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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...


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Old August 14th, 2006, 02:24 PM   #1
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Dance Recital Focusing Auto vs Manual

From one recital to another depending on the lighting I change my opinion on whether to shoot manual or auto.

My video mentor, who has done this for many years, always told me to manual focus on the object furthest away and leave it. But I've found the stage is often poorly lit, forcing me to shoot wide open, 2.8 or 3.4. When wide open the dof is too short to keep everyone on stage in focus. Dancers often change their distance from the camera 15' to 25' (front to back of the stage). Focus isn't much of an issue for wide shots but the bulk of the video I shoot is close ups of the kids who the parents are going to want to see. The close ups are where I encounter the trouble.

I've searched through threads on this topic and I see someone recommended manually focusing 1/3 front part of the stage. That makes sense because that’s the area where the bulk of the action takes place. Although you have to weight till it starts before you can lock in your focus. I have my hands full monitoring the exposure and audio levels, keeping performers in the frame, and doing smooth pans/zooms, last thing I need to do is be manually focusing.

For now I find auto keeps dancers in focus more of the time than I can by manually with my eye. I know that auto focus can be fooled by low light situations, but I'd rather have a few seconds out of focus rather that a long segment of the performance that the performers moved out of my dof. Btw, I'm using vx2000 (the color flip out lcd isn’t best for focus) and I'm located at the in the center back row of the theatre.

Anyways I was curious if other have the same issues or could share techniques that work for you.
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Old August 14th, 2006, 04:43 PM   #2
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i do a lot of my schools proformances. from about the same distance same stage size ( i think ) as yours. what i do is set the widest shot to be so that you can see the farthest point at witch the dancers will move to either side of the stage. this way you just miss the celling of the stage and get just a touch of the curtins on either side. this way you can tell who is who, see the full motion of the proformance - group motions look quite good. and your amount of zooming isnt all that much. if you have the resources and the crew its easyer to take a field switcher and do a multi camera shoot and have a deticated wide and two cameras for doing all the close up stuff. but thats if ur lucky.
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Old August 15th, 2006, 01:40 AM   #3
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i am a one camera team, one man only. most of my recordings are live, and done in manual. (xl1-s)
got hit with the "hunting" effect right after i bought the camera.
i think that switch fell of the lens, have not used it since then.

@pete posted the right idea

greetings
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Old August 15th, 2006, 07:48 AM   #4
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I've done quite a few stage shows, you NEED another camera! I find it very difficult to make a remotely interesting video or even capture the whole show effectively without AT LEAST two cameras. Most of what I've shot has 3-4 cameras for a stage show. One wide and high, two on the far sides of the stage about halfway towards the back of the theater both getting tight shots, and if I use a fourth I'll have it locked into a semi-wide shot from the back corners of the theater. Generally only the side cameras are manned, and from this setup I'm able to capture everything happening on stage, allowing me much more freedom in editing to get the shots I'll want.

As to your question, just adjust focus manually as needed...that's why it's there...I use a FX1 as my primary camera which is similar to the VX2000 and its easy to control focus and iris at the same time. Are you running an audio feed directly from a sound board or via the camera's built-in mic? I use a Beachtek DXA-6, run a feed directly from the sound board, and after my audio level is set (assuming the sound guy knows what he's doing) I don't have to touch my levels again.
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Old August 15th, 2006, 10:02 AM   #5
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Noah...any advice?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Noah Hayes
I've done quite a few stage shows, you NEED another camera! I find it very difficult to make a remotely interesting video or even capture the whole show effectively without AT LEAST two cameras. Most of what I've shot has 3-4 cameras for a stage show. One wide and high, two on the far sides of the stage about halfway towards the back of the theater both getting tight shots, and if I use a fourth I'll have it locked into a semi-wide shot from the back corners of the theater. Generally only the side cameras are manned, and from this setup I'm able to capture everything happening on stage, allowing me much more freedom in editing to get the shots I'll want.

As to your question, just adjust focus manually as needed...that's why it's there...I use a FX1 as my primary camera which is similar to the VX2000 and its easy to control focus and iris at the same time. Are you running an audio feed directly from a sound board or via the camera's built-in mic? I use a Beachtek DXA-6, run a feed directly from the sound board, and after my audio level is set (assuming the sound guy knows what he's doing) I don't have to touch my levels again.
Sounds like you have just the type of experience I wish I had.

