Category Archives: Dance and Theater

Some Photos I can Share!

Funny story: I haven’t been able to blog about photography even though I’ve been shooting almost every day, because it’s work-for-hire and the images are not mine to share. There are some interesting stories I will share one day (the movie star who greeted me with a big smile and reached out to shake my hand, saw the camera, and withdrew his hand in disgust), but in the meantime, I still get the pleasure of photographing Nordhoff High School’s dance performances.

I shot the dance show on two nights; once with the D7100 and once with the D610. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but each offers image quality absolutely up to the task. I would have used the D7100 exclusively because of its superior focusing system, but the cropped sensor was not a good match for my position at the venue; you won’t usually hear me complain about being too close, but the 70-200 didn’t let me go wide enough for ensemble shots until I switched to the D610.

The music in this video is not from the performance; it’s just an important song about the roles of women and girls in our society, and as the father of a daughter it rattles me every time I hear it. It’s called Ophelia, by Natalie Merchant.

Oh, and I still get to photograph birds in my backyard:

Hummingbird-9678

Looking forward to a lot more shooting and blogging in the coming year, as well as a blog redesign for better organization. I hope you’ll join me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Dance and Theater

Dance Concert D7100 vs. D610

Night One. D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Night One. D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Last December I shot a dance concert with the D610, and while I got some very nice shots, I was disappointed with the focusing system and made a note to try the D7100 next time. Well, next time happened earlier this month.

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

These concerts are always both stressful and fun. I’m not sure there’s any focusing system that would be optimal in these circumstances, but the D7100 definitely did a better job than the D610, and I got well over 150 keepers from the first performance. But you know what? I just couldn’t leave well enough alone.

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

While I was over-processing, pixel-peeping, and over-analyzing images from night one, I decided that I had sacrificed dynamic range and low-light capability by choosing the D7100. I resolved to shoot night two with the D610. It’s a good thing I got most of what I needed on night one.

Night two. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Night two. Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8. Well exposed and out of focus.

Now don’t get me wrong. I got some good shots with the D610, but it was more of a crap shoot, focus wise. I knew that I was trading focus acuity for lower noise at higher ISOs, but I was surprised at what a bad trade it turned out to be. There are several factors at work here: 1) the D610 doesn’t focus as well as the D7100 in low light, 2) the full frame sensor produces less depth of field at the same aperture, 3) the full frame sensor also required me to use the lens at its extreme end of 200mm, where it is less likely to be sharp than in the middle of its range. (I haven’t tested this, but it’s a plausible hypothesis). Whatever the reason, the images were not as sharp as often, and that was a shame, because the dynamic range and high ISO were visibly better.

As I say, I got most of what I needed at the first performance, and the teacher is happy with the 198 images I delivered. This experience reminds me to carefully choose the right tool for the task at hand. One week after the dance concerts I did a studio shoot with the D610 and cannot imagine a better camera for the job (blog to come).

So the very good news is that I got to see these magnificent dance performances, make some very nice photos, and learn something important about my cameras. Win, win, win.

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4098

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4304

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4378

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4469

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4573

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4657

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4752

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4860

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4878

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4905

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-4961

Nikon D7100 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-2968

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3033

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3205

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3207

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3298

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3327

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3351

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3626

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Nordhoff Dance-3638

Nikon D610 with 70-200 f/2.8

Leave a comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Dance and Theater, Low Light

Playing the Cards I Was Dealt at the Ojai Storytelling Festival

In a visually cluttered environment, I sought ways to simplify.

In a visually cluttered environment, I sought ways to simplify each frame.

I’ve attended sixteen Ojai Storytelling Festivals, and I’ve photographed at least twelve of them. Every year there are new challenges. Oh, he’s going to juggle flaming torches? Okay. Oh, she’s going to spin and twirl all over the stage? Okay. Oh, they’re going to wear black clothes and bright white makeup? Okay. I attend nearly every event over the weekend, so if at first I don’t get the shot, I usually get another chance.

