There's something therapeutic about photographing live theater.

I love photographing dress rehearsals.
They are over in about 2 to 2 and a half hours so you have to be finished.
You get to listen to live music as you work.
People don't want to sit next to you because of the camera noise (++)
The actors and the costumers and stage crafters make you look better than you are.
Intermission is a great time to go out onto the balcony and snap a shot of the LED sign.
Sometimes, when there's a VIP reception, you get to have the good red wine.
You get to feel like an artist who works with other artists.

If you shoot with more than one camera on a regular basis and a lot of what you shoot is fun, personal work, you often get ready to do a paying  job with one of those cameras and realize that you have lots of little, fun stuff already resident on the memory card inside. A case in point: I shot a dress rehearsal of White Christmas at Zachary Scott Theatre last week and the cameras below are the ones I used to document the show. The one on the chair is a Sony a99 with the spiffy 70-200mm G lens an the one in the bag is an a77 with the really nice 16-50mm f2.8 lens. 

Also featured in the image is one of the first really nice holiday presents that Belinda bought me when we were first dating; an authentic, original Leitz monopod. I got it as a gift in 1980. Although it is now thirty two years old it works as well as it did the day I got it and the patina of age makes it seem almost as cool as I really think it is. I have a Saunders quick release plate on it in this photo but it usually has its matching Leitz ball head on top. ( I put release plates on the big lens and on the a77 body and I use them when the light gets dim but most of the time I just depend on my technique and the quite good image stabilization in both cameras.

But of course, if these are my two shooting cameras I must have used something else to take the image. It was the Nex 6, which I have fallen for hook, line and sinker.  The camera is tiny and, when coupled with either the Sigma 19 or 40mm lens, it little bigger than a regular point and shoot camera. But I am finding the files to be tremendous and the feel in my hands to be as good and comfy as its big brother, the Nex 7.

I was out shooting portraits today and pulled this camera from the little backpack to use (in a professional, paid job) and the images in this blog were already waiting for me on the card.

Since I've been taking the 6 with me everywhere, wearing it around my neck like a necktie, I've been documenting all kinds of stuff that seems fun to me. I walked out of a Starbucks the other day at sunset and looked up at the sky to see the image below. All I had to do was reach down, grab the camera, bring it to my eye and shoot. Then I got in the car and drove off. Freedom. Light weight. Everything in one bag. It's one way to go....

Quick and easy light in a very small space.

Added 12/09/2012: Background dropped out. No color corrections other than lightening Lauren, overall. I'm not sure what background the designer will finally use on the web but taking the blue out totally changes my perception of flesh tone, etc.

I often end up shooting quick portraits in tight places. For most of my career I carried around heavy monolights or pack and head flash systems for even the simplest of shoots because that's how we did it. Six or seven years ago we started doing smaller shoots in smaller places with portable, battery powered camera strobes but even that is more complicated than it needs to be. You've got to have flash triggers and a modeling light to be able to really see what you are doing.

Today I needed to go back to a company I'd worked with last month to photograph the last few people for their website. These were folks whose schedules precluded them from being at the first shoot. I'm using this garish, blue background because we'll be dropping out the background altogether and putting a solid color in behind the person, so we just needed some color to separate the subject from the background.

This is a one light set up. I have a 60 inch softlighter umbrella set up over to the right hand side of the frame. I was originally going to use a flash to do this shoot and I brought a Fotodiox 312 AS LED panel along to use in the dimly lit room we were put in as modeling light or set light. I stuck it on the light stand with the umbrella for some extra illumination while I was setting up. But when I looked at the quality of the light from the panel, bouncing off the umbrella, I decided to forego the flash altogether and use the light as I had it set up.

I filled the light from the LED panel and umbrella with a white reflector just out of the frame on the opposite side from the light. Two technical things make this work for me. One is that I brought along a tripod. That let me go as low as I wanted to in order to get a good exposure without any camera movement. The second technical thing, which I'm concentrating on more these days, is making a custom white balance.  Once my one light was set up and positioned I pulled my white diffuser into the frame and made a custom white balance measurement directly from the white fabric. The camera set a value of 4300K temperature and +2 M (which is a very, very small adjustment away from neutral to compensate for the very, very slight shift to green caused by the LED light profile). I did not use any sort of color correction filter on the light or the camera.

I used a custom white balance because I am becoming more aware that changing WB in raw has the effect of subsequently changing the exposure of the image file. If I had the perfect exposure with the wrong WB I would then have to compromise exposure and fiddle more with the basic parameters of the image to get back to neutral. The proof is in the tasting of the pudding. The file above has no color correction or exposure correction applied, and it is a jpeg.  To my eye the file is just a little bit "cold" but I think when I drop out the blue my perception of the skin tones will change.

That the scene was lit by a $149, battery powered LED panel still fascinates me. Everything is a trade off but this set up is one I'm happy to take. Every piece of gear I used was hand carried in one trip from the car.

I used a pop up background on a single, centered stand. The reflector was on a small stand with a clamp. I shot with my Sony Nex 6 set to Jpeg fine/large. The creative style was set to "portrait." ISO 800. Exposure setting f2.8 at 1/30th. I photographed six people with this set up this afternoon and the batteries in the LED panel, after over 150 exposures, still showed 75% full. And remember, I could shoot as fast as I wanted to without concern for recycle times because the LED panel kicks out continuous light. 

I used Sony's 50mm 1.8 OSS lens and since I was on a really good tripod I turned off the image stabilization. I think the lens is great. It's sharp enough but has a nice look to the out-of-focus area of the background. After looking at the files I decided I needed to order just one more panel from Fotodiox so that's on the way.

Below is how I have the LED panel set on the umbrella. 

Had I been using the a99 I might have shot at ISO 1600 or even 3200 and used a higher shutter speed. Not that it would have mattered much. It's so much easier to focus and see in a darker space when you add a good continuous light as opposed to trying to do it all with small flashes. The LED panels are perfect for applications like this. And they've become much more color neutral even within just the last year.

Thanks to Lauren at the Spa for graciously allowing me to use her image in the blog.