Shooting Video in a theater with constant changing lights

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    • #94094


      I’m new to the forum and hoping I can find a place that will help me improve my vidography skills. My question today is I shoot a lot of local ballets in a dark theater with ever changing lights. I have to shoot from about 100+ feet from stage in the projection booth. My problem many of the Videos are grainy. I’m having very difficult time getting my colors to come out right. When the production crew use an orange or red light on stage to light up the dancers I can’t decrease my exposure enough and the colors are blown out. Some customers have complained about the red background and costumes that aren’t red. I’m using a Canon XA10, I have the camera set to shutter speed priority at 1/60 and a FR of 30. I focus manually at center stage prior to the show starting and I don’t mess with the focus at all during the show. I adjust my exposure using the wheel on back of camera and try to adjust it on the fly with the changing lights. Im using not filters on the camera. If someone can give me some pointers it sure would be helpful. I have another shoot next weekend. Thanks!


    • #215583
      AvatarSpace Racer

      Are you using the waveform monitor to check your exposure? That’s what you need to be doing. Or try auto exposure because often it will make better choices than you can.
      And what white balance setting are you using? Check with the lighting people and ask them if they use tungsten lights or daylight-balanced lights (you want to know the underlying color of the lights before they have colored gels or color effects applied). Then set your white balance to whichever they say. You can also just experiment, shooting part of a rehearsal on tungsten and part on daylight and decide which you prefer.

    • #215585

      There are competing schools of though regarding shooting theatrical performances — dance, music, dramas and musical comedies. On the one side are videographers who complain bitterly about the “awful” stage lighting: high contrast, under-lit, absurd mix of colors and color temperatures. The extremes to which these videographers will go to combat this can be seen in a recent experience in which the videographer requested (demanded) that all stage lights be turned off so he could tape the entire musical concert under white LED lights which he supplied.

      On the other side, where I find myself after more than sixty years working in the professional theatre, are videographers who realize they are there to record an art form; who recognize that the production’s lighting designer set out to achieve specific effects that enhance or resonate to the content of the musical comedy or dramatic piece. For us in this camp, the goal is to reproduce as accurately as possible the experience of a member of the audience who watched the performance. If the scene is bright, let it be bright; if dark, let it be dark. Whatever, don’t try to make every scene look the same.

      I shoot with a Sony NX5U set to full “auto,” including white balance and focus. Gain is limited by a menu setting to a range of -3db to +9db. I find this arrangement provides excellent coverage, with enough data to permit brightness and contrast and color correction in post if necessary. Today’s digital cameras are sophisticated enough to make the necessary adjustments on the fly during the performance.

    • #215591

      Virtually all my work takes place in theatres and these complaints always happen when video and photography is bolted on. If you have the right equipment, the right planning and the right techniques it’s perfectly fine. Colour rendition is extremely variable. For stills, I’ve used Pentax for ever – and my latest Pentax DSLR, only used for stills, is much worse for theatres – where blue, magenta and pink light is the rule. This camera has no range of accuracy between pink and magenta. The DSLR this replaced, just getting a bit worn, is hugely better – and it matches my JVC cameras for video, which have been steadily updated – and these thankfully all match.

      Contrast is much greater in theatre. The mood is set by shadows, always has been. Any video crew who turns up an hour before the show and asks for changes gets very short shift. We produce shows – sometimes we also do the video, other times we do staging, lighting and sound and video is brought in. Often firms who just do not understand theatre. We don’t mind others coming in, and the regulars take advantage of the camera positions we make available because we know they work. These others turn up, poke us on the arm when the show starts and ask for less blue, more white, less contrast, complain about shadows – as the show is running. Tough!

      The client dictates priority. Is the show lit for the audience, or the video? We don’t mind, but the lighting is different. We even have video monitors in our lighting box, and ask these crews for a feed. Few can provide it – but when they do, the operator can try to help.

