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  #1  
Old December 2nd, 2009, 03:23 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Default Available Light: a Chamber Ensemble on Stage!

The mere existence of chamber orchestras in 2009 is anyway remarkable. That it's made up of talented young adults and mere school kids is even more surprising. After all, the rich classical music they come together to play has won out over so many competing demands on their crowded schedules. That's the homework, friends, Playstation IIII, watch TV, roller skate, surf when the tides up and every other interesting activity.

The glue of the orchestra is the passion for music. The conductor and music director of The Colburn Chamber Orchestra is the renowned cellist and pedagogue, Ronald Leonard. He was formerly First Cellist and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and played at the Walt Disney concert Hall, one of the best performance locations in the USA.

There's no way to prepare for anything with the orchestra as no one has spare time. So it's grab as one goes. So I started by ambushing them backstage as they were arriving with their instruments



Not all musicians will go for a picture being taken before a performance as they might have a routine of focus that they won't break. One such guy just ignored the photography and remained seated thinking about the upcoming performance he had to give with his violin.



One time one can take picture without disturbing anyone is here, just before the performance starts and then during the applause.





After the program is over, there's a routine. Some make a bee-line for the exit and others go to meet well-wishers, family and friends, faculty, philanthropists and fans waiting to congratulate them at the stage door. It's startling for a photographer to see the entire stage like an abandoned battlefield with stands and chairs no longer neatly arranged and an occasional music score left behind. That empty untidy stage lit from above is particularly upsetting since this is the time that everyone is rejoicing and the mood shows on their faces. So, I literally had to recruit the fleeing students back from packing their instruments to get some more pictures for the record and various publications the School might need images for. Then we had some fun. This was shot within a span of just about ten minutes including solo performance pictures by those who could stick around.



Now we get the musicians after the performance and there's no longer any tension.
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Last edited by Asher Kelman; December 3rd, 2009 at 09:02 PM.
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  #2  
Old December 2nd, 2009, 07:35 PM
Doug Kerr Doug Kerr is offline
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Hi, Asher,

Well, looks like we are getting closer to seeing the pix every minute!

It's like waiting for the new season of "Desperate Housewives"!

Best regards,

Doug
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  #3  
Old December 2nd, 2009, 07:53 PM
Doug Kerr Doug Kerr is offline
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Hi, Asher,

Fabulous activity and fabulous photography!

Thanks.

Best regards,

Doug
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  #4  
Old December 2nd, 2009, 10:19 PM
Winston Mitchell Winston Mitchell is offline
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The lighting looks really difficult.
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  #5  
Old December 2nd, 2009, 10:29 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Winston Mitchell View Post
The lighting looks really difficult.

Hi Winston,

There are many challenges. First one cannot disturb the musicians. They are under great stress, practicing from 4-6 hours as day! Each week has many demands and the concert I'm photographing is just one part of their busy and pressured schedule. So one cannot flash lights at them routinely and certainly not while they are playing. The lighting is 90% from above and no one seems to know who designed this, but it's that awful everywhere. The solution I have found, with Bart's encouragement, is to under-expose by 1- 1.5 stops and recover the highlights from the RAW file. It really doesn't matter if shadow detail is lost in most cases.

One also has little time for anything but a fast capture of the image and one has to know the moments that a sneak shot is doable without disturbing anyone. So during a very loud part of a pierce, one shot in timing with a drum is a way I try to get my real live picture.

I'll dig one up!

Asher
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Last edited by Asher Kelman; December 3rd, 2009 at 12:11 AM.
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  #6  
Old December 3rd, 2009, 03:24 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
The solution I have found, with Bart's encouragement, is to under-expose by 1- 1.5 stops and recover the highlights from the RAW file. It really doesn't matter if shadow detail is lost in most cases.
Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, I'm an advocate for the "Expose To The Right" (ETTR) principle.

However, moderate underexposure works whith boosted ISO settings (say above ISO 400), and can result in lower noise, reduced highlight clipping, and still not lose shadow detail! When ISO is boosted beyond a certain point (close to or somewhat above "Unity Gain"), there is not enough detail (photons) to boost, and we are only crancking up the volume of noise that's generated by the camera electronics, and recording it as Raw data. We are better of not boosting the camera noise, and just push the lower noise exposure in postprocessing.

Cheers,
Bart
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  #7  
Old December 3rd, 2009, 03:36 AM
Bart_van_der_Wolf Bart_van_der_Wolf is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
There's no way to prepare for anything with the orchestra as no one has spare time. So it's grab as one goes. So I started by ambushing them backstage as they were arriving with their instruments
The guerilla tactics worked ;-)

Given the limited DOF it might be worth a try to shoot multiple images with different focus distances (M mode). That will probably allow to get a better DOF (or open eyes, turned heads) with a bit of postprocessing. Don't know how much processing time you're willing to devote to the more casual ambush shots, just a thought.

Quote:
I literally had to recruit the students back from packing their instruments to get some more pictures for the record and various publications the School might need images for. Then we had some fun. This was shot within a span of just about ten minutes including solo performance pictures by those who could stick around.
Results are looking promising, especially given all the constraints. There does seem to be a slight CCW rotation that's still needed to avoid the sensation of a sloping stage. Trying to nail the background verticals in the center of the image should do it.

