About Photographying Stage Performances – Helsinki Fitness 2016

About Photographying Stage Performances – Helsinki Fitness 2016


This year I barely had time to participate Photo & Camera fair in Helsinki Messukeskus as I was so eagerly taking photos about the other events happening around Go Expo stages, e.g. Helsinki Fitness competition. Photography is all about the light and a great photo has great light like I have stated in several earlier blog posts. When shooting a live stage show one has to hope that lighting is set properly and is supportive for photography. 

Lighting Makes the Difference

The photo above is an example of lighting that works for photos. This could be a carefully planned studio photo, but is actually taken during a live show on the stage. Shooting this kind of show with changing lights can be really inspiring and gives lots of ideas that can be used when shooting studio photos. Unfortunately, in many cases lighting is set so that it does not support photography at all, e.g. pink overall light and no clear frontal warm light is really challenging for photography as it flattens the faces and makes it difficult to find proper white balance. (Example of this kind of challenging lighting can be found from my facebook profile and photos from Kielo Ilona concert in Lavaklubi. Kielo Ilona at Lavaklubi)

IMG_2821This time I was lucky and the lighting was great like can be seen from these photos.

Finding the Correct Exposure

In addition to weird coloured light or even general lack of light, a huge challenge in many performances is the fact that movements are fast. This calls for fast shutter speed, which may mean really high ISO values in low light conditions. Finding proper balance and trade off between freezing the movement versus noise in image poses a constant challenge.

IMG_2499Above example of aerial cartwheel shows that exposure of 1/400s is not fast enought to make the legs sharp. On the other hand, faster shutter speed would have increased the noise via increased ISO value as apertude was already the widest possible. Moreover, some blurring on the legs give sense of movement. It is all about finding the right balance, which means contstant fine tuning and also periodically checking the taken photos on the camera screen. It is important to zoom in when checking the images on the camera to see the sharpness. Histogram can be used to quickly verifying the exposure balance.

IMG_2434My tactic is usually to use shutter priority mode (Tv in Canon, S in Nikon) or manual mode to enforce fast exposure. If performancer is doing fast movement or I am anticipating a jump or similar to come, I quickly adjust timing to be faster with the camera scroll button. When the performers are staying still or I anticipate long poses, I scroll for slower exposures. It helps to know the sports / performance you are photographying as you are able to predict better.

IMG_2385Correct Location & Correct Tools

Getting a good spot on the audience is also crucial. The earlier you come for a show, the better changes you have getting a good location. Perfomances are usually targeted towards the middle so if you are able to stand in the middle you may catch a smile or a look that is targeted directly to the camera. However, in many cases it is possible to get closer if going to the side of the stage. From the side you may find more artistic angles to your photos, but it may be harder to get eye contact from the people on stage.

The farther away your are from the stage the more zoom you need. Prime lenses may be tricky as you are not able to switch from close ups to wider shots, unless you have two cameras with different lenses attached. My favourite in many cases is 24-70mm zoom if I am in the first row and 70-200m if I am little bit farther away.

IMG_2389The Decisive Moment

Finally, pressing the button at the right moment is the key. You want to catch the smile, the look. Moreover you want to be like a street photographer and catch that decisive moment maybe with some twist.

Another nice event I photographed lately was the 10 year anniversary party of Bailes Cubanos salsa assosiation in Turku. The same concepts and thoughts shared here applied during that dance-full day. Stay tuned for photos from that event.

IMG_2428 IMG_2663 IMG_2732 IMG_2830 IMG_2870 IMG_2322 IMG_2353

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