      Forget white balance – what on earth would you choose – there is no white light. Set the cameras to 3200 if they have lots of incandescent lighting kit like PAR cans and Fresnels, but if they have LED kit, then 4200 to 5600 might match a bit better. However – now we do have LEDs that are bright, the lighting designers can have totally blue light for the first time, in decent quantity. The old Congo Blue gel cut out nearly all the light – less than 3% of the 1000W getting through as light! Red, Blue, Yellow and all sorts of amazing bright colours now make the most of costumes – BUT – many people simply don’t understand that the colour people see is never real, without boring old white light. In most cases, colours look better – but are not what the costume designer perhaps intended.

      From 100ft away you’re going top get flat images – but they should not be grainy unless you are using gain, and in modern theatres, lighting should be bright enough. If you get sparkly reds or blues, then something in your profile is wrong – I’ve not had that on any of the last 3 generations of video cameras, unless it’s seriously dark and you dial in gain. Exposure wise, I don’t make any major changes – sometimes scenes are mean to be dark, as said. Trying to get that brighter generates noise. Exposure for me, is about faces. You expose for faces, and not for scenery or costume. In theatres, we can go from lens wide open to f8-11 for the brighter scenes, 0dB gain.

    • #215595

      Another option you might want to consider is getting another camera that doesn’t use the AVCHD codec. Just this past Christmas I was shooting a Living Christmas Tree, and I got better images on my HVX200 that was using the DVCPROHD vs the Sony that was shooting AVCHD. The Sony, sure it was a consumer camcorder that I had setup just to be an extra camera, but the AVCHD compression airline added more noise when there were very few lights on the tree, vs when they had the lights at full power.

    • #215596

      I suspect that’s not really the AVCHD just how it reacts to noisy video – I have a consumer handicam (Panasonic) and it can be relied to produce the best pictures in falling light levels, when my JVC GY-HD’s start to sparkle, and the Gopros get wishy-washy. The AVCHD codec doesn’t seem to cause me any trouble at all?

    • #215598

      I think it was the AVCHD, especially since the lights on the tree were being run off a computerized program that synched them with the music, and the codec was just not able to keep up. Plus before the show I had set the camera’s settings to manual, so that when I walked away from that camera, I knew that those levels were going to stay, and not be jumping up and down. Even just recently I was called in by a church that was setting up a camera to be able to send a video feed from the auditorium to other parts in the church by HDMI (and they had boosters in their network to keep the signal high) because they were finding that in their normal light that they have up for Sunday morning service, the camera image looked terrible—washed out, very grainy, even though the auditorium had every light on. I’ve shot in this same auditorium before with my HVX200 without setting up an ENG lighting kit. And my HVX200 had produced very good video under the same lighting conditions. I could tell right away that they were usng an AVCHD camcorder, and that’s what was causing the issue: the AVCHD codec. So I would recommend against shooting with AVCHD in medium- to low-light situations.

      Remember AVCHD has a bit rate around 24 Mbps, whereas DVCPROHD has a bit rate of 100 Mbps (and even if you cut out about 40%, you are still around 60 Mbps). And AVCHD’s chroma sampling is the really poor 4:2:0, whereas DVCPROHD uses the higher quality 4:2:2 ratio. I find AVCHD is fine If you are shooting in high light situations, but when it comes to average indoor light and situations with low light, then AVCHD starts to become really noisy.

      Really AVCHD is comparable in an analogous way to S-VHS in the SD formats. It’s fine as an end product (or if you are using it to shoot in bright situations) but its a poor format that has poor color and gets noisy real fast, when you compare it to Betacam SP or DVCPRO50. Sue the DVCPROHD codec had some noise in the image, but that was mostly from having to turn the gain all the way up on the camera, otherwise the image was clear of noise from the codec, or it was so low that it didn’t hurt the image.

      Plus I’ve found that 4:2:2 actually produces a better color palate than a 4:2:0 one. Colors don’t look like they are floating over the image or reds look like they might bleed.