Also, this probably isn't/may not be the "best" place for this post, but here goes:

Doing a shoot next week; no "stage" , per se - actors performing on same floor as audience seating; will be shooting minDV only. Have to be careful of actors, as they all have some sort different limitation. (Think "recuperating stroke sufferers").

Can you offer tips on syncing multiple cams during editing? Never done this. I have the full Adobe Prod Studio, but my concern is more about the audio. I'll have one person helping me, but that's a still photog and has never done video.

Lastly, I'm concerned about sound. Cast size is nearly 20. There will be NO house sound; I have to get everything, including narration between each scene. I have 2 Azden SGM-1000 shotgun mics, 1 stereo mic (with 3 mic stands w/booms), and 1 A/T stereo PZM. (And, of course, the built-in mics, but cams will be too far away for those to be useful).I have no wireless equipment yet, and won't for this prod.

Planning on using 2 shotguns (one from each side of stage area) for actors, the stereo mic for narrator, and the PZM to try to get everything. Problem: the PZM cannot be center "stage" (can't have actors tripping on it). Should the PZM work if I can attach it to the ceiling? I may have little choice.

Any input appreciated.
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Old August 15th, 2006, 03:05 PM   #6
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hummm tough situation...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Denis Danatzko
Can you offer tips on syncing multiple cams during editing? Never done this.....

Lastly, I'm concerned about sound. Cast size is nearly 20. There will be NO house sound; I have to get everything, including narration between each scene....
As far as syncing in post, to help out your post production turn on all the cameras and hit record and then have a photo flash go off where they can all see it right as the show starts, or use a sharp percussive sound to sync everything (a loud cough, hand clap, etc). You can ask one of the actors to do it for you, or just find a loud audience cough and use that.

Then you look at yoru wave forms and line up the footage based on that. I have used an audio mix to help by placing the audio from one camera to the left channel and audio from another camera tothe riht channel. Then put on head phones and play back & adjust the position until the two ears are in sync. Human ears are pretty dang good at this because it is how we sense the source of a sound in 3D around us. Hope that helps with the editing.

As far as the sound goes, I have less experience with the sound end of things.... You already seem to have a good setup for that. Syncing will be a bit of a pain, but the above method for video might help sync your sound as well.

jason
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Old August 15th, 2006, 07:23 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Noah Hayes
I've done quite a few stage shows, you NEED another camera! I find it very difficult to make a remotely interesting video or even capture the whole show effectively without AT LEAST two cameras. Most of what I've shot has 3-4 cameras for a stage show.
I've done a 2 camera shoot once. It was nice but it added substantially more work. For a 2hr performance, I had to capture 4 hours of footage, sync the four tapes, decide which camera to use when. I ended up only using the long shot for like 2% of the video. For the $300 dollars I get paid it doesnt make sense considering the time it takes to, travel to the theater, setup/break down, shoot, capture, edit, and design and burn dvds.
Quote:
Are you running an audio feed directly from a sound board or via the camera's built-in mic? I use a Beachtek DXA-6, run a feed directly from the sound board, and after my audio level is set (assuming the sound guy knows what he's doing) I don't have to touch my levels again.
depending on the place I've experienced inconsistencies with the board levels. The mc's mic is often lower then the music.
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Old August 15th, 2006, 07:48 PM   #8
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My kids have done a number of high school theater productions. I generally film them on two different nights. On the first night I stay wide. On the second I shoot tight, knowing where the action will be. I use the sound from the second night as my primary, and I can use the first night sound during segments where they screwed up! I can also bridge the tape swaps from the first night, make up for a drained battery, etc.

And, yes, it's a lot more work than a one night shoot. But if you only have one camera and operator...

The results are much more dramatic and interesting with multiple cameras than a single point of view.
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Old August 15th, 2006, 09:06 PM   #9
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Pete, what NLE do you use? I've gotten so used to multicam editing in FCP that I forget not everyone is familiar with multicam editing. It makes short work of any show like this, provided you are recording with multiple cameras the same night (if someone's slow on a line the second night...well, let's just say its not fun when you're trying to sync audio frame by frame)

The way you plan on capturing your audio seems the best based on what equipment you have. Good luck!
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Old August 15th, 2006, 10:51 PM   #10
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THANKS for all the input.

