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Shooting inside a theatre

edited November 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
Greg Parker is having his Christmas show at the Wichita Falls theatre. The lighting is dark and the lights are controlled at the back of the auditorium for the stage. How would I set my camera up to get good shots and what lens would I use?


  • edited November 2015
    The fastest lens possible, probably is the first thing. It kind of depends on what you have. The less you have to crank up the ISO to get an exposure, the better from the noise point of view.

    Don't use any exposure mode, such as Auto, in which you cannot select your metering pattern, shutter speed, and so forth, and especially no mode, such as Auto or portrait, in which you cannot be sure it won't flash.

    Focal length will depend a bit on how big the theater is, how far from the stage you are, and what on it you need to get in one frame. I'd err a bit on the wider side if need be, because you can crop if you have to. High ISO shots will probably not need the most acute resolution you can muster, so cropping will cause little problem.

    If there's a lot of movement in the show, you'll have to try for a fair amount of shutter speed, and that will mean you must use as wide an aperture as you can manage, and probably get the ISO pretty high as well. If you can stand somewhere, then a monopod could help a little with steadiness. Pillars, seat backs, railings - anything you can find for support will help.

    Auto white balance should probably be all right, and if you shoot in Raw mode you can fine tune the white balance in post processing very easily. Stage lights can often seem pretty warm even to the naked eye, so you may find it looks better with a golden incandescent glow than balanced out to true whites. That will be especially true if other colors, such as blue spots, are added.

    If you can try to predict what kind of light and distance you'll be dealing with, you might be able to practice some, and find out just what shutter speeds you can get away with, and what ISO gives you acceptable results. VR can help a lot if you have it, but a shorter lens such as a 35mm or 50mm prime is not too hard to hold without it. Once you've judged what maximum ISO you will settle for in quality, you can set that in the menu as the maximum to which Auto ISO will go.

    Be aware, however that whatever you set the ISO max to in the menu, you will not be able to go above it unless you turn auto ISO off. THIS IS NOT DOCUMENTED! If you set Auto ISO at, say, 1600, all the ISO levels will still appear on the selector dial. You can set an ISO of 6400, and it will show as 6400 on the display, but when you shoot, you'll find it actually did it at 1600.

    Auto ISO will tell you that it's working, but it will not tell you what ISO it has chosen, until the picture is taken, because it is a dynamic system that adjusts until the very last microsecond. So, if you want complete control of ISO, turn Auto ISO off, and choose ISO yourself as needed.

    Back in film days I used to get pretty good theater and concert shots with 400 speed film and a 105mm f/2.5 lens wide open, but shutter speeds were always marginal. If you can get a lens that's 2.8 or faster, the D3200 should do pretty well, with noise manageable up through ISO 1600 or more, but different people have different standards of what is acceptable. Dark areas of the stage will be noisier than the lit up people on it, and I think a noisy sharp shot is way better than a quiet miss.

    Can you rent a lens? A 2.8 zoom would be nice, and so might a fast 85mm. Slower lenses will work, but auto focusing may be difficult at times. You will probably have to turn off the focus aid light, which won't do much at distance anyway.

    Remember that if the performers are in a pool of light on a dark stage, and your camera is metering a wider area, it will probably overexpose. Especially if you don't have a lens as long as you'd like, and intend to crop later, you may be better off spot metering. Aim at the area, such as a performer's face, that you really need to be exposed right, and meter on that. Let the rest of the stage be dark, or the spotlights be blown out.

    When spot metering, the spot that is metered is the same as the AF point (or the center spot if you're using multi-point AF which is probably not a good idea anyway). So make sure the point is where you expect it to be, and center it with the [OK] button if it is not.
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