 or faster lenses to deal with dark areas.  And preferably f2.8 zoom lenses.  Although i have a Nex6 for walkaround work, i decided to stay with Pentax for the theater work.  I have several f2.8 Pentax zooms.

F4 constant aperture zooms will do in a pinch but can't do some of the dark scenes.  If you want to get there inexpensively, an f2.8 Sigma 60mm lens might be a useful choice - thinking of that myself.  One could also use f2.8 manual lenses and do area focuses with f3.2 or F4 for a bit more DOF.  Even with AF lenses i'll often use an AF lock with my Pentax if there is a lot of action in a general area.

Of course, a FF camera has about a stop of light advantage for the theater but i haven't chosen to go that direction - yet

As to what to photograph, the wide area scenes are not so much in demand as pictures with 1 or 2 folks interacting and displaying action or emotion.  So if you are picking 1 or 2 manual lenses to go with, 50-135mm range, aps, is a better range to go with than wider, IMO.  YMMV.  Also, don't get frustrated because you are camera limited in some light or scene conditions - thats theater for you.  Take the shots you can and enjoy!  Also, don't overlook rehearsals, if you can get permission.  Some great candid shots are available in rehearsals, often with better lighting.  BTW, in the theater i work at, flash is a  no-no.  Also turn off all beeps and all focus assist lighting.  Actors don't like to be distracted while on stage.  And some won't hesitate to tell you.

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Phil B
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Miki Nemeth
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Chad Hardy, 9 months ago

Chad Hardy wrote:

2. The 80200f4 lens means an adapter was used, it required manual focus, and that lens by itself is over $1000.

Hi Chad, Thanks for the clarification comments. I bought my FD80200f4L for only 200 euros. A bit less expensive alternative could be a Vivitar 70-210/f2.8-4. The FD-NEX adapter I used was 20 euros. Definitely, manual focusing is totally different experience, absolutely intimidating at first. Definitely it requires a hell lot of experimenting and practicing, I am just in the beginning of  learning MF. What I love with MF is that I am not dependent on the capabilities of the AF any more, and I can more-or-less nail focus at F8 in quite low-light situations. I can blame only myself, if I miss the focus.

Thank You again for your words, Miki

PS: You have beautiful photos.

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Rich Gibson
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Chad Hardy, 9 months ago

Chad Hardy wrote:

Rich Gibson wrote:

I've owned Nikon DSLR gear from the D100 through the D3 & D700 then switched to the Nex-5n, 7 and now the 6. I still own the 6 & 7. Up till now I've shot a lot of outdoor kid stuff and a ton of travel photography. Travel and posed group shooting is leisurely and one-off work and I've enjoyed it immensely and learned how to use my gear. I have been fairly successful and am pleased with my work. Now my grandkids are teen agers and are involved in concerts and theatrical work and this is proving to be a real challenge.

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights. In desperation I popped the 55-210 on the 6 used A mode, auto ISO , wide open, and things went much better. Turning down the EV I was able to pull back the blow out.

Yes, I've read the friendly manual, a couple of times. First of all, the 7 is going on the block; I've ordered the A6000 based on the focus of the NEX-6 alone. Would any of you care to throw me a few tips for shooting successfully in a theatrical environment?

Thanks, Rich

Hi Rich,

Anytime you have major differences in the contrast in a scene (such as black background and theatre flood lights) your multi metering mode will not perform well. What you want to do is change to spot metering, then meter for the skin tones of the actors.

To do this easily you will want to program your camera to AEL Hold. So you target grandkids beautiful face, then hit the button to lock metering. Then you can continue to shoot at that meter without issue. Practice this at home, and be sure you can do it quickly. You don't want the Shutter button to re-meter when you press it. It should lock in and stay there unless you turn the camera off or hit the AEL hold button again.

Second was the slow focusing, which is a different animal. At the long end the 55210 is at f6.3, which is pretty slow by indoor shooting standards. I shoot my son's choir now and then in the theater, and it is tough. Truthfully at ISO 6400 you are beyond the limits of the sensor in terms of getting a noise free picture. I would try your best to ratchet this down to 3200 or even 1600 if possible.

You can try a few different things:

1. Easiest is to try and decrease shutter speed a bit to gain some stops (light) back. You probably don't want to go below 1/125 or your risk motion blur. You can of course try. Go an hour before the performance starts and take shots of people to test. If you can get the shutter speed low enough it might get you the light your camera needs to AF well.

2. Next gets a bit more expensive You may ultimately need a faster lens. By faster I mean wider aperture. Bigger opening = more light in. Think f2.8 range, maybe f4 if you are lucky. The lower the better. Of course this is where things can get expensive; larger aperture = larger glass=$$$. From here you need to decide what focal lengths (55mm, 200mm, etc) you need. Most of the E mount telephoto zooms are going to have smaller apertures due the the nature of the system. Sony wanted compact lenses i.e. smaller glass. There is a Zeiss 16-70 f4 that might work, but you are limited to 70mm and it is $1000.

