The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Les Mis and EXIF

Friday night I attended a play performed by my daughter's school group.  It was Les Miserables – with some of the songs from the musical.  The performance was at a local church with a large hall/auditorium and stage area.  It was great for the performance, but not so great for good photos.


When you have occasion to photograph your child or others in a similar situation – here is what I did.  It may help you.  First of all the color cast you will get is something to deal with.  If I had left my white balance in a semi-regular mode – I would have 200 images that looked orange-red.  After taking a few test shots I immediately settled on the tungsten setting for the white balance.  Even with that being the best choice – I had to do a little color correction in Photoshop – but not much – I was pleased with Tungsten for this shoot.


The lighting was an issue in more ways that one.  I was privileged to get up in the control area for the stage.  Think of in a theater when you look back and up to see where the movie is coming from.  I was there – but to the right, in a place with a swing-in door.  So think about this – shooting that far – across a dark theater to the stage.  The shutter speed had to be there to get movements sharp; but in the dark?   Before the play began and the lights were still up in the house – I was playing with shutter speed to get some interesting photos of the crowd entering and taking seats.  I was leaving the shutter open for 5, 10, and 15 seconds.  Some people were moving so quickly (well not really "quickly" – just normal walking speed) that they did not show up in the longest exposures.


But back to what I did for the play, I bumped up my ISO to 800 and gave that a try – still too dark for the speed I needed to shoot.  So I then went to 1600 ISO.  I have never used this high of a setting.  It worked well.  The only issue with shooting at this high of an ISO setting is the noise that may show – especially in a dark background.  And I had a dark background or two with some scenes in this production.


I can't remember what shutter speed I used most often – I did switch it up a little.  Also – in trying to avoid blurred movements of the actors, I tried to choose moments when they were still or in the spotlight to help keep them sharp.  In checking my EXIF data on the photos I can see what worked the best for each shot.  You can check the EXIF (Exchangeable Image File) data in Photoshop Elements or other photo-editing programs.  In Photoshop Elements, click on File>File Info>Camera 1.  This will show you the information about the shot.  If I click on one of my favorite shots of a single actor, I can see that my ISO is 1600 (whic h I knew) – but it tells me exactly the focal length I had zoomed to (231 mm), that I had the camera in shutter priority, my shutter speed (1/160), and my f-stop (6.3).   Another favorite photo shows a group of actors shows basically the same info – except I zoomed to the focal length of 141mm for that shot.   It will also tell if you used a flash or not.   Obviously, for what I was doing Friday night – flash would do nothing except distract.


The EXIF data is very helpful – let's say I don't do another shoot like this until next year.  How would I know what setting worked?  I could write it down – and lose it.  Here I just look it up.  If you shoot with more than one camera – it will tell you which camera you were using, the date, and the time you took the shot.  The date came in handy for me recently.  I was looking over the information about an upcoming photo contest – the rules stated the photo had to have been taken within the last four years.  I had a photo in mind – and I knew I had taken it a few years ago – but I did not k now if it was three, four, or five years ago.  So I checked the EXIF data and found it was 2005.  I can enter it in the contest – unless I change my mind by June!


Did I mention that I took the tripod only to discover that when I got there I did not have the quick release plate for the camera?  I ended up "borrowing" a fleece cloth that I found backstage to cushion the camera and sat it on the ledge of the opening to take photos to keep it steady.   I have two quick release plates for that tripod and both were at home!


Oh – and the play – it was marvelous!  Although, whenever I hear "Master of the House" I can't help but think of that Seinfeld episode when George keeps singing that song.  It is the one where Jerry buys the very expensive suede jacket.  I believe the title of it is "The Jacket."


I can't wait for next year and Fiddler on the Roof!


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