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Thread: A Night at the Ballet

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    A Night at the Ballet

    Ballet Etudes held their Spring Show and I was there to photograph it. This was at a new (smaller) venue, The Miramar Cultural Center, which opened last December. The lighting was not as bright as The Nutcracker so this was more of a challenge. The entire set was shot with a D700 + 70-200 f/2.8. It was a three act show and I just finished the first act and have it posted in my Pro Gallery. Here are the highlights:











    You can visit the gallery for this act here.
    Carlos Echenique | Carlos Echenique Photography |Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II | Olympus Pen-F - M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Nice work.

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    These look ok, but many of those in your gallery look much better, with more contrasty lighting.

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Great shots, Carlos! Tricky lighting.
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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Thanks guys. It was a tough assignment.
    Carlos Echenique | Carlos Echenique Photography |Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II | Olympus Pen-F - M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Quote Originally Posted by etrigan63 View Post
    Ballet Etudes held their Spring Show and I was there to photograph it. This was at a new (smaller) venue, The Miramar Cultural Center, which opened last December. The lighting was not as bright as The Nutcracker so this was more of a challenge. The entire set was shot with a D700 + 70-200 f/2.8. It was a three act show and I just finished the first act and have it posted in my Pro Gallery. Here are the highlights:











    You can visit the gallery for this act here.
    Carlos

    That 70-200 seems to be working really well for you which makes me glad since I was just not using it. After seeing your shots I now wonder why!! LOL

    Anyway, great images. Keep up the good work

    Woody

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Thanks for the comments guys. I was worried about this one. Really dim lights. Here are a couple from the second act (Swan Lake):









    Full gallery is here.
    Carlos Echenique | Carlos Echenique Photography |Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II | Olympus Pen-F - M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Quote Originally Posted by Jorgen Udvang View Post
    These look ok, but many of those in your gallery look much better, with more contrasty lighting.
    You are welcome to post comments over in my gallery Jorgen.
    Carlos Echenique | Carlos Echenique Photography |Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II | Olympus Pen-F - M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    These are great, Carlos. What ISO?

    Edit:
    Been to the gallery again. Lots of great stuff there. I see that many of the photos are shot at ISO 25,600 and f/5.6. In some of the photos, where the dancers are all (or both) in the same focal plane, it would possibly have been an idea to open up to f/4 or even 2.8 and dial down the ISO correspondingly. The background doesn't add much to the images anyway, and a shallower DOF may even enhance the impression of the performance. There would obviously be less noise, although I don't find the noise at web size particularly disturbing, which says a lot about the D700.

    Just my 2 satang
    Last edited by Jorgen Udvang; 20th March 2009 at 21:26.

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    The 5.6 was to counter a Nikon's tracking focus' natural proclivity to follow anything that moves, not just the target. Plus, the troop has a habit of bounding around in both the front and back of the stage at the same time. Tends to play havoc with the tracking focus. Thanks for the advice, I will have to try that on the next show.
    Carlos Echenique | Carlos Echenique Photography |Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II | Olympus Pen-F - M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    I would consider opening up one stop to f/4, it would add some depth without creating an impossibly narrow DOF.

    The way I see it, ISO 25,600 is OK for web use, but a close look at even a 4x6 print would reveal artefacts. And there is just no possibility of adding fill light in post-processing, that would show too much noise. In daylight WB I set my D700 to top out at ISO 12,800 (Hi-1) on auto or Hi-0.7 on manual ISO, to keep at least the possibility of PP. I like the grain-like noise at that sensitivity, whereas at Hi-2 color noise becomes more visible.

    White balance also affects noise, in tungsten light you have very little blue light so the blue channel is amplified which brings up blue noise quite a bit (1 stop?). The native white balance of the sensor is somewhere close to daylight.

    I like the built-in fill light (Active D-lighting) when shooting JPEG, it does a pretty good job and avoids PP.

    The AF tracking on the Nikons is a tool that you have to learn to use by practicing. To be able to use a wider aperture you need to work on improving AF tracking skills. Plus your scene is dimly lit so AF will be slow.

    Maybe it would help to just shoot more frames and hope for some frames in focus. But that takes more work in evaluating in PP. Just a thought.

    So... open up to f/4, ISO to Hi-1?
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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Wow, these get better and better! Nice work in difficult lighting.

