When you shoot someone on a stage, it’s all dark and stuff, right, so you need to go to, like, 3200 ISO? Dude!

Well, yes and no. It can be dark, but usually that is not the real problem. The person on stage is usually quite well lit. Like professor Richard Dawkins when I shot him recently in Toronto:


As you can see, prof Dawkins himself is well lit. This meant I was able to use my 1Ds MkIII and 50mm lens to shoot at 1/100th second, 400 ISO, and f/2.8. That is not super-fast: 400 ISO, not 1,600. And f/2.8, not f/1.4.

The bigger challenges are:

  • Metering. The dark background might very easily have caused the camera to overexpose prof Dawkins.
  • Consistency. The light can go up and down; or rather, as you swing the camera to include more or less Dawkins and less or more background, the exposure will change, and perhaps drastically so.
  • Focus is tough in low light.

So the solution is to:

  • Spot meter off the person and go up a stop, or meter using the “manual” meter.
  • Use MANUAL mode. After metering and adjusting visually (using LCD and histogram), leave the setting there. As long as the person does not move into different light, you’ll be fine.
  • Focus carefully with one focus point. Test before the presentation starts!
  • Shoot RAW so you can make small adjustments later where needed.

That way, your stage shoots will be just fine.

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