Harsh, dramatic theater lighting that pushes me and my camera to the edge of our abilities sometimes delivers my most stunning images. But stunning images aren’t always the goal. For example, when a producer wants photos for the lobby, he or she wants to show off the cast, not the lighting. At an awards show, the publicity people want pictures of the winners holding their awards. All the winners.
Exposure-wise, unevenly lit groups put me between a rock and a hard place, because of the contrast range onstage. If I hold the highlights, I lose the shadows, and vice-versa. Typically, I err toward holding the highlights, and I shoot RAW to reclaim as much highlight and shadow detail as possible in post-processing. In most cases, I have to scale back the highlights and the shadows, and I end up with flat looking, grainy images. Unfortunately, I don’t have a better solution yet.
The two gentlemen at right are near the middle of the stage, under the brightest light. The dark-skinned man in the dark suit against a dark background is also in the least lit area of the stage. Dodging the shadows in Aperture caused the underexposure noise (grain) in this image.
The spotlight overexposes the girls in the center. Striking a compromise between highlight and shadow detail makes the picture look, well, compromised.
Loved the moment, but couldn't quite capture the dynamic range. Lightening the shadows makes the picture possible, but not very compelling.
These characters from the Ojai Art Center production of Annie are wearing dark clothes in a relatively unlit portion of the stage. Capturing the dark clothes required backing off the shadows. It saps the drama from the image, but if I didn't lighten the shadows, several heads would appear to be floating in the darkness.
Of course, I love it when BOTH characters are in the spotlight. By the way, you should go see Annie at the Ojai Art Center!