operatic singers in masks on stage

Light and Colour | Shooting Opera with the Alpha 1

Mathias Kniepeiss

Mathias Kniepeiss hadn’t had his Sony Alpha 1 before he shot the Turandot opera at the famous St. Margarethen Quarry. The venue is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a spectacular former Roman quarry that now houses Europe’s largest natural theatre. “Honestly, it was the first day I had picked up the Alpha 1 camera,” says Mathias, who had been asked by the director of the production to photograph the performance. “The show is quite different to all other operas as there is a lot of action going on, with stunt men, amazing costumes and even 3D mapped projections onto the natural stone backdrop.”

three actors in armour holding spears

© Mathias Kniepeiss | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/250s @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

Of course, such a spectacular stage show is designed for the live audience and not for the photography and filming. Bright lights, bold colours and high-contrast make such an opera a challenge for both camera and photographer, but Matthias had faith in his Sony Alpha 9 II and the new Sony Alpha 1.

It may seem like an odd choice to choose the Alpha 1 and Alpha 9 II to photograph an opera – most people would think of these cameras as primarily designed for sports photographers, but the decision was an obvious one for Mathias.

actor swirling a flaming baton

© Mathias Kniepeiss | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/800s @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

This was no ordinary opera performance; I needed cameras that were fast. With the speed of the autofocus of both cameras, and being able to shoot at up to 30fps with the Alpha 1, they are obviously designed for sport,” he explains. “However, they also both have fantastic dynamic range, and the Alpha 1’s 50.1 megapixel high resolution sensor also makes it ideal for commercial work.”
actor holding a baton with sparks

© Mathias Kniepeiss | Sony α1 + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/250s @ f/2.8, ISO 4000

With fire, flames and sparks all very much part of the show, Mathias was able to use both cameras to capture the finest of details. “When the actors are fighting on the stage, the choreography is so precise and fast,” Mathias says. “The swords are on fire and the actors are using real force. During the performance there were flames and sparks everywhere – flying all around the actors. Being able to shoot at 20 or 30fps in a situation like this means I can pick the perfect shots where for a fraction of a second sparks are flying. It is incredible.”

operatic actor praying on her knees

© Mathias Kniepeiss | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/320s @ f/2.8, ISO 2500

Matthias shot the performance with three lenses, the FE 85mm f/1.4 G Master, which he mainly used on his Alpha 9 II, whilst he used the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens on the Alpha 1. Then he added his FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS to either camera, depending on what was going on at that point during the show. Interestingly, to get the best views, Mathias shot the vast majority of the performance from positions amongst the audience. Which is where a powerful lens such as the 400mm f/2.8 comes into its own.

coloured lights projected on a wall during the opera performance

© Mathias Kniepeiss | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/320s @ f/2.8, ISO 2500

“The focus speed of the Alpha 1 with the FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS was amazing,” Mathias tells us. “With this opera there was so much action going on at the same time, so you have to react very quickly if suddenly something is happening on the other side of the stage. The combination of camera and lens was so fast it made it easy to react and shoot the performance. I ended up shooting a lot more images than I had anticipated in advance.”

lady standing on a boat during the opera

© Mathias Kniepeiss | Sony α9 II + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/500s @ f/2.8, ISO 4000

Despite the challenging lighting conditions of powerful stage lights and very saturated colour from the 3D mapped stage projections, Matthias was able to work with the raw images from both cameras to reveal detail in the shadow areas. “The dynamic range is so good,” he says. “I can play with the image in post-production and bring back lots of detail in both the highlights and the shadows.”

three operatic actors singing in costume

© Mathias Kniepeiss | Sony α1 + FE 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS | 1/320s @ f/2.8, ISO 1250

It won’t be long before Mathias is back shooting sports with the Alpha 1, and most of all he is looking forward to the challenge of seeing how the camera handles the ultra-modern sport drone racing. ”It is super fast, and so difficult as the drone is so small compared to the speed that they travel. I can’t wait to try the Alpha 1 and see how the AF performs in sports photography. Having a camera that combines high-speed with high resolution gives me so much freedom and opens up possibilities to get much more creative with my photography.”

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Mathias Kniepeiss

Mathias Kniepeiss | Austria

"In photography, nothing is impossible, whether to document stories for eternity or to create new worlds"

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