Excellent concert by the 9th grade musicians. Gotta love Kashmir by the orchestra.
Talk about a perfect situation for a photography lesson. The orchestra was in the right pit with no stage lights at all, the chorus was on risers with the right stage lights on them, and the band was on the stage. Three very different lighting situations.
The orchestra was up first. I knew I was in big trouble when they started playing and no stage lights came on. The only thing you can do is crank your ISO up as high as it can reasonably go without going into noise overload then open the aperture up as wide as you can and hope you have enough shutter speed to get an acceptably sharp photo. At ISO 12,800 and f/4.0 I was barely able to get 1/60th sec. I had my camera on a monopod jammed up against the side of the A/V console to steady it but you can still see some motion blur on some of the musicians that happened to be moving when the photo was taken. The overhead lights were also quite warm, even for incandescents, and I needed a white balance setting of 2400K to compensate. Not much you can do in this type of situation except take lots of photos and pray that some will be OK. One positive aspect of this light is that it’s fairly low contrast and even.
The chorus was on the risers in the left pit with the stage lights on the right trained on them. Temperture-wise I was back at 2800K, the usual incandescent stage light temperature, but since the lights were coming from the opposite side of the stage, the light was very contrasty. In a case like this you meter so the highlights are bright but not blown out. You can check this on the right side of your camera’s histogram. On a positive note, the stage lights added a few stops of exposure so I was able to reduce my ISO to 8000 and my aperture to f/5.0 to get a little more depth of field. I also increased the shutter speed to 1/100 sec. to minimize as much motion blur as possible.
For the band on stage I was able to get another 1/3 stop exposure, which I used to get my shutter speed up to 1/125 sec. The challenge with the stage lighting is that it’s fairly uneven so you need to, again, watch the highlights so they’re not blown out. If you’re just shooting a single musician this is easy but if you need to get the whole band you don’t want to be fooled by the areas of darkness. I take a few shots while they’re getting set up and see where the highlights fall.
Under ideal circumstances (Avery Fisher Hall) you’d get your aperture down to f/8 or smaller so you’d have enough depth of field to get all the musicians or singers in focus. In high schools, this ain’t happening. The way around this is to photograph different sections of an orchestra or band separately so at least most of the musicians are in focus. That’s why, in this web gallery, you’ll see separate photos of the percussion section way in the back.