As I reported yesterday, I usually photograph dance during actual performances with audiences, but yesterday I had the opportunity to shoot a dress rehearsal. That meant that instead of shooting from the back of the theater, I was able to set up front row center. Instead of using my 70-200 telephoto zoom, I shot with my 17-55 wide-angle zoom. Here are my first impressions.
As expected, the closer working distance reduced lens compression and produced a more pleasing relationship between foreground and background. As it happened, the front row in this particular theater was stage level. In other theaters I’ve worked, the front row is below stage level and I fear the distortion will be most unflattering to the people on stage, since it will enlarge the lower portions of their bodies. Nevertheless, I’m now convinced that I will have to find ways to shoot dance and theater from much closer distances than I have used in the past.
Of course, my position did not change the fact that the lighting was out of my control. In most cases, the contrast was far beyond the dynamic range of my camera, with bright, gelled lights hitting white outfits on dancers against a dark background. Thus, post-processing was an exercise in compromises, as I tried to balance noise, highlights and shadows.
All images were shot with a Nikon D300 and Nikon 17-55 f2.8 lens. ISO was set to Auto with an upper limit of 1600, which it usually hit. Otherwise, I used manual exposure between 1/160 and 1/320 of a second and f2.8 or f3.2. A lot of the blown highlights were reds caused by bright amber-gelled lights. To see more images from this exercise, visit my smugmug gallery.