Available LIght Photos of Zach Scott Theater's Spelling Bee Play/Musical

Two images from the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
(click on the pix to seem em larger).

Shooting theater productions is fun. Or it should be. Actors are acting, someone else has done all the lighting for you and there's lots of contrast with pools of bright, intense light and equal areas of stygian darkness.

I've written before that taking good photographs of a live production helps hone your reflexes and pushes you to anticipate action. My problem yesterday was that I paid too much attention to the play. And it was hilarious, which made me laugh, which made the little steam engines, or whatever makes Image Stabilization work go into over time.

The play is hilarious. But between bouts of paralyzing laughter I felt duty bound to get some sharp, well exposed images that the theater could use in the newspaper to sell tickets.

First thing I did was figure out a good white balance which is harder than it sounds because some lights are standard whites while others were gelled blue and others yellow. In fact the white balance changed by quadrants on the stage. I tried to figure it out and settled on a custom compromise. 3600K.
Seems to have worked out pretty well. In the old, old days I might have brought a color temperature meter but I'm equally sure it would have been useless since I would never have had the right filter packs with me to effect the proper change, and, if I did the resulting filter pack would have sapped precious photons from film I was already planning to push process.

I brought two cameras with me because I'm always certain that the one time I come with a solo imaging machine will be the one time Murphy's law cripples it and leaves me with no options. Last night it was pair of Olympus cameras, the e30 ( a darling camera with lots to recommend it) and the e520 (which doesn't focus as accurately as I would like with an f2 lens in the dark but is cheap as dirt and works well outside......). I used the e30 with my new "favorite/how did I ever live without/OMG/gush lens, the 35-100mm f2. Sounds kind of stubby but when you remember that we Olympus shooters got shortchanged on chip size (just kidding oh brethren...) the whole thing kinda factors out into a 70-200 f2, which is something special.

If you don't shoot Olympus you've probably got a genuine 70-200mm in your bag so you know how much fun that grab bag of focal lengths can be when you are standing stage size and trying to get "two shots", "three shots", and a few random close up solo portraits. And I know that your D700, D3, 5D is less noisy than my e30 but I also know I'm shooting a stop wider than you.....

I figured I'd be pretty noise free if I stayed around ISO 800 so I tuned up the camera and got to work. The lighting was such that I spent most of the evening shooting at f2.5 in between 1/250th and 1/500th of a second. Combine that with the nifty four stop IS in the body and you've got a pretty interesting handful. For the few times I needed to go wider I grabbed on old, battered 14mm-54mm and made due at f3.5. Not glamorous but workable.

There's not much I'd change about the e30 body. The finder is nice, the displays are good and the controls are positive. The one thing I would change about the e520? I'd make it into another e30. We'll see about that over the weekend....

The theatrical gods of photography graced me last night by allowing me to shove all my images on one 4 gigabyte card. That sure makes burning a DVD for the marketing director an easier task. I slogged home around 11 pm still chuckling about the one "home schooled" character in the play who "makes his own clothes and even makes capes for his cats".

I've been shooting for Zach Scott Theater for 17 years now and I would say that I've benefitted more from the relationship than the theater has. They keep me constantly working on technique, introduce me to theater that is challenging and new (and which I wouldn't have the insight to find on my own...) they introduce me to incredible talent (who are easily recruited as models) and they throw fabulous parties.

In addition to all that they send out several hundred thousand printed pieces a year to the upscale demographic in our town. With my credit line prominently displayed. It's really nice marketing. If you haven't thought about shooting a little theater stuff in your town you might consider. Could be good all around.

Two thumbs up for the 35-100 and the e30.


Paula said...

Nice maybe I should finally sell my old E-500 and pick up an E30 to pair with my E3. I kinda wanna wait to see what Olympus has in store next though so I might try to be patient a little longer.

Leo Graet. said...

