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Canon GL Series DV Camcorders
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Old July 14th, 2004, 10:57 AM   #1
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Using a GL2 for a dance performance

I was wondering if anyone could lend some quick advise. I will be shooting a multi-camera dance performance this Saturday and I am looking for an optimal setting for my GL2. So far I have done 5 dance performances and have experimented with varying results. What I have found works best is the following:

Both cameras:

Full manual mode.
White balance before performance with the house lights on.
No Gain (too much grain in darker lighting)

Aperture f1.8 to 2.0 to compensate for no gain.
Shutter speed I try for 1/60 but might have to go to 1/30 to compensate for no gain.

Master shot camera:
Manual Focus - Before performance I zoom in to the back of the stage on auto focus then I switch to manual focus to lock it down.

Roaming camera:
Constantly adjusting focus to get good shot.

I find in general the video tends to be darker then I would like, but lighter is worse since it washes out all detail. Usually the stage lighting is dynamic that all of sudden on a close up you will get a bright light and loose all detail.

Is there a better way, better settings? Please Help?

I respect the input of this forum greatly.

I thank you in advance.

Sincerely,
Joe
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Old July 14th, 2004, 11:49 AM   #2
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Here's an old, but good thread on the general subject.
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Old July 14th, 2004, 06:07 PM   #3
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Hey Joe!

I am a theatrical lighting designer who has recently gotten into digital video. I already do a lot of digital photography, specializing in theatrical productions, and am quite familiar with the problems stage lighting causes for video. I was wondering about something you mentioned in your post. As I am one of "those evil people" that tends to put red gels in sidelights, I want to give you a different perspective.

You mentioned doing a white balance with houselights on. I think it is very interesting that you have found that to be the best approach, and it concerns me. It is certainly a safe approach, but I think you may end up slightly decreasing the quality of your final product with that method.

I think it is very important to not be afraid of the colored light onstage. Sometimes it is necessary to override the look onstage, due to the limitations of our poor cameras, but you will create an experience closer to actually sitting in the audience, if you give the lighting a chance to tell its own story.

You definitely need to set all cameras on full manual, and come up with a consistent white balance for all cameras, as you are doing. However, you should find a 'neutral' look within the show, and use that as the point at which you set your white balance. Do it with a white card, onstage. Identifying this neutral look is sometimes a complicated thing to come up with. The lighting onstage will almost always be composed of both warm and cool sources that mix together on the performers. A lighting designer will make certain scenes "warmer" and other scenes "cooler" to help set the tone. I do my best to enable the video to portray that dynamic range, by rendering as neutral the color that the audience will understand as being that way. The color temperature of the houselights is usually not part of that formula.

Sometimes, particularly in dance, the lighting won't cover a whole range of warm to cool. For example, a piece may start very cool, and stay that way until the very end, when everything turns red, or vice versa. Such an effect has a major impact on the audience. It is not hard at all to fail to convey the emotional content of the lighting in a case like this, unless you are very careful to properly render both extremes.

If I am not familiar with the piece I am shooting, I ask the lighting operator to give me a quick runthrough of all of the cues in the show before the house opens, so I can get a sense of the dynamic range of the lighting. When I find a look that seems to be right in the middle of the range, I use that for my white balance.

After you have seen the runthrough of light cues, you will be aware of when in the show you may have problematic looks. Being aware that the next scene is going to be relatively dark will enable you to cue your camera operators to iris open, or (Yech!)boost gain ahead of time, instead of as the scene is happening, or you are recording their output.

I tend to find that using typical houselights for the white balance will reduce the impact of a lot of blue light onstage. That neutral look that you find with the stage lighting is likely to be a bit warmer than the houselights, and when you set your white balance there, the blues will be a lot richer in the final product.

I also will caution you that stage lighting comes from a whole lot more directions than what videographers are often used to. The classic three point approach to good video lighting is a good starting point onstage, but it gets stretched in all directions. With dance, the light coming from out in front of the stage is usually not as important as the sides, top and back. You can't just hold up a card and properly register the color temperature of back light. You need to be aware of what will happen when your subject matter is seen in silhouette, and adjust exposure for those extremes. Sometimes you need to be creative with the white balance card, to correctly register the look onstage for the camera. Folding it in half, and picking up light coming from different angles can sometimes do the trick. When I light dance, the front light is often only 'fill,' so families can see their children's faces. I often try to use as little of it as I can get away with. Basing your white balance on a light source that is used as little as possible can often minimize the impact of what is really going on up there. That front light is what is most likely to light your card, if it is held in a normal manner.

Good luck!
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Old July 15th, 2004, 09:40 AM   #4
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Brian - Thank you so much for your valuable input. I understand the issues you are bringing up. Although I do agree with you on mostly everything you say, I must say it almost seems unreasonable to think that a camera operator would be able to change color balance settings and match the other cameras without a director and a few monitors. It would be nice if it could happen. To me the most important thing is for the cameras to match. Saves so much in post production.

