The right lens for indoor ballet show

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by danti_hendrasti, Nov 1, 2010.

  1. Hello everyone!
    Actually I am not sure whether to post my question in this section or in the Practice & Techniques Procedures. In about 3 weeks time, I would like to take photos of my 14-years old daughter during her annual ballet show. This show will be held in an indoor theatre and it will be dark most of the time during the performance, except for some stage light... and obviously the use of camera flash is strictly forbidden.
    With my EOS 7D I have "only" 10-22mm, 50mm and 24-105mm so I am thinking of renting (specially for that day) a 70-200mm/f2.8 L IS lens. I have been thinking also of buying the II version of this lens so I think it will be a good idea to try it first for this ocassion. However, I am not sure if this is the right lens for this condition of photo shooting.
    I would be very grateful if anyone can advise me what will be the best lens to use to take photos in a indoor dance performance like the one I am going to and if there are other important techniques I should apply to be able to take good photos.
    Thank you and warm regards.
  2. You're right to be seeking a fast lens. This past weekend I photographed my son in a similar situation. I brought 100mm and 200mm f/2.8 primes with me (instead of my 70-200, which is f/4), and selected the 100mm once I saw how close to the stage I would be. We weren't allowed in the aisles so I used a monopod at my seat. ISO 1600 enabled relatively fast shutter speeds to stop motion.
    Here's an example shot.
    If you're as close as I was, even 70mm won't be wide enough for full-stage shots. This was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
  3. 70-200 f 2.8, at ISO 1600 sounds about right. My daughter was 6 at her last recital, and that's what I used (about half way back in the auditorium, using a monopod). Here's an example...
  4. The 70-200 2.8 L has become my favorite lens for ballet performances. It allows me to move back from the stage far enough to position myself above the dancers a little (I like that perspective a better than looking up at them) and still be able to get in close. f2.8 or better is nearly a requirement for this environment as the lighting can vary all of the place - usually darker than you would like.
  5. I concur with the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. It's a very versatile lens that you can use for things like wildlife, if you get into that. The contrast between the spotlit dancers and the often dark stage presents a challenging metering and noise issue. Set your blinker warnings so that you'll see if your over-exposing the dancers, then apply some -EV if needed. If the lighting switches to broad stage lighting with multiple cans, then you might actually need a little +EV, depending on the costume. Be sure to shoot in RAW so that color balance won't be an issue and can easily be corrected in post processing.
    When using high ISO it's even more important not to under expose. "Expose Right" to the right of the histogram, without blowing out highlights. If you get the dancer properly exposed, then the noise will be minimal, even up to ISO 3200 on the 7D, but you may need to do some work on dark backgrounds to get rid of the noise there. BTW, the 5D MkII works very well up to ISO 6400.
  6. I'll second what David said - be careful not to blowout the highlights. I'll take a little noise over blown highlights any day. You may find in some situations that your camera thinks its darker than it is - such as when spots are used and the rest of the stage is dark. For this reason I will normally shoot in fully manual mode and in RAW. I tend to shoot for good skin tones.
  7. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Using a 7D and a 70 to 200/2.8 will most likely suit the occasion, EXCEPT for TWO circumstances:
    • In the case that the EV (amount of light) is less than appropriate to allow a TV (Shutter Speed) fast enough to arrest Subject Motion at the Maximum ISO you wish to use.
    • In the case that you are situated too close such that with a 70mm lens the SD (Shooting Distance) renders the Subject LARGER than the Frame
    This is an example of both these situation (from a stage play):
    Tech: 5D + 85/1.8 (Full Frame Crop)
    Shooting: F/1.8 @ 1/80s @ ISO3200
    • If you are in a similar situation to this, then you would need to pull something like: F/2.8 @ 1/125s @ ISO12800, which is surely at the limit of ISO of a 7D?
    • Also if you had only the 70 to 200 and only the 7D, you would chop off the head of the Witch (which might be a good thing – but it happened later in the play)
    Conclusion – I would take your 50/1.4, as insurance.
    Other matters:
    I use Spot Metering and read the face of the performer and shoot to that using M Mode (goes to not overexposing the face as previously mentioned).
    I use AWB.
    I attempt to time the shots for minimal Subject Movement – thus allowing the Tv to be the slowest possible - hence the ISO as slow as possible also.
    More here:
  8. WW's point are valid, but merely point up the need to sit at a distance appropriate for your lens(es). If you can get close, then the 24-105mm will do the trick. I find it's usually easier to get back than up close. Also, as already mentioned, up close you're looking up, where back in the seats you'll look down on the stage slightly.
    If you were going to constantly shoot stage subjects, I'd suggest going to the 5D MkII over the 7D. I own both and the 5D2 is excellent at ISO 6400, so long as you don't underexpose. However, I got the idea that this would be an occasional usage for your kit, so sticking with the 7D makes sense to me and living without the extra stop of speed.
  9. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    "point(s) are valid, but merely point up the need to sit at a distance appropriate for your lens(es)."​
    In fact, it was my hope that whilst having appropriate shooting distance is important - that was NOT the only point I was making.
    The other major point was that the speed of the lens will finally determine whether a shot is possible or impossible and that comes at the time when the ISO and Tv are maxed out.
    So I mention this point again: as it seems I was not clear enough the first time.

