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Thread: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

  1. #1
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    What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    I want to photograph my daughter playing in the orchestra. What type of lens should I use? And what advice do you all have? I am willing to buy a lens, hopefully not too expensive. Should I buy a prime?

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Hi Susie,
    I'm relatively 'new' here myself - some of the more established members will no doubt be along to say 'Hi' soon, but as this is your first post here welcome to CinC; you've joined a very friendly, helpful forum..!
    There'll also be others with more experience who may well be able to offer better advice, but here are some thoughts... I looked at similar issues when getting lenses for small band gigs (sometimes in very dark venues!)

    The lens(es) you'll need will depend on a few things, including:
    • the format of camera you're using
    • capturing the whole orchestra at once, or close-ups of individuals, or both
    • how far away from the orchestra you'll be
    • whether you'll just use the ambient lighting, or can (and will) use flash to supplement it (maybe doubtful?)


    The first three will influence the focal length(s) you'll need.
    If you're relying on the ambient light, do you know how light will it be? This will influence whether you need a fast(-ish) lens, which is more likely to be a prime, with a wider maximum aperture than (standard) zooms.
    Ian

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    There are a couple of questions that need asking in order for some useful suggestions to be made (in addition to those already noted by Ian).

    Are we talking about you being part of an audience during a public perfromance? Or are we talking about you having exclusive access to the orchestra; e.g. ability to go on stage and have some control over planning specific shots and organising lighting?

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Excellent point Donald! Obviously, it is easier if you have control over the shooting. IMO, it is a PITA for many reasons to try to shoot any performance from the audience.

    However, if you need to shoot from the audience, here are some things to consider...

    1. Shooting from a higher lever would be beneficial. If your venue has a balcony. shooting from the first row of the balcony would be great. It would help your focus because shooting from a higher angle would end up with the back row and front of the orchestra at a more even camera to subject distance...

    2. Often balcony seating has a rail in front or the first row of seating. Obviously, this rail is intended to prevent spectators in the balcony from falling. However, it can also make a nice camera support if you use a beanbag on the rail...

    3. A zoom lens or lenses will provide greater versatility than a prime. Quite often closer framed shots of the musicians might be better than an all over view...

    4. IMO, IS or some other brand shake control will be a great asset. Note, orchestra musicians are not usually moving around to a great degree so an f/2.8 or even an f/4 aperture with some sort of shake control could capure the image...

    5. You need to shoot without distrubing your fellow spectators in the audience. Many cameras have some sort of a "silent" shooting mode. However, this mode often requires the use of live view. I would recommend some sort of eye piece (such as a Hoodman Loup type of viewer:
    https://www.google.com/#hl=en&sugexp...w=1280&bih=599) because the bright light from the LCD screen could very easily disturb your fellow spectators.

    6. It would be advantageous if you could attend a dress rehersal of the performance. You would have a lot more freedom in shooting during a rehersal than during the actual performance...

    7. I used a monopod to help me with this shot of a Chinese performance. I shot this performance primarily using my 70-200mm f/4L IS lens. Often, the very first row of the orchestra is not the best for shooting since you are looking up at the performers. However, rows further back can be a problem because of people sitting in frot of you. See, I said it is a PITA!

    What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    More performance shots are located in my Xian China, gallery.
    http://rpcrowe.smugmug.com/Travel/CH...113950&k=Fstqr
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 15th March 2012 at 04:49 PM.

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    arith's Avatar
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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    That is great advice; I feel I know how to do it even though I never have. Ta Richard

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Thanks for all the great advice. Unfortunately, I will be in the audience, (by the way, what is a PITA?) Going to dress rehearsal is a great idea. Plus I'd have the chance to make adjustments if I fail at the rehearsal.
    I have a Canon Rebel 300D. I would like close ups and full orchestra shots. I'm quite sure they won't let me use flash.
    If I could get a shot like Richard's Chinese performance, I would be in heaven!! That is just beautiful.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by Susie View Post
    (by the way, what is a PITA?)
    Pain In The ....... er um, 'posterior'.

    I think Richard has really covered all the bases so far as advice and guidance is concerned.

    I think you can be pretty certain they are not going to allow flash. So, it's having a lens that's going to be fast enough for the job.

    If you can get in to the dress rehearsal, that would be the best option. And remember, the orchestra might be quite pleased if the offer of them getting to use any images was on the table.
    Last edited by Donald; 16th March 2012 at 08:56 AM.

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    I think you can be pretty certain they are not going to allow flash. So, it's having a lens that's going to be fast enough for the job.
    ...which would bring us to lens suggestions..?

    Tokina and Sigma both do f/2.8 lenses covering from short to medium telephoto on your Canon (APS-C format): Tokina 50-135mm (80-216 equivalent focal length), Sigma 50-150mm (80-240mm).

    Not cheap though, and both heavy... and whether they'd be wide enough at the short end to get the whole orchestra will depend on your position.

    Otherwise, I guess you might be looking at faster (f/1.8) prime lenses... but then you'd need more than one for the range of shots you want.

    Richard's (excellent..! ) performance shots were all taken on the f/4 lens without flash, demonstrating that it doesn't have to be a fast lens IF the lighting is bright enough (this looks as though it was very well lit, Richard..?)

    I wonder if it might be worth considering renting a lens for the rehearsal & concert ..?
    You'd get to try it before committing to the expense.
    Ian
    Last edited by IanCD; 16th March 2012 at 10:09 AM.

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Some parts of the performance were well lit and other parts were quite dark. The biggest problems I had were the parts of the performance which were completely lit with blue lights. This really looks like I converted this image into artwork using Photoshop. However, the only thing I did with it was crop it a bit and add a modicum of sharpening...

    What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    I planned my shooting to catch the performers when they were in other than just blue light - like the front performer in this shot...

    I generally shot the blue lit portions of the performance using ISO 800 and was able to get an exposure of about 1/80 second or so at f/4...

    Obviously, the blue light was part of the ambiance of this scene. I didn't want to try to balance the color to make it look like it was shot under white light...
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 17th March 2012 at 10:20 PM.

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    I'm just curious, Richard...

    Is the "grid" part of the backdrop or is something else going on there?

    And Susie? If you are talking about a school venue for your concert, and they are not playing on a raised stage but rather on the floor, I bet you could always sit in the back row and skulk up and down the side aisles to get some shots without too much disruption. Maybe even the center aisle and "down front" if you stay low and not obstruct the view too much.

    I doubt you will be the only one there taking photographs. I would guess there will be all manner of pocket poppers (with built in flash), video cameras, cell phones, etc. from parents going off all night.

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    rpcrowe's Avatar
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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Terry,
    Yep, the grid was part of the backdrop artwork...

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Well I thought I'd update anyone who is interested. I have not gone to the main event, but I have gone to a few smaller events. I am so pleased that I got some pictures that were, at least, pretty good. The help I received here made a BIG difference. Mostly, because I am trying all different things that were suggested here. I've taken my camera off of full auto and even tried some shots in total manual mode.
    So, thank you all for the inspiration.
    I won't be quitting my day job. But this is so much fun! I am amazed that I can be getting all this awesome advice and suggestions from great photographers.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Susie - Thanks for the update and congratulations.

    You couldn't expect to get it all right in the first couple of attempts. But I'm sure you will have learned from that and hopefully you'll have more opportunities and can build on your experience.

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    I'm interested, Susie!

    Can we see?

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    Re: What lens and how to photograph an orchestra

    Susie, usually at the end of the performance, the house lights come up and the orchestra is recognized, and it is at this time you should be able to get a good shot from the balcony and the musicians will have their heads up and no instruments in the way. Be ready for that shot.

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