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Asher Kelman January 6th, 2010 03:22 AM

Colburn School of Music
The Challenge of Photography in Classical Music and Ballet: Lighting on stages seem to be made to satisfy the customs of the lighting crew and an audience that is not supercritical about where light is and how it gets there. To the photographer, of course, these factors weigh heavily in recording the scene. The photographer has to learn to fit in as mostly it's easier to get blood from a stone than altering stage lighting! Still, I have dreams, (or delusions) of getting my way some day! It's essentially available light stealth shooting to a melody!

Stage lighting, (mostly from above), can be accepted by audiences for concerts as their sophistication is in the listening part of the experience. Visual esthetics are tertiary issues! In any case, if the music is great, our eyes make enough sense of the scene that it works fine! No one ever complains that they cannot see the oboist and adjacent bassoons! (They are hidden mostly, anyway, by the conductor and the strings). It's the sound and excitement of the entire ambience of a stage filled with musicians in tuxedos and black dresses that works for us. Actual detail is unimportant! For dance, however, we now have the visual expression of the music in color and movement. So now we have to actually see what happens. The music comes from somewhere beyond the dancers and it just has to be great. We don't need to know where its being made. The dancers do not need to be seen in detail as it's the shapes of the bodies corresponding to music that counts.

Lighting then is for that transformative magic of movement, not the details of the face and arms.

The Music, The Dance and Dancers: Let me introduce you to the upcoming photograph by setting the audio stage as the guide to look at the image of the dancers floating before you. The following is a quote:

"The word "gnossienne" describes several pieces of piano music composed by Satie that didn't fit into any of the existing styles of classical music like a piano prelude or a sonata. Satie easily solved this dilemma by simply titling the pieces with a completely new and made up word, in this case - "gnossienne."

Erik Satie wrote 6 Gnossiennes. "Satie composed his first three gnossiennes around 1890, without time signatures and bar lines (often referred to as "absolute time") and traditional tempo markings. Satie's peculiar scores could be read like musical poetry - one can interpret the piece with very few restrictions, as his tempo markings were made of phrases like "don't leave", "lightly, with intimacy" and "don't be proud." The first gnossiennes (Nos. 1 and 3) were published in September of 1893, in Le Figaro musical Nr. 24, while No. 2 was published in Le Coeur the next month. The remaining three gnossiennes, Nos. 4-6, were composed in 1891, 1899, and 1897, respectively. However, these were not published until 1968. .."The inherent feelings of timelessness and infinity of each piece come from the works' cyclical nature".

I ask you to now open another browser web page and being up this haunting music, Gonossiemme #1, , (played as the composer, Erik Satie, intended) on piano in this Utube recording, but in this dance at the Colburn School December 19th 2009 soulfully performed by guest accompanyist, Colburn Faculty Member, Kenton Youngstrum on guitar.

Asher Kelman: The Dancers Perform Gnossienne#1,
Trudl Zipper Dance Institute at the Colburn School ,
Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, December 19th 2009

With dance, how the figures are lit can alter the sense of the choreography. Naturally then, the choreographer directs how lights will play on their dancers. For some reason, stage designers and choreographers seem to love "dramatic lighting". That essentially means a mostly black stage and lighting essentially from above.

The dark is very dark and the bright goes to white out easily, just as as with lighting for classical music except the gradients are even steeper! To make things even more exciting, sensual and creative, colored gels modify the already harsh lights. Add to that, for an end of the year holiday performance in a Dance School, it's a one time creative extravaganza: light intensity changes with no written program for the photographer and no rehearsal!

This happens since the performances are school enterprises where all the resources pull together until the last day to get one showing and then the show is over!

I actually thought I had the problem of photographing musicians on stage pretty well licked. Dance however is humbling, as it's much harder to compose, get the timing right in the dancers positions and still get the technical matters of exposure and shutter speed right.

I used the 5DII and the 70-200 2.8 L IS, here at ISO 800, 1/250 second f 3.6 at 200mm underexposed by about 3/4 stop and recovered in Adobe Camera Raw. I'll be reprocessing this in Phase One's Capture One software.

