Photographing a play made just for children ages 3 to 5. We made images during a rehearsal but not on a traditional stage...

Leah and Michael as Brother and Sister Bear.

After a long week of making photographs and video at a corporate event in a downtown hotel it was fun to change gears this afternoon and photograph one of the final rehearsals for a kids' play at Zach Theatre's small, north Austin satellite mini-theater.
The "auditorium" is more like a regular class room and the stage set was spare but the actors are two veteran professionals with credits from Zach's main stage productions and other top companies in Austin. 

I spent a lot of time in the last few days with a Panasonic GH5 or GH5S in my hands. I did a few portrait shoots earlier in the week with the Nikon D800e so it was a nice change of pace for me to grab a Nikon D700 body and shoot a thousand and seventy seven frames in the service of some fun art. 

I'd gotten a "heads-up" from the program director just yesterday that the space didn't have any theatrical lighting; in fact, it had only the mis-matched ceiling fluorescents that seem to come as standard equipment in older shopping centers and well used classrooms. I brought along four of the Aputure LightStorm LS-1 lights and bounced them off the ceiling at strategic points in the room. I wasn't looking for anything fancier than a nice wash of better light than that which I'd get from five or six different varieties of fluorescent tubes mixed together.....

Once I got the space lit up I made a custom white balance using a Lastolite gray/white target and then actually used a handheld incident light meter to get an accurate reading of the light throughout the shooting area. I tried to space the LED panels, bouncing off the ceiling, so that no area was different in exposure than one half stop. If I could keep it in that area it would make post processing a breeze. I think I did a good job of achieving that goal as few of the images I finally selected needed any post processing compensation. 

There was one additional wrinkle to today's shoot and that was a last minute request to also record the whole production (half an hour?) concurrently on a wide, stationary video camera. So after nailing down all the parameters needed for the still photography I got to work rigging up a Panasonic GH5S, the ever present Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens, and several cardioid microphones (placed as close to the "stage" as possible without being in the frame...). My exposure for video clocked in at ISO 1,000, f5.6 (needed the depth of field) at 1/60th of a second. The audio will be a compromise as the air conditioning was noisy and turning it off was non-negotiable. That, and the fact that I was banging away with a photography camera that has a ...... profound shutter acoustic profile (to say the least). But I have a suspicion that the video is intended for b-roll with narration and music supplied. 

The shoot was fun, primitive and low key, by comparison to all other  recent projects. But how nice it was not to have a pressing deadline, nervous clients and a committee to answer to. 

Kind of reminds me that sometimes we do this photography thing because it can be fun. Novel that. A nice capper for the week. 

I'm thinking the images look pretty good for 1,600 ISO on an ancient camera.


Fred said...

Kirk, these are nice photographs. I am a little surprised at their quality since I noticed that as soon as all the recent cameras at Photokina were announced all the images from my G85 that had looked fine a few weeks ago now are washed out, blurry, and full of artifacts. I may have to just throw all my equipment away and spend thousands on new "full frame" gear :-).
Or not.

Michael Matthews said...

Nice light.
“...several cardiod microphones...”, he wrote. That’s my excuse to bring up the Samson CO2s once again. Did you ever make enough use of them to form an opinion? I’m looking for a couple of inexpensive mics to use in recording music in reasonably quiet, controlled settings. XLR cables to a Zoom H5 recorder. What do you think?

John Holmes said...

Really like the larger text size! it works a lot better for these old tired eyes.

Kirk Tuck said...

MM, those are exactly the microphones I used yesterday and I have used them frequently for interviews in small rooms. They are very good microphones for these kinds of pursuits. Low noise, not much coloration and reliable. Yesterday was a bad test; nothing would have helped short of miking the actors or standing in front of them with a handheld microphone. Not options for yesterday's shoot. For the money I am thrilled with the Samson CO2s. They just flat out work.

Michael Matthews said...

Thanks. My order goes in as soon as my credit card recycles.

Rufus said...

Good to see you still rocking the D700.

The only adjustment factor for me when embracing the D700 after years away from DSLR, is the noise of the thing.

Clacking away, nothing says " there is a photographer in the room !!!!! " more.

I admit to kinda liking the noise.

Kurt Friis Hansen said...

If you can't beat'em...
If you can't make "studio" or near field recordings of the actors (and sync these into the final video in post), there are still some simple ways to at least remedy some of the worst side effects from unwanted sound sources in the final video. In addition to the more or less automatic standard methods involving filters, (auto)gain, limiter and compression and what not, which may not get you anywhere near the full monty without similar efforts as involved in the following.

I assume, that you have stereo and/or multichannel recordings.

Next time try to make a "representative" recording of the aircondition system with nobody present in the room (before or after the actual recording).

In post, it is often - not always, but often - possible to dampen the noise to some degree or even significantly by fiddling with the mix-levels in post (and reversing the phase of the air condition recording). In some cases, it helps if you can target blocking the "anti-phase" information in the wanted voice passages where noise may be largely "hidden" anyway - by using various voice autogain, automatic overrides or better still a simple manual "attenuation", where voice is dominant anyway to obtain maximum voice clarity).

If you remember, where in the room you "clicked your camera", make a few recordings of that in the empty room (in order to get the full "room ambience" of the clicks and clacks (and curses?) recorded). In post you can often filter the worst side effects in your original recording by a similar approach.

Remember to listen for weird side effects like ("unmasked directional") noise pumping (i.e. noise perceived clearly between two actors singing at the periphery of the stage in a multichannel recording).

Depending on need, budget and requirements, you can obtain quick results in the "so-so region" (better than without any "massage") to surprisingly good results (with the required effort into manually fine tuning this, that and the other detail filter and processor). I don't have to tell you, that the universal magic solution to these common recording problems hasn't been invented yet ;-)

In some ways, it's akin to painting with sound instead of painting with light. The latter, you've done for untold years, and that's in your blood. At least, where stills are involved.

There are other, mostly more expensive methods and approaches - both in time and money - but a few professional "mic-array" systems have an extra feature involving directional suppression also (computational in POST). As in all situations of life: YMMV!

Regards and have fun.

Kirk Tuck said...

Cool. Thanks Kurt!