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

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Old May 31st, 2005, 08:22 AM   #1
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Filming a dance recital

I'm an amateur Videographer with lot's to learn an on the weekend I filmed a dance recital on the weekend.

I had a three camara setup.

Camera 1: Sony VX2000 - Used for Closups
Camera 2: Canon GL1 - Used for a 3/4 View of the Stage
Camera 3: Sony TRV17 - Used as a backup, full stage view.

When I imported everything in Premiere Pro, I have found a few problems with the video. This is not a problem with Pro, it's my lack of knowledge filming such an event. I would appreciate input from this knowleagable videographer community.

Camera 1: Not much issue with that one. The image quality was perfect.

Camera 2: The image on this one was too dark. If I was filming the entire stage, the image looked like a 16:9 picture with black bars on the top and bottom of the image. The black bars of course are the crowd and the top of the stage.

Camera 3: Usually this cheaper camera has a nice picture. However, it kept going out of focus.

After looking at the resulting clips I realized some of the mistakes I made.

1) My cameras were all set to AutoFocus. Hence, I get the occassional blur from the autofocus. Having to do it again, all cameras would be set to infinite focus.

2) Whitebalance. I did not do any. The 3 camera images were not the same color. Although the Sony camera images were very close to each other, the Canon was not. Luckily, Adobe Premiere Pro has a color corrector filter.

What about white balance. How does one setup white balance in such an environment. Do you do whitebalance with a white poster board close to the camera or do you put the poster board on stage. Are the house lights all on or off, do you use the stage lights or not, the stage lights change color all the time which one do you use?

3) What is the best method for filming a wide stage? With the Canon GL2 I had to zoom back to see as much of the stage as possible, however, all the dancers are now tiny and the amount of light getting to the camera is now low making the image darker. How does one handle this situation?

Thank you.

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Old May 31st, 2005, 08:43 AM   #2
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1) Don't use autofocus on your wide shots. Either use inifinity as you suggest, or zoom in tight, manually focus, zoom out and leave on manual. The closeup camera may need either autofocus or some riding of the manual focus, depending on how far back you are from the stage. On the Sony's I like setting on manual and from time to time using the "push auto" button.

2) Personally I prefer to simply use the tungsten white balance preset. Others may disagree here, but my conclusion comes from several years filming our performances. If you think you can really white balance correctly then give it a try, but it isn't easy. You would need to go up on the stage and point the camera at a white or neutral gray card, then be sure that it's being lit by a stagelight at full intensity with NO GEL. Like I said, you'll probably get better results just setting for tungsten. To WB the Canon, I would also use tungsten, then tweak using custom preset (does it have one?) provided you have a decent monitor on site. Otherwise, probably best to just correct in post like you did. Another thought would be to do a controlled experiment with both cameras at home using a good monitor, and fiddling with the custom preset there to see what the best settings are.

3) As you noticed, 16:9 is probably a better format for this, but your cameras won't look so good for that (I shoot performances in widescreen with a PDX-10 which has native chips). I don't think there's really an easy answer, you want to fit a square peg in a round hole! Personally I think the best compromise is to frame the shot so it is filled vertically, even though the sides will be cut off. This may not work so well if a lot of stuff happens on the sides. Think about moving the wide shot camera off center. Due to the angle of view, the further you move off center the narrower the apparent width will become. You should be able to find a spot where it comes close to fitting the 4:3 frame. Of course, things happening way off to the side on your side of the stage may be hidden, but that would be the same for an audience member seated in this location.

I think your assumption about "the amount of light getting to the camera is now low making the image darker" is not accurate. The same amout of light gets to your camera, it's a question of exposure. You should be shooting in manual mode and adjust as needed. In fact, as you zoom the lens wider the maximum f-stop also gets wide; in other words, your camera is MORE sensitive to light on a wide shot.

Now obviously as the relative size of a person gets smaller there are less pixels available to represent them. That's just the way it is. This, plus the limitations of your camera's optics and relatively small CCD's, make wide shots look pretty bad most of the time on DV. However it's really important to get exposure right. The auto control will pretty much never do that on a wide shot, and you won't find any single setting for manual that will work either. I'm afraid you need to monitor the camera and adjust exposure manually to allow for different stage lighting conditions as the show progresses.

Also, do a search for "stage show" or "stage play" and you should find several other threads with good advice.
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Old May 31st, 2005, 08:46 AM   #3
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You have answered for yourself the most critical questions. Manual settings only.