Hi, Kirk,
great blog you have here. I also own an E-30 and I love it. My backup is the E-620, which doesn't fit into my hand as good as the E-30 does, but it's worth a look, because sometimes I love to have the tiny lightweighted E-620 in my pocket.
Maybe the AF in the E-30 is slightly better, but I'm not sure. Image quality is the same with both cameras.
Greetings from Germany,

Michael Clay said...

I'm in the exactly the same place with you Paula. It's hard to pull the trigger when you know the day you do, the "E5" or whatever is going to come out the next day. It's been a long time for the E3 so it should be coming "any day now", when they finish making all the little "toy cameras" they are releasing now. (Just Kidding Olympus!)

Shawn said...

The 35-100/2 certainly is an outstandingly good lens. But don't you find it a little big and heavy to carry / wield? That's the main issue I have with this otherwise superb lens, and is something that prevents me from using it as much as I would like to.

kirk tuck said...

Shawn, I totally agree. I would hate to use the 35/100 as a "walk around" lens but when you drive your car to the theater and walk fifty feet to the front of the stage......I can live with that. I will say that after a two hour session your hand/arm gets a little tired.

When I'm out side shooting I really like the first version of the 40/150. Nice, light and sharp. But nothing really beats that nice f2 style on the "beast".

Sometimes one must suffer for art.... :-)

Dermot said...

Kirk, just curious, When you do stage, where are you in the theater? Front row? a few rows back? Or are you on stage? or all the above? Is your/art director's vision to shoot as the audience will see it?

kirk tuck said...

Dermot, The shots that seem to work best for the promotions and newspaper stuff are tight two person shots and three person shots or individuals in a dramatic moment. I usually have the entire width of the front row to shoot in and as I mostly shoot these during dress rehearsal I'm not blocking an audience as a I move around. I will, from time to time go to the left or right side of the stage to shoot a set up with one person in the foreground and one facing them to get a dramatic moment or gesture. The only time I move toward the back of the theater seating is the rare time that I need a full cast shot or a shot that shows the stage design. I rarely shoot stage design since the in-house designer knows exactly how he wants it shot and knows how to do it. Some of my big concerns are to not choose an angle which will show empty seats and to work close. Longer lenses help with isolation in cases where the stage may not be complete or there is an issue being worked on.

I stay off the stage itself because in our theater the actors play to the very edge and, if I am unsure of the blocking, I don't want to impede them.

Obviously, people are trying to see what's happening for final corrections, notes to actors, etc. so I try to dress in dark or black clothing, including a black baseball cap so I blend into the dark areas.

That's about it.

Forest said...

Hey Kirk,

First of all, great photos, a pleasure to see.
Second, in regards to the lens: I'm a member of the DPReview forums, and there's recently been a spate of people (mainly CaNikon folks) insisting that the 35-100mm f/2 is actually a 70-200 f/4 for a full-frame camera, both in terms of depth of field and exposure. I've always heard that 4/3 has more depth of field relative to the aperture, but the same exposure values- is this true? I'd like to argue them, but I don't have the technological expertise to back it up, nor another camera besides my e620 to prove it in the real world. I don't know if you have any idea about that...?

kirk tuck said...

Hola Forest,

If I put a light meter next to someone's face and it says f2, and then my camera meter says f2, and I shoot the photo and it's perfectly exposed then f2 is a constant measure. There probably is .7-1 stop more depth of field but I see that as a big blessing in shots like these.

So, the DPReview crowd got it half way right. The exposure is the same on any f2 lens (unless it is limited in some way in it's transmission). The depth of field is dependent on the focal length.

Thanks for the nice compliment on the images. Makes my day!

David D. said...


How about a book on theater photography...even if I never take a photo in a theater your pictures alone would sell it to me!

Anonymous said...

Nice shots Kirk. Just a quick question, do you always manually set WB or have you found any systems that can handle artificial lighting automatically? Also, how do you decide on your manual setting, shoot and chimp or use a temp meter? Thanks. JT

Bill Beebe said...

The photos are superb as usual. Did you do any post-processing, or are those photos straight out of the camera? If they're straight out of the camera then I'm even more impressed.