In the single image, above, I've tried to bring to you the way the dancers appear to float over the stage in some continuous river of innocence to worldly matters. They become feather-light living taffeta and silk containers for the rhythms and demands of the music appearing from the shadows to the bright lights and then disappearing again. They are the materialization of Erik Sartie's Gnossienne, timeless, ethereal, penetrating one's being with soulful beauty that has no beginning and no end.


Asher Kelman January 6th, 2010 02:56 PM

Some of the most delightful parts of ballet are the dances by one dancer on stage or just two, having turns as soloists or dancing together. Here I've tired to show this dedicated individuality.

Asher Kelman: Casey Howes dances as Maria in Tchaikovky's Nutcracker Ballet Image #1

The Winter Concert, Professional Training Program, Trudl Zipper Dance Institute
The Colburn School Grand Avenue, Los Angeles December 19th 2009

Asher Kelman: Casey Howes dances as Maria in Tchaikovky's Nutcracker Ballet Image #2
This picture appears light on some monitors so it will be corrected over the weekend

The Winter Concert, Professional Training Program, Trudl Zipper Dance Institute
The Colburn School #4, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles December 19th 2009

Feel free to comment on the photography, lighting or dance.


Note these two images are prepared merely from jpg files, not from RAW as my usual workflow demands. My apologies. The reason is that my CS4 computer crashed and CS2 can't handle the RAW files. Canon software is too sluggish on my laptop. I'll be eventually redoing the images with Phase One's Capture One Raw Developer Program, "C1", and then swop them out.

Asher Kelman January 6th, 2010 11:49 PM

Asher Kelman: Sidney Scully performs in the Dance of Mirlitons

Trudl Zipper Dance Institute at the Colburn School #1, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles December 19th 2009

Asher Kelman: Cristina Rodriguez performs as the Soldier Doll, Image #1

Trudl Zipper Dance Institute at the Colburn School #1, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles December 19th 2009

Asher Kelman: Cristina Rodriguez performs as the Soldier Doll, Image #2

Trudl Zipper Dance Institute at the Colburn School #1, Grand Avenue, Los Angeles December 19th 2009

Asher Kelman February 28th, 2010 01:00 PM

Colburn School of Music
Let's celebrate the full length portrait! :)

I had an unexpected call for a portrait today for a musician trio's publicity pictures.

Lighting: Unfortunately, I had only one Lumedyne 50-200 W/S/ light working. I used 50 W/S setting with one light in a 7" reflector shining into an 8ft vertical V of white styrofoam (two panels of 8ftx2 ft hinged to form a V) and the reflected light comes baqck through a large white umbrella. The umbrella is above and 45 degrees to subjects and to one side and the other side is another vertical V of white styrofoam card to reflect light back from the other side of the subjects who stand in from to white seamless.

Asher Kelman: Portrait for Trio competition 5D Mark 1, Lumedyne 50 Watt Secs, f5.6, ISO 400 No Retouch

This is part of a set of images I'll prepare. I thought I'd share the image as processed from Phase One's Capture One software. The main work to be done is whitening background, no big deal.


Asher Kelman February 28th, 2010 10:48 PM

I thought I'd boost this thread by adding another picture take with just 50 watt.seconds of energy but split this time to two 7" lumedyne heads bounced of styrofoam cored board through large white umbrellas as is my custom.

Asher Kelman: Cellist Age 14 in Green Dress

This picture is processed in Capture One from RAW with slight exposure adjustment only and no other processing as yet save a tad of sharpening. It's part of a far larger series of candidate images for a new program for advanced and especially talented younger music students to give them access to world class Conservatory level faculty, even though they are not of college age. This new program is for the most exceptional students and will be a prestigious and valuable source of experience for those few who make it through selection performances.


