Shooting Dance

When you're running just a couple of minutes behind, trying to get set up to shoot a dance concert dress rehearsal, sometimes the biggest decision is "do I want to eat the french fries after they're cold, or the burger?". Hunger makes you focus, focus makes you a better shooter, and therefore hunger... never mind. The most wonderful words in that situation is when the TD or the Stage Manager announces "we're in a 10 minute hold". 

There's also a fine line between moody dance lighting and just plain not-enough-light-on-stage dance lighting. Tonight's shoot was heavy on the latter, unfortunately. The dancers ran through the entire concert twice, back to back. Once I realized how little light I was dealing with, I pulled out the big gun - the Canon 85mm 1.2 Cannonball, and racked the ISO to 1600. Good points about the 85 prime - it allows me to keep shooting at 1/320th and faster, soaks up every spare lumen out of the atmosphere, and is razor sharp in focus. Bad points are that it takes about a week to actually auto-focus (not really of course, just feels like it... and this newer version is much faster than the original!), and that focal plane at f1.2 is about 4 inches deep at 10 to 12 feet, so you'd better be shooting for the eyes of the most interesting dancer and letting the rest fall where it may. For the 2nd runthrough, I switched to the 24-105 and cranked the ISO up to a pixel-pounding H1, or 12800. Blech. The 24-105 does an admirable job in low light at the 24 end, but it's still only a non-prime f4 at the end of the day. 

This is a shot from the prime lens set. You get "wide angle" or "full stage" with this lens by haulin' your butt to the back row of seats. I prefer to shoot near the stage. This was shot at ISO 1600, at 1/500th, f1.8, and is pre-tweak, or just what came out of the camera in RAW, converted to jpg. 

If I'm shooting dance, I do like to shoot with a prime lens if possible. Either the 85, or a 50, or 100, depending on how much I can move around to adjust for the changing width of the dance. I also like my 70-200 f4 if there's enough light. Had a great chat with a former Marine at a camera store in Vegas recently. His opinion is that Canon only came out with the 2.8 70-200 so that when you put a teleconverter on it, you get back to f4, which is where God intended 70-200's to reside. Who am I to argue with a man who served so admirably in some swamp in Southeast Asia? 

Another thing that's tough to deal with when shooting under stage lighting is the differing color temperatures of the various lighting instruments. You've got the old style Altman 360 Q's, ETC Source 4's, and Martin movers-and-shakers all throwing their collective Kelvins at your sensor, and it can be a hot mess. Thank goodness for the XRite Color Checker! It's like the Honey Badger, it just doesn't care what the filament or gel is doing, it's going to get you the perfect white balance every time. And eat the cobra.