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08-27-2009, 11:11 AM   #1
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Concerts and performances question

So, a buddy of mine works for PICA and TBA, art and music happenings in Portland. He suggested to one of the guys that I could go and take some photos, which to me is pretty cool. So I'm gonna do it, but I could use some recommendations on what gear to use. I have a K10D, four fast 50's, a 105 2.8, a 200/4 and a 150/4 at my disposal. I'm sure a 50 would do wonders, but I could use any help. What I don't have is a decent flash. I have an old AF220, but I don't think that would work well. So, if anyone in the Portland area would be cool enough to let me borrow a flash, with something as collateral, that would be awesome. I'm pretty broke and unemployed at the moment. Gotta love the Oregon job market.

Patrick

08-27-2009, 11:44 AM   #2
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See my blog articles:

Marc Sabatella: Concert Photography - Equipment

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Marc Sabatella: Concert Photography - Technique

Depending on the size of the venue, I think the 105 is going to be your very good friend. A 50 too, sure, if you like less closeup views than I do. One of the long lenses for larger venues. Flash is normally not appropriate at most concerts, except rock concerts in small dives.
08-27-2009, 12:02 PM   #3
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I have in the past shot indoor stage performances, where flash was banned, but had very successful results with the *istD and K10D at ISO 1600 or 3200.

I use the sigma 70-200 F2.8 and tamron 28-75 F2.8.

I have also used my K135 F2.5

the 50mm F1.4 would be good if you can get close, but if you can't, I think you need better than 150F4 or 200 F4 lenses to do the job.

Marc may disagree as he loves his 135F3.5 because it is small.
08-27-2009, 12:22 PM   #4
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True, but 135 marks kind of a special turning point in focal lengths. I'd absolutely agree I'd rather it be faster; it's just a matter of what I'm willing to trade for speed, and the noticeably smaller size of the M135/3.5 compared to faster alternatives is worth something to me, so I'm willing to make the sacrifice. Doesn't mean I wouldn't trade it for the M120/2.8 if given the chance.

Beyond 135mm, though, something strange happens. In venues large enough that I'm inclined to want more than 135mm, there are usually pretty strong stage lights, presumably so the folksin the back row can see the stage well. And in suh cases, I find I rarely need even f/3.5. In fact, it's the concerts I've shot at 200mm where I'm most likely to have the luxury of shooting at f/5.6 or above, or else using insanely low ISO settings like 800 or even 400. When I use my 200/4, it is usually stopped down. I've even used my 50-200 instead, and still been to either stop it down a little or else shoot at ISO values below 1600 - soemthing I'd never normally dreamof with my 135/M3.5 in smaller venues.

What is find is that in the typical club, where you can reasonably be within a few feet of the stage, and the performers are within a few feet of the front of the stage, it's the 50-135 range I'm using most (hence, I think of the DA*50-135 as the obvious choice for the typical club photography). In the typical small auditorium, where I might be a bit further from the stage, and the performers are set back quite a bit from the front of the stage, I'm living more in the 135-200 range. And in larger auditoriums, I might find 200mm not enough unless I've managed to arrange access to the front, which I don't tend to bother to do do.

08-27-2009, 12:39 PM   #5
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Thanks for the quick responses. I never really use my 105/2.8 auto tak, but I guess it will go with me to the shows. Hopefully there will be some real keepers.
About two weeks ago I did take some bar photos at ISO 1600 and was really impressed. I was under the impression that most didn't like the K10D above 400. It's not like I'm making money, I'm just having a good time.
Marc, great blog by the way.
08-27-2009, 03:08 PM   #6
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I really like my Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 in a stage performance shooting that I recently did. I wrote about my impressions of the DA* zoom along with Pentax FA 77mm f/1.8 limited in the dance in this blog post and I share my mistakes in not trusting iso 800 to iso1600 with my K20D.

I think the focal length in 105mm would work well for you. And I will suggest you bring along your best 50mm to the concert. If a small illuminated lighting as the size of key chain may help you to change lens during the concert. I had the Pentax SuperTak 105mm f/2.8 in M42 mount before and I like its color and bokeh but I would not know if focusing is an issue unless you focus wide open. I had other m42 lens as in 200mm f/2.8 and focusing in daylight is a bit of challenge in anything smaller than f/4.0 and I would imagine harder indoor.

Thanks,
Hin

Last edited by hinman; 08-27-2009 at 03:15 PM.
08-27-2009, 03:27 PM   #7
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The lens that you wrote about are a bit out of my budget, unless I can pay for them with good intentions. I think my preset auto tak 105 and my super tak 50/1.4 should be enough for the shows. Maybe a 28 or a 35 also. Either way, I'm stoked to get into any of the performances and shows for free. I take photos, they keep them. Free shows for 10 days straight. Plus, who knows, I may not get credit for a photo, but someone may like them.
08-28-2009, 01:48 PM   #8
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Fast glass, by that I mean f2.8 or faster, crank up the ISO, even up to 1600 when you need to.