3. Flash could help, but you would need to be closer and probably have a stronger than on-camera flash with a diffuser. However, in my experience you would be limited to only the times the MC allows you to take photos. During the performance it would be forbidden

Best of luck, looking forward to hearing how things go!

Thanks Chad and Miki. This is very helpful; both of your comments prompted me to think more about the session. The metering info is just what I was looking for but f/2.8 is out, period. At various times I owned: 17-35 f/2.8 120-300 f/2.8 28-70 f/2.8 the D3, D700, D7000, D100, D200, D300, D2X and an arsenal full of other lenses and Coolpixes going back to the 900, all for travel shooting. I must have spent $25,000 on bodies and lenses; I switched to NEX when I got tired of lugging around so many, and heavy pieces of equipment. In 2010 I traveled to Paris with a Lowepro roll aboard weighing 45#.

I know that APS-C gear won't really equal full frame, but in 2011, after a trip to Bavaria I was post processing images and found that I couldn't tell the difference between my D700 and D7000 images unless I zoomed in 400%. I decided for my needs I needed 'good enough' and tried the NEX-5N based on my understanding of digital photography and was hooked. In 2012 took the 5N and the 18-200 and shot over 3500 images across France with it and folks raved about my images. I sold all my Nikon gear in one year and replaced the 5N with the 7 and didn't look back....not until I found a soft spot in that body's performance. I'm afraid I'm going to have to live with f/4 at the best and shoot for higher ISO shots. When I used the NEX bodies in museums I found that the noise reduction features were a great for low light levels. Yes, I know that low light levels coupled with actors moving about the stage creates a new challenging environment. I do have the 16-50 f/2.8 and 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 but when coupled with the LA-EA2 adapter I'm nudging my full frame kit weight. The 70-300 without stabilization was disappointing; with the 7 it was hunting all the time.

The problem with the 7 was the speed of the CDAF; the 6 was easily usable. With the 24 mp of the A6000 and even better PDAF/CGAF hybrid I think I can squeeze out as much as I can expect; your suggestions will help me to optimize.

I actually did shoot at the rehearsal' that's where I was shocked by the disappointing performance of the NEX-7 in this environment. I wish I'd asked for help here earlier.

Again, thanks. Rich

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blue_skies
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Rich Gibson wrote:

I've owned Nikon DSLR gear from the D100 through the D3 & D700 then switched to the Nex-5n, 7 and now the 6. I still own the 6 & 7. Up till now I've shot a lot of outdoor kid stuff and a ton of travel photography. Travel and posed group shooting is leisurely and one-off work and I've enjoyed it immensely and learned how to use my gear. I have been fairly successful and am pleased with my work. Now my grandkids are teen agers and are involved in concerts and theatrical work and this is proving to be a real challenge.

Reading your post, it appears that you had to overcome two challenges: slow lenses and slow & inaccurate AF versus your Nikon FF experience.

Concerts and theater are actual fairly easy from within the audience - the stage and/or performer is at a fixed distance from you, and you can rely on manual focusing with a high precision, even if using faster lenses.

If you are backstage or on stage, you will need a fast aperture lens with, preferable, AF, but you can work with a short focal length, even a wide-angle, making this easier.

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights. In desperation I popped the 55-210 on the 6 used A mode, auto ISO , wide open, and things went much better. Turning down the EV I was able to pull back the blow out.

It sounds as if AF was your major culprit. AF is hampered by lens speed (aperture), focusing speed & accuracy.

F/7.0 is really a challenge, but the Nex-7 with CDAF focuses too slow and will miss focus. The Nex-6, with PDAF, remedies it somewhat, but it is still challenged.

Only the A6000 will focus as fast as your D3/D700, but does not nearly get the same amount of light: shooting at f/7.0 is like f/11 on the FF bodies. I am sure that your lenses were faster.

It also sounds as if your metering was average (high and lows), and the camera does not know that you are 'shooting in the dark' - it will clip highlights, and you to overcome that through spot metering or EV dial-back.

Yes, I've read the friendly manual, a couple of times. First of all, the 7 is going on the block; I've ordered the A6000 based on the focus of the NEX-6 alone. Would any of you care to throw me a few tips for shooting successfully in a theatrical environment?

  1. Use MF whenever you can
  2. Use a fast(er) lens, a faster WA lens may be better than a slower tele lens, you can crop
  3. Work the scene from shutter speed first (1/80th-125th minimum) - this determines AE, ISO - OSS does not do much.
  4. Shoot fast - avoid shutter lag, AF focus time - or shoot in bursts (actors move).
  5. Time your shots - some scenes beg for pictures, others are impossible.
  6. Consider video? 2Mp still may not be ideal, but they come out so easily ...

Thanks, Rich

Assuming that you were in an audience seat, focus less on framing, more on shutter speed. E.g. if you decide that you want 1/100th, then try to achieve this with the widest aperture and lowest ISO.

