Photographing a live drama performance

In the past, I have photographed drama productions using high-speed 35mm film. The results were prone to a great deal of grain and visual noise. Last week, I shot a drama production using the Canon 5D mk II DSLR and the results far exceed anything I could do with film.

During the actual performance I used ISO 12800 with no flash. During dress rehearsal, I had freedom to use electronic flash and shoot from different angles not possible during the live performance. I setup a remote flash bounced off of a 36″ reflector; this provides a larger and softer light source. Because the flash was being bounced off a reflector, I configured the flash for higher intensity output than normal/default.

The images shown here provide comparison of shooting with flash and without. The primary light source is always the spotlight. The flash provides fill-light in the shadow areas.

Notice the shadows cast on the wall. Both the spotlight and the flash create shadows. (Here, the shadow from the spotlight appears low on the wall because the spotlight is mounted near the ceiling, probably eighteen feet above the floor.) The shadow from the flash has a soft edge while the shadow from the spotlight has a hard edge. This difference is due to the differing sizes of the two light sources. The bounce flash is giving me a light source 36 inches in diameter at a distance of 25 to 40 feet. The Spotlight is maybe 10 inches in diameter at a distance of 25 feet. Both size and distance of a light source directly effect the hardness/softness of the light.

Neither approach is better than the other. Sometimes you want hard light. Sometimes you want soft light. It can be nice to have both.

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