This is my first "solo" gig, i.e. without my "mentor".

Since it will be my "coming-out"...er, make that my "debut"...
and I sit here thinking about how I can run an "error-free"
shoot, I find myself wondering how long you have to work in
video before you realize there IS no such thing.

Is THAT when you can REALLY call yourself a videographer?
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Old August 15th, 2006, 11:50 PM   #11
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The way I see it you have to use manual focus. If not the focus will hunt when the lights come back up.

I wouldn't focus on the object that is the farthest away, but focus on a dancer positioned as far back as he/she will go during the dance.

Everything will work fine from that.

I feel it's not that professional videographers run error free, they do have less errors, but that they respond quicker with the best solution than amateurs do. And they are loaded with all sorts of techniques. My boss can walk with his camera like it is a steadicam. He told me his secret is his big round belly.
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Old August 16th, 2006, 12:17 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Zlam
The way I see it you have to use manual focus. If not the focus will hunt when the lights come back up.

I wouldn't focus on the object that is the farthest away, but focus on a dancer positioned as far back as he/she will go during the dance.

Everything will work fine from that.
I'll have to post a clip to show you what i'm talking about.

Quote:
I feel it's not that professional videographers run error free, they do have less errors, but that they respond quicker with the best solution than amateurs do. And they are loaded with all sorts of techniques. My boss can walk with his camera like it is a steadicam. He told me his secret is his big round belly.
true. i lol @ the belly comment.

I've come to realize videoing performances is like recording on whats going on in your brain. If you don't react quickly and don't know whats going to happen next its painful to watch. "ok i'm going to zoom in on that dancer doing a split...ops she jumped up and is out of the frame, pan right, dam she switched direction, ok pull back, dam too much room at the top of the frame, tilt down...
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Old August 16th, 2006, 09:03 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete Cofran
I'll have to post a clip to show you what i'm talking about.


true. i lol @ the belly comment.

I've come to realize videoing performances is like recording on whats going on in your brain. If you don't react quickly and don't know whats going to happen next its painful to watch. "ok i'm going to zoom in on that dancer doing a split...ops she jumped up and is out of the frame, pan right, dam she switched direction, ok pull back, dam too much room at the top of the frame, tilt down...
I'd say that its all about anticipating the next movement, so you are moving in sync with the action. That is when I believe an amatur becomes a pro, when they have the instinct to know when and where to move, because they anticipate what is going to happen. I've felt that 'pain' in the past when every single camera movement is fractions of a second behind the action and you feel like you'll never catch up.
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Old August 18th, 2006, 12:32 PM   #14
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I use three cameras for dance recital performances. One XL1s, one GL1, and what ever I can get my hands on for the third camera.
The theatre I ususally shoot at is a concert hall at the local college. It has a proscenium arch about 40'-45' wide. Our cameras are located along what is known as the mezzanie aisle that traverses the auditorium, which allows us to position the cameras straight at the performers.

Cameras one and two are the left and right cameras. They are manned by operators, connected to a house sound feed. Each camera has two monitors. A 13" monitor for following the action and managing manual focus whdn necessary, and a smaller LCD monitor which is connected to the other operator's camera. We really need to know that the other guy is doing. In addition, we have the luxury of tying into the theatre's backstage intercom. This is great because we never get to see a rehearsal. The stage manager, sound tech, and lighting technican are all in a better positin to let us know what is going to happen next.
Camera three is in the center of the auditorium. It is set at a wide angle to cover most of the stage, locked down and un-attended. It uses the onboard mic to capture audio.

I use auto focus virtually all of the time. Just moving the manual focus ring on the Canon cameras temporarily overrides the auto focus if it gets "lost". Because the two manned cameras are constantly changing focal lengths maintaining manual focus is very difficult. Auto focus with quick manual overide seems to work the best most of the time.

Thanks to instant communication through the house intercom the camera operators are able to cover the same area of the stage at different focal lengths at any given point in time.

Before the performance all cameras are white balanced to a warm stage wash, or the lighting setting that will be used most of the time. I found white balancing to a wash of stage lights without color filters required a lot of color correction in post.

Once the white balance has been set a manual exposure setting is chosen for each camera that will yield the closest exposure match between the cameras and, hopefullym the least amount of color correction in post. Ideally, I like to stay around f4 at 1/60i.
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