Category Archives: Features

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.

Photographing The Work of Alan Davie

Hertford Arts Hub have recently engaged me to shoot a number of events to promote their organisation and activities, including exhibitions, activities and talks, much of it about the artist Alan Davie, who lived in Hertford during his latter years.

Exhibition of Alan Davie’s work

I was also asked to photograph some of his artworks for use in leaflets and other printed matter. These paintings were on display at a temporary exhibition in the town.

Unfortunately, lighting conditions were far from ideal as can be seen from the picture above. It was clear that I was going to have to chose an overcast day to shoot the works, although even then the lighting was not going to the balanced (I chose not to use my own lighting as the client had limited funding).

I shot the photos using a tripod with an aperture setting of f8 and focal length of 50mm. The ISO was set to 100.

Post processing consisted of some dodging to compensate for any uneven lighting along with levels adjustments.

Most of the paintings were unframed. Only a couple were behind glass – one with a matt finish and the other with conventional glass. I shot all the pictures with a polarising filter.

Will I Get All The Photos You Take?

Delivering only the best images from a shoot is standard practice.

Photographers take a wide range of shots on any assignment to deliver the best results. However, this doesn’t mean that the client will see all of those shots. Typically the photographer will select the best compositions for editing and final submission. Shots that are discarded can include those there individuals may be blinking or momentarily not their best, images where the lighting was poor, blurred and shaky photos (yes, it happens even to the pro) and any images that do not meet the photographers high standards.

Festival Round-up 2013

I recently uploaded a video of images taken during this year’s festival season. It’s a selection of shots from events such as the Stortford Music Festival, Wilkestock, Woodyfest, Bash In The Barn, the Musical Mystery Tour and Folkstock – 12 days of shooting in all.

The video is set to a soundtrack of Bound To Nowhere by My Little Empire, who are from Borehamwood and regular performers at Wilkestock.

Supple Seniors

All sorts of businesses can benefit from using photographic material to promote their offering and I particularly enjoy working with small local businesses and the self-employed. One such individual who contacted me recently was fitness instructor Fiona Walsh, who runs a fitness class for senior citizens in a local church hall. Fiona was looking for material to use on her website and in printed material.

I visited her class in Hertford Heath Church Hall where I took both posed groups shots and informal photos of the class in session. I spent an hour with the class whilst Fiona went through her usual routine, with me quietly on the sidelines capturing the various exercises she does with the class, as well as the one-to-one help she provides.

About a week after the session a CD of finished images was delivered. Fiona commented: “The photos you took are super.  They are going to be very useful for marketing my classes.  Thanks very much!”

The Wooshdag

Frankie The Gambler have recently released a new CD album featuring a photo I took of the band last year at the Wilkestock music festival.

Frankie The Gambler

The album includes 11 tracks by the band on a faux vinyl CD, together with sleeve notes and a pull out partchment map of The Parish of Wabblemouth.

More information about this shoot here.

Image Size, File Size and Resolution. Confused?

It can be very confusing trying to understand the significance of image size, resolution and file size, and how they relate to each other. Throw in pixel densities such as DPI and PPI as well and you could be forgiven if your head starts spinning.

It helps to start with the basic building block of any digital image – the pixel.

A pixel is a dot. It’s a single point of light that has two main properties – colour and brightness. You’ll find these pixels everywhere – on computer monitors, TVs and mobile phones, for example. When you combine these pixels in to rows and columns you can form a picture. These rows and columns of pixels can also be arranged on an image sensor in a camera to capture images. If you have an arrangement of 3000 columns and 2000 rows of pixels, you can form an image 3000×2000 pixels. We could refer to this as the image size or image dimensions. We could also describe it as a 6 megapixel image (3,000 x 2,000 = 6,000,000). This is what we call image resolution. You could also think of it as quality. A higher resolution image has more pixels, producing a higher quality image. More pixels means more picture information.

As well as image resolution, you might also come across screen resolution and print resolution. These refer to the density of display pixels on a screen or printed matter. Typically a computer display will have a pixel density of 90-100 pixels per inch (PPI). Printers on the other hand will pack 300 pixels in to an inch – and will refer to them as “dots” not “pixels” – so you will hear about print resolutions of 300DPI or 600DPI (higher and lower values may also be used). Obviously, the tighter the dots or pixels are packed together, the higher the image quality. If we display our 6 megapixel image on a monitor with a pixel density of 100 PPI, it will have a displayed size of 30  x 20 inches. However, if we print the same image on a 300DPI printer, it’ll only be 10 x 6.6 inches.