Asher Kelman November 13th, 2010 04:13 PM

The Best of the Best! Right by Walt Disney Concert Hall!
Being especially talented and advanced in music does not necessarily mean a healthy and happy childhood nor a successful career. It's an enormous challenge to steer remarkable talent appearing so early. Many do not make it beyond an initial bloom. The pace, quality and the breadth of teaching may not allow the full potential to ever be realized and another dream is lost. That's a tragedy!

Asher Kelman: Cello Student of Ron Leonard

The Academy of The Colburn School of Music

When I heard of the news of a new separate well-structured and supported Colburn School program to address this, I was impressed. At last! For sure, such a framework for young overflowing talent is so sorely needed.

I have had the privilege to be able to design the brochure for the brand new Academy of The Colburn School of Music, The new major enterprise is the brainchild of Sel Kardan the President of The School and is the vision of the Director, maestro Piano Professor, Ori Shihor, co-chair of the Music Department. The 12-18 year olds, representing some of the most dedicated, talented and gifted music students of the Los Angeles area, (and also flying in weekly from other states), share the distinguished faculty of the Conservatory. This is a revolutionary move and, for the first time, devotes the full academic and nurturing resources in a formal comprehensive but yet tailored fashion to the 1 in 10,000 gifted students that should be destined for great careers.

So I set out to photograph the faculty teaching the students and tried to capture the individual caring and attention to detail. I will be sharing with you pictures from the 30 extensive shooting series to illustrate the program for new catalog material, brochures, banners, billboards and the Academy Brochure itself.

I hope you will enjoy these images as much as I do the music that inspires them!


Asher Kelman November 13th, 2010 04:26 PM

You are invited: but you must arrange with me personally for the first 8 only.
So here's the above picture in its use in an invitation. Recital

Asher Kelman: Invitation to The Academy's Inaugural Concert in Thayer Hall, December 11th 2010

Color may be slightly off as the originals in Adobe RGB were changed to CMYK
for printing by the graphic designer and then back to RGB and sRGB by me.

"8 Invitations available by request to AK by PM"

I have created a large library of such prepared files. I like simple clean images, where little to no text is required. No one tells me what images to make. There's no art director. So I am forced to watch and listen and absorb the moments and then come the pictures. In most cases, it's the staff and graphic designer who only then decide on which images work best for them. It's a system that allows me the freedom to be creative and hopefully produce images which stimulates the design process downstream. It's an unusual way of working, but one that's thrilling in the end when the pictures are selected for publication!


Asher Kelman December 17th, 2010 01:35 AM

Composed Scenes
Here is one of the pictures I took at the Colburn School of the Suzuki violin students recent perofrmance. Imagine a rows of young musicians playing in synchrony. The method is disciplned! Then came the bow.

Everyone else was too solemn and slow. This girl aced it and it shows! Bow_FIRST.jpg

Asher Kelman: First!

Do not copy or edit

I hope you enjoy this picture. I was thrilled to discover the child amongst all my pictures. My intent was to do an admirable job. This was a capture I had not expected but am grateful for finding.


Doug Kerr December 17th, 2010 07:38 AM

Hi, Asher,

Great shot. I'm sure we'll be hearing/seeing more of her.

The dual meaning of bow is especially neat here.

Best regards,


fahim mohammed December 17th, 2010 08:15 AM


Originally Posted by Asher Kelman (Post 107322)

This was a capture I had not expected but am grateful for finding.


And we are grateful for you sharing this with us. A very self confident young lady. Excellent timing.

Rajan Parrikar December 17th, 2010 10:38 AM

A beautiful moment, beautifully captured.

charlotte thompson December 17th, 2010 12:12 PM

Awesome, Asher
well caught! beautiful color and the expression is one of dignity and in such a young child-


Valentin Arfire December 17th, 2010 10:46 PM


Originally Posted by Asher Kelman (Post 107356)
The beauty is there, but fleeting. The tough thing is synchronizing the shutter!

interesting; I can actually feel the applause and the other noises of the public in the hall, so the picture is really dynamic and the girl's hesitation makes another point: I think she is shy, believe to have end successfully the piece and now eye-searching for somebody to give her confidence and assure her she done well

of course this is my fiction

thank you Asher for sharing

Jim Galli December 20th, 2010 06:21 PM

Very enjoyable picture. Don't we all want to be the 'standout'?

