Taking pictures for a theatre performance… input appreciated


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Oct 6, 2008
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Here’s the background. In my non-existent free time, I’m an assistant director for a play. We are putting on a benefit performance of “The Vagina Monologues”. All money going to local charities, we have no start up cash, everything is volunteer based. Our actresses are all from the community, some with no experience.

Our show runs for only 2 nights, Feb 27 and 28. I’ve asked some of our group coordinators to find a photographer willing to take pictures during the event, on which we will get stuff printed and framed as a thank you to the cast.

They haven’t been able to find anyone willing to do it other than a friend with a point and shoot camera. Knowing the basics I know, I don’t think that’s enough for photography, without flash, in a theatre.

So I’ll see about taking pictures during our preview / media night, where my involvement is a bit less.

I’m looking for tips from people who have done this before.
The theatre isn’t huge, it sits approx 600 people. There is a balcony, not sure I’ll have time to get up there.
Best focal length to use?
Are there are tips to using the stage lights to my advantage?
I assume fast glass is a must. To the point where if I can’t get my hands on something fast (say 70-200 f/2.8) I should not bother?

Thanks for reading.
Given there is an annual production of the Vagina Monologues at my university, I've racked up some experience photographing it. It's very different shooting from most stage productions because there is little action beyond the spoken presentation, which means you've got to capture things like facial expressions and gestures to make interesting images. The lenses you need will be entirely dictated by the kind of light you have in the theatre, but telephoto is probably a good idea, though some wide shots are nice to get as well.

I'd suggest shooting in manual, given that stage lights tend to do funny things to metering.
Depending on the lighting and light setup, you'll definately need fast glass. Depending where you stand, I'd reccomend a monopod and atleast an f/4 lens. While f/2.8 is faster, I find the f/4 gives better DOF for theater perfomances.

A few tips from my experiences:
1. Use a monopod, a telephoto lens is going to get heavy, even after a few minutes.
2. Shoot at f/4 for good DOF that will make sure the character faces are in focus.
3. USE SPOT METERING. Depending on the scene, I've found metering on either their face or the brightest spot in the scene is best. If an object is too bright, but the face is correct, just burn it later in PP.
4. Dark spots are going to happen, you may only see a part of their body, but that is sometimes good.
5. Do NOT use a flash. The only thing people hate more than a mom with p&s is a photographer with an annoying flash during a performance.
6. BE QUIET. You need to be the least intrusive as possible. If possible, shoot where not many people are becuase I know that people hate the clicky clack of the shutter moving.
7. Use a faster shutter speed, and use a wide aperature and higher ISO. it better captures facial expression without motion blur.

Hope this helps.
thanks for the tips!

we are going to be working out the lights and other tech on thursday afternoon. We are going with a very straight style production, nothing fancy, so the lightning won't be anything over the top.

I shoot with an xsi, so while i can go to 1600 ISO, I don't like going over 800, which means I need to call in a few favours for a longer telephoto lens.

If anyone else has tips, let me know! i'm looking at soaking up the info as much as possible...
I've always done pictures during dress rehearsal -- don't know if that's an option for you, but it removes the problem of disturbing anyone, and lets you get close to the stage, but with full costume and lighting.

I'm going to commit heresy, but if you're too busy during dress I'd say to slap the 50mm on the camera, set it to aperture priority with 800 ISO and 1.8 aperture, give it to actors who aren't busy onstage, and tell them to point and shoot. With the settings done for them, the actual pictures aren't rocket science -- and they know the show and are probably basically creative types who instinctively understand image composition (at least on some level).

It's less fun for you, but I'd guess the images will be better than something you try to shoot around an audience. (And if they're not, you can always re-do it on preview night.)
Turns out I only had an hour or so to snap pictures during sound and light check. Was too busy the rest of the time. Here is what I managed to get.

BTW, we raised almost $10,000 for a local charity through the event and had over 800 people in the audience, which was awesome!

No flash, only stage lighting, which was constantly changing as they were testing things out. Any comments welcome!! These are low quality, I know, but I don't have access to the higher quality versions.





I like #4 a lot

what settings did you use? I was taking pictures at a play last week and wasent really sure what settings to use either
Looks like you did great :)
It was really annoying shooting during lighting changes. I would much of preferred shooting during the show with constant light, but I had other responsibilities.

I was shooting mainly at ISO 1600, a few at 800, generally at an aperture of 2.8 or 4.0 if the lights were brighter, with a 70-200 IS lens.
IMO 1, 2, 3 and 5 seem blownout, just see all white.
#4 much better:thumbup:

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