Today was my first Theater Shoot with my "full" Panasonic GH3 system. What did I like? Was there anything I didn't like?

Pinocchio. This image done with the 12-35mm f2.8 X Panasonic zoom
handheld wide open at 3200 ISO, 1/125th.

Theater. Live Theater. Now that's got to be scary for actors and the people who make every show happen. Unlike most photography the actors can't just "chimp" their ongoing performance and go back to do many, many "re-dos".  Whatever happens in the moment happens in that moment and you can't take it back in the present performance. Those are brave artists.
Pinocchio. Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8. At or near wide open and handheld 
at 1/125th of second, ISO 3200.

The people who work at Zach Theatre do a lot of live theater that's made for kids and families. It's part of their commitment to the community. Every years thousands and thousands of school kids from across the city are exposed to fun, meaningful, captivating live performances. Some for the first time ever. The theatre is also committed to producing plays that entire families can enjoy like the play for which I photographed the dress rehearsal this afternoon; Pinocchio.

I thought I would just show up, snap some technically legit images and then head back to the studio but I have to admit that the play brought many smiles to my usually cynical face and left me with tears in my eyes at the end. Those writers really know how to lean on the emotions...and those actors know how to deliver the words straight to your heart...

Today was the first day that I had all the toys assembled that I thought I would want to have to shoot live theater performances. I had two identical Panasonic GH3 camera bodies and two primo (not prime) lenses. I used the 12-35mm f2.8 and longer sibling, the 35-100mm f2.8 zoom. These are the "X" lenses, Panasonic's attempt at premium branding a la Canon's "L" lenses. That's it. No other gear. A 16 gigabyte card in each camera and everything set the same. This production was done on the smaller theater at the Zach campus; it's a theater in the round and it means more photographer moving around to get the shots we wanted to use for marketing.

The play was pretty darkly lit. Perfect for people's eyes, lots of deep shadows mixed with bright, contaminated colors, even deeper shadows and little pools of highlights. It was an interesting exercise for the cameras. The average exposure was 1/125th of a second at f2.8, ISO 3200 which was right on the threshold of stopping subject motion---which meant I had to time the action to hit peaks. The time in the actor's expression of lines when they pause for a second just at the top of their delivery.

The two lenses are naturals for this kind of work. The image stabilization gave me a high percentage of very sharp images. The lenses look great at or near wide open and they are small enough and light enough to hold for an hour without any fatigue. The GH3 cameras were more of less flawless. They aren't low light champs but neither are they at all bad. All in all, a good hour's work shooting a good play with some fun gear. Nice to test this stuff in the real world. No kitten's souls were stolen here. And no birds in flight had their privacy breached...

Did I mention that the play was very, very good? It was. 


Latitudes Staff said...

There is a three dimensionality to these photos that I don't remember seeing in your other theatre work. Was it the lighting, the camera/lenses or both?

Anonymous said...


Micro 4/3 at iso 3200 for paid, pro work? Must have used some (or alot)of noise reduction software. I have heard mft images are lost in a snowstorm of noise at iso3200! Must have read wrong.

Kirk Tuck said...

Yes. ISO 3200 for paid work. And for fun work and for anything else you might want to use it for. Noise reduction? What's that?

Kirk Tuck said...


In the smaller theater I can get closer to the actors and that forces more perspective into the images...makes them more life like. I think that's the failing of our new, larger theater. We're relegated to shooting from the middle of the house and we end up defaulting to longer lenses that tend to flatten the images out...

Funny to think that dimensionality is all about POV.

Jim Waite said...

Hi Kirk,
As always, really nice captures under less than optimal conditions. The Zack’s lighting designer does do a great job, though. Personally, I like the mix of shadows, colors and well lit faces. The photo from the Janis Joplin show that you recently re-posted is full of great color highlights. By the way, it is a fantastic picture.
I’ve been shooting Community Theater and High School shows for many years, most recently for about two years, digitally. Lighting at that level tends to be full of holes and not in a good way. It can be a challenge.
Recently I purchased the Olympus 12-40mm to use with my EM-5s. I use the 75mm on the second body. Just like your matched GH3s, same setting. I almost bought a 35-100 Panasonic but want to keep the lenses in the same family. Is it just me, or do lenses from different brands have slightly different coloring. I had the Sigma 30mm, but sold it when I bought the 12-40mm. Nice lens, but I though that it tinted everything red. I’m really looking forward to the 40-150mm. I hope that it’s not priced out of my reach.
I agree that getting in closer and going wide adds depth and drama to the pics.
Keep up the great work. I Do Like your Theater stuff.
Jim Waite

Duncan Holthausen said...

Your post's title asks, "Was there anything I didn't like?", but you didn't answer that one. Does that mean there wasn't anything you didn't like?

Mike Peters said...

Hey Kirk,

I've been shooting theater and dance with this combo, along with all kinds of events, often under the worlds worst lighting conditions. I find 3200 works just fine, for paid work, and even 6400 for the dance stuff that I shoot. Seems the lighting designers are not afraid of the dark, and neither am I.

If you're careful with your exposure, and don't need to open the shadows too much, you can use 3200-6400 with abandon, and not too much noise reduction either.

What I get from the GH3 at 6400 looks far better than what I got out of my 5D MkII cameras. The lenses are lighter too, and your arm and back won't feel like it's broken after 2 hours of continuous shooting either.

It's all good as far as I'm concerned. Couldn't be happier, and my clients feel the same way too.


Kirk Tuck said...

Duncan, I couldn't find anything to dislike about the process. The gear was all good.

Jeff said...

"Members of the Wide Open Crew, a roving band of photographers carrying ultra fast glass and shooting wide open, have been spotted in Austin, Texas."


Craig Yuill said...

Last night I was taking mostly video footage of a school performance my two kids were in. I managed to take a few stills as well - 1/30s f/5.6 at ISO 3200. Exposure wise, that's equivalent to the 1/125s @ f/2.8 you were shooting at. Years ago I was able to take similar exposures in theatres on ISO 400 film, maybe pushed to 800. I am guessing the lighting has gotten darker in venues where performances are taking place. It's a good thing our digital cameras are able to keep up.

Daryl Davis said...

I rented the 35-100 for use on my EM-5 at a jazz concert on Saturday. We had a mix of indoor (stage lighting) and outdoor performances. I may cry when I return the lens tomorrow.