This stage was really challenging, with bright gels everywhere I turned, and a harsh spot that produced "raccoon eyes" unless tellers looked in very specific directions.

This stage was really challenging, with bright gels everywhere I turned, and a highly placed spotlight that produced “raccoon eyes” unless tellers looked in very specific directions.

This year threw some unknown unknowns my way.  The past two years, I’d gotten quite used to taking up a position behind or up against giant speakers at stage-right, which allowed me to get close to the performers without distracting the audience. But those speakers weren’t used this year. Nor was there seating in the “orchestra pit” area, so any attempt to get close to the stage put me out in the open, between performer and audience.

Sometimes I could find an angle and minimal depth of field to obscure the busy backgrounds, but not often.

Sometimes I could find an angle and minimal depth of field to obscure the busy backgrounds, but not often.

I found a relatively unobtrusive spot stage-left, where I faced a busy background and obstacles (music and microphone stands) in the foreground. Unsightly backgrounds and cluttered foregrounds became a bit of a theme because most of the daytime performances previously held in Libby Bowl were staged this year at the Ojai Center for the Arts. On a makeshift stage, under a canopy. A small canopy.

Eventually, I moved closer, went monochrome, and got all portrait-y.

Eventually, I moved closer, went monochrome, and got all portrait-y.

Storytelling Festival-2174-Edit Regi Carpenter-3359

But wait, there’s more! Two of the tellers were accompanied by musicians. So I’ve got busy backgrounds, cluttered foregrounds, and I’m looking for compositions that accommodate a standing teller and a seated musician.

Eventually I pulled off some nice shots of Minton Sparks and John Jackson, it took some gymnastics to find the angles.

Eventually I pulled off some nice shots of Minton Sparks and John Jackson, but it took some gymnastics and yoga moves to find the angles.

Storytelling Festival-3614

On top of all this, I faced the ever-present gels of doom – purple and green and maroon and blue; not the most flattering replacements for skin tones.

But you know what? I told myself the same thing I told a visiting German photographer who didn’t like the light in Monument Valley last month: I play the cards I’m dealt. And I found two techniques that mitigated most of my challenges: tighten the frame, and narrow the color palette.

It only has to work a few times to deliver what the tellers and the promoter need. And I think it did.

Storytelling Festival-3492

Storytelling Festival-3430 Storytelling Festival-3447 Storytelling Festival-2316

Storytelling Festival-2358 Storytelling Festival-3396

Next week I return to shooting dance. I wonder what cards I will draw…

1 Comment

Filed under Dance and Theater, Low Light

A Sort of Progress

141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_8909-3

A lot of things didn’t go right during my most recent opportunity to photograph dance, but the better images show improvement in exposure. For years, I was so committed to recovering shadow detail that I consistently overexposed dance images. Now I’m trying harder to make peace with the shadows, and I’m finding some success. Still a lot of variables to control, but this is going to help. I shot using matrix metering and -.7 exposure compensation, but I still had to bring down the highlights quite a bit in Lightroom. Usually, there was detail to be recovered in the highlights, so -.7 might be a good safe compromise in this situation.141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9170 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9234 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9307 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9385 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9553 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9636 141211-Nordhoff DanceDSC_9639

1 Comment

Filed under Dance and Theater

Great Gear, Bad Decisions

Matrix metering really doesn't know what to do in a situation like this. It's up to us to manage exposure.

Matrix metering really doesn’t know what to do in a situation like this. It’s up to us to manage exposure, but we need the right tools to do so.

It’s confession time. After the frustrations of the December dance concert, I traded in one of my D7000 bodies for a D610, believing a full-frame camera would finally deliver the high ISO performance needed for dance.

Like many of my recent purchase decisions, this one turned out to be the right horse in the wrong race. The D610 is a marvelous camera that improves many of my images, but it does not solve my dance performance problems. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Camera Gear, Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Low Light, Post Processing