Recently I was asked to photograph the Colorado Springs Philharmonic
Kids performance for school children.
In a presentation called “How The Orchestra Grew,” Maestro Thomas Wilson gave a guided tour of the orchestra and how its music and instruments have changed over time.
I photographed the performance with a photojournalist's eye. It’s rare to have this kind of access to an orchestra during a performance. This was a special occasion and meant to be an educational experience for the kids. It was my job to illustrate the experience.
One obvious challenge was how to handle the lighting. The light on the musicians is very bright while the background falls away into black.
A common mistake people make when photographing a performance, or even a wedding, in a dark church is to use flash. Besides being a “no-no” at the Philharmonic and other events, flash photography is always a disaster — it blows everything out, especially the subjects.
The next mistake people often make — even if they avoid using flash — is to overexpose or underexpose the scene.
If you point your camera at a mostly black background, odds are you will overexpose the image — everything under the stage lights becomes washed-out and white. Or, you can make the other mistake and underexpose the scene with everything — skin, arms torsos, etc. – fading into black.
You must be able to meter correctly for the stage lighting in order to make an acceptable image. Using a spot meter on your camera will give you the most accurate results, but a general meter of the scene and quick check on the back of your camera will do just as well. This is what I did when I photographed the performance.
I had to photograph the children watching and reacting to the performance at the same time. This is completely different from photographing the orchestra. The children were not underneath bright lights and were only illuminated by indirect light coming from the stage. I had to change my exposure drastically to compensate for this difficult situation.
I also had to change my approach because while the musicians were concentrating on playing music, the children were very aware of my presence. I had to pretend not to be paying attention to them and wait for the right moment to capture their reactions.
In this case, Maestro Wilson ended the performance with John Williams' score from Star Wars. That got everyone excited and they took no notice of me and my camera when the orchestra started to play the familiar number.
By correctly exposing the stage lighting and photographing when performers or the audience were too busy to notice me, I made a nice portfolio of pictures. But if the performance you attend doesn’t allow photography, don't be afraid to sit back and enjoy the experience.
Colorado Springs wedding photographer Sean Cayton loves remarkable photographs and the stories behind them. You can see his wedding work at caytonphotography.com, his personal work at seancayton.com and his editorial work in the Colorado Springs Independent. Submit your photo and the story behind the image - no more than two a week, please - to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in upcoming blogs.