Or, a fast lens is better than a slow lens. E.g. the SEL50F18, at f/1.8 is 5 stops faster than your E55210 lens at f/7.0. This means much lower ISO, much faster AF, much cleaner results, and you can crop.

If the AF is imprecise (Nex-7), too slow (A7, Nex-6), too difficult (E55210 at f/7.0 under LL), abandon it. MF can be done on all lenses, and leads to better results.

Lastly, if you just can't get 'there', consider under-exposing. You dial down the EV, not to reduce highlight blow outs, but to increase shutter speed. The effect is the same as shooting at higher ISO, but since you have mostly darks in your image, you may be able to process 'cleaner' than a higher ISO setting would do. Add contrast, clarity, blacks, pull down shadows, and your images will be sharper (shutter speed) than high ISO (noise) would give you.

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Cheers,
Henry

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riwong
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Like Phil said lights are changing people are moving and in some productions the sets even change.

to get the most out of your gear switch to manual focus and spot meter on the face and white bal. set to tungsten  If you stick to manual instead of auto modes your focus and lighting problems should be under control. Try to shoot when the action is set. unless there is dancing or fighting most directors are going for a look and there should be a peak where the action has stopped or slowed down.

This shot was shot with the other actors moving on stage with flashlights and capture a moment when the actor was belting our a note so he pretty much froze his body except his arms..

in these two the first one the actor is moving but the 2nd shot there was a peak in the action so I was able to capture the moment.  needed the depth of field to have both actors in focus.

another example of capturing the dancers right a a peak in the action but having enough dof and decide on where to set my exposure to not blow out the highlights but have enough details in the shadows.

To make it easy on yourself go for the tight shots...

You will have no control so if the actors miss their lights or are facing the wrong direction you just need to go with the flow.  a tripod will improve your shots.. you will be surprise how many of your shots will be around a 15th or 20th of a sec.

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Later
Rick

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uhligfd
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Rich Gibson wrote:

I've owned Nikon DSLR gear from the D100 through the D3 & D700 then switched to the Nex-5n, 7 and now the 6. I still own the 6 & 7. Up till now I've shot a lot of outdoor kid stuff and a ton of travel photography. Travel and posed group shooting is leisurely and one-off work and I've enjoyed it immensely and learned how to use my gear. I have been fairly successful and am pleased with my work. Now my grandkids are teen agers and are involved in concerts and theatrical work and this is proving to be a real challenge.

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights. In desperation I popped the 55-210 on the 6 used A mode, auto ISO , wide open, and things went much better. Turning down the EV I was able to pull back the blow out.

Yes, I've read the friendly manual, a couple of times. First of all, the 7 is going on the block; I've ordered the A6000 based on the focus of the NEX-6 alone. Would any of you care to throw me a few tips for shooting successfully in a theatrical environment?

Thanks, Rich

This sounds so strange from a veteran member who has been through many a camera and car. If a car lands you in ditch, you sound here as if you would want to try driving with a new,  another car, but with cameras here instead. Driver or  operator error does not enter your mind, how odd. With blown pictures it is 999 % me who has blown them out!

As many have pointed out, the auto everything camera is not so automatically good as you have assumed. But all is digital, so  you can review a shot taken and see that multi metering for mostly black backgrounds blows out faces and become smart and adjust to lower ISO. You can see that focus was not achieved in AF and you must then realize that the stage is kind of narrow and actors are mostly in 2 - 3 spots anyway, so you can prefocus manually and then shoot, but you missed that opportunity to learn on the fly. You took an f/7 lens to dark scenes: disaster struck. You need a 2.8 at least for stage work. So get out that old f/2 lens and sit up close.

And so forth and on. But to throw out a camera upon operator errors by the half dozen, that seems a bit excessive. You will have the same bad outcomes with another new car or camera if you do not learn and master the road condition or subject matter, I am afraid.

I am also a veteran photog and I learn every day I am out. Good luck and patience.

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Stu 5
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Rich Gibson wrote:

Chad Hardy wrote:

Rich Gibson wrote:

I've owned Nikon DSLR gear from the D100 through the D3 & D700 then switched to the Nex-5n, 7 and now the 6. I still own the 6 & 7. Up till now I've shot a lot of outdoor kid stuff and a ton of travel photography. Travel and posed group shooting is leisurely and one-off work and I've enjoyed it immensely and learned how to use my gear. I have been fairly successful and am pleased with my work. Now my grandkids are teen agers and are involved in concerts and theatrical work and this is proving to be a real challenge.

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights. In desperation I popped the 55-210 on the 6 used A mode, auto ISO , wide open, and things went much better. Turning down the EV I was able to pull back the blow out.

Yes, I've read the friendly manual, a couple of times. First of all, the 7 is going on the block; I've ordered the A6000 based on the focus of the NEX-6 alone. Would any of you care to throw me a few tips for shooting successfully in a theatrical environment?

