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03-31-2017, 08:26 PM   #1
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Help - asked to shoot a Ballet (tomorrow)

A lady that I hired 20 years ago (right out of school) and have worked with since, who took over my position when I retired a few months ago, just called. She is a Ballet Mom (she use to be a professional ballerina and when she did not make Prima ballerina in her company, she went back to school for a Masters in Computer Science). Anyway, her girls are in Ballet and they are having a dress rehearsal tomorrow evening and their ballet company's photographer has had some sort of mishap and will be unable to attend. She asked if I could come over and take some pictures. She is one of the ballet company's directors, jack of all trades, etc.

She knows I only do "stuff that does not move" (landscapes, architecture, astro). But, I am willing to give it a go (since it is me or no one - and my price is right). I have a K5 and K5IIs. My AF lenses are the 31/f1.8 Ltd, Sigma 18-35/f1.8 and the 60-250/f4. My manual focus lenses (catch in focus) are A 50/f1.7, Super Tak 85/f1.8, Tak 135/f2.4 and an A 300/f4. I also have the 55-300/f4.5 plus my 10 year old kit lenses - but not really thinking about these at all. The distance will be anywhere from 10 to 40 feet (estimated). Lighting will be stage lighting only. Yes, I know that these are severe limitations.

The building opens up at 5.30 pm when the kids start to arrive. I can do what ever I feel I need to do. Her dad use to be a wedding photographer (Pentax), so she is well acquainted with the needs. I will get there when the stage door opens at 5.30, and figure out the layout and distances and she will have the lighting all turned on - she set it up and made adjustments last weekend. Ballet show (dress rehearsal - parents attending) starts at 7pm.

My only promise is that I will try (best effort) - nothing beyond that. (Since retiring - I no longer pull off any miracles.)

My plans are to shoot in auto ISO 400-1600 (which is somewhat of a guess - may go higher depending on the lighting), aperture probably wide open. Shutter speeds - need to freeze motion so 1/125s (???) as the slowest. Lighting will gate everything. Probably try to start with the 60-250 and see how fast I fail there since its only f4 - it might surprise me, I don't know. Shoot in Av or TAv. Exposure mode in spot (?). With the manual lenses if I need to go in that direction, pre-focus and then use focus capture. I'll shoot in bursts. My personal goal is to try for 5 or 10 reasonably usable images (out of perhaps a 1000 or so) - but that may be a real challenge. I just may have my head handed to be - as this may be way out of my area of competency.

So, some suggestions from anyone inclined? Yes, I know that I am stupid for even trying....

(scooting out to make a quick grocery store run)

03-31-2017, 08:51 PM - 1 Like   #2
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I have done some of this in the past and it is a challenge. As this is a dress rehearsal, lighting will also be part of the rehearsal, sometimes bright, sometimes not. I would stick with the lenses at 85mm and above. The 60-250 f4 will probably be your most useful lens. Only if you want a complete shot of the stage would you need the WA lenses.

Do you have a flash? Bring it and use it. If it is a decent flash you are good out to about 30 feet or so. I would set up a slave flash if you have it also. Watch the action and try to anticipate the shot. Yes, use higher shutter speeds but with flash you will be stuck to no more than 1/180th of a second or so. You may want to save the flash images for the lower light scenes. You can keep it on the camera and turn it on and off as you need it. Don't worry about Depth of Field unless you have a series of dancers that you are trying to capture. Also, you may want to bring a step ladder to work from, so not every shot is at "ground level".

Do a bunch of test shots at the beginning and through the scenes as you shoot. If the scene is bright, don't be afraid to go higher than the 1/250 to 1/500 sec you might be shooting at. Stage lights are pretty bright when they are up full.

Good luck!
03-31-2017, 09:50 PM - 1 Like   #3
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I would suggest:
1. you set the lenses to manual exposure, and after initial shots you will know what the exposure setting should be--likely they will not be changing the lighting.
2. shoot at iso 400 and intend to underexpose 1 ~ 2e.v. The lower iso increases DR, and your problem otherwise is you likely will blow out the brightest areas. (The longer the FL the lens, usually the less problem w/DR--but long lens and dancers is tough--certainly so until you develop the knack.)
3. You can shoot at lower shutter speed than you might expect--you don't want to freeze the motion!! Blurred feet and hands suggest motion--which is good. And you want a slower shutter speed so you get DOF.
4. Flash is generally unacceptable for the performers--and anyway does not usually do as well as natural lighting as likely the flash will be frontal--and add to the DR problem.
5. Use either the 31mm, or the wide sigma zoom and set the FL to capture what seems to take in most/all of the dancers. As a guess--maybe 1/60~125s sec (depends on the dance number--if fast then go up some), iso 400, f/4~5.6. If possible set the lens at about 15 feet focus and tape it there. Actually 31mm may be too narrow FL and too little DOF--I would think about 24 mm is about right.
6. The other camera needs a lens you are most comfortable with. I would think a 50mm or a bit longer, and again about f/5.6, iso 400, etc.
7. Take a bag with few other lenses and perhaps a bag in which you can set the camera you are not using--but they should stand open all the time. If possible ask that the seats next to you be reserved/not used. WilI help to set the bags there--and less problems with worrying about annoying person next to you. As you are the company photographer they likely will do this--unless it is a full house. If they sit someone next to you explain to them who you are and that the shutter noise may be present--and if they mind they need to move.