Cameras must be matched.
Ignore dark non - performance areas of the frame. The stage lights will light what you need.
2 cameras are fine. 1 wide safety cam, the other for following dancers. Lyrical dances have no benefit from a wide cam close or far, so this cutaway cam is the key. Even for large group jazz or tap ... the second cam is the key.
Each time you edit back to the safety cam, the second cam is elsewhere so you can give the illusion of a 4 camera shoot with just 2.

The only reason for a 3rd cam is for more variety and by that I don't mean a 3rd angle locked down. Mounted to a crane is the 3rd cam choice.
W/B on a card on the stage with stage lighting.

No extra gain. Have the house add light unless the scene is intentionally low for ballet. Costumes can be dark like Irish.

Sometimes a transparent screen ocludes the stage during the rising action ... you just can't expect autofocus to give you anything close to a pro result.
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Old May 31st, 2005, 11:53 PM   #4
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I'll second everything suggested here. We shoot stage performances almost exclusively, so we've certainly had our share of trial by fire. My camera only has manual focus, so that's never been an issue, but I used to shoot auto-exposure on spotlight mode. NEVER again.

Our first multi-camera show used a Sony, Panasonic, and JVC camera. Total nightmare in post-production. Never will I do that again. I've used by GY-DV5000 with Sony PD-150s since my camera can emulate Sony's fairly well. That works okay. But I spent ages in post-production trying to match the color on those three different cameras.

For white balancing, we typically tell the light operator to throw the most neutral color white at the stage he's got, and it's rare that they don't have something that's either pure white or very close. But what I've found is that over several venues, the white balance on my camera always hovers around 3500K, never plus or minus 100. Nearly every theatre uses the same instruments (or the same lamps actually), so you're pretty safe if you can set to that. We've found that auto white balance settings and ever-changing colored stage lights are flirting with disaster. Have the house lights off, stand on the stage with a white card under the same lighting as the performers. Where the camera is when you white balance is irrelevant (I believe).

Shooting styles vary on the performance. I know Artistic Directors that would throw me off a cliff if I did close up shots and missed any of the choreography. For ones like that, the full-stage shots are critical, but as noted are difficult to expose properly. You have to manually expose set to bring out the facial features (for all there are at that distance). Then there are other Artistic Directors who could care less about choreography, they just want close-ups of the dancers for memories sake. It's a tough line to walk between what the parents want and what the A.D. tolerates, but we've generally erred on the side of full-stage, and to this day, because of manual exposure, good operators, and good equipment, haven't had a complaint.
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Old June 2nd, 2005, 09:54 AM   #5
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Thank you for your responses.

You helped me confirmed the question that I had been mulling over ever since I did this event.

I have finished the post production on this project last week and I am presenting to the client on Friday. Crossing my fingers. All I know is compared to the team that did the Video last year, mine is by "others comments" superior. This is my first big project which brings me to the following question.

"Are you guys ever nervous when doing these filming projects?" I was so nervous on the day of the shoot that I could not eat and my stomach was upset.

The one topic that I would like to read more about is exposure. Any good links/documents that I could read as opposed to a discussion group

This week I found I have been reading tons of post. I am very impressed with the knowledge and politeness of the members here.

Thank you

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Old June 2nd, 2005, 01:11 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Frank Slater
"Are you guys ever nervous when doing these filming projects?" I was so nervous on the day of the shoot that I could not eat and my stomach was upset.
I get perhaps a little bit of nervousness right before the show starts when my checklist is racing through my mind: whitebalance, tape, gain settings, color matrix, proper filter, audio settings, tripod leveled...

But I think it's like most anything else. Once you do enough and are successful at them, the jitters will subside. The main difference between live events and corporate type work is if you screw something up in corporate work you can yell "Cut!" and do it over. Just try to stop a dance performance by yelling "Cut!" from the back of the house. :)

I don't know of any articles/links on exposure. I can tell you that it's certainly a work of art, takes a bit of practice to do it manually (especially with ever-changing stage lighting), and it really helps to use a reference monitor either when shooting the shows or at least when correcting in post. I've got a good enough viewfinder on my camera which I use for getting proper exposure along with the zebra stripes so I don't lug my reference monitor around. But I always check the exposure with it in post-production. For equipment, obviously 3-CCDs are better than 1, and the dynamic range of your camera can make a big difference in how well the exposure turns out.

