Back to the Sony A7r.....well briefly at least!!
Here's a fact, I must have one of the least used Sony A7r's anywhere in the world!!! Despite having it loaded and ready to go in my Wotancraft Avenger I've had no real appetite to use it for my day to day shooting since my initial post - HERE.
Ironically it's been an issue with my Leica M Monochrom coupled with a return to the theatre that's given me an opportunity to dust off the Sony A7r and get some long overdue use from it.
On the occasions I've done "theatre photography" before I've used my Leica M Monochrom to photograph the rehearsal stages and I continued in that vain this time, unfortunately during this process my Monochrom developed the dead pixel issue along with the resulting line, additionally there was some banding at higher ISO's. Fortunately Leica have agreed to resolve this issue for me as a gesture of good will, great news given that my Monochrom is around 2 years old now.
It's been well over a year since I'd been involved in photographing a show and even then I didn't see the whole process through due to some unforeseen circumstances. So, it' was great to be back amongst familiar faces and some new ones for that matter, there's just something about the theatre environment that feels right, I'm sure being around dedicated, talented and fun people has a lot to do with it. The end of year show's are traditionally comedies and very tongue in cheek. This years show, The Curse of the Pearl Necklace is a Pirate parody and as the name suggests it's full of double entendre.
I've included three images taken on the Leica M Monochrom above to give a little bit of comparison to the B&W conversions from the Sony A7r that follow. Admittedly at these sizes there isn't much between them but in my opinion the Monochrom files are more robust, easier to work with and therefore superior.
I ought to quickly elaborate on the premise of the show in an effort to make a bit more sense of the images!! Unhappy male sailors decide to become pirates, hapless ones at that!! In turn they are infiltrated by ruthless female pirates in search of the Pearl Necklace, chaos, comedy and abundant innuendo ensue.
I've used the following lenses on the Sony A7r for these images.
Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 ZA
Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ZA
Minolta 85mm f/1.4 (D) G with the LA-EA4 Adapter.
Many of the shots are taken at ISO 5000, some as low as 2000, edits in LR5.7.
I guess the brief is really very simple!! Make a record of the production, auditions, rehearsals etc, along the way certain of these shots will be used to promote the show through Social Media and closer to opening there's a requirement for programme shots. As a gesture I'll burn a disc of my favourite images from the entire process and do a copy of these for each cast member as a "keepsake", easy....
When I'm on stage photographing my priorities are as follows -
1. Do not obstruct the performance in any way. Really obvious I know but I can tell you it's easier said than done, you really want to get right in amongst it to get a broader range of images and we all know the best shots are generally the closest.
2. Do not fall off the stage or as was the case in this particular show a Pirate ship!! When you're lost in a moment, trying the get the best images you can it's easy to take a step backwards, sideways or even forward and find there's nothing under your foot.......Physical injury, damage to gear or ego for that matter is a real possibility, not to mention untold potential for embarrassment.....
3. Get the best photographs I can!
The Sony A7r really did perform very well, initially I was certainly the weak link in the chain and it took me a little bit of time to feel comfortable with it again. On reflection this was inevitable given the amount of time that had passed since I used it at length. The biggest challenge for me? Well that has to be using the AF, again not through any shortfall of the camera, it's just that I'm so used to manually focusing. Whilst I did give that a go on the Sony A7r I was still unable to achieve the same speed of focus I can with the rangefinders.
So, persevere with AF I did and whilst there were some missed shots, some searching of focus in really low light along with a few where focus wasn't 100% nailed it still worked out pretty well.
The ARW files from the Sony A7r respond well to Noise Reduction in Lightroom, at ISO's up to 5000 I was still veery pleased with the results and they certainly exceeded anything I'd have been able to achieve with the only other digital colour option I have which is my Leica M9.
It would be remiss not to mention shutter noise from the Sony A7r once again. Initially, when I purchased the camera it didn't concern me, then on the odd occasion I messed around with it the noise played on my mind. I recall taking a couple of shots at the auditions for this show and being massively conscious of the noise, so much so I stopped myself using it.
If stealth is a requirement of what you do photographically then it's definitely a problem, that said the cameras been around ages now and this issues is so well documented you already know it anyway!! For me, once there was a bit of background noise the issue went away and it didn't cross my mind again.
Colour casts!!!! Blue, Red and any number of other coloured lights may well add atmosphere to a stage performance but when you're photographing it can quite simply do your head in........ Some images are fine, others you can and want to correct as much as you can! The reality is that it simply isn't possible to get a result your 100% happy with in all cases.
Gradually, the various elements of a production like this come together. Performances become more polished, lighting designs are finalised, the set is constructed and costumes are completed. Obviously, all of these and most likely some other elements I've not mentioned influence the images and add impact. Its therefore reasonable and correct to assume that the best opportunities for images is at this juncture in the process.
Unfortunately, all of this takes time and it's really only in the few days leading up to opening that the pieces finally fall in to place. To this end those opportunities are limited, one dress rehearsal in full costume for programme shots and one in full costume and make-up, in effect just two chances.
A few years ago when I photographed at the theatre for the first time it was very much a one off in terms of my thinking, since then I've been back a few times and it's yielded both nice images and good times in equal measure.
For example, It gave me the opportunity to shoot portraits on what was my new Leica M Monochrom, something quite unexpected - HERE.
Photographing theatre just adds a bit of diversity and the unexpected to in to the mix, I'd seriously recommend you search out your own local theatre and offer to help out. I know from my own experiences that they are always looking for photographers to get involved, you'll meet interesting and fun people and at the same time it's great for practicing technique!! You'll certainly learn more about your gear in circumstances you might not usually find yourself in!!
Whilst writing the post I've allowed myself to reflect on what photographing the theatre actually means to me.
In a purely photographical sense it's undeniable the images have a limited appeal, certainly they will always hold more meaning to those in the show and the people that know them than they ever could to an outside observer. I do really enjoy the technical challenges the theatre environment presents though and of course this is rewarding in it's own right.
Honestly, the real enjoyment for me and the reason I personally would stay involved has nothing to do with photography.
Watching others express themselves in a way I could never be brave enough to do myself. Seeing people set aside their inhibitions and watching them grow in confidence as they strive to make a particular role their own is a little bit special.
Witnessing a group of people come together and make something thoroughly magical from scratch and with limited resources is totally uplifting!!
Those things and being able to play some small part in that process are the reasons I'm always grateful of the opportunity to be involved.