8. Oh--about where to sit--I actually prefer the side of the house--but also in a way that no one is in front of me. So maybe the reserved (empty) seats need to be in front of you. Angled shots can be are more interesting--but you may have more problems w/ audience in front of you. Also if you are too close to the stage you may be getting too much of the frontal edge of the stage. You cannot stand/draw attention to yourself so you are stuck to your seat till intermission.

9. I agree w/ above post about being at back of hall, if you are using telephoto--but not if you are more into wider angle/more of the stage and dancers. With two cameras you likely should work out what your primary mission is--and then bias everything to that.

Obviously you will get conflicting opinions from people who do this--as myself and above post.You need to figure out what is your comfort zone--no matter that it is not what you usually do--it still will strongly relate to what you normally do--and this is not the time to do stuff totally new.

Last edited by dms; 03-31-2017 at 10:15 PM.
03-31-2017, 10:26 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Brooke Meyer Quote
Okay, so this is what I do - dance, especially ballet.
Thanks!!!!!

QuoteQuote:
Put the 18-35/1.8 on the K5 and put the 60-250/4 on the K5IIs, forget the rest
Done!!

QuoteQuote:
If the 60-250 has a tripod collar and you have a tripod, set that up. I shoot my Sigma 100-300/4 like that with a loose ball head.
Yes the 60-250 has the collar and I have 2 tripods and a monopod. I'll use my GP ballhead - It also pans level....

QuoteQuote:
Assume rear of theater. Your 60-250 is your main and primary lens. Manual mode, f4, ISO 3200 and either 1/320 or 1/400 and DNG's. If you get lucky and have a very bright stage, stop down to 4.5 or 5, extra DoF is very nice. If ypu're unlucky and have weak light, go to ISO 6400. No way 1/125 is fast enough, no way.
Thanks!!! Just this information saved this first experience. For this are DNG's better than PEF's? As a matter of habit, I just have always gone with PEF..

QuoteQuote:
Depending on theater size, 60mm will cover the entire stage / proscenium but if its small, your 18-35 will handle that. Leave the K5 & 18-35 at 2.8, ISO 1600 and 1/320 or 1/400. Turn off SR on both, you're shutter's fast enough you don't need it.
I understand that it is reasonably small. They have a balcony that is about 40 feet from the stage center, that I can have all to myself.

QuoteQuote:
I use fast SDXC cards so I hope you have some 32 or 64 GB cards that are quick.
Yes have several 32 and 64GB cards. I have run continuous bursts of 21 - 27 frames in RAW @ 7fps before the buffer slows down.

QuoteQuote:
Single point, AF-C with rear AF, disable the shutter focus. Track the dancers Flip the lever on multi point if everyone is spread out in a corps piece and center stage is empty.
Got it!!

QuoteQuote:
Forget the flash suggestion. It won't be allowed, its dangerous for the dancers and and it's useless
I don't use flashes - I don't even have one. I just use ambient light (or at night - no light).

QuoteQuote:
Hope you have a good work flow, edit and post takes effort. Ideally, you'd have seen dress rehearsal know the choreography. Expect to delete most, nature of the gig
I have a large fast PC (numerical analysis, image processing), lots of memory, several TB of fast storage. Expecting to take 1000+ images of which 200 may be worth initial first cut processing, of which 20 may be reasonable, worthy of more effort - and hoping for 5 that are acceptable, and perhaps 1 which hopefully may be good enough for advertising the actual performance (it is their 10th anniversary). I am now retired from engineering, so I can just sit down and grind it out.

Overall, this looks like enough information so that rather than going in stone cold dead (first dogfight - quick kill - dead meat), I have sufficient guidance to at least have a chance to survive (third dogfight).



---------- Post added 03-31-17 at 10:38 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by BigDave Quote
... Do a bunch of test shots at the beginning and through the scenes as you shoot. If the scene is bright, don't be afraid to go higher than the 1/250 to 1/500 sec you might be shooting at. Stage lights are pretty bright when they are up full.

