Over the years I have shot a lot of music but I will freely confess that, when it comes to the exalted world of opera, I am a total ignoramus. I don’t understand it nor do I particularly enjoy it. Couple this with the fact that the opera I had been asked to photograph was not really a main line opera but the very early ‘Dido and Aeneas’ by Henry Purcell and you are way out of my comfort zone. Work is, however, work and it was the first time I had been commissioned by the client. At least the work was at one of my favourite venues (the Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton) so I knew the stage area well and I also knew that light levels were normally not the best.
I was shooting with the very good Panasonic Lumix GH2, a camera to which I am relatively new and I had never used to shoot music. I was therefore a little worried about noise levels and how my lenses would cope, not being very large apertures. I had to cover the whole stage area as the opera is performed in a less than conventional way with the chorus in a semi-circle and the principals in the foreground but not moving very much. It was very quickly clear that the best place to work was from the rear of the auditorium, so that is where the tripod was set up, and away we went.
I was shooting with a 14 – 140mm lens (which is the equivalent of a 28 – 280mm for your 35mm guys!) and at maximum aperture which was f5.8. I had set the iso at 3,200 which was a mistake at the time but turned out to be right. I meant to set it at 1600 but must have just gone slightly off on the touch screen. The camera came into its own, and I found the swivel screen to be an extremely useful feature as I had a larger ‘viewfinder’ than I would normally use and could view without having to get behind the camera. I simply zoomed in on to the parts of the stage I wanted, and then back out again as necessary.
On realising that I had wrongly set the iso to 3200, coupled with my inexperience with the Lumix GH2 I will freely confess I was slightly nervous when I loaded the images into Lightroom but my fears were totally unfounded and I had no problems at all. I had set colour balance to tungsten which i often do for stage work, and that proved to be the right thing to do. I find if I do that then I have less correction than if I leave it at ‘auto’. The camera, and Lightroom, surprised me with the noise correction. I tried processing a couple of raw files in Aperture and in Capture One, and there is no doubt in my opinion that nothing touch Lightroom for noise reduction.
The next time I am offered opera I will feel far happier, and the whole experience turned out well.