A Lesson from Charley’s Aunt

When the actors look up, their brows do not create shadows under the bright stage lights. Perhaps I should do theater work on stilts.

I’m a pretty dispassionate, slow-moving guy; so one challenge of High School Theater for me is the general excitability of the participants. WATCH OUT FOR FLYING TEENAGERS!

I always arrive early and resign myself to practice patience, because it’s hard to get people’s attention and it’s hard to keep it. Fortunately, on this occasion the director had mapped out the shots he wanted (HOORAY!), and exhibited remarkable command of the cast.

Since I always arrive early to test the light, I also try to grab some shots of the stage crew. Attending so many rehearsals, I've come to respect the people behind the scenes who make great theater happen.

Because the director had a lot of set-ups and not much time, I decided to use the theater lights rather than my flash units.  Looking at the images afterwards, I realized that just because I wasn’t going to light the scenes myself, I should not have put my lights away. The bright theater lights were a lot like daylight, producing heavy shadows (lots of raccoon-eye action).  I should have used one of my flashes – even on camera – as a fill light.

This is precisely the sort of image that would benefit from a few carefully placed flash units. And here's another tip: if you want the subjects to drop something at the same time, let THEM do the countdown.

Relying on staged poses under fixed lights allowed me to lock in ISO and manual exposure, resulting in lower noise and more consistent exposures. Had I photographed an actual rehearsal or performance, I’d have employed auto-ISO to accommodate the changing light.

We got the publicity shots and portraits we needed, but one can always do better, right? I’m big on learning from my mistakes. Two posts ago, I wrote about wishing I had the presence of mind to move a subject’s hair when it was out of place. At this shoot, I did!

This grab shot while I was testing exposures is one of my favorite "almost" images. It shows the importance of details. Without the rocking chair in the background and the slip of paper on the piano, I think this would be a really nice photograph.

If you like, you can check out the Charley’s Aunt photos at my smugmug page.

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Filed under Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Lighting

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