    • #215599

      Ok – care to guess which is the AVCHD camera in this test edit.

      I just don’t agree with the comments on AVCHD

    • #215602

      No problem with AVCHD in my experience. The kids here in the U.S. have an expression that applies wonderfully to event videography in general and to theatrical performance specifically: “It is what it is.” When I look at the example here of Paulears work I see a golden keyboard player and a pale blue washed-out drummer. This is what it is; the camera records what the lighting designer gave it. Is this Hollywood video? No. Is this what the audience saw? Yes. In other words, “It is what it was.”

      It’s very seldom that the event videographer can provide video that looks like it was shot in a studio or on a cinema location. We do the best we can with what we have: pools of intense super-saturated colors in the theatre or dance setting, green fluorescent lights on the factory floor, dirty little boys leering at the bride in the garden. I love working in studio, where I can control every aspect of production. But in the field, with run-and-gun, I’m prepared to take what I get and try to make the most of it.

    • #215606

      This is the problem. The colours are not in any way white – making auto white balance useless, so every camera needs to pick one. For interest, the AVCHD camera is the raised one that doesn’t move on the centre line on a wide shot, the two side cameras are JVC 251s shooting 720, and there are a couple of Gopros – one on the drums can just be seen in the shots. The AVCHD Panasonic patches the colours of the JVCs pretty well – and our single 1080HD Sony and DSLRs don’t match the colours at all – the pinks vs magentas are pretty different. Absolutely no colour tweaking at all in that clip. I’ve been working on a newer version, but the grief in getting the audio fixed is taking some time. I came up with the idea of doing the rough mix and then offering (at a cost of course) overdubbing to replace the odd duff note, or missing twiddly bit. So far, the drums are the only thing not waiting for replacement. Waiting for two vocals and the keyboard part at the moment , the rest done. It won’t go anywhere because the costs for loads of songs will make it impossible. Of course my own were perfect (not!)

      Jack’s it is what it is is really on the ball I think. What we do now is include open white face lights for each of the musicians in our current work style – that way, there is always something constant to fall back on.

    • #215609

      Well I’m still not convinced about AVCHD. I still find from experience that it just adds to much noise from its high compression.

    • #215618

      I guess it just depends on the camera’s performance before the codec does it’s stuff. It’s OK to be wary, me? I’m happy.

    • #283615

      I am a dance school owner and have been shooting fairly successful videos with my sony handycam hdr-cx560.  This year we bought some LED lights to add to our canned lights and when we lower the cans and use just color led, like a blue or red, the video seems to fade out a lot and look surreal.  It does shoot avchd.  I realize the camera is 7 years old.  Would a newer camera rectify some of this?  What the audience saw was amazing, but what the camera saw was not so much.  Any suggestions?  Thanks in advance

    • #283634

      Sad to say, but the manufacturers of the cameras are just incapable at the moment of making cameras that respond as the eye does to LED light. Not just domestic consumer cameras, but professional ones too. Some are better – Panasonic and JVC are a little better than Sony and the others in my experience, and it also applies to many expensive DSLR stills cameras too. The biggest issue is with blue, because the LED lights are very frequency specific – and to make all the gorgeous collurs they can create, they do it with Red Green and Blue in various amounts – but with PAR cans, which can do the same with red, green and blue gels in them – the cameras cope because they contain lots of different shades of blue. A deep almost black blue, right through to peacock type blues. The greens and reds also go through the shades too. In LED – there is a big hit of one blue colour – hence why you can now have for the first time, a bright, deep blue stage. With gel, over 95% of the light doesn't get through. The trouble is the cameras cannot cope with light colours made up of huge spikes. Pink, magenta and red appear to be the same, and the blue is so blue that some fabrics parents source for costumes fluoresce – while others, exactly the same colour in daylight, don't.