Edward Bussa December 20th, 2010 06:38 PM

A precious shot of the young girl. Her parents should buy a print from you.

The rare thing about this picture is the sharpness on the main subject when there is obvious blur on other subjects. The main subject appears to be the one that WAS moving with the most intensity while the secondary subjects (the two girls behind the main subject) are blurred because they are CURRENTLY the ones moving most intensely... And then there is the subject of her hair being tack sharp - only because it is at its apex I assume - a rare composition I think...

Asher Kelman December 21st, 2010 01:45 AM

Thanks Ed, Yes, she has stopped at the apex of the end of her bow. The others are way behind and still moving, LOL!

Jim, If it could be as easy as that to stand out for something worthy of standing out!

Valentin, I'll ask her parents about her. Maybe she is shy. OTOH, she could be just ahead of the others. Certainly she's a person who seems to have a lot of enjoyment performing on stage and doing it with a flair!

Thanks so much all of you for your comments!


Ben Rubinstein December 21st, 2010 04:20 AM

Would love to see this one in B&W, I think she'd 'pop' out of the crowd more due to the lighting on her face. I'm not editing as per request but I think B&W and a judicious vignette would make the image jump out at the viewer.

Have to admit to being biased though, I love B&W ;-)

jake klein December 21st, 2010 06:43 AM

you also have two sides to the story! A young girl bowing faster than all in excitement but, across frame seems to be a young child not to happy or possible very intent!

Asher Kelman December 21st, 2010 01:10 PM


Your request granted!

Asher Kelman: First!

B&W Conversion in C84

Do not copy or edit



Rachel Foster December 21st, 2010 07:16 PM

Wonderful photo.

jake klein December 22nd, 2010 05:52 PM

Something keeps bringing me to the left/middle child.....

Asher Kelman November 27th, 2013 05:55 PM

I wanted pictures to document for myself and the Colburn School of Music, the monumental artistic achievement of the conductor of the Los Angeles Opera directing 4 choirs and 2 orchestra of young highly successful University-level musicians, in one of the most brilliant musical compositions of all time, the Requiem by Benjamin Britten, a devout pacifist who decided to make a composition replacing longstanding glorification of the exploits and heroics of war for the sad cold reality of the Christian nations of Europe sacrificing their young boys in the name of some monarch, prince or prime minister. I was going to take my new Canon 6D, but that would immediately arouse the ire of the numerous Music Center staff, eyes peeled for sneaky picture-takers!

Taking pictures in The Walt Disney Concert Hall is actually double challenge: first, it's not permitted, (even if one has a silent camera without flash) and the lighting on the stage has an extreme dynamic range, with white shirts and faces blindingly over lit in front of the stage and other musicians barely discernable in the dark sides and back of the massive spectacle.

So here goes with the Black small and readily disguisable Ricoh GR. Here goes, real shots with some utility and purpose in life! We visited the Walt Disney concert Hall to hear Benjamin Britten's Requiem. This is a truly life-changing mega production, with the heart rendering war poems of Wilfred Own, (killed 1 week before the close of World War I), interplaying against and with the latin Requiem Mass for the dead. A chamber orchestra embedded in a 100 person full orchestra. The former with a tenor and baritone, representing two opposing infantrymen in World War II trench warfare, and then a Soprano centered in 3 choirs with a 4th children's choir practically on the roof, carrying the full power of the liturgical Christian Mass for the dead so that they would have a place in the afterlife.

