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12-07-2009, 05:07 PM   #1
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tips for ballet performance

I wasn't shooting 'officially' - just for fun, because my daughter was performing along with the daughter of some friends. I took my photos at the dress rehearsal, not because the light was better than the performance (alas, it wasn't) but because I was able to pick my seat.

Here's one of the shots:



That's my daughter in the middle (third from left). Here's a link to a couple other photos.

As you can tell from the photos, the light was - well, there WASN'T much light. I've never shot a wedding where the lighting was so low. I used the Pentax 50 f/1.4, put the K20D into TAv mode, and set auto-ISO for a range from 400-3600. I was maybe 30 ft from midstage, perhaps 25 ft. I tried to shoot around f/1.7 or f/2, and I tried to keep the shutter at or above 1/180th sec. ISO ended up at 1600 or higher for most of the photos. I was shooting handheld (with SR enabled, of course). Don't see how a tripod would have helped much here, because I could not slow down the shutter in any case.

I'm showing the processed photos. I tried not to bring the exposure up TOO much, as that just increases the noise. Fairly aggressive sharpening applied in Lightroom 3b.

I'm not crazy about the photos and I'm wondering what, if anything, I could do to get better results. Maybe nothing - after all, you can't shoot in the dark, and this was pretty close. But this isn't something I've done much in the past and would be grateful if anybody with more experience could either help or let me know that it's hopeless.

Will

p.s. If I had been hired to take photos of the dancers, I think I would have insisted on increasing the lighting simply for the purpose of the photos.

12-07-2009, 05:43 PM   #2
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The shots look good to me, aside from being (predictably) a bit noisy. Not sure if you shot JPEG or RAW, but in my experience, best results in these situations are obtained by shooting RAW, doing reasonably aggressive NR in PP, but use a light hand on the sharpening. From a practical shooting perspective, I also find that by coming in closer than you otherwise might (eg, using a longer lens, or shooting from closer), you have more "signal" to work with, making noise look less objectionable. The amount of noise per square "inch" of the picture will be constant, but if an inch of a picture is a whole face, noise will kill detail. If that same inch is just a cheek, you won't notice the noise so much because there's more detail. So I'd have conisdered shooting in the 70-100mm range - even though this generally means f/2.8 at best - and trying my hardest to get away with shots at a slightly slower shutter speed by timing things just right. Yes, this still might mean slightly more noise on absolute basis, but it can be worth it.
12-07-2009, 08:43 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Marc Sabatella Quote
The shots look good to me, aside from being (predictably) a bit noisy. Not sure if you shot JPEG or RAW, but in my experience, best results in these situations are obtained by shooting RAW, doing reasonably aggressive NR in PP, but use a light hand on the sharpening. From a practical shooting perspective, I also find that by coming in closer than you otherwise might (eg, using a longer lens, or shooting from closer), you have more "signal" to work with, making noise look less objectionable. The amount of noise per square "inch" of the picture will be constant, but if an inch of a picture is a whole face, noise will kill detail. If that same inch is just a cheek, you won't notice the noise so much because there's more detail. So I'd have conisdered shooting in the 70-100mm range - even though this generally means f/2.8 at best - and trying my hardest to get away with shots at a slightly slower shutter speed by timing things just right. Yes, this still might mean slightly more noise on absolute basis, but it can be worth it.
Marc,

Of course I shot raw.

As for the focal length, your comments are interesting but I'm not sure I understand. As I said, I was shooting at the dress rehearsal, and that meant that I was able to pick my vantage point pretty freely. I framed the shots pretty much the way I wanted them. I did crop, but the cropping (to a 1x2 ratio) was intended simply to eliminate "junk" at the top and bottom of the image. So, bottom line, I don't think I wasted much or any of the pixel resolution of the original shots. I could have brought the Pentax 70 f/2.4 and used it instead but I would have simply moved a little farther back.

As for the noise: It looks like you and I have slightly different approaches here. You suggested being agressive about reducing the noise, but being more restrained with the sharpening. Most of the time - with my normal images taken in decent light - I don't do any additional sharpening AT ALL. But with dark, high iso images like these, I tend to sharpen fairly aggressively for viewing on the Web, without doing much to reduce noise. Instead, for the Web, I simply reduce the size of the images. And for printing, I simply don't print very large. Don't sharpen so aggressively for printing, either.

But I will try your approach next time and see if it makes a difference.

I can't help wondering: What would I have gotten if I was shooting with a 5D or a D3?? Would it really have been that much better?

