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Monday, August 18, 2008

Shooting Indoor Events

Tips to make the most of low-light photography

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Photographing a stage show basically is an exercise in photographing in a low-light, nonflash situation. I took these photos of a stage performance of the Rising Sun musical and dance troupe in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. You can use the same tips and techniques for photographing any stage performance, even one in your neighborhood, because all of the same principles apply.

ISO Settings & Digital Noise
Available-light or low-light photography dictates using a high ISO setting. For these performance images, I set my ISO at 1000. Bear in mind that the higher the ISO, the more digital noise you'll get in your pictures. But what's worse—a bit of digital noise or a blurry shot caused by shooting at too slow a shutter speed?

You'll find that high-end digital SLRs produce images with less noise at the same ISO setting than do lower-end digital SLRs. What's more, different digital SLRs reduce noise differently (some on the image sensor, and some in the image processor), as well as to a greater or lesser degree.

Most digital SLRs offer the added option of reducing the noise in-camera (usually, a custom function). Reducing the noise in this way slows down the in-camera processing speed (sometimes up to a few seconds) and may prevent you from taking a rapid action sequence. Still, if digital noise bothers you, it's a good idea to reduce it in-camera.

Additionally, digital noise shows up more in shadow areas than it does in highlight areas. So even in low-light conditions, a brightly lit subject may not show a lot of noise.

You also can reduce the amount of digital noise in an image with software: in Adobe Camera Raw (Detail Tab > Noise Reduction); in Photoshop (Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise); and in Photoshop plug-ins such as Nik Software's Dfine. If you reduce noise with software, I recommend it as an early step in image processing. Also, if you push the sliders in these noise-reducing applications to the max, you'll surely reduce the noise, but your picture will look soft. So keep sharpness in mind when reducing noise.

And you'll probably need to sharpen your images, because stage lighting usually is soft and flattering. Sharpening should be done as the final step because other adjustments you make (such as Levels and Contrast) also sharpen a picture, and you don't want to oversharpen an image.

Lenses
Use a fast lens (ƒ/2.8) or image-stabilization lens (IS) so you can shoot at a shutter speed that'll prevent blurry pictures caused by camera shake. With a non-IS lens, you shouldn't use a shutter speed slower than the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens; that is, don't use a shutter speed slower than 1⁄100 sec. when shooting at 100mm. With an IS lens, you usually can shoot at several shutter speeds below that recommendation. In fact, I took these stage shots with my Canon 70-200mm ƒ/4 IS lens using a shutter speed of 1⁄60 sec.—usually with the lens set at 150mm to 200mm. Be sure to use a wide-angle zoom for full-stage shots, and a telephoto zoom for close-ups.


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Shooting Techniques

1. Get behind the scenes. Hey, if I can talk my way into a dressing room in Mongolia, you surely can get behind the scenes for some great setup shots. These behind-the-scenes shots help to tell the story of the performance. Plus, it's a ton of fun photographing performers getting ready for the show.


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2. Work with mirrors.
Behind-the-scenes stage photography sometimes involves working with makeup mirrors. You can get some interesting images by shooting into a mirror. Here are two keys to remember: Make sure that your own reflection isn't in the mirror; and make sure that no distracting elements are reflected in the mirror.

 




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