While we are the subject, I have a question about stage lighting. After doing several of these dance productions, I have noticed that many of the lighting technicians do not light the full stage enough. As the dancers move up and back on the stage, a lot of times they are moving outside of the lighting. I do know this can be intentional at times to compel the audience for a particular mood. But I see this on other routines. It is a nightmare for me. Is there a technical reason why the light can not follow or be set when movement is to the way back or front of the stage?

Thanks.

Joe
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Old July 15th, 2004, 12:02 PM   #5
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I do dance and theatre shows as a hobby ( 8 to 10 a year for the past 15 years with two or three cameras, willingly involved by my daughters, then becoming a fixture at the schools!!!) Over the years I have found the easiest is to set the cameras on the indoor preset. Brian has explained that the lighting can vary all over the place and since the close up camera can have very different lighting to the full stage camera there will always be a difference when cutting closeup to full stage in some lighting conditions. The most important thing is does the finished video please the audience. The dancers will want to see the full stage shot almost exclusively ( this is what the school archives for the dance choreography they don't care who the kids were!!!) But the parents want to see the kids faces. For the little kids mainly closups, for the olders kids more full stage. This approach means spending less time on one camera or the other ( short establishing shots ) with this in mind I now just colour balance in post which ever is the least used if needed. In the theatres we use settings would be about F4, 0 db for the AG-DVC200, F3.4, 0 db for the DVX100 and F1.8 at 0 db for my own TRV50 or PC10. I tend to run the full stage camera a little lighter ( you can't see faces anyway and it is more important to see the detail at the back of the stage), the closeup camera I try to be right on or a little darker to make sure I get the faces as good as possible.
I normally go to the rehearsal which allows me to get an idea if there is any really wild lighting changes, another reason to run the full stage slightly bright is it gives time to change from one to the other in post to cover a really big lighting change ( problem is normally dark stage rather than too bright and since I do two camera by myself I need time to change two cameras or just stay with the one till lighting returns)
The reality is the school and older kids just want the full stage cam and the little kids parents want to see their faces. Almost no one watches the whole show especially if on DVD with individual dances on a menu ( which is what I now do) so colour balance across the whole show is less important than for a single dance which may be viewed continuosly!!!!!

Ron Evans
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Old July 15th, 2004, 06:15 PM   #6
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Joe legitimately complains:
I have noticed that many of the lighting technicians do not light the full stage enough. As the dancers move up and back on the stage, a lot of times they are moving outside of the lighting. I do know this can be intentional at times to compel the audience for a particular mood. But I see this on other routines. It is a nightmare for me. Is there a technical reason why the light can not follow or be set when movement is to the way back or front of the stage?


I definitely understand your complaint. Some of it is the lighting designer's fault, but a lot of the reasons for why such things happen is likely due to the venue - where there are mounting positions for lighting instruments, how many lighting instruments there are, what kind of lighting instruments there are, etc. Some variability in intensity can't be helped. Side light, for example, is almost impossible to keep constant across a whole line of dancers on the stage. The performers that are 8 feet from the light source will obviously be a whole lot brighter than the ones that are 30 feet away from it. Designers sometimes use two lights to reduce this problem. One light is about two feet off the floor (they call them shin kickers for a reason), and a second matched instrument is mounted eight to ten feet off the floor above the first one, and is aimed across the stage above the heads of the dancers closest to the lighting position. The light from the two instruments should blend about halfway across the stage. It is not a perfect solution, but it gives pretty good results. It is also very important that the side lights be positioned far enough offstage to blend smoothly with the side positions further upstage. It is rare, even in venues devoted to professional dance, to find a stage that has these distances worked out ideally. There is seldom enough offstage space on the sides, etc. The variance in lighting intensity is also much more of a problem for a video camera than the human eye.

In a proscenium-type auditorium, there are usually good lighting positions out in front (over the audience) to light performers when they are downstage. However, there is a lot less one can do to extend that "coverage" to the back of the stage, as the top of the proscenium opening blocks the light coming from out front. Most non-professional auditoriums (public schools, for example) in this country don't have any way of continuing that "front" lighting angle upstage. All there is onstage is lowgrade toplight and if you are lucky, backlight. The audience in the theater can excuse such gaps, but you are right, it doesn't work at all on video. If you would like, I can go into more detail, but I am already horribly long-winded.


I entirely agree with you on your point about white balance. All of the cameras definitely must match each other, and that requires the director making sure that each camera is set precisely like the others!

The purpose of my first message was to convey my belief that getting the proper white balance is absolutely essential to getting the best final product when you are shooting stage lighting. A lot of the work I see doesn't succeed. (I guess that is partially why I am now expanding into that business myself.) I have seen video recordings of productions I have lit that render the blue lighting elements almost as gray. No saturated color and no vibrancy. The warm scenes often read almost as if you are shooting indoors with the white balance set to the daylight setting. It doesn't do the trick for me.

If you would like to see some of my photographs of my theatrical work, my online portfolio is:
http://members.aol.com/bmiller025/BrianDesign.htm

I will try to update it soon with video stills of a few recent dance concerts I have done (been too busy to take pictures!). I still have to figure out how to do that in Premiere!
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