Thanks, Rich

Hi Rich,

Anytime you have major differences in the contrast in a scene (such as black background and theatre flood lights) your multi metering mode will not perform well. What you want to do is change to spot metering, then meter for the skin tones of the actors.

To do this easily you will want to program your camera to AEL Hold. So you target grandkids beautiful face, then hit the button to lock metering. Then you can continue to shoot at that meter without issue. Practice this at home, and be sure you can do it quickly. You don't want the Shutter button to re-meter when you press it. It should lock in and stay there unless you turn the camera off or hit the AEL hold button again.

In the real world of theatre production photography this is far too slow a method. I shoot theatre productions for a living. Lighting can change very quickly with this type of photography. Shoot Raw for a start. Can you not set up the camera so can see how much you are clipping the highlights?

Second was the slow focusing, which is a different animal. At the long end the 55210 is at f6.3, which is pretty slow by indoor shooting standards. I shoot my son's choir now and then in the theater, and it is tough. Truthfully at ISO 6400 you are beyond the limits of the sensor in terms of getting a noise free picture. I would try your best to ratchet this down to 3200 or even 1600 if possible.

You can try a few different things:

1. Easiest is to try and decrease shutter speed a bit to gain some stops (light) back. You probably don't want to go below 1/125 or your risk motion blur. You can of course try. Go an hour before the performance starts and take shots of people to test. If you can get the shutter speed low enough it might get you the light your camera needs to AF well.

Waste of time. You cannot test before the performance like this as the lights will not even be on full power and they will be fixed on one lighting state. Usually they will not even be switched on at this point. The lighting states will change throughout the production. Get the camera set up properly and you showed be able to walk into any production and start taking photos. With i.s the slowest speed I went down to recently was 1/20 but that was only on the slower parts of the production. 1/125 is a good guide but you should be able to use 1/60 as well if there is not too much movement.

2. Next gets a bit more expensive You may ultimately need a faster lens. By faster I mean wider aperture. Bigger opening = more light in. Think f2.8 range, maybe f4 if you are lucky. The lower the better. Of course this is where things can get expensive; larger aperture = larger glass=$$$. From here you need to decide what focal lengths (55mm, 200mm, etc) you need. Most of the E mount telephoto zooms are going to have smaller apertures due the the nature of the system. Sony wanted compact lenses i.e. smaller glass. There is a Zeiss 16-70 f4 that might work, but you are limited to 70mm and it is $1000.

You need fast lenses for sure. What about hire?

3. Flash could help, but you would need to be closer and probably have a stronger than on-camera flash with a diffuser. However, in my experience you would be limited to only the times the MC allows you to take photos. During the performance it would be forbidden

Never ever use flash on a production... ever!

Best of luck, looking forward to hearing how things go!

Thanks Chad and Miki. This is very helpful; both of your comments prompted me to think more about the session. The metering info is just what I was looking for but f/2.8 is out, period. At various times I owned: 17-35 f/2.8 120-300 f/2.8 28-70 f/2.8 the D3, D700, D7000, D100, D200, D300, D2X and an arsenal full of other lenses and Coolpixes going back to the 900, all for travel shooting. I must have spent $25,000 on bodies and lenses; I switched to NEX when I got tired of lugging around so many, and heavy pieces of equipment. In 2010 I traveled to Paris with a Lowepro roll aboard weighing 45#.

You had a great theatre production camera in the D700.

I know that APS-C gear won't really equal full frame, but in 2011, after a trip to Bavaria I was post processing images and found that I couldn't tell the difference between my D700 and D7000 images unless I zoomed in 400%. I decided for my needs I needed 'good enough' and tried the NEX-5N based on my understanding of digital photography and was hooked. In 2012 took the 5N and the 18-200 and shot over 3500 images across France with it and folks raved about my images. I sold all my Nikon gear in one year and replaced the 5N with the 7 and didn't look back....not until I found a soft spot in that body's performance. I'm afraid I'm going to have to live with f/4 at the best and shoot for higher ISO shots. When I used the NEX bodies in museums I found that the noise reduction features were a great for low light levels. Yes, I know that low light levels coupled with actors moving about the stage creates a new challenging environment. I do have the 16-50 f/2.8 and 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 but when coupled with the LA-EA2 adapter I'm nudging my full frame kit weight. The 70-300 without stabilization was disappointing; with the 7 it was hunting all the time.

The problem with the 7 was the speed of the CDAF; the 6 was easily usable. With the 24 mp of the A6000 and even better PDAF/CGAF hybrid I think I can squeeze out as much as I can expect; your suggestions will help me to optimize.

I actually did shoot at the rehearsal' that's where I was shocked by the disappointing performance of the NEX-7 in this environment. I wish I'd asked for help here earlier.

See if you can go to the tech run as well. This is when they set the light up. It can go on for hours though. See if you can talk to the person doing the lighting and asked which parts of a production might be tricky.

