Interview with a theatrical photographer

I was recently approached by a student asking if I would take part in an interview about my theatrical work. This was the first genre I took up after buying my first serious camera, and the type of photography I have most experience in.

So let’s take a look at the questions and my responses:

How did you first get into theatre photography?

My interest in theatrical photography came shortly after I bought my first SLR camera. I was in my late teens and a number of my friends were members of a local amateur dramatics group and I joined, often taking my camera with me. I enjoyed taking candid photos of early rehearsals and shots of the final dress rehearsals. I like to capture facial expressions and the relationships between characters. 

What are the biggest challenges of working in this industry?

As with any creative business – finding clients who are willing to pay! The arts are constrained by limited funding so every penny has to count. This means that I have to devise packages that deliver the best value for money.

How did you gain Clients? Did people seek you because of your previous work or did you find work by making contacts and emailing potential clients?

Simple word of mouth. If your work gets noticed and word gets around then other organisations start calling, which is how I get most of my clients. I’ve tried advertising but it never worked for me. Social media is also a cost-effective way of getting noticed.

A production of Princess Ida performed by Southgate Opera

Would you say theatre photography is a male-dominated industry?

I have no idea – for the simple reason that I’ve never met anyone else in my line of work. Theatrical photography is very niche so there aren’t that many people doing it. I also do live music photography, which of course is similar to theatre with both involving stage performances. There are a lot more live music photographers – in my experience mostly male. That said, a live music environment is very different to a theatrical environment so I’m not sure there’s a direct comparison.

Do you have time on the side for more personal photography projects?

Plenty – especially with lockdown. I like experimenting with self-portraiture and lighting sometimes. I’m also keen on reportage photography and pictures that tell a story. 

Are there any mistakes you made when you started? If so what were they and how did you learn from them?

Not many people start out fully qualified in terms of experience so yes, mistakes happen. One of the main mistakes I made was not spending enough on good equipment that was suited to the task. 

What do you see yourself continuing with long-term?

Theatrical photography is what I feel most confident about because it’s what I’ve been doing longest. Not just performances, but informal rehearsals and cast headshots – anything that helps document and promote a show. I’ve always enjoyed theatrical photography – it’s my past, present and future.

What was your biggest job?

A couple of highlights come to mind. Photographing a dress rehearsal of ‘Yes Minister’ at The Gielgud Theatre and a big stage school production at The O2.

A stage school production at the O2 Indigo

Do you work in any other industries or is it just primarily theatre photography?

Whilst theatrical photography is a significant part of my work, I also cover anything that might fall under the reportage banner – so public events, family functions, corporate work and journalism. Anything that involves documenting events. The world is a stage after all.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into theatre photography?

Join a local theatre group and get to know the art and industry from the inside. I’ve done lots of backstage work for local groups and that’s helped me understand what goes into a production. It’s always important to understand your client and their needs.

Finally, what is your favourite thing about doing theatre photography?

Getting to see some great shows and performances, often beautifully lit.