Good luck!
It appears that the 60-250 may be fast enough based on everyone's comments - that is what I have, so that is what I will use. I don't have a flash, plus flash is not allowed in the venue. So, what ever light is on stage is it.

Thanks!!



03-31-2017, 10:40 PM - 1 Like   #5
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My only additional suggestion is that when the dancing first starts, you will may be still figuring out what you are doing (this usually happens to me, and I have photographed a good number performances). So whatever you can test out before any actual dancing starts is good. If they have the stage lighting on while the dancers are going over their marks or something, try taking a few photos there to test out the exposures to check that you have the right settings for all of the exposure, shutter speed, and enough depth of field, as much as you can.

Also, I don't know about ballet, but I assume they will not be using color lighting (as Brooke's photos illustrate). But if they do, and you have a chance, try to test out your white balance also, before the action starts. Bright LED lighting makes it easy to blow out one of your color channels in a way that might not be recoverable afterward.
03-31-2017, 10:49 PM - 1 Like   #6
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Go Rock!

My take, IMHO, go at it like a rock concert. Mount the Sigma 18-35 f1,8, and get close like your shooting for Rolling Stone at a show, and move with the performers. The images will be unique, better, and more personal vs. being stationary on a tripod from a longer distance.
03-31-2017, 10:57 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by dms Quote
I would suggest:
1. you set the lenses to manual exposure, and after initial shots you will know what the exposure setting should be--likely they will not be changing the lighting.
2. shoot at iso 400 and intend to underexpose 1 ~ 2e.v. The lower iso increases DR, and your problem otherwise is you likely will blow out the brightest areas. (The longer the FL the lens, usually the less problem w/DR--but long lens and dancers is tough--certainly so until you develop the knack.)
3. You can shoot at lower shutter speed than you might expect--you don't want to freeze the motion!! Blurred feet and hands suggest motion--which is good. And you want a slower shutter speed so you get DOF.
4. Flash is generally unacceptable for the performers--and anyway does not usually do as well as natural lighting as likely the flash will be frontal--and add to the DR problem.
5. Use either the 31mm, or the wide sigma zoom and set the FL to capture what seems to take in most/all of the dancers. As a guess--maybe 1/60~125s sec (depends on the dance number--if fast then go up some), iso 400, f/4~5.6. If possible set the lens at about 15 feet focus and tape it there. Actually 31mm may be too narrow FL and too little DOF--I would think about 24 mm is about right.
6. The other camera needs a lens you are most comfortable with. I would think a 50mm or a bit longer, and again about f/5.6, iso 400, etc.
7. Take a bag with few other lenses and perhaps a bag in which you can set the camera you are not using--but they should stand open all the time. If possible ask that the seats next to you be reserved/not used. WilI help to set the bags there--and less problems with worrying about annoying person next to you. As you are the company photographer they likely will do this--unless it is a full house. If they sit someone next to you explain to them who you are and that the shutter noise may be present--and if they mind they need to move.

8. Oh--about where to sit--I actually prefer the side of the house--but also in a way that no one is in front of me. So maybe the reserved (empty) seats need to be in front of you. Angled shots can be are more interesting--but you may have more problems w/ audience in front of you. Also if you are too close to the stage you may be getting too much of the frontal edge of the stage. You cannot stand/draw attention to yourself so you are stuck to your seat till intermission.

9. I agree w/ above post about being at back of hall, if you are using telephoto--but not if you are more into wider angle/more of the stage and dancers. With two cameras you likely should work out what your primary mission is--and then bias everything to that.

Obviously you will get conflicting opinions from people who do this--as myself and above post.You need to figure out what is your comfort zone--no matter that it is not what you usually do--it still will strongly relate to what you normally do--and this is not the time to do stuff totally new.
All of this has focused my thinking in terms of what I will actually be seeing and how to respond. This is all new to me - so I'll print this out to take with me for a quick reference - particular while things are being set up and I can make some adjustments and figure out what is going on and how to capture it. Mary said, I can shoot from the back, side or up in the balcony - they would make whatever accommodations.

I just said - don't expect the normal miracles - this is my first rodeo. I am just hoping to survive with a modicum of amateur dignity intact - and not be a total embarrassment.



---------- Post added 03-31-17 at 11:43 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by Brooke Meyer Quote
All I've shot is DNG's since 2007, never had to worry about PS versions. Makes using XRite customer profiles easier. Nothing wrong with PEF though.
That is what I was thinking, but I have no shame in asking...