Again, thanks. Rich

Always shoot Raw. Shoot just to the right and keep checking for clipping all the way through. Just a bit of clipping is good as you can bring it back afterwards in what ever software you use.

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Gato Amarillo
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Stage performance is tricky. I did a lot of it in my newspaper days. Lighting is often uneven and in some productions changes frequently, and sometimes there is not very much light. Camera angles can be difficult -- either you're well back from the stage and limited to longer lenses or you're too close and shooting up the performers' noses.

If you're shooting a real performance it can be even worse. Nobody wants to be the clod with the camera and big lens who ruins the play for the people sitting next to him. For plays shoot the dress rehearsal if at all possible. This will usually give you some freedom to move around, plus you can do as many clicks as you want without bothering anyone.

Some tips:

Set the highest acceptable ISO and widest practical aperture (usually wide open) to keep your shutter speed as high as possible. The exception would be if you find the shutter faster than 1/500 -- then you might consider backing off the ISO or stopping down click or two. With a 200mm lens on APS and actors moving I'd want at least 500 if I could get it at all.

If you can work close enough to the stage you might consider the 18-105 f4. Or if you can deal with manual focus you could look at some of the legacy f2.8 options.

Focus is a problem and exposure will be tricky, especially with a dark or light background. Spot metering can help. Most likely you'll need some minus exposure compensation in most shots. If the light levels stay fairly consistent you may do better with manual exposure, but mostly I'd go for aperture priority and ride the compensation. I'd try face detect when the performers are large enough in the frame, with spot focus other times. I really do not like focus-and-recompose, but Sony makes it fairly awkward to move the focus point so that might be the way to go. I keep my review set for flashing highlights and color histogram so I can pick up on overexposure quickly.

Try to anticipate action. If you don't know the show you might try to watch a rehearsal before shooting night. Look for high points, but also look for natural pauses when the performers are still. Have your shot framed and focused before the big moment. The old rule still applies -- if you see it in the finder you missed it.

Consider a monopod, especially if your movement is limited anyway. It steadies your shots and helps save your arms and wrists. Even with a light camera like the NEX you can get tired enough to miss shots by the end of a show.

Shoot a lot and edit mercilessly.. (Of course this does NOT apply if you're shooting during performance. Then you want to keep it to a minimum out of courtesy to the rest of the audience and respect for the performers.) In the film days I'd typically do 6 to 8 rolls of 36 - say around 250 shots - to print 5 or 6 photos. But I often had only a couple of hours to develop film, edit and print before deadline, and eight rolls was the most I could do in one batch. These days I'd do more like 1,000 frames (some theater photographers would do twice that many) and edit down to around your 50 best and maybe a dozen final selects

Good luck.

Gato

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Rich Gibson
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to uhligfd, 9 months ago

uhligfd wrote:

As many have pointed out, the auto everything camera is not so automatically good as you have assumed. But all is digital, so you can review a shot taken and see that multi metering for mostly black backgrounds blows out faces and become smart and adjust to lower ISO. You can see that focus was not achieved in AF and you must then realize that the stage is kind of narrow and actors are mostly in 2 - 3 spots anyway, so you can prefocus manually and then shoot, but you missed that opportunity to learn on the fly. You took an f/7 lens to dark scenes: disaster struck. You need a 2.8 at least for stage work. So get out that old f/2 lens and sit up close.

And so forth and on. But to throw out a camera upon operator errors by the half dozen, that seems a bit excessive. You will have the same bad outcomes with another new car or camera if you do not learn and master the road condition or subject matter, I am afraid.

I am also a veteran photog and I learn every day I am out. Good luck and patience.

I am a veteran member but only a hobby shooter and I am unfamiliar with this type shooting. Contrary to some assumptions this stage was very wide and I was fairly close so a fixed focus wasn't an option and auto focus was successfully achieved with the NEX-6. A play which is underway really doesn't afford the opportunity to chimp and 'learn on the fly' between shots as I did when shooting travel sites. When the action starts you have to keep up and do whatever you can to capture as much as possible.

Of course I know I was making mistakes, but as I've mentioned several times already f/2.8 lenses are OUT so a body with a better sensor is a viable option. I'm asking for some tips to squeeze as much as possible from this type body.

I appreciate your answering my post.

Rich

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Rich Gibson
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Gato Amarillo, 9 months ago

Gato Amarillo wrote:

Stage performance is tricky. I did a lot of it in my newspaper days. Lighting is often uneven and in some productions changes frequently, and sometimes there is not very much light. Camera angles can be difficult -- either you're well back from the stage and limited to longer lenses or you're too close and shooting up the performers' noses.

If you're shooting a real performance it can be even worse. Nobody wants to be the clod with the camera and big lens who ruins the play for the people sitting next to him. For plays shoot the dress rehearsal if at all possible. This will usually give you some freedom to move around, plus you can do as many clicks as you want without bothering anyone.

