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« Photographing Christmas Lights | Main | Holiday Performances Part I »

Holiday Performances Part II

O.K. You’ve shot the pre-production pictures as outlined in the last article, your talent is headed backstage, and you are back to your front row seats. Here are the important things to remember. First, double check to make sure your flash is not going to fire. It’s dangerous for the actors, and in most cases the distance from the stage is greater than the range of the flash anyway, so it won’t add to the lighting in any case. Kind of like using your flash at a football game.

Next, if you are shooting with a digital camera, set your ISO to somewhere between 800 and 1600, based on the lighting in the theatre. As always, keep in mind that the higher the ISO, the more noise you will see in the images. I find that in most cases, I can use ISO 1250 as the highest acceptable speed. But that’s my camera. Test yours in advance so you know your limit.

Now set your camera to Shutter Priority (TV), and choose a speed that will not give you camera shake. My recommendation would be 1/125 or 1/160. If you have steady hands you might be able to go to 1/100 or 1/80. Some of the newer cameras have anti-shake mechanisms built in, and that could be a big help too. Testing in advance will create a sense of ease during the show, knowing in advance what the results will be rather than worrying about what could go wrong.

Finally, if you camera has the capability to shoot in RAW format, select that, maybe in combination with a mid-sized jpg. The RAW format is like a digital negative that gives you some additional flexibility to adjust the image beyond what you can do with a jpg. So I always recommend shooting RAW.

As soon as the curtain goes up and the lighting is at production levels, shoot a picture, and check your histogram. As shown in earlier articles, the key is to make sure the shadows and highlights are not clipped. If the camera is doing a good job of metering, great. If histogram is not what it needs to be, use your exposure compensation button to make an overall adjustment. Then shoot another test image and check that histogram to see if the results are better. Continue to adjust until you have what you need.

If you are shooting film, go for a film with an ISO rating in the 800-3200 range. I would suggest a negative fim because it will have more exposure latitude than slide (transparency) film. Set your meter for matrix or evaluative metering, and off you go.

If your favorite actor is a principal player, great. There will be lots of opportunities to get close ups of them alone. But even if that is the case, I like to tell a story, and show some of the other action. So I would suggest shooting pictures that give a sense of the production itself.

Shoot some images that incorporate a group of the actors and shows the set, then move in closer by zooming in or changing to a longer lens. Now you can shoot images of just a couple of the players. And finally, do get those tight in shots that you know you’ll want to put in a frame and put on the wall or mantel.

Once you’ve covered the key elements of the story, and have your beauty shot, experiment! Try shooting with a slower shutter speed, maybe in the 1/8 to 1/30 range, to give a sense of the movement. Blurred images can have romantic, more unique look.

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