Last week marked the Southampton University String Orchestra's last concert of the academic term, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to go and shoot it for them! Although there were at least 3 other people getting video of the event, it was down to me to get the photos - much easier said than done it turned out. You see, this wasn't the BBC Proms or the London Philharmonic Orchestra, but a university society. As a result, the venue, rather than being a grand stage with excellent lights, a photo pit and more than adequate room for the orchestra itself to space themselves out how they please, was a small church with very poor lighting. For the orchestra it must have been great, they could see what they were doing! However, for a photographer, it was a nightmare - the church itself was very dark, and the stage lights were composed of a mixture of the church's ordinary floodlights and another set of lights. What this meant was that, although it doesn't look to dramatic to the human eye, the camera sees a mix of bright purple and dark orange light; not ideal for skin tones! So, first challenge - lighting! Solution - very high ISO and a lot of post-processing to remove the purple hue on people's faces where possible.
The second challenge was the arrangement of the church - it was exactly as you would expect, with seating right up to the front of the orchestra, meaning taking pictures from right in front of them was out of the question and I was limited to shooting from the side or very far away from the back. This heavily limited the angles I could get and meant that I relied on my telephoto lens for most of the evening to get the reach I needed. This leads onto the third challenge. As I said earlier, the players in the orchestra didn't exactly have a lot of room to spread out how they wanted. This meant that a lot of players have to be bunched up in jagged lines and sometimes not even sit with the rest of their sections! Obviously this makes it very hard to photograph entire sections at a time like the society wanted, and it took a lot of hunting to find angles that worked.
Next challenge! Not all "pro" photography equipment was created equal, and in the case of my telephoto lens I was using for most of the evening, a key thing to keep in mind is that image quality isn't going to be great through the whole zoom range. As a result, I had to be careful about just how much zoom I was using throughout the evening if I wanted to maintain a high image quality. On top of this, I couldn't just snap away as much as I wanted, I had to take the audience into account and keep my camera on silent mode (more like "slightly quieter mode" if you ask me), and only shoot during louder parts of the music. On the upside, this forced me to take my time and really think about each shot.
And finally, the thing people may not ever think about when they play a musical instrument - their concentration face. Everyone who played in that orchestra obviously wanted to play at their best, with an immense amount of concentration involved. At times, this can make it very hard to take a flattering picture of someone. Even beyond that, people move a lot while they play, restricting how much leeway I had in my camera settings even more and at times completely ruining photos, not at the fault of anyone, just because the timing was *just so*...
Overall a great evening, and a great opportunity. Some of the results are on my website under "Events and Sports". The images were processed the next day and the society was happy, so I'm happy! The many challenges were exactly that, challenging - but this is what professional photography is about, overcoming situations to get great images. At the end of the day, the challenges just keep it interesting.