Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment

Started Mar 16, 2014 | Discussions thread
Rich Gibson
OP Rich Gibson Veteran Member • Posts: 3,378
Re: Seeking shooting tips for the theater environment

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.


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"We paint with our brain, not with our hands" -- Michelangelo
Portrait, figure and fantasy photography at Silver Mirage Gallery:

P.S.  I was shooting RAW.

Thank you!


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