Thanks for sharing the enthusiasm, and sense of dedication,
Bart

P.S. It looks like that one cello has a different color of itself, not from the lighting angle. Is that correct? Interesting fashion statement if it is.
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  #8  
Old December 3rd, 2009, 05:33 AM
janet Smith janet Smith is offline
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What a challenge this must have been for you.... the team spirit and enthusiasm of these young people shines through, particularly in the last shot, bet they'll be delighted with it - well done Asher!
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  #9  
Old December 3rd, 2009, 10:21 AM
Winston Mitchell Winston Mitchell is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Asher Kelman View Post
Hi Winston,

There are many challenges. First one cannot disturb the musicians. They are under great stress, practicing from 4-6 hours as day! Each week has many demands and the concert I'm photographing is just one part of their busy and pressured schedule. So one cannot flash lights at them routinely and certainly not while they are playing. The lighting is 90% from above and no one seems to know who designed this, but it's that awful everywhere. The solution I have found, with Bart's encouragement, is to under-expose by 1- 1.5 stops and recover the highlights from the RAW file. It really doesn't matter if shadow detail is lost in most cases.

One also has little time for anything but a fast capture of the image and one has to know the moments that a sneak shot is doable without disturbing anyone. So during a very loud part of a pierce, one shot in timing with a drum is a way I try to get my real live picture.

I'll dig one up!

Asher
What fun!

My comment was referring to the seemingly overwhelming vertical component of the ambient light creating an extreme contrast situation.

For me, detail-less shadows are a distraction, particularly in a color image. How do B&W versions work?
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  #10  
Old December 3rd, 2009, 10:29 AM
Ken Tanaka Ken Tanaka is offline
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It appears to have been very challenging, indeed. Everyone's wearing black, the stage lighting is hot and uni-directional, no fill (except a tiny bit of bounce from the floor). The final image is the best. But what pain, eh? Nice work, Asher.

Separately, I am very struck by the number of Asian students in the orchestra! I've not (yet) observed that in professional orchestral populations but I have seen it at what appears to be student-levels here, too. Several of my neighbors are musicians with local symphonies and one is a prolific teacher of the cello. I often see Asian young people schlepping their cellos in for their lessons. There seems to be quite a reverence for the skill and beauty of classical musicianship among Asian families.
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Old December 3rd, 2009, 11:15 AM
Ruben Alfu Ruben Alfu is offline
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Hi Asher, great shots, thanks for sharing these emotive moments. Its very interesting to learn about the intimacies and the challenges to overcome when covering these performances.
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  #12  
Old December 3rd, 2009, 01:17 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Tanaka View Post
It appears to have been very challenging, indeed. Everyone's wearing black, the stage lighting is hot and uni-directional, no fill (except a tiny bit of bounce from the floor). The final image is the best. But what pain, eh? Nice work, Asher.

Ken,

The pictures are not processed to perfection as they would be for publication in brochures, posters, advertisements and recruitment material and the new image rich website to come online shortly. This is the degree of preparation sufficient for the community to enjoy in "This Week at Colburn", a weekly newsletter. I link from that to here so the folk can see much larger versions of these pictures than possible in a simple newsletter. A lot of work other work is done in the rather modest photographic studio, and there I can take pictures while the student is playing. In fact, I always have students play first so I can start to feel something of their nature and sense better how to approach photographing them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Tanaka View Post
Separately, I am very struck by the number of Asian students in the orchestra! I've not (yet) observed that in professional orchestral populations but I have seen it at what appears to be student-levels here, too. Several of my neighbors are musicians with local symphonies and one is a prolific teacher of the cello. I often see Asian young people schlepping their cellos in for their lessons. There seems to be quite a reverence for the skill and beauty of classical musicianship among Asian families.
That, Ken is the wonderful thing about Asian families! There's a built in appreciation for music. In the 1600 strong community school, then, there's naturally going to be a richer representation of the various Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese and Vietnamese communities that live in the vicinity. There are scholarships for those who are strapped for cash. There's a special effort to serve the economically disadvantaged mostly Black and Hispanic communities. The School feels a great responsibility for outreach.

In the Conservatory, which is college level advanced studies, limited to one orchestra's worth of students, there is much wider and even representation of all ethnic groups more in proportion to the world populations as the draw for the school is international and by merit only.

During the summer there's a major outreach to the inner city schools and 4th to 5th grade students are taken in for a rich program from Drama and Dance to modern, ethnic and classical Music as well as opening up young minds to their own worth and endless potential. I'd like to this expanded to 600 students! I'll have to show pictures of that program separately.
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Last edited by Asher Kelman; December 4th, 2009 at 02:03 PM.
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  #13  
Old December 3rd, 2009, 09:41 PM
Asher Kelman Asher Kelman is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bart_van_der_Wolf View Post
The guerilla tactics worked ;-)

Given the limited DOF it might be worth a try to shoot multiple images with different focus distances (M mode). That will probably allow to get a better DOF (or open eyes, turned heads) with a bit of postprocessing. Don't know how much processing time you're willing to devote to the more casual ambush shots, just a thought.
One method I have worked out is to shoot from above the orchestra at a good distance away with a very good lens. Then when one angles the camera down a little, everyone is close to the same plane of focus. furthermore, if one does add flash for a formal shot, if that can be arranged, the light does not vary much over the orchestra from front violins to the back brass and percussion.

I'm moving towards doing this with film too, just to see what I can get!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bart_van_der_Wolf View Post
Results are looking promising, especially given all the constraints. There does seem to be a slight CCW rotation that's still needed to avoid the sensation of a sloping stage. Trying to nail the background verticals in the center of the image should do it.
Thanks, I have to check those when I prepare these pictures for the image library for the school's publications and web pages.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bart_van_der_Wolf View Post
Thanks for sharing the enthusiasm, and sense of dedication,
Bart
How often does one have the opportunity to interact with talented artists like this? It's a pleasure and privilege to watch and appreciate as they testing their wings, all trying to travel far beyond the place called "good enough"!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bart_van_der_Wolf View Post
P.S. It looks like that one cello has a different color of itself, not from the lighting angle. Is that correct? Interesting fashion statement if it is.
Yes, the color is different. I'll have to find out. The wood is supposed to be spruce on the front plate.

Asher
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