Monday, July 14, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

South Philly Cheesesteak, with a Side of Opera

Random Act of Culture at Geno's Steaks

South Philly Cheesesteak, with a Side of Opera

Opera Company Random Act of Culture Video: Opera Company Random Act of Culture

I've made dozens of videos since philly.com starting using them a few years ago. And I've made mistakes on every single one of them. But I've also learned something from each of the mistakes. The biggest lesson, one I am reminded of every single time I shoot a video, is the importance of good sound. Both the quality and the content. My latest video - an opera flash mob - had automatic content, but it was in the quality where I'd come up short.

Opera singers usually stand on a stage and produce a sound that fills the entire room (or cavernous concert hall). Audio recording engineers usually do NOT place their microphones anywhere close to that really loud and wide dynamic range sound source. My microphone? Not too far from their faces, on the hot-shoe of my Nikon D-7000 (with a shock-mount & windscreen) wtith a 20mm lens (in the tight crowd).

But the sound wasn't really the lesson learned this time. This time, in the three minute "flash Performance" by the the Opera Company of Philadelphia among the cheesesteak-eaters outside Geno's in South Philadelphia, I realized why live performances are usually always covered with multiple cameras. There is not much I can do about that the next time, so maybe it's not a lesson learned. I'll just call it a lesson appreciated.

I knew I had to shoot the entire 3 minute performance in one take to keep the audio intact so I could edit on deadline. I just could not, on the spot, shoot closeups of choristers, cheesesteak chewers, and the crowd. I guess I could have set up a second camera on a tripod, just shooting an overall, but I didn't know where each of the singers would end up.


So I decided to limit my camera motion - panning too quickly and shifting point of foucus - to parts of the performance when there were slight pauses, and I did luck out with a few seconds of video showing only the women during a part when only the men were singing.  I was able to use that in to cover up a jerky pan in a section of the song I didn't want to lose.

Click here for my story, and here for blog post by Inquirer classical music critic Peter Dobrin. That's the video below:

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at tgralish@phillynews.com.

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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