Will
12-08-2009, 05:46 AM   #4
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D3 can shoot clean images at 3200 or even 6400 isos, but the cost is completely different, that's why pros use Canikon gear, because the cost of such equipment is covered by selling the work done using it.

Shooting people dancing is hard: low light + people moving fast.

12-08-2009, 07:45 AM   #5
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Can you put I words what you'd like to improve? Is it simply noise and sharpness, or are there other aspects that you'd like to improve?
12-08-2009, 08:06 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by johnmflores Quote
Can you put I words what you'd like to improve? Is it simply noise and sharpness, or are there other aspects that you'd like to improve?

Good question.

Well, I guess it's mostly noise and sharpness - especially sharpness. I don't care as much about background noise. I dislike having to use as much capture sharpening as I did on these pics. I don't usually use ANY capture sharpening at all, which is what I prefer. I do usually boost the "clarity" slider in Lightroom, at least a little, and I think there is some USM effect there. But I don't usually use the actual sharpness sliders.

In addition to noise and sharpness, I wish that it were possible simply to achieve a better exposure in this situation, that is, better detail in the shadows, a histogram that peaks closer to the center of the graph instead of being pushed way to the left because I had no choice but to underexpose.

This particular performance may be a special case, and perhaps there's not much of a general nature to be learned here. I have a lot of experience in the theater, as a writer and performer. This performance was in a very nice theater (the big McFarlin theater on the campus of Southern Methodist University) but I think the lighting was not good in many of the scenes. We saw another ballet from a different professional company last year in the same theater. I remember the lighting for that performance of Coppelia and I'm sure that I could have taken much better photos in that show, if I'd tried.

But I guess what I'm really interested in here, is getting a sense of the limits of photography. Sometimes there just isn't enough light to take photos.

Will
12-08-2009, 08:39 AM   #7
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Will

I shot lots of stage performances of my daughter & for her dance classes and other performances, as she both performed and taught.

the lighting you show is actually pretty good, much better than most I have had.

I like shooting with longer lenses mostly, but that is due to seat positioning, however I have used my 70-200 F2.8 A LOT for performances, as well as my 135 F2.5.

I usually shoot wide open to keep shutter speed and shoot at either 1600 (K10D or 3200 (*istD)

I posted a shot a while back, with the K10D at ISO 1600. This was at a dance show and one of the other dancers. I liked the impact of motion, and lighting. My feeling is that you use what you have to the best advantage, and not worry about the grain. If you want group shots, these might be better posed than done during the performance,



another shot from a school performance *istD @ 3200 ISO, F3.5 1/125th of a second.



edit note, I shoot JPEG only, and do very little PP, the dancer, however, I did increase slightly the black threshold to make the black mat really black, otherwise nbo PP at all

Last edited by Lowell Goudge; 12-08-2009 at 08:54 AM.
12-08-2009, 09:31 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I shot lots of stage performances of my daughter & for her dance classes and other performances, as she both performed and taught.

the lighting you show is actually pretty good, much better than most I have had.
Thanks for chiming in, Lowell. Interesting. Perhaps dance lighting is generally lower than the theater lighting that I'm familiar with, or perhaps I'm just misremembering - very possible, since my theater experience is a bit in the past now and does NOT involve photography.





QuoteQuote:
I posted a shot a while back, with the K10D at ISO 1600. This was at a dance show and one of the other dancers. I liked the impact of motion, and lighting. My feeling is that you use what you have to the best advantage, and not worry about the grain.
Yes, I agree. Noise is not the worst problem in the world.


QuoteQuote:
If you want group shots, these might be better posed than done during the performance
Yes, but this wasn't an issue as I was not the official shooter, just taking photos for myself.


QuoteQuote:
edit note, I shoot JPEG only, and do very little PP, the dancer, however, I did increase slightly the black threshold to make the black mat really black, otherwise no PP at all
Interesting. You are very brave. :-)

I just remembered something that I wanted to ask about. There's a custom setting in the K20D that allows you to set the level of noise reduction done in-camera when you shoot at higher ISO. The options are
  1. Off
  2. Weakest
  3. Weak
  4. Strong

The choices seem odd. Personally, I would have offered "Weak," "Medium" and "Strong," but never mind that. My question is, what do other people do with this setting? I usually keep it on "Weakest", but for this recent performance I boosted it to strong. Not sure if that was a good idea or not, perhaps not.

