Advice for Shooting A High School Musical.

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by rick_gray, Nov 28, 2006.

  1. Greetings. Next week I've volunteered my services to shoot a dress rehearsal
    for the local high school which will be presenting the musical "Annie". I am
    not to use flash. My camera is a Nikon F100 with three Nikon lenses: 50mm f1.8
    lens; a 20mm f2.8 and an 80-200 f2.8 plus tripod.I have two B&W film choices
    Delta 400(I can push it two stops if necessary) and Kodak CN400(I've never
    pushed it. Can I and with what results?) Though I've never done this before, I
    am excited about the possibilities and have confidence in my equipment. Any
    advice would be most appreciated. A thousand thank-yous.
  2. How about Fuji 800Z not pushed at all? I've done all my recent stage work with this, and it's great film. Color can be a big plus, and this film's slightly oversaturated color is great for this sort of work.

    Also, if you can score some fresh Ilford Delta 3200, and develop it in DD-X, you will get better exposures than pushing 400 films. They will be grainy, and the film is kind of flat, but with harsh lighting that could be OK. Often you will find that using Ilford's times for one speed faster than you exposed at will be beneficial.

    If I was going to push a 400 film, I'd think Delta 400 would be the better choice. Ideally in Microphen or DD-X.

    The most important thing is to get some accurate incident light readings on the stage. See if you can go early, and have the person running the lights show you the lighting for various scenes, and go make incident readings on the stage. Note them well, use them at the dress rehearsal. Normal reflected readings will probably be consistently wrong, mostly undexposing, as they will be fooled by hot spots.

    Another idea, if you can get the lights guy there a couple of days before the dress rehearsal, and a stand-in person, shoot a few test rolls of different films, bracketing exposures (with notes), and process them various ways. See what works best before it counts.

    The wider lenses would be useful from the edge of the stage, the zoom from a distance. But, I'll admit that anything slower than f/2 gets pretty challenging for stage work. I'm not sure that there would be much use at all for the 20mm lens. My own lens kit for this is 58/1.4, 85/1.8, 100/1.8, and 135/1.8, but I've always done this at performances, quite a few rows back.

    Also remember that you're not going to have much depth-of-field with these lenses wide open. Think ahead about what gets focused on, you can't have folks upstage and downstage both in focus.
  3. The 50 and the zoom will be most useful. I've shot from the audience and was able to use a 135mm f2.8 reliably with 1600 speed film (Tri-x pushed 2 stops). If you want to shoot B&W, the recommendation to shoot the Ilford 3200 is probably a good one, but Delta 400 pushed will also be good. If you go with Delta 400, try to develop it in some sort of speed increasing developer like DD-X or Xtol (my favorite). If you are goinjg to machine process the CN400, forget about pushing it. It looks best shot at 200ish. You may be able to push it if you process it yourself, but I have zero experience with it.
  4. If this is a dress rehearsal, you might be able to photograph from the stage. Think about this for a minute. Shooting up from the auditorium floor onto the stage isn't going to look very good. The 80 to 200 zoom will probably work best to help you get close in to the actors from 15 to 20 feet away. Use the 50 if you can physically get in close. Use the zoom if you have to be further away. I don't see you getting too much use from the 20 mm lens. I also don't see you getting too much use from the tripod. That will slow you down too much unless you already know the angles you want to shoot.

    I'd steer clear of the Kodak CN400 for this one. I don't know how well it performs if pushed, and I'm not a big fan of monochrome C-41 films anyway. There's nothing wrong with it, I just don't care for it. The Delta 400 is another one that I have no experience pushing, though I hear that it does pretty well. I have not seen any examples either, so I can't make a call. Still, stage lighting can be quite contrasty, and most films pushed in conventional developers don't do well in situations like this.

    I do have quite a bit of experience using Tri-X in Diafine and setting my meter at 1600. This combination works well and is very dependable. There's no guessing about development times and temperature control is not at all critical. Hard light isn't as much of a problem as it is with other pushed films either. That would be my choice for something like this. An EI of 1600 should be more than enough for you to get by with hand holdable shutter speeds at moderate focal lengths.
  5. First of all, it would be a great idea to get an incident light reading of the lighting setups around the stage before you start shooting. You can afford to underexpose most B&W films by up to a full stop and overexpose one or even two stops without much adverse effect, so finding the sweet spots in the lighting mix and setting your camera accordingly is important.

    Second, faster film that isn't pushed is usually better than slower films pushed. Also, films like Tri-X and HP-5+ will be more tolerant of underexposure and overexposure. So having several films will be advisable, with the Delta 3200 shot at 1600 probably the best choice unless the lighting is excellent and bright, where TX or HP at 400-- 800 would be much preferable.

    Your access to the stage will determine the usefulness of the lenses, but the 50mm will probably be the most useful unless lighting is excellent and the zoom can be used at higher shutter speeds such as 1/125" while stopped down at least half a stop. A fast 85mm, 100mm and/or 135mm would have been exceptionally useful as well, but that is lacking. The zoom will have to do if there is enough light.

    I can tell a number of useful stories about shooting from both stageside and the far reaches of the stage and out into the audience arenas, but I won't. Instead, the moral of those stories is simple-- settle on one film at one speed (or two if also shooting color) and hopefully primary exposure setting, then shoot lots of it, and shoot widely and perhaps bracket everything within each roll (your camera may possibly be set to bracket each shot automatically-- I know that some of my Canons have allowed that), and finally, develop one roll at a time to find the best process for the film shot and to preclude disasters such as lost film, mistakes in development, and other problems and unforeseen disasters that can and often will happen. This is true of B&W as well as color.

    One thought for your film processing-- unless the lighting is unually flat and even, excessive contrast will be an issue. Using your developer, such as the suggested XTOL, diluted a bit (1:1 for XTOL) and then reducing your agitation will help the shadows catch up to the highlights (perhaps 10--15" every 2 minutes) without much loss of the solvent action which boosts film speed and softens the graininess. Try this very carefully in the first roll developed and look for evidence of uneven development before doing it with the remaining rolls.
  6. I might suggest bringing a ladder or step-stool to possibly get some different perspectives. Given that this a dress rehearsal, I am sure you will have some leeway as to positioning yourself around the stage.
  7. You folks are amazing.I am most grateful. I do not have a light meter but will try and borrow one.I have confidence in the Nikon metering system and yes should and wil consider bracketing.And as you have mentioned,there is good latitude with B&W film.I will likely now go with mostly Tri-X pushed but I do like the look of Delta 3200 at 1600 and may shoot some of this as well. Thank-you so much for your superb guidance;very much appreciated. I'm really looking forward to this shoot; the kids are so enthusiastic.
  8. Its probably good if u can't have a handheld meter to meter the lights before hand do a spot meter on a rather neutral color (or a face) to get the exposure and work from there (using it in M and the exposure compensator), rather then setting the meter to matrix metering, my experience is that the matrix metering will be fooled most of the time in such situations.

    And as others have said Delta 3200 is a good film to use with DDX. Enjoy ur shoot!
  9. I suggest fuji neopan 1600 b&w. I once shot a wedding in a dark church with it. It is a grainy, but dramatic and contrasty film.. much more pleasing, in my opinion, than either 3200 speed films. Of course you should test the films and developers prior to the event.

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