    I can't help but feel that a little judicious cropping would strengthen a few of them however. In particular, the second image in the first group--remove the dancers going out of the frame on the right; and in the second group, the first image--remove the slipper entering from the right side, and the second image--remove the bit of stage apparatus on the right side. The files look as if they'd handle the light cropping and I think the central characters would have more impact. Just my opinion of course.

    Good work!

    Best,
    Tim

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Am not commenting on the photos themselves just on the image quality seen here as posted;the second group of photos image quality is much less than the first and even the first group is not what Id have expected from this the wunderkind of cameras photographing a well lit stage.A bit disapointing.

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    You are assuming that the second set was well lit. It wasn't. The scene takes place at midnight and the technical director took that to heart. This act was a few lumens short of having the dancers wear headlights so they could see each other. I warned the director that the second set of photos were not going to be as good as the ones from the first and third acts.
    Carlos Echenique | Carlos Echenique Photography |Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II | Olympus Pen-F - M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Wow, Graduation Ball and Swan Lake Act II... makes me really nostalgic for the classics! I haven't had any tutu ballets to photograph all season. Didn't you say there was also a third work on the program? What was it?

    Tough light or no tough light, I think your Grad Ball set looks good. I agree that some of them would have been improved by more judicious cropping, but I also know there isn't always time when you've just gotten back from the dress rehearsal with hundreds of shots that everybody is hoping to see by opening night!

    i figure that the key points of interest in this Grad Ball are the facial expressions and character interactions, and you seem to have nailed them. I especially like the ending pose of the Monkey Dance (stack of heads) and the Pigtail Girl being lifted. Speaking of lighting, the two shots of the couple (arabesque lift and "fish" pose) have a nice magenta rim-light effect -- good eye to notice that and work with it.

    About the Swan Lake shots, though... I have to agree with everybody else who's saying you've got to find a way to get away from ISO 25,600. Not only does it stick you with a lot of chroma noise, it seems to be burning out highlight detail -- not ideal when you've got a stage full of white tutus! I'm not criticizing you or trying to give you a hard time -- I've been in exactly the same spot lots of times and I know sometimes what you can do is all you can do. I'm just suggesting that you try to think outside the box and see if there aren't some different ways to solve the problems of shooting in that particular space.

    For example:

    -- You mentioned that you have to shoot at f/5.6 because of all the AF "misses" you get in tracking mode. What would you think of using spot AF and no tracking? This is how I usually shoot performances that have enough background clutter to lure the AF system away from my intended subject. Yes, your thumb gets tired because you're on and off the AF lock button all evening, but with more control you might be able to shoot at f/2.8 more often. Worth a try?

    -- Also, I know it doesn't give you the flexibility, but when you're shooting in this theater, might you want to take along, say, a 50/1.4 or an 85/1.8 for the really dimly-lit scenes? Not only would this let you dial down your ISO to a more quality-oriented setting, but I find that often AF seems to track better with a really wide-aperture lens because there's more difference between in-focus and out-of-focus areas; the latter are so blurry that they're less likely to pull the AF offline.

    As a case in point (and to get a tutu photo of my own) I pulled out this shot of Le Corsaire from a couple of seasons ago. The reason I picked this one is that the lighting was only a bit brighter than what you had for Swan Lake. And I was using a D80, which doesn't have nearly the low-light performance of your D700.

    But I think you can see that it looks cleaner -- simply because I shot at f/2.8 and was able to use ISO 3200. If I had gone to f/5.6, I would have had to shoot at ISO 12,800, at which setting the D80's image quality kind of falls off a cliff! Your D700 has at least one stop better high-ISO quality than the D80, so you should be able to shoot at 6400 with better quality that I was getting at 3200. But even with the D700, ISO 25,000+ seems to be a bridge too far...

    I know, there are always tradeoffs and maybe under your specific conditions you made the only choice that would have worked. And as I said, I'm not trying to give you a hard time -- just trying to encourage you to try some different sets of tradeoffs. The Swan Lake shots are really evocative, and I think your future shoots in this theater will be even better if you can work out some strategies for using less-ambitious ISOs. Good luck!

    Last edited by Ranger 9; 21st March 2009 at 21:41.

