Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment

Started Mar 16, 2014 | Discussions thread
blue_skies Forum Pro • Posts: 11,303
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.

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.

-- hide signature --


 blue_skies's gear list:blue_skies's gear list
Sony Alpha NEX-6 Sony a6000 Sony a5100 Sony Alpha a7 II Sony Alpha a7R II +35 more
Post (hide subjects) Posted by
(unknown member)
(unknown member)
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum PPrevious NNext WNext unread UUpvote SSubscribe RReply QQuote BBookmark MMy threads
Color scheme? Blue / Yellow