Hope this helps,

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Old June 17th, 2005, 11:58 AM   #7
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I work in TV and the wife owns a dance studio. Guess who does the dance recital videos? :)

If there are a few things I have learned after shooting a few recitals, it is:

The dance studio is ultimately NOT the client. The PARENTS who buy the video are. And if they aren't happy, then the studio isn't happy. That being said, if Mr. and Mrs. Jones can't see little Becky Sue on the stage for the entire time she's on the stage.... son, they will rant and rave. And rightfully so. I use the KISS philosophy. KEEP IT SIMPLE!
I use one camera as a wide shot. And I make sure that I can see each end of the stage. If a dance is nothing more than 4 or 5 little ones fairly close on the stage and they aren't moving much, I'll go tight enough to be able to see them better.
The second camera is my tight & close-ups shot. For solos (and duos) I use it to follow the dancer all over the stage. For group dances, I make sure I stay tight on them when they get bunched together so I can cut from wide to tight. It looks good and everyone is pleased.
For the bigger dances that include the smaller kids, I again keep with the wide shot and use the 2nd camera for a tight pan across the stage so you can see the kids and most importantly, THEIR SHINING FACES! In post, I keep the wide shot down below and put the pan up top. Again, it looks sharp.

That's my two cents... and I know it's not even worth half that.

As for your questions-
1. Autofocus: Bad.
2. Whitebalance. With stage lights... it can be scary. Go with what looks right. I had a partner actually get on stage before the event and
whitebalanced off his shirt.
3. Wide shot: Keep it wide enough to just see everybody. There is no sense in having the shot so wide you can't see the stage.
People who don't work with cameras have a hard time understanding that you can be wide and not see everybody's face or be close and see their face. But you can't do both (for larger group dances when everyone is all over the stage). It's a trade off.

Hope this helps.

Colby Knight
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Old June 17th, 2005, 12:37 PM   #8
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Colby has it right...
2 Cameras are a must! Then the magic happens in post where you can show how much money you spent on the tripod, lens controller and monitor for the rov cam. Single camera coverage is fine for competitions but for recitals, forget it. You absolutely must get CU of every face but not the feet!
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Old June 18th, 2005, 02:20 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Jimmy McKenzie
Colby has it right...
2 Cameras are a must! Then the magic happens in post where you can show how much money you spent on the tripod, lens controller and monitor for the rov cam. Single camera coverage is fine for competitions but for recitals, forget it. You absolutely must get CU of every face but not the feet!
I agree that two cameras give you a lot of flexibility. And I agree that close-ups of faces are great...

...but not always necessary. I've shot several recitals with one camera--a fairly nice camera granted and shot with manual exposure. Never had a complaint. If you expose for the faces and stay tight in the groups, you can go a long way.

My philosophy of wide vs. close depends on the group you're shooting. The face shots are important for younger dancers. Little Suzi might only be in dance for a year or two, so Mom wants to make sure her cute little mug is captured on video crystal clear for all the extended family to see. However, if little Suzi decides to go the distance and stick with it for several years, there will come a time when the euphoria of seeing her all made up in a sunflower costume under stage lighting wears off. Now, after all these years of lessons and cash laid out, Mom wants to see a dancer. She wants to see how Suzi carries herself in a group of dancers. Which means, of course, more group shots. It's not important to capture the group's choreography for 4 year olds, because quite honestly, there really isn't any. Dancers that age pretty much do whatever comes to mind once the music starts. Might as well get a close up of them being cute. Older dancers and their parents want to see more of the group because that's where you find out if you're really in tune with everyone else.

Many Executive and Artistic Directors will indeed gauge their happiness with you depending on the vote of the parents. But I have at least two clients that insisted that I capture all of the choreography for every number, even for the young ones (basically eliminating all close shots). And we have another who simply stated that she wanted close-ups of every number, even her company pieces. The choreography wasn't as critical to her. So yes the parents pay the bills, but it ultimately is the studio that hires you. The real trick is making both happy.
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Old June 18th, 2005, 05:56 AM   #10
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A second cam changes everything. Including the price.