I did go to the rehearsal and am glad I went. I was able to pick a better spot having seen the entire production and found a much better seat for the actual show. One mistake was swapping back and forth between the two bodies; as has been pointed out I should have stuck with one and worked on getting the best performance out of it. In retrospect while I loved the NEX-7 it isn't the body for this type shooting.

Some tips:

Set the highest acceptable ISO and widest practical aperture (usually wide open) to keep your shutter speed as high as possible. The exception would be if you find the shutter faster than 1/500 -- then you might consider backing off the ISO or stopping down click or two. With a 200mm lens on APS and actors moving I'd want at least 500 if I could get it at all.

If you can work close enough to the stage you might consider the 18-105 f4. Or if you can deal with manual focus you could look at some of the legacy f2.8 options.

Focus is a problem and exposure will be tricky, especially with a dark or light background. Spot metering can help. Most likely you'll need some minus exposure compensation in most shots. If the light levels stay fairly consistent you may do better with manual exposure, but mostly I'd go for aperture priority and ride the compensation.

That's exactly what I finally settled on in the last part of the play. I was able to cool down the actors' faces by pulling down the EV. I wasn't strictly correct about blowing out; some the faces (too many for my liking) were a bit too hot for my preferences. Clearly spot metering would have been a great help.

I'd try face detect when the performers are large enough in the frame, with spot focus other times. I really do not like focus-and-recompose, but Sony makes it fairly awkward to move the focus point so that might be the way to go.

That was a real problem.

I keep my review set for flashing highlights and color histogram so I can pick up on overexposure quickly.

Try to anticipate action. If you don't know the show you might try to watch a rehearsal before shooting night. Look for high points, but also look for natural pauses when the performers are still. Have your shot framed and focused before the big moment. The old rule still applies -- if you see it in the finder you missed it.

Good information. I was all over the place trying to shoot too much of what was going on.

Consider a monopod, especially if your movement is limited anyway. It steadies your shots and helps save your arms and wrists. Even with a light camera like the NEX you can get tired enough to miss shots by the end of a show.

Shoot a lot and edit mercilessly.. (Of course this does NOT apply if you're shooting during performance. Then you want to keep it to a minimum out of courtesy to the rest of the audience and respect for the performers.)

It was a grammar school show so there weren't too many parents. I was able to move away from any of them to permit shooting at a comfortable rate.

In the film days I'd typically do 6 to 8 rolls of 36 - say around 250 shots - to print 5 or 6 photos. But I often had only a couple of hours to develop film, edit and print before deadline, and eight rolls was the most I could do in one batch. These days I'd do more like 1,000 frames (some theater photographers would do twice that many) and edit down to around your 50 best and maybe a dozen final selects

Good luck.

Gato

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P.S.  I was shooting RAW.

Thank you!

Rich

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hogeye
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Glad you started this thread, Rich, and thank you all for the useful tips.  End of the school year band concerts, spring dance show, UIL plays, etc are coming up, which is exactly why I upgraded from p&s and bridge cameras to the NEX 6 last spring.

Last year's photos weren't bad and much better than I had been able to take before, even though I didn't know what I was doing.   Looking forward to squeezing a little bit more out of the 55210 this time around.

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jpr2
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re: any tips HOW to muffle a shutter sound?
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

in theatrical environment, a loud shutter is a particular bane, and neither Nex'en nor A7s are of particularly silent kin

jpr2

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GaryW
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Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment
In reply to Stu 5, 9 months ago

I've done a bunch of theater shooting, and all of it with modest equipment, at least by the standards of many here.  APS-C cameras, f4 lenses, etc.  You don't need f2.8.  There are times where I've used my 50/1.7 at f2 or 2.8, and it does help if it's really dark.

Stu 5 wrote:

Rich Gibson wrote:

Chad Hardy wrote:

Rich Gibson wrote:...

Yesterday I shot a musical which had minimal sets with lots of black curtains. I started with the Nex-7 and the 55-210 Aperture mode, ISO 6400, Multi-metering mode and auto focus wide open (f/7.0). It was an unmitigated disaster. Focusing was so slow I missed shot after shot and those which were in focus had blown out highlights. In desperation I popped the 55-210 on the 6 used A mode, auto ISO , wide open, and things went much better. Turning down the EV I was able to pull back the blow out.

The camera will meter towards an average grey.  If most of the scene is a black curtain, it'll happily try to make that look grey, blowing out the subjects.  You can use manual mode, but it'll keep changing anyway.  Might as well just use the EV control and change as needed.

By the way, the 55-210 works much better on my Nex-6 than on the Nex-5.  Much better in low light too.  Kind of surprising!  And the OSS allows for a slow shutter, which is OK if there's not much movement.

Yes, I've read the friendly manual, a couple of times. First of all, the 7 is going on the block; I've ordered the A6000 based on the focus of the NEX-6 alone. Would any of you care to throw me a few tips for shooting successfully in a theatrical environment?

Thanks, Rich

Hi Rich,

Anytime you have major differences in the contrast in a scene (such as black background and theatre flood lights) your multi metering mode will not perform well. ....