No flash (not usually allowed anyway) and maybe a monopod to keep things a bit steady.

Good luck and enjoy.

08-28-2009, 02:02 PM   #9
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K10D to ISO 800 is fine, but you may 'need' to go to 1250 or even 1600 if there's just not enough light to prevent motion blur. I agree the 105/2.8 may be your go to lens as you'll find that f/2.8 will get you the shots you need. I also agree that taking your fast fifty will also help a lot, so take it with you also. If you are looking for another lens to buy for this purpose, I'd suggest/recommend one of the 70-200 variety with or without a 1.4x TC. There's no substitute for f/2.8 in this setting.
08-28-2009, 08:24 PM   #10
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Leave the flash at home

I've shot stage events, concerts and jam sessions indoors and out and the only way to go is to make peace with the available light. Flash will make you grossly unpopular, it will distract the performer(s) and your shots will have harsh shadows where you don't want them.

Most of my shots end up being ISO 400-800, but I'm not afraid to use ISO 1600 and even ISO 3200. In fact, I love the gritty look of ISO 3200 (in B&W) when shooting blues music performers. This is using the K10D, the K20D and now the K-7.

My most used lenses for this type of work are the FA 77/1.8 Limited, DA* 50-135/2.8 and Sigma 100-300/4. My girlfriend is also getting exceptional shots with the venerable *istDS and a manual focus 105mm/2.8 macro lens.
08-29-2009, 02:04 AM   #11
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ISO 1600 or 3200, dont be affraid of noise, gives it a more of a live feeling. Be carefull with your WB settings, can be a tricky thing with different typees of light everywhere.

I have taken wonderfull pictures with my voigtlander 180/4

Dont just take whole body shots, do som portraits whit the tele.

And be ready all the time.
08-29-2009, 07:21 AM   #12
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I like the 50-135 for this kind of work. I do not believe I could shoot stage with a fixed focal length as one needs to frame wide then close and you are typically shooting from a fixed location.

I recently shot a stage production (the rock opera, Tommy) with this lens wide open at f2.8 and ISO 1600 with my K-7 and sold a 24X36 print to the lead performer. Here is a copy of that image.



and here is another wider shot to show my point about a zoom; this one was used by a local newspaper in their review of the show.

08-29-2009, 10:34 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by MikePerham Quote
I like the 50-135 for this kind of work. I do not believe I could shoot stage with a fixed focal length as one needs to frame wide then close and you are typically shooting from a fixed location.
True, it can be a challenge, especially if you have only one fixed focal length. But depending on what you are trying to do, it can be feasible than you might think. When shooting individual performers, framing is often more or less consistent from shot to shot. Maybe one focal length for the near side of the stage, one for the far part. The shorter focal length doubles as a way of getting a wider view of the far part. Have a shorter focal length still (so three in all) for wider views at the close end. Then, just "bunch" your shots - take all the shots you expect to need of a given performer while you have the most appropriate lens mounted, use that lens for all other shots you might need for, then change lenses and exhaust the possibilities of that lens. So in theory, you can get by with just to lens changes for the whole show. Of course, the reality if often different, but with that ideal guiding you, you really can limit your the lens changes.

This is admittedly much more useful advice for shooting purely musical performances as opposed to theater, though. With theater, it's often different groupings of performers you want to capture, and any given performer may appear at any point on the stage (and move a lot while performing), so framing changes more often. Plus, with costume and set changes, it's much less feasible to expect to be able to get all the shots you want of a given performer at once. I think if I were shooting theater primarily I'd be using a zoom, and would almsot certainly be chosing the 50-135. Luckily, theater productions tend to be better lit than most small clubs; if you aren't doing it very often, you can probably get by in a pinch with a consumer zoom (ie, not f/2.8) and maybe one long prime for faster shutter speeds on closeups.
08-29-2009, 12:04 PM   #14
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I have shot many concerts and theater events. Are the seats presold? If you can, buy one or have one given to you a close seat in the center to use a 50mm or less prime. If not presold, get there EARLY to get the seat you need. Depending on the show and stage, I also take a close side aisle seat so I can get up and move around without disturbing anyone. Shooting from the side of the stage can get good results. Depending on the type of show, take care with how much you shoot and where, the DSLR mirror slap can be very disturbing to those around you. You will be surprised how loud it is in a theater drama environment. I often go back stage and introduce myself to the performer(s) or stage manager and let them know I will be taking pictures. I have received permission to shoot from the wings this way. NO FLASH period. It is very disturbing to performers. You will need high ISO to get the fast shutter speed you need to freeze action. Take many, many, many, many pictures with all kinds of settings. Stage lighting can be insane with the number of keepers small. What you think looks good in the preview on the camera in a dark theater is often not on a computer screen. Be careful of wide open for the depth of field as you'll lose some of the performers. I shoot RAW+jpeg.
08-30-2009, 02:13 AM   #15
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Depending on what you shoot, high iso noise can add to the feeling of the picture. People are affraid of noise, I think it made this picture

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