So here's a thought ... sell the studio the reels from the locked cam (wide for composition) and the produced dvd with the magic of a 4 camera shoot done with only 2, will keep the wow factor high among the Moms and Dads. I still maintain that while a basic capture can be done with one cam, the real production values show through with 2. Example 1: The finished pose occurs at center in a small group jazz. Nice. Then they file one after another to stage right. You're tight on the group as they exit but instead of a whip pan to the neutral wide position awaiting the next group, you dissolve to the safety cam as the applause subsides. 2. :Since the safety cam is locked you don't need a second operator. 3.: Tape changes mean no interuption for 1.5 hour segments. You can't pause the Nutcracker!
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Old October 16th, 2005, 04:55 PM   #11
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I have shot a lot of Nutcrackers and other dance performances. My wife and I owned a ballet school, not shooting the performances wasn't an option. In general the lighting is never ideal. At one point I did the pyrotechnics and made the video. That was really hairy. Finally I have found someone who I trust enough to do the pyro if I set it up before hand. When a professional ballet company does a performance for television. The lighting tecs set the lights accordingly. Most of us will probably never get that luxury. But you can get some very respectable work. As stated before when using multi cameras color matching is a problem if you are not using identical units. So you should if you can. I like to have my main camera exactly center state and at the back of the house. I can't emphases enough that you must be dead center of the stage and dead level as well with this camera. I never use auto focus. I focus one third into the stage and then tape my focus ring so I can't bump it during the recording. On a full shot never never ever cut a dancers feet. Anybody who knows anything about dance always watches the feet. If you cut them off in a full shot you have failed and failed badly in their world. That's not to say you can not cut away to shots of beautiful arm work and flowing tutus. but never cut anyone at the ankles or knees. Ballet loses much of it's magic from the balcony. You want to be as level with the dancers as possible. It's nice to have a camera in the balcony to show formations but that's not the magic angle. Ditto with other posters who say to just set the color temp to 3500k. I find 3200 works just as well for me. The lighting for most shows is highly theatrical so a few hundred k either way isn't a problem. Know the show. You have to go to the dress rehearsal. Shoot the dress, evaluate your camera work, exposure, sound then come back and shoot the show. Shoot more than one performance if you can. In the last couple of shows I have done I use mainly manual exposure. My settings are all gleaned from the dress or tec rehearsal. You need to go to those to get some backstage imagery to use during credits anyway. There have been parts of the show that I have had to switch to auto exposure because the spotlight comes on and off so fast that I can't do better than my cameras auto exposure. Always give your dancers space to dance into in your frame. Make sure you have a little pen light around your neck. I never use batteries to record a show. I had one fail in the middle of a show. Now I plug in to ac and use an adapter and tape all my wires. You are going to need a direct feed from the sound man or a copy of the music you can use during your edit.

As far as nerves. I never really had nerves doing this kind of work. I've done other jobs where screwups could be really really bad news. I always looked at video as I'll do my absolute best, love the excitement but if all goes bad no one dies, so not that big a deal. If you show up early and get set up then shoot the dancers warming up and tecs doing final prep your nerves will fade to a very even excitement that will be shared by the cast and crew.

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Old October 18th, 2005, 09:45 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Frank Slater
Thank you for your responses.

The one topic that I would like to read more about is exposure. Any good links/documents that I could read as opposed to a discussion group

Frank - I think your VX2000, which is the superior camera of the group, has zebra which should help your exposure. So does the GL1, although I've never used it so I can't vouch for it. I expose so that on the reflected highlights on faces you are seeing a touch of zebra - that way you won't burn out all the details on flesh tones.

As you discovered the TR17 and GL1 cameras can be problematic as they are firmly aimed at the hobbyist market. And having the right equipment sure goes a long way towards calming those nerves! I only shoot 3 dance concerts a year. I always used to hire all the cameras (usually DSR300P's which IMHO were the best half inch 4x3 cam Sony ever made). So perhaps if there is more money at stake, consider hiring in a better cam for your closeup.

Apart from what everyone else has said here's a couple of other tips -
1. turn off optical stabilisation (you could use it on the VX2000 for some dynamic handhelds but it shouldn't be necessary) and never use Sony's digital stabilisation (TRV17), it degrades the picture too much.
2. NEVER use digital zoom - if you need to enlarge the picture digitally do it in post. This is a total gimmick feature.
3. NEVER use long play (how many times has a corporate client asked me to edit a tape they shot themselves...only to discover they shot in long play)- your tapes will be far more prone to dropouts and the chances of them playing back smoothly on most decks is nil.

