The Alternative Cabaret - low light fun and games!

I recently had the opportunity to take photos at the Alternative Cabaret hosted by the popular burlesque troop Rock With the Foxes at the Bucklands community center. 

I love shoots like this, I'm constantly thinking about how to capture the performers at their best and show them in their best light. I get a huge buzz from it, it's hard work but very rewarding. However,shoots like this present a few challenges photographically speaking - low light, fast movement and changing light conditions. Add in to that I had to position myself so I wasn't blocking the view of the people who had paid to enjoy the evening, I had to consider my options.

I had three lenses to choose from with me, my 24-105mm F/4L, 70-200mm F/4L or 50mm F/1.8. I tried out the 24-105 on a few test shots as it's my "Go to" lens and I'm very used to using it but given my position, all of my shots were in the 80mm plus range. That ruled out using my 50mm prime lens, the wide f/1.8 aperture might have come in handy but that depth of field is so shallow whilst I could have got a fast shutter speed at a lower ISO number the chances of any of my shots being in focus (fast moving dancers remember?) were minimal. I would have probably stopped down to at least F/4 anyway. 

That pretty much left me with one lens choice, the 70-200 F/4. I love this lens, fast Auto focus, it feels right and well balanced when attached to my 5D MKII and the Image Stabilisation comes in really handy for occasions like this. Plus when shooting an event where people are carrying drinks, it's weather sealing is a nice for my peace of mind!

To freeze the action of the dynamic performance on stage, I wanted my shutter as fast as possible with as low a ISO setting as possible to reduce noise in the images. Whilst on the subject of noise in your images, it's always going to be a compromise. I'd rather have some noise in my photos but capture the moment than have a clean, noise free blurry image that I can't use. I'm fortunate that I shoot on a full frame camera which helps tremendously in low-light situations but noise is just something you have to live with sometimes. You can clean it up in post processing if it bothers you (as it does me!) but you'll have to factor that into your editing time.

I don't know the technical reasons behind this but a tip I've picked up along the way is that if you keep your shutter speed faster than the maximum focal length of your lens, you're safe to shoot hand held without introducing any shake (or motion blur) to your images which can absolutely ruin your shots. With this in mind the maximum focal length of my lens was 200mm so I knew that I wanted my shutter speed to be 1/200 or faster.

I knew where my aperture was going to be (F/4) so now it was just a matter of getting my ISO as low as possible whilst keeping the shutter speed faster than 1/200. I knew that the IS on my lens was going to help but I don't like to rely on anything that can fail mid-shoot (no matter how small that risk might be) plus I was sure I could get the shutter speed I wanted with a reasonable ISO level. 

I started with a ISO of 800, it was fairly dimly lit so I knew that it wasn't worth even trying anything lower than that but to get a correct exposure (or at least an exposure that I knew I could recover safely in post processing). At ISO800 my shutter speed was around 1/50 - much too slow. I increased my ISO number until I got to a shutter speed of 1/250 . My ISO was 1600 which sounds high, but experience with my camera gave me the confidence that the images would be absolutely fine to use and because I shoot in RAW format my files would have enough latitude to make any small corrections in post processing.

So that was that! My camera was set-up, I had two fresh batteries and 3 more freshly formatted memory cards to hand if needed so all I had to do was await the beginning of the show and concentrate on taking the photo's rather than worry about my camera settings. I had to really crank my ISO up on a couple of acts because the stage lights were lowered to highlight the fire breathing act and various illuminated costumes but that's all part of the fun of shooting events like this.

As always, I had a amazing time taking photographs of these talented performers and was lucky enough to take photos of Sir Midnight Blues's first performance of a new routine. I wont say too much more as the photos can paint the picture better than I could ever write about it. As an added bonus, I was called up on stage to take a bow with the acts and the hard working "behind the scenes" guys and girls. There's more to a show like this than meets the eye! 

Rocks with the foxes next show is on Saturday 3rd December. For more details see their Facebook page