    Also regarding the Shooting Distance – although many Indoor Theatres have a Stalls Section below Stage Level and the Floor then is inclined toward the back - not all Theatres are designed this way – so it is important to know the venue and take into account its internal design; and how mnay persons might be sitting in front of you.

    Again just as a “for example” the Play I sampled above is a ¾ Theatre in the Round and ALL the seats are above Stage Height.
    On the other hand, if the “Theatre” is also Community Hall (like we have here) the Stage will only be about 3 steps higher than the seats and the seating floor will be flat with no incline whatsoever, so in this case the Front Row is the best position (or shooting from the Stage Wings).
    These and many other issues are discussed in the thread I linked to, in my last comment.
  10. The other major point was that the speed of the lens will finally determine whether a shot is possible or impossible and that comes at the time when the ISO and Tv are maxed out.​
    Given the speed of a few of the new cameras today, like the 5D2, one can say that the speed of the camera body will finally determine whether a shot is possible or impossible. Realistic shooting at ISO 6400 and above has changed the way we should think about our cameras and lenses.
  11. I shoot lots of indoor sport (ice hockey) with a 1DIIN and 7D. the 70-200 F2.8 is definately the best indoor lens on this camera. If possible try and keep to 1600 ISO on the 7D - 3200 can be used with care but after that it is pretty bad. I would also suggest that you shoot RAW if you are at ISO 1600 or above and be very careful with exposure - the 7D gets very noisy at high ISO if you do not nail the exposure. RAW will help you reduce noise in the images. The 5DII has two advantages in low light over the 7D - first it is at least 1 stop (possibly closer to 2stops) better in noise performance and secondly it is less sensitive to slight exposure issues introducing unacceptable noise.
  12. IME, the 7D gives fine performance at ISO 1600. The key is not to under expose. I use both the 7D and the 5D2 and you need to "Expose Right" (to the right of the historgram) to get the best performance. I agree, however, that the 5D2 is two stops better in noise performance than the 7D.
    A real high-ISO problem is dark backgrounds common on stage. You can expose a dancer perfectly and there'll be no significant noise on the subject, but a black background will emphasize noise. That can often be fixed in post, but it's a problem nontheless.
  13. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    On the side issue which you are debating, David:
    I agree somewhat with you - but when pushed I still will disagree at the point when the shot does become "impossible" DUE TO ISO LIMITS.
    As I previously pointed out – (though I agree this was a rare situation) - the photo I linked to would require at least ISO 6400 and realistically ISO8000 (to hold Tv = 1/80s) and I would prefer Tv= 1/125s so that means ISO12800. (as I wrote.)
    Whilst these ISO levels are possible with some cameras (I don't think) such is a viable option with a 7D - and given those facts a fast Prime Lens (or four) are good insurance, IMO.
    Agreed when we (in the not too distant future) have cleaner & crisper ISO 25600 then the F/2.8 zooms will even be more "fantastic" than what they are now for indoor shooting - I have no argument with a zoom lens at all - I love my 70 to 200/2.8 – and as I stated I think with a 7D the OP will do well with this zoom lens, for the ballet shots
    But even if I had ISO25600 available to me - there still many circumstances that I would choose to use (for examples) an 85 or 135 at F/2 or even a 50 at F/1.4 rather than the 70 to 200 wide open and thus save a stop (or two) of ISO.
  14. 70-200mmII - most expensive, most versatile, biggest and most aggressive in appearance.
    135mm 2/L pretty well all you need - perfect for fast moving dance.
    200mm f2.8L cheaper, longer reach.
    The 85mm f1.8 also worth considering if you are closer.
    These are my suggestions in order of preference.
  15. WW, there's no debate. EV is EV and it can come with a f/stop or ISO or SS. You seem to point out that we have alternatives to chose between every time we take a shot. I just don't want anyone to think that somehow EV derived from f-stop is somehow superior to EV derived from ISO speed. SS/ISO/Aperture are always part of every image equation.
  16. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks for coming back . . . for clarity from my end:

    You seem to point out that we have alternatives to chose between every time we take a shot:
    We do, mostly. A good very flexible rig would be one capable of High ISO and with fast lenses.
    I just don't want anyone to think that somehow EV derived from f-stop is somehow superior to EV derived from ISO speed.
    I Understand. I agree. Av is NOT the superior. I did not mean to give that impression.
    Also both have their down sides. Paper thin DoF is no fun in low EV, for example: a little more Noise from using an higher ISO, might be the better option.
    ATM we only have F/2.8 zooms – I choose those zooms for this reason - i.e. they are the fastest aperture zooms available.
    Between two cameras for Ballet - I would choose a 5DMkII over a 7D (as per your comments), also.
    But (for Ballet) I would bring (or have available after reconnoitre) my 24/1.4; 35/1.4; 50/1.4; 85/1.8 and 135/2, also – all these lenses effect more Tv, Av & ISO options at the expense of none being a zoom - which is also a consideration.
    SS/ISO/Aperture is always part of every image equation.
    I think it is very important to understand the concept of “Limits”.
    For example, in the “14 year old Ballet Shooting Scenario” the following limits would generally be primary in my planning of the shoot and the limits which would be applicable and these limits and the EV available, would guide my exposure choices:
    Limit of ISO: “I don’t really want to use faster than ISO3200 on a 7D”
    Limit of Tv: “For (fast) transverse Dance Movement, I will want about Tv ≤ 1/500s.”
    Limit of Tv: “For (fast) Head-on Dance Movement, I will want Tv ≤ 1/320s.”
    Limit of Tv: “For most “static” scenes I can pull 1/125s and be reasonable sure the Subjects will be still” (remember they are breathing and sometimes heavily).
    Limit of Av: “For a Full Length shot (Vertical Format using a 7D) at F/2.8 I have about 3ft DoF – at F/1.4, I have about half of that”
    Limit of Av: “For an Half Shot (Vertical Format using a 7D) I need at least F/4 to nail one person safely”
  17. Make sure you have advance permission from the event organiser to take photos of the performance. Here in Australia photography or video from the audience is banned as the host of these events usually has an exclusive rights agreement with a commercial photographer. Also the choreography and music will be subject to copyright violation if reproduced (as in images or videos) by an unauthorised party.
    These sorts of restrictions are very commonplace in the performing arts from school productions all the way to National competition. We have seen competitors disqualified from eisteddfods when their parents broke the rule by taking shots from their seat in the audience.
  18. I would use either the 100mm f2 or the 135mm f2.
  19. With all the hokus-pokus discussion centered on the mythical "best" lens (or best whatever), the proper technique for taking pictures clearly overlooked in capturing the performance of someone on stage to go the dress rehearsal and do your work... NOT attempt the same during the actual performance (and probably annoy many people). At a dress rehearsal you can pretty much move about wherever you want, sometimes even be on stage with the performers (at least if you're a genuine pro-photographer and have properly introduced yourself).
    As to "blurred" images and the big fear of using "the wrong - ISO, shutter speed, etc" ... partial blurs can often - enhance - the subject being illustrated, the movement of an athlete. Freezing a ballet dancer in NOT the best means of depicting the subject.
    Bottom line: place far, far more emphasis on the subject at hand and what you're trying to illustrate. Lenses, ISO's and the mechanics... unclutter your mind and you'll end up taking better pictures, more vivid pictures, images with far greater intimacy.
  20. Look at some of my work here. I use the 70-200 F2.8.
    i think the best bet is to shoot at the highest ISO you want to take so that the noise characteristics are what you want. I did most of these at ISO 400 or 800 since my 5D noise is harsh at higher ISOs. I do a spot reading for exposure. then set the exposure to manual, f 2.8 as the aperture. This gives me consistent pictures. Once i take a couple of pictures, i check them critically by enlarging the view as much as possible in the camera LCD. Make any corrections. This works for me since the shoots i do have consistent lighting.
    If the performance uses varied lighting in the production, then you will have to go with one of the parameters to vary and i prefer aperture priority (Av rather than Tv). This way the photo might have some movement rather than be too dark. The reason i prefer AV is that it always better to take the photos at the end of the movement where the dancer is in a pose rather than in the middle when the dancer is going into a pose. At this time, the movement is automatically minimized as the movement speed is coming down. So I tend to prefer a good exposure and time my photos to the end of the movement. This does require some practice and I would suggest you do some photo rehearsals with the troupe rehearsals also.
    In case of swirls, i prefer to show some movement in the pictures as that gives a better picture of the dance than somebody stuck perfectly in an unnatural posture.
    Your preference and mileage may vary.

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