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Thanks Ranger. I appreciate all of the constructive criticism. The dress rehearsal was finished 2 hours before the actual performance so I only had time to unload my cards to a laptop and get a battery charged. The third act is from Don Quixote. I will hopefully have those posed by the end of today. That one was better lit than Swan Lake, thank the maker.
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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Quote Originally Posted by etrigan63 View Post
    That one was better lit than Swan Lake, thank the maker.
    Better yet, thank the lighting designer. Hey, here's a thought: Did you know that sometimes lighting designers can be bribed? A bottle of Crown Royal in the right place might be enough to get you a whole season's worth of brighter lights! :-)

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Quote Originally Posted by etrigan63 View Post
    The dress rehearsal was finished 2 hours before the actual performance so I only had time to unload my cards to a laptop and get a battery charged.
    Yup, I know that feeling too!

    Idea: it's kind of pricey, but a WT-4 transmitter might make your life a bit easier on these tight-turnaround productions. I leave Lightroom running on my laptop and use the WT-4 to send files to its "watched folder" as I shoot, so that Lightroom imports them as soon as they arrive.

    A raw file takes about 12 seconds to transmit, so often a backlog will build up during scenes where I shoot a lot of photos -- but usually there's enough time for it to catch up during slower-moving scenes or intermissions. By the time the rehearsal is over, all the shots are already in the laptop, ready to be reviewed. And I've still got the memory cards as a backup.

    Incidentally, for anybody who uses a WT-4, here's an inexpensive gadget that will make your life more convenient -- a coiled USB cable from XtremeGeek:


    Finally, no more snagging the USB cable on yourself and your surroundings! It swivels on both ends, too, so it won't tangle. I think it would be smart for Nikon to make this type of cable standard equipment on the WT-4.

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Hmmm. I may try that on my next gig. I'll have to see what my profits are from this show to see about getting this hookup. I wish Eye-fi would make a CF version of their cards. Would it be possible to plug the camera directly into the laptop for a tethered shoot? A USB cable is way cheaper than the WT-4.
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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    The other problem with the Eye-Fi cards (unless they've changed them) is that they only work with JPEG files, not raw. I get nervous about shooting JPEG for stage photos because it doesn't have as much latitude for correcting my frequent exposure mistakes.

    Yes, you can plug into a laptop and shoot tethered, but Nikon makes it difficult. If you just plug the camera into the laptop, you can only shoot all your photos and then transfer them, which isn't really any faster than dumping them via a card reader.

    You can't transfer files AS you shoot unless you spring for Nikon's Camera Control Pro 2 software. That's still cheaper than a WT-4, but at about $180 it's not trivial either. (There may be third-party software that also enables continuous tethered shooting, but I wasn't able to find any that would run on my Mac laptop the last time I looked.) If you want to try this option and see if you like it before you take the financial plunge, you can download a demo copy of Camera Control Pro 2 from Nikon and use it for (I think) 30 days. I think you'd go crazy trying to maneuver around the theater with a laptop on your hip, but who knows, maybe it would work for you.

    Incidentally, if you bite the bullet and go for the WT-4, it also lets you shoot tethered without needing any extra software. You use an Ethernet cable to connect the transmitter to your computer, which means you can have a much longer cable than if you used USB. Connecting over Ethernet is also about four times as fast as using wireless, so in a situation in which dragging around an Ethernet cable isn't a problem, the photos pop up in Lightroom almost as you shoot them.
    Last edited by Ranger 9; 23rd March 2009 at 09:11.

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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Has anyone used the Noise Ninja Aperture plugin? I have been using it to clean up the higher ISO images in these sets but it occasionally freaks out and leaves my Mac display completely pink and corrupted (besides crashing Aperture2). What are the recommended settings for interfacing with the plugin? PictureCode recommends 16-bit ProPhoto TIFFs for the standalone version. Does that apply to the Aperture plugin?
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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Bits from the last act - Don Quixote. At least this was more brightly lit than Swan Lake.









    Carlos Echenique | Carlos Echenique Photography |Olympus OM-D E-M1 MK II | Olympus Pen-F - M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8, Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS, M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8, M.Zuiko 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO

  23. #23
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    Re: A Night at the Ballet

    Looks like another good set; as with the Grad Ball photos, you're doing a great job with the expressions and character interactions. Compared to Swan Lake, it's nice to have some scenery so the backgrounds aren't so dark, isn't it?

    In the second picture (the boy doing the back cabriole) I guess the balletic ideal would have been to catch it just at the moment when his legs are in contact... but I know that's such a brief moment that it's very, very difficult to get, and sometimes at the moment the legs beat, the rest of the body doesn't look so good. But that's the kind of thing that keeps us challenged, right?

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