In the real world of theatre production photography this is far too slow a method. I shoot theatre productions for a living. Lighting can change very quickly with this type of photography. Shoot Raw for a start. Can you not set up the camera so can see how much you are clipping the highlights?

I agree -- lighting changes all the time in some productions.  You can only preset the white balance if the lighting never changes, which may be the case in some events.  For a typical big production with real pro lighting, forget it.  Just use RAW (or RAW+JPEG), and for your favorite photos, process from RAW and custom set the WB as needed.  You might be surprised at what the camera comes up with -- sometimes good, sometimes not, but you can get it however you want if you start with RAW.  Also, if the brightness changes too much, you'll have more leeway with RAW in adjusting for that too, although you really need to adjust the EV.

Second was the slow focusing, which is a different animal. At the long end the 55210 is at f6.3, which is pretty slow by indoor shooting standards. I shoot my son's choir now and then in the theater, and it is tough. Truthfully at ISO 6400 you are beyond the limits of the sensor in terms of getting a noise free picture. I would try your best to ratchet this down to 3200 or even 1600 if possible.

I've been able to use the 55-210 at ISO 3200 with good results.  Focus was faster on the Nex-6, but you can half-press to pre-focus if focus-lag seems to be a problem.

As for noise, here again, you can use RAW which may allow you to get a bit better results (processing noise reduction on the computer).  Printed at typical sizes and with that processing, it's hard to see any degradation.  Obviously, how successful using ISO 3200 is depends upon the venue.  I was able to rely on slow movements (you can shoot when people are at the peak of their movement, not in the middle of a turn or an abrupt movement).

You can try a few different things:

1. Easiest is to try and decrease shutter speed a bit to gain some stops (light) back. You probably don't want to go below 1/125 or your risk motion blur. You can of course try. Go an hour before the performance starts and take shots of people to test. If you can get the shutter speed low enough it might get you the light your camera needs to AF well.

Waste of time. You cannot test before the performance like this as the lights will not even be on full power and they will be fixed on one lighting state.

I agree.  You won't know what the lighting is like until it's in progress.  And then it'll change at certain scenes.  Unless it's an event where they have some sort of fixed lighting and can't (or don't) change it, which I've also done.  Obviously, that's easier to set and leave it.

Usually they will not even be switched on at this point. The lighting states will change throughout the production. Get the camera set up properly and you showed be able to walk into any production and start taking photos. With i.s the slowest speed I went down to recently was 1/20 but that was only on the slower parts of the production. 1/125 is a good guide but you should be able to use 1/60 as well if there is not too much movement.

2. Next gets a bit more expensive You may ultimately need a faster lens. By faster I mean wider aperture. Bigger opening = more light in. Think f2.8 range, maybe f4 if you are lucky. The lower the better. Of course this is where things can get expensive; larger aperture = larger glass=$$$. From here you need to decide what focal lengths (55mm, 200mm, etc) you need. Most of the E mount telephoto zooms are going to have smaller apertures due the the nature of the system. Sony wanted compact lenses i.e. smaller glass. There is a Zeiss 16-70 f4 that might work, but you are limited to 70mm and it is $1000.

You need fast lenses for sure. What about hire?

I've used f4-f5 in the past, and with the 55-210, it starts at f4.5, so you might be able to be at f4.5 or at least no more than f5.6 if you can be reasonably close.  Now f5.6 is 2 stops from f2.8, so that is not ideal, but it may be possible to use higher ISO and make it work.  For better results, sure, if you have an f2.8 zoom handy, that would be ideal, but that's going to be huge and expensive.  Yeah, rental could be an option for some, but that has a cost, so it's just not reasonable for me.

My other thought was to get an f2.8 135mm manual lens.  So I got one offa flea-bay, and it's way too soft at f2.8!  What a mess.  It's pretty good at f4, but then I could use one of my other lenses that have smaller apertures.  So, that idea was a bust.

3. Flash could help, but you would need to be closer and probably have a stronger than on-camera flash with a diffuser. However, in my experience you would be limited to only the times the MC allows you to take photos. During the performance it would be forbidden

Never ever use flash on a production... ever!

Yeah, for one thing, you're going to ruin the lighting that is present, so I doubt it would look that great (or at least not as it should), but it's going to annoy the actors and the audience.  I never bother with flash for events.  It just isn't necessary.  I do sometimes use flash for party and closer-indoor situations.

Best of luck, looking forward to hearing how things go!

...and lenses; I switched to NEX when I got tired of lugging around so many, and heavy pieces of equipment. In 2010 I traveled to Paris with a Lowepro roll aboard weighing 45#.

Ugh!

You had a great theatre production camera in the D700.

Yeah, even a cheap f4 zoom with a DSLR works great.  I used a cheap Tamron 55-200 with my DSLR, and it was great, except for the loud shutter and the horrible noise level when you went over ISO 800 (and 800 wasn't too good anyway).  But the results were pretty good overall.