Finally you might want to look at Serious Magic's DV Rack - it provides some excellent tools for setting up any cam with a firewire out and a laptop. There's a 30 day free trial.

Or there's a similar product (untested) by the guys over at redrock micro which has the advantage of being available on a mac. It's available soon. AFAIK it doesn't have the video scopes and technical stuff that DVRack features.

If not, at the very least you should take a decent field monitor with you to check exposure, balance and periodically focus.
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Old January 10th, 2009, 12:47 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Jimmy McKenzie View Post
You absolutely must get CU of every face but not the feet!
I humbly disagree. You need both feet and faces. Cutting off the feet-- particularly in ballet-- is a huge mistake! When dancers are en pointe or releve, you need to see the feet. Knowing what to shoot is as important as white balance. My daughter is a dancer, and I have learned a lot just by hanging out at her studio during class and rehearsals.

Fortunately better cameras are making it easier to see faces clearly while shooting wider shots. I highly recommend a decent HDV camera or better. Shooting in HDV and then rendering to DV will give you better color and contrast, and it looks very sharp. Sony V1U's seem to be popping up for sale these days (I have a couple, but haven't been able to part with them yet) and I can attest to the quality! V1U's are great in dim lighting too.

When doing the fixed wide shot/moving closeup shot: when you have a very large group on stage lined up from wing to wing, and they are all pretty much doing the same thing, zoom in with your CU camera to get a nice tight group shot on the right and hold it for 6-8 seconds. Then quickly reset to get the next group to the left and so on until you have the whole stage covered. Then do a SLOW pan all the way back to the right. In post you can cut between the two shots and it looks great.

Inevitablty during a recital you will have to deal with what I call the "red rover, red rover" choreography, which is essentially two groups at extreme opposite sides of the stage or even off stage. And then you will have dancers entering alternately fom one side of the stage to the next, diagonally across. I have found the best way to shoot this is to center your closeup cam at the middle third of the stage and get the intersection. You can always cut wide if you need to.

Another great arguement for the fixed wide shot: choreographers and instructors love it. You can give them a copy of just the wide shot for their records. Great way to maintain the relationship with the dance shool or company.

White balance tip-- as others have suggested, bring your camera up on the stage and white balance. I picked up some Warming Cards from VORTEX, and usually use Warm 1 - Warm 2. This blue hue on these cards tricks the camera into warmer tones. I am really pleased with the results.
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Old July 28th, 2009, 08:21 AM   #14
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I've agreed to video a square dance on Friday evening, but as my usual subject is wildlife, I've been reading all sorts of threads on videoing dance to see what I ought to be doing. This video is to go on YouTube as part of a recruitment campaign to bring new dancers in. The dancers are all 50+, and the idea is to show that it is good fun as well as good exercise.

I have two cameras - a Canon XH-A1 and a Sony HVR-A1. My inclination was to have one camera on a high tripod to cover the whole dance square and the caller, and another roving camera to do close-ups. I note in this thread that the recommendation is to have the static camera level with the dancers and in the middle of the stage - but there is no explanation of why. Can anyone suggest which camera should be the roving one - the Canon is relatively large, and cumbersome on a tripod so I was thinking of making that the static one even though it gives the better quality result.

I'd like to be able to do an improvised dolly (anything on wheels) shot of the dance, but it probably won't be successful as I'll be on the same sprung wood floor as the dancers.

I know the problems of mixing shots from the two cameras. Lighting will be daylight through the large windows unless it is excessively sunny (rare here, but can happen).

I'll be able to get the curtains across behind the dancers to get rid of a distracting background. There will be only one square on the dance floor for the video - again it helps to avoid messy backgrounds.

I can connect an Edirol recorder to the sound system for improved sound.

This is a one-off event, and I'm not prepared to buy extra equipment specifically for it - it is not a paying gig as I'm part of the club committee.

Any advice for making the best of my limited equipment and experience would be much appreciated.

Canon XH A1; Canon XF100; Nikon D800
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Old July 28th, 2009, 10:17 AM   #15
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Annie your situation is very different. For a 2-3 minute promo I would just shoot with 1 camera, get on the floor handheld, mix it up - choose the most upbeat cut and edit to that.

For regular dance recitals I find it best to negotiate a fixed rate with the studio for X number of DVDs. Relying on dancers/parents to each buy their own copy is not always advisable.
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