Best Lenses/Techniques for Live Theatre

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by TheatreLD, Apr 9, 2009.

  1. TheatreLD macrumors newbie

    Apr 9, 2009
    Chicagoland, IL
    Heya, I've been a lurker of the forum for a little while and just decided to take the plunge and register to ask a question...

    I'm a lighting designer for a lot of live entertainment such as stage plays, concerts, dance, etc and I'm trying to figure out the best way to document my work. [All of the photography would of course be approved by the producing agents, fellow designers, etc - my goal is to get good enough shots that they'll ask for or even buy mine, too!] So basically I need to create dramatic, solid shots.

    I am often shooting in low lighting conditions, and don't always have the luxury of photo calls (staged photo shoots) to get pictures. I need to take pictures that accurately reflect the colors and lighting levels of the scene without having to tinker with the lighting levels to any great extent. I don't usually need or want "close ups" but more mid-range and wider shots that encompass the whole scene, often with some very subtle looks or dancers moving quickly in dramatic light.

    So far it seems like I get decent shots of the people, but lose the backgrounds, which are clearly visible to the eye, in the photos.

    I have a Canon Digital Rebel XSi that's still pretty new to me and so far only have the stock lens (EF-S 18-55 IS) that came with it.

    I've been doing some research and the gist I'm getting is that I need fast lens with a wide aperture. I've been looking at this lens because it's pretty much in my price range. Is this a solid choice or are there better options out there for the price?

    Do you guys have any experience shooting live events and/or any insight to offer? I recognize that there isn't a magic bullet that will solve all my problems, but I would love to be pointed in the right direction.

  2. jons macrumors 6502

    Apr 24, 2008
    The 50mm will be more like an 80mm on your camera, which will be a medium telephoto depending on how far away you are.

    You would probably be better served with the 35mm f2 or similar, as it will provide a wider field of view.

    Bring a tripod an USE it.

    Your XSi can handle high ISO pretty well so don't be afraid to go up to 800 or so. As long as you expose correctly it should look ok. Even better if you run it through noise ninja or similar.
  3. TheatreLD thread starter macrumors newbie

    Apr 9, 2009
    Chicagoland, IL

    I see people running around with monopods and I like the idea of having the extra mobility. Are they effective enough or should I stick with a tri-?
  4. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020


    Apr 5, 2004
    Huntsville, AL
    With anything faster than f/2.8 (meaning a lower f-number), the monopod should get you by.
  5. oblomow macrumors 68030


    Apr 14, 2005
    Depending on your location in the theatre (on stage, front row or just somewhere in the back of the audience) I'd say get a 85/1.8, 50/1.4 (the 1.8 is cheap but slow) or the 35/2. Use ISO1600 and you can forget about the tripod, although a monopod will give you some extra stability without being too much hassle to carry around when you move through the theatre.
  6. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    a monopod will only take away camera shake in one dimension. its usefulness with a short lens is questionable. i would just save and get a tripod, if i even bother. if the shutter is too slow to be handheld, it's too slow for moving people. a good tripod will always have good technique, though.

    for lenses, i suggest you look at something in the 20-35mm range. specifically, Sigma 20mm f/1.8 or 30mm f/1.4, Canon 28mm f/1.8 or 35mm f/2.
  7. Olivier L. macrumors member

    Feb 26, 2009
    As+1 for the suggestion made above: the Sigma 30 mm 1.4

    I really enjoy it on my Canon 400D (= Rebel something).

    Of course, a prime lens will not give you the same flexibility. But maybe for a special occasion you can borrow or rent some additional lenses, or even a photographer :)
  8. wheelhot macrumors 68020

    Nov 23, 2007
    yup, I agree, zoom gives you more flexibility and sometime I feel primes restrict my composition cause I can't move further, but prime is usually faster...
  9. dmz macrumors regular


    Jan 29, 2007
    I've done a lot of live events, including theatrical shoots, and you won't get anything decent without:

    a) a tripod
    b) a fast lens (ƒ1.4-1.8)
    c) lowest ISO you can manage, so you can take the
    d) longest exposure you can manage (hence the NEED for a tripod)

    You may find HDR helpful, though I don't know if your camera supports it, or you can manually combine bracketed shots in Photoshop - I've been using that technique since the days of film and it yields the best results for this type of photography - you want to show off your lighting to the best of your ability, but one exposure will not capture it all.

    I'm also guessing that having the performers blur a bit is NOT a deficit, in fact for dance, it's quite poetic.

    Happy Shooting


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