QuoteQuote:
Don't do the machine gun burst mode. Spray and pray is all guess and pointless. I've never done it. Plus you give up choices when the buffer is full and you can't shoot
I'm walking all of this through my mind, and this was becoming a large question. I am so use to static scenes, that I was trying to figure out what the best approach would be. Your reasoning is sound and makes sense. You just saved me from being dumb for not thinking things through and figuring it out before hand.

QuoteQuote:
Listen to the music and watch the dancers, you want the top of move. Go into Zen mode and be one with them, really. The music is giving them their cadence.
Again, this makes perfect sense. Never been to a ballet - only the choreography of the flight deck.

QuoteQuote:
Typically, moves will be repeated 3 times and if they move to a stage corner and the music is building, anticipate a jete ( jump). Fill the frame but shoot a little wide, easy to clip limbs. Especially older male dancers.
I am now starting to get the sense of what I will be shooting. This is excellent knowledge. To me, the 3 repeat is golden, watch the first and don't worry about missing it - then be ready to shoot the 2nd and 3rd. I would not have realized this until I got home and started sorting through all of my mistakes.

QuoteQuote:
Anticipate a little. I don't know the level of performance or what they're doing but work as hard as they do.
The kids are 5 to 15-18 as I understand. Absolute novice to going into college. There are also lots of moms who have been in ballet that do everything (help in the practices - to stay in shape) but do not perform in the stage productions. The productions are all kids.

QuoteQuote:
40ft is close but they probably have another 20 feet of stage depth. That close, you can alternate to the 18-35. 35 at that distance will likely cover the whole stage & final bows.
Mary painted me a mental image of the facility - have never been there, so it will all be new to me. My wife dragged me to folk dancing up in Seattle for a couple of years. I was terrible. That is all I know. We have 2 sons, no daughters, so no ballet background.

QuoteQuote:
Shoot the whole stage when the corps ( large groups are on) and then zoom in to divide in half or thirds. If time allows, zoom to individuals.
I'm told that the parents are into the photographer at the events - very supportive (so they can watch and enjoy the performance).

I am really starting to get sense of what will be going on. We'll just see how it all turns out.

03-31-2017, 11:51 PM - 1 Like   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by interested_observer Quote
So, some suggestions from anyone inclined?
As you want to control shutter speed and lighting may vary (more change than at a sport stadium), TAv Auto ISO is the setting I'd use.
If I understand correctly, you don't have a fast short tele lens, but you do have a fast wide.
Work around the f4 limitation of the 60-250 by observing subject motion and playing with shutter speed.
Normally, shutter speed of 1/500 or faster needed to freeze fast motion. But in slower motion, 1/250 may be sufficient.
Pay attention to when the subject motion stops (subject motion is often not linear: acceleration, deceleration and low motion point), AF and shoot a burst when the subject is in its slower motion situation.
With the 60-250 f4, you can also intentionally use slow shutter speed to create blur, sense of motion in the photograph.
Be prepared to discard a lot of photos, have freshly fully charged battery, battery backup, or battery grip and deep SD cards, not to get limited by how many photos will be taken.

03-31-2017, 11:52 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Brooke Meyer Quote
All I've shot is DNG's since 2007, never had to worry about PS versions. Makes using XRite customer profiles easier. Nothing wrong with PEF though.
.... I just received an image of the theater spec brochure which has a nice photo of the theater from a likely spot where I could set up.I never expected anything this fancy..... My tux no longer fits...


Last edited by interested_observer; 04-01-2017 at 12:46 AM.
03-31-2017, 11:54 PM - 1 Like   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Brooke Meyer Quote
Don't do the machine gun burst mode. Spray and pray is all guess and pointless. I've never done it.
Depends how timely / accurate your finger is to press the shutter button. From what I can see in the photos you've just posted, I guess you are very good at selecting the right moment. I'm not as good as you are, so I tend to use a burst mode.
04-01-2017, 12:33 AM - 1 Like   #11
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I would echo Brooke's advice. Shoot RAW, manual exposure (the lighting is usually fairly consistent) and use the 18-35 and 60-250. Keep shutter speed above 1/250 and ISO below 1600 if the light is decent. Obviously with the Sigma you can shoot at f/2.8ish so a lower ISO will be possible.

Absolutely make deliberate single exposures, going with the flow of the music. Not only is the noise distracting if you shoot burst, you will get mainly too early or too late, with only a few at the apex of each move. It doesn't take long to get into the timing right.

