This is my latest photo shoot for Shannon's ballet studio. Shannon takes classes with Pamela Trokanski's Dance Workshop, and I have taken photographs at a number of performances. This was part of the "Fairy Tales" performance in February, 2008. This photo was taken of the latter part of "The Little Match Girl" when the Angels show up to take her away. Very moving, and the dancers performed beautifully.
As I have mentioned before, the conditions in which these photographs are taken are about as complicated as you can get. It's a dark theater with fast-moving subjects and I'm not allowed to use a flash.
I got a new camera last year, and this was its first opportunity to shoot a ballet. I'm very pleased with the results.
I shot this ballet performance at 1600 ISO. For those who don't quite grasp the gravity of this statement, let me explain. In the dark ages of photography, sensitivity of film (that plastic stuff) was rated by its ISO. 100 ISO meant that it took more light to expose it so you would use that film outside in the sunshine. 800 ISO was particularly "fast" which meant that it took far less light to expose the film, so you could use it indoors or at twilight. The tradeoff was that ISO 800 film was very grainy, so it didn't look as smooth and sharp as 100 ISO.
In the grand new renaissance of digital photography, ISO values are still used (for simplicity's sake) to adjust the sensitivity of the digital sensor. Interestingly enough, the side-effect of increasing the ISO of a digital camera looks very similar to film, though the graininess is called "noise".
So, let's get back to my original statement: I shot this ballet at 1600 ISO. This allowed me to use a moderately fast shutter speed (1/320) so I could capture the action. Still, though, there is very little noise. Why is this?
More history: For the first five years of digital photography, everybody was all concerned about "how many megapixels" does the camera have? This camera has 1.3 megapixels, this one has 3.2, this one has 5 megapixels! Back then sensors were in their infancy and that sort of thing mattered. NO MORE! Now, just about every new camera you purchase will have 7 or more megapixels, which is WAY more than enough for most applications. NEWS FLASH: IT NO LONGER MATTERS HOW MANY MEGAPIXELS YOUR CAMERA HAS. In fact, it hasn't mattered for about three years.
So, what matters? Technology marches forward, so what's getting better? Sensor SENSITIVITY is getting better. With a new camera, you can take a photo with less available light, higher ISO, and it will still look very good. The amount of noise introduced into an image shot at high ISO is diminishing with each generation of digital cameras and will continue to do so. At the same time, cameras will begin to support higher and higher ISO settings and the photos that come out of them will still be usable. I shot this ballet with ISO 1600, which is as high as my camera goes. The new Nikon D3 goes up to ISO 6400, and I've heard that you can barely notice the noise at that speed. Incredible!
As cameras take better looking photos with higher ISO, great-looking low-light photos become a reality. This is just the beginning!