I know that APS-C gear won't really equal full frame, but in 2011, after a trip to Bavaria I was post processing images and found that I couldn't tell the difference between my D700 and D7000 images unless I zoomed in 400%. I decided for my needs I needed 'good enough' and tried the NEX-5N based on my understanding of digital photography and was hooked.

I think that's the trick -- you only have to be good enough in the situations in which you most likely need the higher quality.  The more extreme the conditions -- lower light in particular -- the more a more expensive and larger sensor camera will matter.

....the stage creates a new challenging environment. I do have the 16-50 f/2.8 and 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 but when coupled with the LA-EA2 adapter I'm nudging my full frame kit weight. The 70-300 without stabilization was disappointing; with the 7 it was hunting all the time.

The problem with the 7 was the speed of the CDAF; the 6 was easily usable.

Since you're talking about CDAF, I assume you are talking about the e-mount lenses, not the EA2/a-mount lenses.  Some people keep trying to claim that the PDAF doesn't make a difference or that it doesn't work in low light, but as you've seen, it really does.

With the 24 mp of the A6000 and even better PDAF/CGAF hybrid I think I can squeeze out as much as I can expect; your suggestions will help me to optimize.

I actually did shoot at the rehearsal' that's where I was shocked by the disappointing performance of the NEX-7 in this environment. I wish I'd asked for help here earlier.

Sometimes I would get better results in rehersal.  Few people in the audience (usually) so you can get much closer, maybe even better lighting.

See if you can go to the tech run as well. This is when they set the light up. It can go on for hours though. See if you can talk to the person doing the lighting and asked which parts of a production might be tricky.

Again, thanks. Rich

Always shoot Raw. Shoot just to the right and keep checking for clipping all the way through. Just a bit of clipping is good as you can bring it back afterwards in what ever software you use.

Definitely -- RAW.

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neil holmes
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Re: re: any tips HOW to muffle a shutter sound?
In reply to jpr2, 9 months ago

jpr2 wrote:

in theatrical environment, a loud shutter is a particular bane, and neither Nex'en nor A7s are of particularly silent kin

jpr2

A7 in particular is a WONDERFUL concert camera...but that does not need to be quiet (unlike theatre)....great for pub rock gigs in low light especially.

I have done hundreds of concerts and only a couple of theatre shows (film was the last one I think??).

Seated concerts with an older audience of course can be treated almost the same as theatre but you especially have to be mindful of the paying public in a theatre show.

For amateur use for either Theatre or concert, get the longest fastest lens you can (manual focus is fine and can save some money).    Also get a shorter faster lens for up front and wide crowd shots.

And for concerts.....do NOT forget the earplugs.

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Mel Snyder
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Tips from someone who's shot them for years (daughter into theatre/musicals!)
In reply to Rich Gibson, 9 months ago

Here, "Babe" in "Pajama Game"

Thanks to the good fortune of have a talented daughter who was deeply into both dramatic theatre and musicals - so I had years of experience shooting her and her friends with gear a lot more primitive than the NEX series - a Nikon D70 - marginally compensated for with a very good Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 AF-D lens.

If you go to http://www.pbase.com/mel_sny/pjgame you can see the EXIF of all kinds of scenes and lighting. The D70 max'd out at IS0 800 - you could easily go to 1600 or higher with the NEX and the 55-210.

If you go to http://www.pbase.com/mel_sny/pjgame you can see the EXIF for each image, and get an idea of what you need.

But before I had the D70 and 80-200, I was shooting with a Sony DSC-F717, and got good images with that small-sensor camera:

Obviously, the available light makes a lot of difference. Make friends with the lighting director - among amateurs, there is often a penchant for dark lighting - talk to the show director and make sure it's as high as it can go.

I used a monopod - it allows you a great deal more flexibility in moving around the theater. If you can see a rehearsal, study where you have to move to get the right shots for each scene. Mix up long and tight shots. Do NOT waste time changing lenses - keep the 55-210 on except maybe for the curtain call - but even then, just back up till you can fill the frame with the stage, then click-click-click tight shots of everyone, so you are sure to include all actors in your final gallery.

Post the images where cast and family can download them, or you will be driven crazy for years after the show.

My daughter starred in one emotional production - "Our Town" - and produced Lillian Helman's controversial 1934 play "Children's Hour" (teacher in a boarding school falsely accused by girls as having a lesbian relationship with another teacher. commits suicide when parents pull girls out) - know the playbook well enough to know when to turn you camera on the audience to capture their response.

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Mel Snyder
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Re: Tips from someone who's shot them for years (daughter into theatre/musicals!)
In reply to Mel Snyder, 9 months ago

Forgot to add -you can get a great stage lens for your NEX for not a lot of money - check out the Vivitar Series 1 70-210mm f2.8-f4 on eBay - the best is the "Komine" made version, but none of the f2.8-f4 versions are bad.

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