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Nutcracker National Ballet of Canada 2012 Dress Rehearsal - Toronto

Published December 19th, 2012

First off I would like to thank Sarah Collaton at 500px, Christina and Taryn at the National Ballet of Canada as well as the dancers of the National Ballet in the Nutcracker Suite for the opportunity to come down and spend a few hours taking pictures during their dress rehearsal.This was a great example of a 500px Community event. I ended up Googling ballet pictures and realized pretty quickly that we would be dealing in low light and since it was a dress rehearsal there wasn't really any proper stage lighting. Also NO FLASHES!! and no distracting the coaching, director staff or even the dancers.

I ended up bringing my 28, 35, 50, 85, 100 and 180 fast primes, a Lens Baby F4 and my 12-24 F4 zoom. I used my D200, D300 and my Coolpix 995 with the fisheye lens on it. I wish I had a FX camera because I was reluctant to shoot at higher than 800 for fear of noise creeping in. Even at the higher ISO it was a struggle to shoot 1/125 at F2 plus or minus. Low light and fast moving subjects is a photographer’s nightmare. Chris mentioned after the shoot that he shot at 6400 on his DX Canon and was going to tweak it out in Lightroom and do a B&W conversion for some of these. I wish I knew that beforehand because I probably would have shot a lot more at a higher ISO and the noise would give that TRI-X 400 ISO film effect afterwards. I am not a big fan of playing with shots after the fact on a computer but I realize it is a strong tool to have. Sara and Vince shot with their FX Canon (5D iii) so low ISO wasn't an issue with them.

I learned quickly that this became a very very stressful shoot only because fast moving subjects in low light and not really sure of how the dancers movement worked in order to anticipate a focus point. I also I was trying to offer a different look to my work. I really struggled to maintain the focus point on the dancer's face.

The 2 hours went by very quickly as I was in awe of the dancing skills as well as trying to make camera adjusts and try to find different perspectives to shoot from. These dancers arrive at 10am and may not finish until 7 or 8pm.

I am happy with several of the shots I took and would be better prepared next time to have a chance at some better pictures.

I learned that I would need to have a 24-70 F2.8, 80-200 F2.8 zoom and a FX camera as well. The FX camera would let me shoot at 12000 ISO cleanly which is a huge benefit at low light. The zooms of course allow you to crop and adjust as opposed to using the primes zoom (move feet back and forth)

Three bodies would be ideal with one just for B&W.

However, if you had just one camera and a couple of lenses then the best one can do is shoot different lens shots from the 3 different shooting locations and be more careful in your post processing and editing.

This was an excellent exercise to work under pressure in the way a PJ or press photographer would have to work. it really gave me a view in the day in the life of a PJ (photo journalist). You got 15 minutes for a single portrait or 120 minutes for a 8 photo double page spread, get it right the first time, nab the shots as needed, make the photo editor happy and keep your job so you can do it again the next working day.

Also I am glad I brought my tripod for the Ethereal feel shots and a Think Tank Roller Bag to carry all the gear in. If I had to bring studio strobes and stands or any Speed lights I am sure I would have needed to bring the Think Tank Logistics Manager to carry all the gear in.

This shoot was a really wonderful learning experience that included some pre-planning, figuring out what gear to bring, some ideas around what I wish to represent in my work, shooting the event, and then editing afterwards for submission. I would add the most important conversation after the fact is what can i do better next time? and that includes the discussion with my peers.

The most important lesson I learned is that one must shoot lots, from different viewpoints, with different lenses and to take a few minutes to chimp through the shots. Also to push yourself to think creatively and try to capture a new shot from a new angle and try to represent what the viewer would like to see when viewing the 2 page newspaper spread.


I need you to jump a little bit higher please!

Fisheye on Coolpix 995 in wide angle mode. I wanted to capture the whole space including the dancers at the side and the directing staff

  • December 14th, 2012
  • E995
  • 15.1mm / f/3.4 / 1/37 sec

Without music there is no dance!

Coolpix 995 in fisheye mode to capture the whole rehearsal hall and the music master

  • December 14th, 2012
  • E995
  • 8.2mm / f/2.6 / 1/136 sec

One! Two then pivot!

we all need a "On Point" photo

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D200
  • 180mm / f/3.2 / 1/45 sec

Piano Man

i wanted to include the anchor person - the piano man

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D200
  • 85mm / f/1.8 / 1/60 sec

Staying Warm in the Wings

she was all bundled up to stay warm waiting for her time to come onto the stage. she is also in the b&w shot

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D200
  • 85mm / f/2.5 / 1/15 sec

Battered Feet

these dancers work very hard and of course their feet take a beating. I am sure they would welcome any foot massage at any time

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D300
  • 85mm / f/2 / 1/50 sec

Ethearal Feel 2

Thanks for bringing the tripod in order to shoot this. Get a Think Tank roller bag now!

How do you capture the speed and grace? I dunno a slower shutter speed?

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D300
  • 24mm / f/18 / 1 sec

Ethearal Feel 2

Another version. After going through my edits a second time I found a few more photos that would have been of interest

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D300
  • 50mm / f/16 / 1 sec

Spin Spin Spin!

I thought I would add a b&w shot but it was because i had more noise in it than i wanted to see. This captures the elengance i think in her pose on how she positions her legs.

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D300
  • 85mm / f/2 / 1/125 sec


after a jaw dropping dance routine it was like? Hey coach how did i do? i think the response was " i need a little bit more on the diagonal"

  • December 14th, 2012
  • NIKON D300
  • 180mm / f/2.8 / 1/100 sec

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Chris Bagley  almost 5 years ago

Very nice John! I love the different looks you got through each lens.