Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Stage Photography 101

Quite often on forums I see people asking for some hints about stage photography.  I normally try to reply, if time permits, but this time I thought it might make sense to write my thoughts down once and point people to this blog entry.  So here goes.

I'm going to be shooting when they are on stage next week.  What Hints Can You give Me?

  1. If Possible, shoot the dress rehearsal.  If at all possible, shoot the dress rehearsal and not a performance.  By shooting the latter, you're just going to annoy the people sitting beside you.

    Be aware, however, that at dress rehearsal a theatre is a potentially dangerous workplace. There may be actors walking around the auditorium and people panicking about ill-fitting or damaged costumes. There may be lighting or sound equipment all over the floor, there may be steps leading up to the stage or any number of other hazards. Be careful.

  2. Don't shoot flash.  I used to use flash, and now have loads of very dull-looking photographs of people walking around in front of 80% grey backgrounds.

    This applies doubly so if you are shooting a performance - use of flash is likely to get you lynched!

  3. Plan to shoot RAW. Lighting will be changing rapidly as you shoot the show. What looks good to the eye can look awful in camera, so shoot RAW and plan to take the time you'll need to post-process your pictures. Something like Adobe Lightroom can be very useful for processing large numbers of RAW files.
  4. Shoot at High ISO. Don't worry too much about the noise - it's a lot easier to ameliorate the effects of noise in post-processing than it is to reduce the effects of motion blur!
  5. Shoot with a wide aperture. Shooting this way allows you to get a high shutter speed, important to freeze the action as dancers dash across the stage in front of you. But use with care... everything in photography is a balancing act... the wider your aperture, the narrower your depth of field
  6. Think about the exposure mode you'll be using. A lot of people tell me that I should use M (manual) exposure mode, but I don't quite understand that. By shooting in Av (aperture priority) mode I can keep the lens wide open and get the correct exposure as the light varies rapidly throughout the show. However, I do make use of the exposure correction dial so that I can allow a dark scene on stage to look dark in the photograph, simply be setting to -3 EV exposure correction
  7. Don't try too hard to compose in the camera. Clearly you want to get something that's close to what you need, but you're going to be post-processing anyway. You can always recompose the photograph in Photoshop. Just keep the shutter going and don't miss the good stuff!
  8. Shoot wider than your final picture. This one is really important. Shoot wider than you want your final picture to be. People - especially dancers - can move fast. It's easier to crop in post processing than it is to create a false hand or foot to replace the one you cut off because you zoomed in too far!
  9. Be nice to people. Especially if you want to go back. So if someone's got a horrible expression on their face, or a wardrobe malfunction, bin the picture...

So... does anyone have any further suggestions to add?

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