Asher Kelman: The Stage of The Musicians and Singers: "Requiem" #1
Orchestras of Colburn School of Music, City Choirs, Britten's ovation for "Requiem" #1
Walt Disney concert Hall, James Conlon, Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera

Original Ricoh GR File Processed with minimal changes in Adobe Camera RAW copy.jpg

Asher Kelman: The Stage of The Musicians and Singers: "Requiem" #1
Orchestras of Colburn School of Music, City Choirs, Britten's ovation for "Requiem" #1
Walt Disney concert Hall, James Conlon, Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera

Original Ricoh GR File Processed above, then dark areas opened up with Viveza control points in Nik filters PS Plugin,

There were over 400 young people involved: the choirs of major colleges, the Colburn Conservatory Orchestra, the USC Orchestra all on stage, and a children's choir, from 4 stories up in the back of the roof, bringing us the voices of angeles over the battlefields.

Well, without pictures of men in the trenches, men mowed down by machine gun fire or blown to smitheresnes by artillary shells, it's hard to create the aura of the helplessness and pointless ness of each side sacrificing their sons.

So they have the piece from the bible of Abraham being tested, the "akeda" where he is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac for a burnt offering on top of a mountain. In the Bible, an angel's voice tells Abraham to hold his hand and not slay or do anything to his son. Instead to offer as sacrifice a ram caught in the thickets by its horns. Unlike Abraham's character in the bible who obeys the angels order to spare his son, we have Abraham saying he'll kill his son anyway, as the wipe out the seed of of Europe's sons.


Asher Kelman November 27th, 2013 11:08 PM

Actually, I think that simply using layers and masks to relight different areas of the stage would have been faster than using Nik with Viveza control points, but I did so because Nik can also for those using Lightroom or Apple's Aperture.

The files are not that large, but still sufficient for recognizing individuals on a stage and for posting online or in a newsletter.

Asher Kelman November 27th, 2013 11:09 PM

So here are the portions of the Nik corrected image and 100% copy 2.jpg

Asher Kelman: The Stage of The Musicians and Singers: "Requiem" #1
Orchestras of Colburn School of Music, City Choirs, Britten's ovation for "Requiem" #1
Walt Disney concert Hall, James Conlon, Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera

Original Ricoh GR File Processed with minimal changes in Adobe Camera RAW

You might recognize, James Conlon, The Conductor, he's 3rd from the left in the front! copy 3.jpg

Asher Kelman: The Stage of The Musicians and Singers: "Requiem" #1
Orchestras of Colburn School of Music, City Choirs, Britten's ovation for "Requiem" #1
Walt Disney concert Hall, James Conlon, Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera

Original Ricoh GR File, ISO 800, 1/125 sec, f=2.8, Processed with minimal changes in Adobe Camera RAW

Here, the orchestra members can easily be recognized and so the Ricoh GR can serve well in such circumstances to silently document serious classical music performances where the output requirements are, as here, quite modest.

The musicians will be very happy.

Now for the choirs, they are a further 3-10 meters away and occupy far less space on the focal plane of the camera. Here one might well recognize the person, but the limit has been met as one can't enlarge the 270 or so faces and get sufficient detail to be excellent. no way. Still, the gestalt of the performance is recorded well.

However, I do not know the folk in the choirs and for them, I'd need a dedicated larger format on a tripod and that, I'm afraid wasn't in the cards that evening!


Asher Kelman November 28th, 2013 01:04 AM

Asher Kelman: Basist and Family after playing the : "Requiem"
Colburn School of Music, November 25th 2013, Los Angeles

Original Ricoh GR File Processed with minimal changes in Adobe Camera RAW, Processed to B&W in PS 5

So, this 28mm fixed focus camera, can also be used for people photography. Very social camera!


fahim mohammed November 28th, 2013 01:14 AM

Seems a nifty camera Asher. And you seem to have mated well with it. I am pleasantly surprised at the cam's performance during the performance.

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

Asher Kelman March 10th, 2015 09:06 PM

Colburn School of Music
I will be gathering more pictures of the Colburn School of Music. So bookmark this page!


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Posting images or text grants license to OPF, yet of such remain with its creator. Still, all assembled discussion 2006-2017 Asher Kelman (all rights reserved) Posts with new theme or unusual image might be moved/copied to a new thread!