Theater Shooting Techniques

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    • #36924

      Does anyone have any good techniques for shooting theater or dance events with stage lighting? I am shooting with 2 AG-DVC30’s. Do you white balance or just use the tungsten preset? At times when i white balance I have color camera matching problems.

      Also, does anyone use any tiffen filters for shooting such events? If so, what are you using and how is it working out for you? My video is crisp but very harsh and contrasty… I want to soften it up a bit but dont want to lose quality.

      Any thoughts or comments would be great.


    • #163918


      I’d go with the theater lighting without white balancing. This lighting is meant to be dramatic and surprising. If you white balance at the beginning, you will be white balancing with the most unnatural light of the entire evening, normal lighting, which will disappear as soon as the show begins. If I could make one suggestion on this it would be to make the reds a tad less intense, if you can customize color with your cam. Once again, this w/e I was looking at powerful reds on the faces of performers that had to be as intense as the blowout furnace reds on the inside of a volcano. I dialed everything down with my PD170 and got my bestest coolest/hottest overall palettes to date.

      I find the hardest part of shooting video of a theatrical performance to be following the action when there are solo performers darting around the stage in ways you did not expect. Choreographers don’t make it easy for video directors. Requires a top notch tripod head and absolute concentration. Within the past week I was watching a nationally broadcast TV show where the cameras were losing the solo performers off the edges. It looked like a mistake to me. I guess it doesn’t get easier unless you are actually rehearsing your cam when they are rehearsing the show. Even then, perrformers sometimes dash off the stage to get sick or whatever (famously, one of the Barrymores).

      REGARDS … TOM 8)

    • #163919

      I am not real familiar with your camcorder model, but one thing you need to do is get your exposure under control. Theater lighting is frequently very contrasty. If your camcorder has a spotlight setting, use it. Otherwise you may want to consider riding the iris, provided you have a decent monitor to view your video. Something I used to do was to let some of the highlights run off the scale so you can preserve some detail in the shadows. Your video will look less harsh and you can tone down the highlights in post.

      Oh and a trick I used with good results is to shoot a reference image befor the show. I liked to shoot a large white card, it is critical that the the card not be moved between the shots. Zoom in as much as possible and record the card with both cameras. Then during post, you can use your TBC (or color correction settings) to match the colors.

      Have fun out there.

    • #163920

      I concur with the view that exposure is a real killer. I do lots of theatre stuff here in the UK and find the auto exposure modes to be troublesome – especially as lighting often changes rapidly and the iris ramps up and down in very mechanical ways. I usually get them to put up a full up type state – often the finale, and use this to assess the brightest it will be then use this as a guide. One very difficult thing is handling follow spots – the white circle is often a discharge source, and very blue, and very, very bright- so exposing for this takes the shadows and other darker areas down to almost black, but you can’t over-expose that much without burning out all detail.

      I too usually select 3200, or even 2800 on all the cameras. This means the least amount of adjustment in post. It also means the follow spots are very blue. Costumes frequently render in very odd colours depending on the stage lighting – yellows look strange with red lighting, which is quite common. Blue lighting often lacks definition when seen through the cameras and red can tend to look too red.

      My experience is that mixing different brands under stage lighting is quite difficult. JVC to me looks fairly hard and always a little blue. Sony, are more biased towards the red end. In daylight I don’t have trouble balancing them together, but stage lighting is not so forgiving.

    • #163921

      I am a relative newcomer to this business so take this information and do with it what you will. At the rate I am going I am beginning to believe that I will still be saying that ten years from today. At any rate, here are my two pennies. I just shot my first real theatrical production a few days ago and have learned some valuable lessons. I use Sony 2100’s as my main cams and a couple of others as fills etc. Since I am new to the bus, my equipment levels are slim. Thankfully I was able to work out a nice mutually beneficial agreement with my mentor who you will recognize as "Compusolver" on these boards (he lives a couple of hours from me and is invaluable to me in learning the ropes). From him I obtained two of the four cams I shot the production with. Here are a couple of things I learned: 1. the more cams and videographers the better (4 cams & 2 videographers for me). Because the whole thing is so fluid throughout the event, you are going to screw something up sometime before the thing ends. Some of the time your partner is going to be screwing up at the same time you are (hello third cam). The fourth cam I used as a static cam shooting crowd reactions. 2. Exposures are a nightmare and not for the faint of heart. My second videographer is less experienced that I and I had hoped to use her wider angle cam on full auto. Forget that…the auto overexposed almost everything. We didn’t use the spotlight setting because I was unsure of its ability and had no experience with it. My mentor has preached manual controls for the best end product from the day I first contacted him. Thankfully I had taken his advice and gotten good at that otherwise this whole event would have been a trash canner. The event required constant change. The auto settings set the cam at fully open and 12db of gain. The best pic came at around F4 and zero gain though this was in a CONSTANT state of flux as the dancers moved around the stage. I had to open mine wide and walk to her in the middle of a dance and tell her to go to manual. (Oh yeah make sure you have rubber soled QUIET shoes before you do one of these deals). As far as white balance, Mr Castello recommended the tungsten setting and it seems to have worked nicely. The way I looked at it, it probably gives the most accurate rendering of what the audience saw on the stage at the time they were looking at it. I would do that again the next time. I shoot another one of these in May and I will be listening to any additional input from you folks. Good Luck.

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