I was lumped with exactly this sort of scenario a couple of years ago, but it was actually a national awards night and I was substituting for a pro, so the pressure was really on. They were all soloists, so I only used telephoto lenses. I have just loaded a few images into a Flickr album HERE if you're interested. I'm a ballet dad, so it might have helped that I know a bit about dance, but I'm sure you'll be fine

Last edited by Sandy Hancock; 04-01-2017 at 12:47 AM.
04-01-2017, 12:59 AM   #12
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I am going off to bed now. I can't thank everyone enough for the critical insights you all have offered. If I get at least one decent image, I'll post some here over the weekend. All I have to do is to suck it up and pull one off for the kids that have worked so hard on this show.

Mary is going to be there most of the day from her last email, so I am going to try to go over much earlier, walk the venue, take some test shots, come home and process - to see how they turn out. Then go back at around 5 (perhaps take my little netbook to do a quick look at the results) and then it's show time.

Got to go move the batteries around....

04-01-2017, 05:15 AM   #13
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Hello,

I'm the photographer of my daughter's ballet company. My best advise: Don't be afraid of pushing ISO. In my K5II I have pushed up to ISO8000 and it recovers beautifully.


ISO8000

Ballet is faster than you think: Sometimes 1/200 is not fast enough. That is also a consideration for depth of field as movement can be a challenge.
Have fun!

Thanks,
04-01-2017, 03:05 PM   #14
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This is a dress rehearsal - why can't you get up close? The balcony is way way to far from the action, you want to be as close as possible so you can see fill the frame with dancers.

I shoot for a non-profit at matinees put on by professional dance groups and I go by the following rules.

1. First contact the head usher and let his people know who you are and what you are going to do. Ask questions referring to house rules.
2. Never - ever - use flash.
3. Go into the custom menu and turn on "blinkies" and histogram on the rear LCD.
4. Turn off the LCD preview - in a darkened theater it is basically a flash light that will distract the dancers. (DO NOT CHIMP) Take a shot or two and MOVE into the isle and chimp, use that to manually set exposure. If possible get a light meter and get readings from the stage --- IF - a big if - the house will let you on the stage.
5. Use back button focus - or manual focus to get the shot.
6. Don't machine gun, be as quiet as possible.
7. If you are truly shooting a rehearsal, ASK the bosses (venue people, dance company people) if it is OK to move around.
8. Don't expect to get a majority of keepers, just don't, you will be disappointed.
9. Use the fastest glass you have, although I have shot with the kit lenses but fast glass will save you.
10. Shoot RAW and only RAW. Modern RAW processors have the ability to pull surprising amounts of information out of images - JPEGS will lead to failure - you do not have time to "play" with settings to get them perfect. Also the lighting will totally change from dance to dance.
11. Remember, it is OK to have motion blur, not everything has be "tack sharp" (I really hate that term).

In reading your lead statement, this is a rehearsal not a performance so you should be able to get close. Don't become a distraction (these are children and by nature they are easily distracted). If the person who asked you to do this is not the leader/director of the ballet school/company find out who is and introduce yourself and ask about what is expected. Ask if there are any release/use restrictions. (Meaning - don't go in and take pictures then throw them up on your site for your personal use the parents will be p*ssed)
04-02-2017, 05:39 AM   #15
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I have been there and done that, from the perspective of a proud parent. As well as my kids' performances, I shot every act that came before and after them, to get some experience - I figured I could chimp like hell for the other acts, then stay glued to the eyepiece when my kids were on. This was invaluable.

The light was very tricky, and in some acts was treacherous. In most cases I was shooting from the balcony with my K-5 and FA135/2.8 to pick particular dancers out. I shot in TAv mode to fix the shutter speed around 1/125-1/250 (some of the acts were slower moving so I could turn it down to 1/60), stopped down to f/3.5 for a bit of extra sharpness, and let the ISO do what it would. And I shot in RAW. I also kept the camera in continuous-high mode,.

They put several performances on, so I got to see some of the same acts repeated and was able to learn from experience. Where I could anticipate the best choreography, I took singles, tapping the shutter button briefly in CH mode as above; where leaping, tumbling or cartwheeling were involved, I mashed the button down at the start of the cartwheel/leap and kept it down until the dancer had their feet on the ground again. Spray-and-praying the whole performance is lazy and wasteful, but it can get you good results if carefully and selectively applied.

Out of 600+ shots, I had about 120 that were (just) fit for Facebook - they went on the dance studio's facebook page, and the chief instructor got post-produced full-resolution copies of everything that wasn't absolutely beyond redemption. One of the best (IMHO) shots became her Facebook avatar for many moons, and that was more flattering to me than any amount of money I could either have asked for (which I didn't) or received (which I also, naturally, didn't).

Expect to come away with three or four dozen really good shots and a handful of really spectacular keepers... and to burn the midnight oil to get the post-processing done in a timely fashion.
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