Continue reading Image Size, File Size and Resolution. Confused?

Dial M For Manual

I learned the basics of photography as a teenager, when I bought my first proper camera – a Zenith E. This was a solid and popular no-nonsense 35mm SLR from Russia. There are no fancy settings or buttons on the Zenith, just a light meter, a dial for selecting the shutter speed and a ring on the lens to select aperture. In the viewfinder was a little needle that indicated if there was too much or too little light for the current exposure settings.  The idea was to adjust either the shutter speed or aperture to achieve the correct exposure. It was an excellent beginners’ camera that provided the perfect platform for understanding exposure and the relationship between aperture and shutter speed.

Despite the fact the modern cameras come with a wealth of automatic settings and modes, I still often prefer to shoot in manual, allowing me to select not only the aperture and shutter speeds but also the ISO (light sensitivity) and white balance. This means that I can choose the best configuration for the particular scene that I’m shooting, rather than letting the camera make a decision based on a programmed formula.

Cameras of course can’t see. They can only make judgements based on the light entering the camera through the lens. They have no idea if the image is a portrait, a sports action shot or a landscape. Certainly they can feature modes that give some indication to the camera’s software of the type of shot being taken, but they’re still generic conditions and therefore predetermined settings. They still don’t take full account of the particular scene or the specific requirements of the photographer.

By way of an example, the image above was taken at an aperture of f2.8 to give a shallow depth of field, with a shutter speed of 1/50th sec at ISO200. The light source was a fluorescent tube. If the camera had been set to automatic it would have chosen a smaller aperture and underexposed the image due to the brightness of the white background. As well as manually controlling the exposure I also set the focus point myself, rather than letting the camera’s autofocus system decide which part of the image should be sharpest. This allowed me to guide the viewers eye to the mode dial on the subject camera.

If you’re interested in finding out more about SLR photography, there’s a good series of starter guides on the Digital SLR Photography website.

The Library

This is a selection of photography books that I’ve accumulated over time. I use them mostly for browsing or reference, although I have read the odd one or two cover-to-cover. I’d recommend any one of them to anyone interested in photography.

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Photoshop CS6: The Missing Manual  Published by O’Reilly, The Missing Manuals series is a highly regarded collection covering a wide variety of software products (and increasingly hardware and wider technical issues and practices, offering a smarter alternative to The Dummies… Guides). This 800 page volume covers everything from The Basics to advanced photoediting and image creation for the web. It’s a great reference work that’s well laid out and simple to understand.

PhotoIdeaIndex:Things  I picked this up at a secondhand bookshop in Letchworth. It’s a collection of mostly abstract images of everyday scenes. It’s a great book for ideas and how to train the eye to see things in a different way. Each chapter covers a different theme, concept or approach to photographing objects or landscapes.

50 Photo Icons  This book takes a historical look at the background to 50 iconic images, starting with Niépce’s 1827 View From The Study Window, the earliest known surviving photograph. The weighty tome goes on to discuss a further 49 images up to the September 11th attack on The Twin Towers. This is a book about images and their context, and how they relate to the period they were taken.

The New Manual of Photography  Just one of 30 books by award-winning photographer John Hedgecoe, this book covers every aspect of photography, from the construction of digital cameras, lenses, filters, exposure, composition, lighting and retouching. It’s an excellent book for both beginners and experienced photographers.

Lomo Effect

A effect commonly used in the digital darkroom is that of lomography. This is an effect that emulates the results produced by the Russian Lomo camera, which typically gives saturated cross-processed images with a vignette. Other features can include light leaks and lens flare.

DSC_3489_lomoishDSC_3489

You can see the original photo by hovering your mouse over the image above.

You’ll often find Lomo filters in photo editing software, such as Picasa. It is also the basis of many Instagram images. The look is often thought of as retro.

The find our more about Lomography visit www.1stwebdesigner.com/inspiration/what-is-lomography.