Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Theater Photography

The problems faced in theaters are the brightly lit faces against dark backgrounds and the desire to use telephoto focal lengths. To get a nicely exposed image you will need to change to a few settings on the camera. I generally shoot theater photos using...

  • Shutter Priority at 1/125 second
  • Highest ISO possible (1600 using the 5Ti)
  • Spot Metering Mode
  • Center Point Focus
  • Single Shot Shooting Mode

And… a single shot mentality while shooting the photos.

  • Point the camera at the subject
  • Frame with your zoom a little beyond what you want in a final image
  • Put the center spot on the subject's face (brightest spot possible)
  • Release the shutter fully after each shot

This shot of Jane shows the technique nicely. Her dress is the brightest thing in the viewfinder and conveniently right in the center of the image we want.

viewfinder 3


Many times we will have this instead...  My finished image is a cropped section of the original capture where I had the center spot on the bright part of the shirt.

viewfinder 2


Leaving the camera in "full automatic" usually gets you images where the black backdrop is exposed "correctly" and the faces are completely blown out. like this...


Configuring your camera to display any blown-out highlights and paying attention to the histogram on the built-in LCD display allows you a way to quickly and easily ensure the images you capture will be exposed properly. Blown-out highlights will “blink” on the LCD display when the highlight alert function is turned on. usually looking something like the animated images below.

Highlight_Alert     anim_revblink

Any part of the image that is blinking will be completely blown-out (you never want to see the actors faces blinking). You will also want to have some “information” (spikes) in the fifth “bin” of the histogram. It is important to note that the “blinking” highlight alerts are a much better indicator of over exposure. A scene with very few highlights can be very hard to analyze using only the histogram on the LCD. Pretty much any blown out pixels will blink obviously.

So… If nothing you want in the image is blinking and there is some stuff in the last bin you are good to go!


In the real world it is sometimes not as quite as “cut and dry” as the example above. The image I used earlier provides a good example of what I saw on the back of my camera when shooting this High School Play. Here the highlights (bright stuff) shows up more like a line across the bottom of the histogram that does not quite reach into the fifth “bin”. But I knew I was in good shape because there was nothing blinking in the image and the highlights were at least most of the way across the fourth.

A26U0963 (example 2)

Another perfectly reasonable approach is to set the camera in full manual mode. The example image here was captured with the shutter set to 1/500 sec; The aperture at f/4.0; and the film speed at 3200 ISO. After determining the exposure settings using the methods described earlier you could switch to full manual and shoot without changing anything between shots. Full Manual works really well in a setting where the lighting remains constant. In the example here you will get a nicely exposed image as long as her face remains in the lights.

Manual Exposure

Unfortunately we are usually faced with something more like the scene below where some of the faces are in the lights and some in the shadows. Here you would use slightly different settings to correctly expose the faces of the kids holding hands than the settings for the girls on either side. Setting the camera to one of it’s automatic exposure modes (P, TV, AV,) as described earlier allows one or more of the exposure values to change automatically as the center spot sees more or less light. This uneven lighting is what makes images shot at school plays so beautiful. Getting the exposure right is actually pretty easy even with a moderately priced camera, and the results are fun!


Friday, February 6, 2015

Bay Photo Calendars

Every year between New Years and Groundhogs Day (Feb 2nd) Bay Photo offers their very nice calendars at a 40% discount. This year I decided to produce a 2015 –2016 bird photography calendar featuring birds in and around our Minnetonka neighborhood. While they only offer four different calendar types the quality of their products is superb. 

Bay Photo website

Bay Photo uses the ROES (Remote Order Entry System) from Soft Works. ROES is a JAVA based application that offers a remote user the ability to precisely select crops and rotations of their images within products. The ROES interface loads quickly and works well. Building a calendar is as easy as up-loading a folder of images and then dragging and dropping them on the template. Bay allows you to start your calendar on any month. The finished calendar is then ordered from right inside the ROES system. My calendar starts with March 2015 and ends with February 2016 (they will be sold as a part of fundraiser for Gethsemane Lutheran Church… on Feb 21st).

Bay Calendars

You can download a nice “rendered” version of the individual pages after the calendar is finished. I’ve used these images to produce the promotional page here. The actual calendars are beautifully printed on nice heavy paper stock and look fantastic. A link to a Smugmug album containing the images below…

Promo Doc

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Photography Club (2015)

The Gethsemane Lutheran Church Photography Small Group met the last four Fridays of January. We decided to split the time in half having two photography field trips and two in-house sessions. The field trips to the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis (Jan 10) and Ice Carvings at Rice Park in Saint Paul (Jan 31) each provided wonderful photo opportunities.

Minus 3° F temperatures and swirling winds did not stop our intrepid group from venturing out on the bridge…


The pitch black skies and snowy bridge deck add to the “wintery feel” of this nice image of the downtown Minneapolis skyline shot from the middle of the bridge over the Mississippi River.


Rice Park is the venue for an ice sculpture contest held each year during the Saint Paul Winter Carnival. A week of warm weather melted most of the ice but Rice Park always yields good opportunities for photography. This image captured in front of the Ordway Theatre shows off the night time beauty of the park nicely.


The two images below show the Stone Arch Bridge photo before and after “enhancing” using Adobe Photoshop Elements. Cropping, straightening, tweaking exposure, and toning transforms this “as shot” photo into a beautifully pleasing image.

Stone Arch (B and A notes)

My favorite image from our field trips nicely re-enforces a point I’ve heard often in photography classes… Don’t put your camera away too soon! I captured this image of the downtown Saint Paul Light Rail Central Station as we walked away after photographing in the park. Continuing to shoot photos all the way back to the car brought me to this really nice place.