Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment

Started Mar 16, 2014 | Discussions thread
Chad Hardy
Chad Hardy Senior Member • Posts: 1,192
Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment

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!

 Chad Hardy's gear list:Chad Hardy's gear list
Fujifilm X-T1 Fujifilm XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS Fujifilm XF 56mm F1.2 R Sony RX100 III Olympus E-M1 +16 more
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