Will

12-08-2009, 10:17 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Thanks for chiming in, Lowell. Interesting. Perhaps dance lighting is generally lower than the theater lighting that I'm familiar with, or perhaps I'm just misremembering - very possible, since my theater experience is a bit in the past now and does NOT involve photography.
In general I think dance lighting is a little darker, or perhaps more correctly it is principally done with only a few spots to highlight the dancers, this causes the scene to be very un-evenly lit, making shadow detail impossible,
QuoteQuote:
Yes, I agree. Noise is not the worst problem in the world.
I agree, I find in fact, that my *istD has a very pleasing high ISO performance and will still use it over my K10D in these situations. I have not had a chance yet to use my K7 in similar environment to see how it compares, but at least to 800 ISO it is stellar

QuoteQuote:
Yes, but this wasn't an issue as I was not the official shooter, just taking photos for myself.
for this, you are kind of stuck, because you clearly are not in control of things.
QuoteQuote:

Interesting. You are very brave. :-)
RAW lovers would say foolish but in all my shooting I have never been disappointed in how the JPEGs come out. There have been a lot of discussions about JPEG vs RAW, and this thread should not be hijacked because of those discussions, but I don;t see a lot of advantage to RAW, given the inherent noise levels of high ISO shooting in shooting raw. I also use spot metering, and trust it (or at least know it's performance) and don't worry about the histogram because with the un-even lighting it will be so biased to one side or the other it is no longer relevant. I rely on spot metering to give me what I am pointed at correctly exposed
QuoteQuote:

I just remembered something that I wanted to ask about. There's a custom setting in the K20D that allows you to set the level of noise reduction done in-camera when you shoot at higher ISO. The options are
  1. Off
  2. Weakest
  3. Weak
  4. Strong

The choices seem odd. Personally, I would have offered "Weak," "Medium" and "Strong," but never mind that. My question is, what do other people do with this setting? I usually keep it on "Weakest", but for this recent performance I boosted it to strong. Not sure if that was a good idea or not, perhaps not.

Will
Don't know about the K20 the K7 is LOW, MEDIUM, HIGHand OFF I have mine set to low, but it is probably safe to assume they are similar in meaning, but perhaps in relative terms they are not linear on the K20. By this I mean that strong may be really agressive and weakest and weak are closer together than weak and medium would be as they are implied on the K7. This could be an interesting comparison between K20 and K7 to see if the words really are directly comparable,
12-08-2009, 10:38 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
...RAW lovers would say foolish but in all my shooting I have never been disappointed in how the JPEGs come out. There have been a lot of discussions about JPEG vs RAW, and this thread should not be hijacked because of those discussions, but I don;t see a lot of advantage to RAW, given the inherent noise levels of high ISO shooting in shooting raw. I also use spot metering, and trust it (or at least know it's performance) and don't worry about the histogram because with the un-even lighting it will be so biased to one side or the other it is no longer relevant. I rely on spot metering to give me what I am pointed at correctly exposed
Oh, that's a good point, Lowell. Thanks for mentioning it.

Some good while back I decided to put my cameras on full matrix metering and just leave that setting alone - as I have put the cameras on AWB and never looked back. (Remember, I shoot raw.) I general, I've been happy with matrix metering. When I eyeball a scene, I tend to read the entire scene in order to get a sense of what exposure compensation I should use for the subject, wherever it is. So I think it's better for the camera to be using the same "whole enchilada" metering system that I use with my eyeballs.

Nevertheless, this dance performance was a special case, and I think you've got a good idea here. I wish it had occurred to me to switch to spot or at least center-weighted metering. Now, I'm not sure it would have made any difference, since I was already close to the limits of what I could do. But I wish I'd thought of it at the time.


QuoteQuote:
Don't know about the K20 the K7 is LOW, MEDIUM, HIGHand OFF
Aha. They've seen the error of their ways. That makes more sense.


QuoteQuote:
I have mine set to low, but it is probably safe to assume they are similar in meaning,
I would guess that "low" (the lowest setting on the K-7) = "weakest" (the lowest setting on the K20D). Just a guess.


QuoteQuote:
...but perhaps in relative terms they are not linear on the K20. By this I mean that strong may be really agressive and weakest and weak are closer together than weak and medium would be as they are implied on the K7. This could be an interesting comparison between K20 and K7 to see if the words really are directly comparable,
Yes, if anybody would like to lend me a K-7 for a month I'd be happy to do the testing. Please try to get it to me before I leave for vacation. :-)

I'm not really sure that the noise reduction settings do anything at all, in the K20D. Perhaps I ought to test THAT while I wait for a K-7 to drop out of the sky.

