Event Photography – Theater

12-05-19 SCR Christmas Story w Ella KI6A3023

Last night we had an opportunity to photograph the cast of A Christmas Carol, the Dicken’s play that is an annual performance at the South Coast Repertory (SCR) located in Costa Mesa, CA. Parents and friends of the cast were permitted to photograph everyone after the earlier 7:30pm performance. We were there due to our granddaughter’s role as the oldest Cratchit daughter, who is in the back row, far right, and this is the second year in this month-long professional performance, having played the role of the youngest daughter in 2012.

Having seen some of the other photographs from last night’s photo shoot that were quickly posted later in the evening and this morning (which have the same color cast as the first photograph below), I thought I might provide some quick pointers on this type of event photography.

This is a type of event situation in which you do not have an opportunity to go up on stage and use a color management swatch (white/gray/black card) to accurately determine the color temperature (for Digital, set the white balance) of the theater lighting. Since this post production photo-shot was running late (Santa was in the audience and after the performance a lot of personal gift requests were being requested by the kids), we were being rushed. Normally, I would take a test photo, check it out and then manually adjust the color balance until I it was pretty close. In this case, which is pretty normal for such fast occuring situations, I had to defer to shooting RAW with auto color  and let the camera figure it out.

Standing in the theatre from the front row seating the lighting appeared to be plausible, but I knew if the color balance was off, I could color correct it in post-processing with RAW/PhotoShop. Which was the case, my Canon 5DMk3 on auto thought the color temperature was 3200K with a +2 tint adjustment, which straight from the camera provided the first photograph below. Most of the photographs I see being posted on social media from this photo shoot have the same odd purplish color tint. Not so good.

Using the white color picker in RAW to evaluate the photograph, using some white clothing as the color target, the color temperature dropped to 2200K with a whopping -90 tint setting, which is the color settings for the photo furtherest below and above. To add to the color management issues for this type of theater event is that there are also various lights with different gels (color settings) that light the scene, thus one color adjustment might not resolve the color for each person or all parts of the set. sigh. Thus when the cast moved up front to the stage, all the colors shifted slightly from the set from when the cast were further back on the stage. So this still might be a “quick” color management compromise without taking the time to create various layers to adjust the color balance for each part of the photograph, something that you might need to consider for publication of an image. But then again, it’s theater!

If you were professionally photographer working on behalf of the theater or production and photographing this staged event you would have a lot more control of all the lighting. You would be able to do an entire series of color testing and balancing with the cast in place and have the time to work out the fine details before reverting to any post-production magic.

I am pretty happy with my color adjusted results for this occasion.

Other tricks that I employ for such events; shoot RAW with Aperture priority, use a prime lens (50mm f/1.4) close to wide open (f/2.8), on a tripod with the legs folded that functions similar to a monopod (which I do not a suitable one, but this is a great compromise) that has a quick mount ball-head, and crank up the EI/ASA to 400 that provided me with an exposure at 1/125 sec, which in conjunction with a tripod/monopod support allows me to create really sharp images.


Featured photographs; South Coast Repertory cast, A Christmas Carol

12-05-09 SCR Christmas Story - uncorrected KI6A3038

12-05-09 SCR Christmas Story - corrected KI6A3038v2


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