How often have you sat through a school show or an amateur production and been blinded by the flashes of a picture snappers in the audience?
A Flash like that really isn't necessary.
A stage production with average lighting -- bright enough for you to see the scene clearly -- can be pictured with high-speed black and white or color film. What's more, with this technique you'll keep the mood of the stage lighting and not end up with an unreal-looking shot.
A medium telephoto (around 100-mm) is ideal for shooting from the audience. If you don't have one, try for a front seat; or if it's a very informal production, you may get permission to crouch down close by the stage and shoot with a normal 50-mm lens.
I suggest a medium telephoto from the audience, or moving up close with a normal lens, because it's important to have a large image of the scene so you don't have to make extreme blowsups with consequent loss of detail.
Use the through-the-lens meter if you have a SLR (single lens reflex camera) at an aperture setting such as f/2.8 or f/4, then adjust your shutter speed to this f/stop. This slightly closed-down aperture will give good lens sharpness, as well as some depth of focus. Adjusting the shutter speed to this opening will then give the maximum setting.
The average lighted stage setting of f/2.8 to f/4 should give you a 1/30th to 1/60th of a second exposure on ASA 400 film. Although these shutter speeds aren't recommended when the camera is hand-held, you can do so if you are careful. I've seen hand-held photos taken at 1/15th with absolute sharpness.
What the slow shutter speed will not do is stop action on stage. You'll have to wait for the action to stop or at least to slow down before shooting: the best time to take a picture is just before the action stops, or at the completion of a movement. You'll get the hang of it with a little practice.
Be careful about focus; because of the large opening there'll be little depth of focus. Recheck the focus each time before shooting.
When judging exposure, whether by meter or eye, take into account the fact that stage lights are concentrated on the face of the actors, which usually are the lightest part of the scene, while shadow areas are poorly lit.
Since the meter will give a general exposure reading, the light areas -- the important part of the scene -- will be overexposed. To counteract this, close down another stop, such as from f/2.8 to f/4, or speed up to the next higher shutter speed, from 1/30th to 1/60th of a second.
Remember, if lighting isn't bright enough, you can still push the film, by doubling or even tripling the ASA. You can do this by simply changing the dial setting on the ASA counter from 400 to 800 or even 1600. You will, of course, have to shoot the entire roll at the same ASA and request special processing at the ASA used when taking the film in for development.
The next time you want to take pictures of a stage production, you can leave the flash attachment home.
Q: I am a rank amateur hobbyist with a 35-mm SLR camera. For several years I've been using Eastman 5247 film. I'm not at all convinced that it's the best film for the amateur.
The real problem is getting prints. The regular 5247 labs take forever and they are often of poor quality. Very few places will make prints from 5247 negatives, either color or back-and-white -- and prints from slides cost twice the price of prints from negatives.
Can you offer any help on what I should do to get good prints? A: Every photographic material has its short-comings. If you want the best prints, you have to use the film especially designed for that purpose -- negative color.
The quality of the prints you can get from negative color is amazing -- far better than direct prints from slides, and the cost is less. This is because the film has a built-in failure factor, so you don't have to have a perfect exposure, such as with a transparency, to get good results.
In the 35-mm size, Kodacolor II does a good job in the ASA 100 range. Kodacolr 400 is also good, but if you have the choice and don't need the extra speed, stay with the regular Kodacolor 100. And if you want superlative results, invest in Verticolor II Professional Film, Type S.
But in the film alone won't ensure results. The chief ingredient, other than film, for best color prints is the lighting. Either daylight or flash can be used, but it's the kind of light that makes the difference.
Recently, out of courtesy, I covered a relative's wedding. (Normally I don't do this kind of photography, as my main interest lies in photojournalism, and like the shoemaker whose son has a hole in the sole, I usually miss shooting personal pictures -- which makes me unhappy later on.) After conferring with my lab, I decided on negative color. They assured me the prints would be better.
The wedding was held outdoors in a garden and the light was perfect, an overcast sun that cast soft highlights and shadows. I didn't even need the ASA 400 film as my exposures were running an ideal 1/125th from f/5.6 to f/8 on the ASA 100 Kodacolor.
The resulting 8-x-10 Type C prints that I was able to deliver looked absolutely professional. No one believed that they were taken with a 35-mm, and I've been ducking wedding assignments ever since.
On analyzing my success, I had to admit that some of the resulting credit was due to the lighting, which I had nothing to do with -- pure luck. But I did have the ability to focus and expose properly and I reached back into my black-and-white background and recalled that negatives have to have detail in the shadows to make good prints. So I shot on the fat side -- about a half-stop overexposed.
The summary of the lesson I learned from this experience is that when I want color prints, rather than slides, I'll go negative color and look for a soft light source, such as an overcast day, or use a small flash to lighten the shadows on a bright sunny one. And if it's indoors, then go to bounce flash to avoid a contrasty result with a flash on the camera.