#Circus Photography

Invisible Circus Invisible Circus - Bristol

Invisible Circus, Halloween

Posted by on Jan 31, 2018 in Photography, Photography Tutorials

This is a bit of a blast from the past for  me – i was reminded of this performance after shooting Cirque Du Soleil at The Royal Albert Hall and i thought i’d return to it and post a few pictures.

At the time i think i was trialling a lens – so i took it to Bristol and a Halloween performance by The Invisible Circus, which i have to say was great fun. I was using a battered old Canon 5D MKII so was pretty limited on Iso Speed – anything above 1600 on the old 5D MKii and the shot becomes hard to polish but this performance was dimly lit  – and consequently i was operating at levels from 400 to  iso 6400 – which for a MKii is …… a bit nasty.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Invisible Circus – Bristol

Shooting at a lower Iso would have meant a drop in shutter speed coupled with a potentially limited depth of focus…… and the problem with circus performers is that they aren’t hanging around for a shot…. well… ok the artist above is literally hanging about…… but she’s swinging back and forth through a focus plane and at speed, and that’s the hurdle.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Invisible Circus – Bristol

It’s easier to focus on a relatively static guy on the floor….. but the 5D MKii is not the world’s best focussing camera in dim light and you don’t want to be relying on a focus lock, in this case it’s better to have an idea of where the focus really in in relation to you and the performance space. Then you can blast away without think too much about focus lock. All these pictures were taken wide open – at f2.8 – it’s not recommended but, as i say, i was trialling the lens and could afford to mess around without consequences. At a narrower aperture the old 5D Mkii would be seriously struggling.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Invisible Circus – Bristol

Tape marks on the floor are a dead giveaway that an artist will be hitting that spot at some point. Especially in technical shows involving lifting ropes. Know where that focus point is before the show starts…..and you’re laughing.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Invisible Circus – Bristol

This is where you can really see the iso noise breaking in all over the place….. but especially in the blacks which can get ruined. This is iso 4000 with shutter speed 1//160 @f2.8.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Invisible Circus – Bristol

Lighting in shows is dynamic, one minute it’s pitch black, the next it can get (relatively) hot. You need to be prepared for those changes…….  i never use auto ISO (don’t ask me why – i just decided not to and haven’t bothered with it) so generally speaking you ride the aperture or shutter speed (within reason) to accommodate those changes. Here with the Mkii i’ve shifted shutter speed to 1/500 to compensate for a lighting shift as a spotlight comes up. I probably would have done exactly the same with a MKiv….. but i’d have been at at much higher iso because the sensor can deliver at those higher ranges.

Basically these days i can shoot at a higher iso – so can afford to narrow the aperture and maintain the same high shutter speed – (at a dynamic show – 1//160 minimum).

Consequently my aperture would have been narrower and things would be generally sharper. The pic above is still f2.8: this is  wide open  – and you can tell.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Aerial Work and Circus skills

Hey if it gets too noisy you can always turn it black and white and pretend that was the ‘look’ you were going for. Mumble something about the simplicty of B&W and how you think colour has ruined everything…… basically we should all be using box brownies and anyone who shoots with anything post 1980 is a sell out.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Grant Pollard Photography

I love this lady – i think it’s the Crow umbrella that does it for me. The show drew heavily on German expressionism for the 1930s so has a fabulous style about it.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Under The Dark Moon

I have planned my next childrens’ birthday party surprise ….and this is it.

Picture-wise – some nasty blow-out on the cake (not a phrase i use often) but then you’re exposing for the artist and that shift from bright white in a spotlight to black is hard to cope with in a hurry. Again grain and noise is prominent and the limitations of the MKii are showing. Nice cake though.

Invisible Circus - Bristol

Under The Dark Moon – What’s in The Trunk?

The lens i’m using is a 90mm Prime Tamron. It’s great for Macro Photography actually – and not particularly designed for these circus shenanigans. If i shot this professionally i’d be using a 2.8 70-200mm zoom which is Pretty standard kit. I’d have had faster focussing and many more framing options. (I’d also be using a modern camera hem hem…..).

Whilst the pic above is an obvious crop the pics here are largely uncropped and have simply been resized.

Trapeze

Trapeze

I treated this one with NIk Software’s Dfine2 – which is a great little freebie plug-in for eliminating noise. It’s used to such an extreme here though that you can see a sort of softening in the trapeze artist’s clothing and skin but generally it can eliminate noise and refine pictures really well.

In a later post I’ll probably put some more recent pics up from Cirque Du Soleil for comparison – i used  5D MKiv and a canon 100-400MM zoom for that so the difference will be instructive.

Under The Dark Moon

Under The Dark Moon – Narrator

The narrator pictured above provided a good story that pulled the various acts together  – the ‘problem’ with circus is that it’s a collection of individual acts under one roof. The more successful shows pull the acts together under one narrative thread and give the show a depth that otherwise isn’t there. CIrque Du Soleil do this with mime and nonsense noises because they play to an international audience and it has to work for everyone. The trouble for me is that it makes it a little childish. One of the aspects i liked about Invisible Circus was that they didn’t play down to the audience. It was entertaining for adults as much as kids and i’d be happy to take anyone of any age to see them

Slack Wire

carefully does it

When you shoot a band or musical group on stage the lighting changes – but the position of lights and (for example) main performer pretty much stays the same. With circus and theatre it’s a more dynamic  environment so actors move from areas of high to low illumination in an instant. I put the camera in manual (i’m always in manual) and spin the shutter (or aperture) dial up and down as fast as i can – before blasting away…… at an incredible speed of 3 frames a second – ha ha.

 

Under The Dark Moon

Under The Dark Moon

This particular performance was in ‘the round’ so i could get some atmosphere shots that sneaked the audience into shot. I have to say i really like pictures that tell a bit more of a story than a simple shot of someone onstage. (although to be fair…. most theatrical pictures simply will be just that)

All in all that limited 90mm Tamron lens held up ‘ok-ish’. It’s almost as good as the Canon version and i had twinned it with an old camera with a single useful focus point. As i said if i was shooting properly i’d have used a different set-up but i was only there for the testing.

I try to test anything in a useful dynamic way – bench tests really don’t tell you too much and can make your brain explode. Far better to take something out on the road , give it a hard time and see how it copes.  The bonus of course is that you get to be entertained and I have to admit to a soft spot for ‘carny folk’ and anyone with a performance skill. Usually those circus skills have been been worked on, rehearsed and perfected through blood sweat and tears and i am always in admiration.