Will
12-08-2009, 11:38 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Yes, if anybody would like to lend me a K-7 for a month I'd be happy to do the testing. Please try to get it to me before I leave for vacation. :-)
Not a chance
QuoteQuote:
I'm not really sure that the noise reduction settings do anything at all, in the K20D. Perhaps I ought to test THAT while I wait for a K-7 to drop out of the sky.
Will
Note that things that fall from the sky really hurt
12-08-2009, 11:40 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
<SNIP>
I just remembered something that I wanted to ask about. There's a custom setting in the K20D that allows you to set the level of noise reduction done in-camera when you shoot at higher ISO. The options are
  1. Off
  2. Weakest
  3. Weak
  4. Strong

The choices seem odd. Personally, I would have offered "Weak," "Medium" and "Strong," but never mind that. My question is, what do other people do with this setting? I usually keep it on "Weakest", but for this recent performance I boosted it to strong. Not sure if that was a good idea or not, perhaps not.

Will
I use "Off". I find noise reduction can be much more carefully applied, if wanted, in post processing. The camera just does not have the "horsepower" available on the computer. Coming, as I do, from a film background going back some 50 years, I tolerate more "noise" than most. I find even the k10d 1600 ISO shots marvellously clean in comparison to say Tri-X pushed to 1600.
12-08-2009, 11:48 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by Canada_Rockies Quote
I use "Off". I find noise reduction can be much more carefully applied, if wanted, in post processing. The camera just does not have the "horsepower" available on the computer. Coming, as I do, from a film background going back some 50 years, I tolerate more "noise" than most. I find even the k10d 1600 ISO shots marvellously clean in comparison to say Tri-X pushed to 1600.
Perhaps I will follow your example and move my camera's setting from "weakest" all the way to "off."

Part of my problem is that I don't find it as easy to do noise reduction on the computer as I would like. I have a stand-alone license for Noise Ninja but I've never been convinced that I understood what I was doing. It seems rather complicated. Noise reduction in Lightroom 2.5 isn't great (I use it, but it isn't great) and the luminance noise reduction slider in Lightroom 3 beta (which I used for these dance photos) is currently disabled.

I also tolerate a fair bit of noise and like you, I've been thinking that it had something to do with having worked with film for decades and worked in the darkroom. To tell the truth, I don't recall ever shooting with anything faster than ASA 400 in the old days. I am not sure I was even aware that 1600 existed, and my more recent forays with Ilford black and white ISO 1600 film in my Nikon N65 are, as you say, a good bit noisier than the results I get at 1600 from my K20D.

But noise may be making a come-back. Picasa has a button to add noise, which I thought was a joke until Adobe added the same thing (well, in a more sophisticated version) in Lightroom 3b.

Will
12-08-2009, 12:11 PM   #14
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Like Albert AKA Canada_Rockies, I came from film, and don't bitch about noise because I know what happened when you pushed ektachrome to ISO 1600, or Tri-X to 3200 in processing. For me, the 6 MP *istD blows film away at any ISO I ever worked with, so I am not sympathetic with the new generation of digital only shooters that demand technology provide perfection in impossible situations (although I will gladly accept the fruits of their labors)

I also have noise ninja, but to be honest, I find it a little too aggressive, and actually use the noise reduction tools in PSP X2 when needed. Most critical is the "salt and pepper" filter number of pixels to respond to, usually 1 or 2, otherwise the image becomes blotchy
12-08-2009, 12:14 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by WMBP Quote
Perhaps I will follow your example and move my camera's setting from "weakest" all the way to "off."

Part of my problem is that I don't find it as easy to do noise reduction on the computer as I would like. I have a stand-alone license for Noise Ninja but I've never been convinced that I understood what I was doing. It seems rather complicated. Noise reduction in Lightroom 2.5 isn't great (I use it, but it isn't great) and the luminance noise reduction slider in Lightroom 3 beta (which I used for these dance photos) is currently disabled.

I also tolerate a fair bit of noise and like you, I've been thinking that it had something to do with having worked with film for decades and worked in the darkroom. To tell the truth, I don't recall ever shooting with anything faster than ASA 400 in the old days. I am not sure I was even aware that 1600 existed, and my more recent forays with Ilford black and white ISO 1600 film in my Nikon N65 are, as you say, a good bit noisier than the results I get at 1600 from my K20D.

But noise may be making a come-back. Picasa has a button to add noise, which I thought was a joke until Adobe added the same thing (well, in a more sophisticated version) in Lightroom 3b.

Will
What I found early on with my k10 was that any noise reduction blurred the details. (DUH!) Perhaps you could use a plug in for Lightroom.
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