      We are involved with an awful lot of shows that have LED lighting now, and the dance school owners who hire commercial theatres have a tricky decision to make. Light for the audience, or light for the video. If you light for the video, the lighting will be bright and pastel colours – to the eye, dull and boring. If you get the theatre to light for the audience, then the video will be a problem. Sadly, there is no camera that can see what the human eye sees, so the choice is always a pain. We actually do lighting design for these kinds of events and we ALWAY ask in advance, because we cannot change the colours when the video people arrive half an hour before the show. They often rant and rave, but it's just too late. Lion King, and the witch numbers can have wonderful sunsets or deep greens for the Wicked stuff, you can do under the sea in marvelous blue greens and cabaret and chicago can go vicious red for Cell Block Tango and the kitkat club. None of this was possible before without mega budgets and lots of kit. The annoyance with the cameras is worse because the manufacturers don't seem to be addressing it at all. Even worse – it's difficult to recommend new cameras because just because you have one that is better, doesn't mean the new model will be the same. I still use one older camera because it's pretty good with LED, but the new one I was about to replace it with I discovered wasn't as good. I'm sorry there isn't a simple answer to this one.

    • #283662

      Auto-ISO + Manual Mode is the best auto exposure mode.

    • #283726

      I agree whole heartedly with the “it is what it is” statement having shot loads of theatre dance shows it is all about compromise. We shoot the tech rehearsal, the dress rehearsal and the shows. the lighting will change between them but it gives us the choice of using the best clip for close ups or wide. Often for the tech rehearsal the lighting guys can be kinder to us and not saturate the stage with a single colour. Even leaving just a little of the other colours helps enormously. With younger kids we don’t sync multiple cameras from the sound but from their position on the stage as rarely are they in the same spot at the same moment across multiple shows etc.
      If a parent questions the colour, we ask them “what did it look like during the show?” they then either realise that the costumes will look different or we have the opportunity to explain it to them.
      We are not alone, next time you watch a live performance on TV, look at anyone in red and see how the details change as they move around in the lights.

    • #283950

      I have the same problem, thank you for sharing

    • #71100988

      Hi, I have a new twist for this discussion. I manage a very busy theater and I’m not really a video guy. I’m looking to upgrade the video feed to the lobby and backstage areas. The theater designers put in a small Sony Security Camera, it struggles to produce any kind of decent image. The field of view is terrible and images are always either blown out or dark and grainy. I want a new camera to mount on the back wall about 60-70 feet from the target area on stage and capture the width of the stage (42 feet wide). Unlike you guys, I’m not desperate to have every color perfect. I just want a decent clean image from a camera I can setup and never have to worry about again. My goal is to feed an HD image to the lobby so a mom with a fussy baby can still see what’s going on.

      What would you suggest?

    • #71105762

      WOW, you need to learn more about this.

    • #215604

      This is just out of fun, but the camera doing the close-up of the keyboardist is the AVCHD. It was the only camera giving the guy orange skin (and from what I saw, he was standing in a pool of blue lights, so unless you did some editing afterwards that changed the color), whereas the other camera’s were giving him a more natural skin-tone., and even when you cut to the drummer, the drummer had a natural skin tone.

    • #215637

      Thanks for the sharing, Jack. I just started shooting with a AVCHD NX5 too.

      Would you mind sharing some tips on how to get better visuals from this camcorder at dimly lighted events? I have been doing some event shoots at venues that are only lighted by very dim ceiling tungsten lights. One of these events, a wedding have changing light conditions too which was a bit of a challenge but the colors surprisingly turned out not too bad. However, there was a lot of flickering in my video – Is it my settings or could it be caused by the flash from the wedding photographer’s camera as he was also shooting very close to me when the couple walked into the hall. Can anything be done to fix this flickering problem?….perhaps something I could have done at the venue or in post?

      I try to avoid using the on-board video light as I do not want to attract too much attention to myself when I am recording. I also try to keep the gain to a max of 0db and only shoot in 25p as I really don’t like the noise. I have heard very good things about the Sony DSLR A7S under low light conditions but the price is definitely not for one who is not steady in the business yet.

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