Shakespeare’s Henry V | Produced by Promethean Theatre Ensemble, Chicago
Now we get to the nitty and the gritty: theatre photography. The obvious thing you have to adjust for is (relatively) low light and no possibility of using a strobe. HOWEVER! Not only are the lights low and are actors moving around, the lights used in theatrical productions play merry hell with the auto white balance of your camera. It used to be that you’d shoot Tungsten film, which would expose for the different color temperatures produced by theatre lights. Today, I usually shoot in RAW and correct for the shift after the fact, or, if I’m doing set-ups, throw a gray card up there and adjust from there. (Sidebar: if you ever notice your photos look weird in offices or in your home and you have a lot of halogen fixtures – it’s probably a tungsten issue.)
So, that’s the color temperature story. As for the low-light, your options – as usual – are to:
- Open your aperture up as wide as possible. This is my preference, because I think we’re well-served by the shallow depth of field, but maybe you want to get a battle scene or a scene with some depth to it, so you…
- Slow down the shutter speed. Okay, if you have a tripod, this is great. And you have actors who can stand still. (I am not one of these actors.) And your scene can be really static. Which is… fun?1
In this instance, I both opened the aperture and slowed down the shutter speed, and it’s still a hair dark for my tastes. But, compositionally…
- Crank the ISO. All right, so things’ll get a little noisy, but on the new fancier-pantsed SLRS, you really don’t notice very much, even in the darker darks.
…Or some combination of the three. Okay, all three. But that last shot was taken at 3200 ISO, and it’s not grossly noisy. It’s also handheld on a 70-200mm lens (with VR, I’m not superman), but if you use your sniper training (relax, exhale, pull the trigger) you can get the shot.
This version of the game of chasing the light means your shadows are going to be awesome, but you’re going to dump a zillion frames where someone’s waving at someone else.
For additional samples from the Henry V shoot, go ahead and click below.
1So, this’ll get its own post at some point, but you have to get fight shots somehow. People punching people, people running, people stabbing, people falling. WHAT DO YOU DO? I usually call a hold, have the actors move back to the last move before their punch, stab, dash, and take one step further into it and then elongate that last motion. The clash of swords above is a partially invented moment, but it’s based on the actual fight choreography (choreographed here by Tyler Rich).