Category Archives: Theatrical

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.

The future of live entertainment

Stage photography is a significant part of my work, so the Cv-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on my bookings.

Empty stage

At the beginning of March 2020 I was looking forward to a healthy number of engagements. Yet just four weeks later my diary was bare.

Music festivals and theatrical productions have been abandoned, with 2020 becoming a fallow year for the performing arts.  However, most live music events and theatre companies expect to return in the new year.

This, I fear, may be overly optimistic. And I am not alone.

Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger, along with Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis, have both warned that their festivals may not return until 2022. 

Live stage events take months to organise and no-one is going to start a project that might not be allowed to go ahead.

Imagine you’ve been rehearsing a play for two months and at the dress rehearsal someone calls in to say they’re showing symptoms. That could mean the whole cast having to self isolate and the production being cancelled at the last minute. All the money invested in the production would be lost. Ticket money would have to be refunded. No-one is going to take that chance.

One of the main characteristics of live entertainment is that it is a very social experience – both for the performers and audience. By its very nature it involves large numbers of people coming together to enjoy an experience with one another – the antipathy of social distancing. Therefore my calculation is that as long as we have to keep our distance, there is little prospect of live entertainment being viable.

I’m therefore currently working with the expectation that it will be Autumn 2021 before live theatre and music will return in any meaningful way. This can only happen when social distancing is relaxed, when the threat of Covid-19 has abated, most probably following widespread vaccination.

Whilst no two pandemics should be directly compared, Spanish Flu took two years to play out, and I suspect the same may be true of Cv-19.

The music festivals I work with privately admit that that their plans for 2021 may have to be abandoned.  Local theatre companies meanwhile have suspended operations for the foreseeable future. Some are hoping to stage productions in 2021 but have yet to announce plans to hold auditions. Whilst there is optimism for next year, there is an acceptance that it may be some time before live entertainment returns to the stage.

Updated 16/10/20 to add useful links below:

Face masks and social distancing could be in place until next summer, Oxford vaccine professor warns (Evening Standard 14/10/20)

Glastonbury may not return until 2022 as Michael Eavis admits holding festival next year is ‘wishful thinking’ (Metro 4/8/20)

No live gigs or festivals until 2022, Lollapalooza boss predicts: ‘The next six months may be most painful’ (Metro 17/7/20)

Six Days : Three Stage Plays

I recently had a high concentration of stage plays to photograph in a single week. I typically photograph around 15-20 productions a year, plus promotional work, but recently had to shoot three productions for three companies in the space of six days, at theatres in Hertford and Potters Bar.

Nell Gwynn, performed by Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society at Hertford Theatre
Our Man In Havana, presented by The Company Of Players at The Little Theatre, Bengeo
Chess, performed by Potters Bar Theatre Company at Wyllyotts Theatre

Theatrical Promotion

I frequently work with Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society, covering both production photos and promotional work.

Later this year The Society will be staging a production of When We Are Married by J.B.Priestley, for which I was asked to produce a period photograph of the main characters. This was to be a family photo similar in style to those used by other production companies to promote the play – a shot of the six main characters posing for the camera.

We did the shoot at The Society’s headquarters where we found a suitable backdrop to pose the actors in costume. We shot a number of poses but chose the final shot after experimenting with various expressions and positionings.

As this was a period photo we chose not to have the subjects smiling. This was the style of the day because exposures were long and holding a smile for that period of time was not feasible – which is why everyone in the 19 century looks unhappy!

As a final touch I then added a sepia effect to the image along with a vignette.

The photo appears on promotional materials such as posters, social media and in the printed programme for the production.

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

One of my oldest clients is Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society and every year I’m delighted to be asked to photograph their youth group’s annual production at Hertford Theatre.

This year’s production was The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe and featured a cast of around 40, together with a supporting adult crew of technicians, make-up artists, chaperones and front of house staff.

Shooting takes place during the final dress rehearsal, which typically runs in real time, stopping only for serious technical issues.

The photographs are taken from the auditorium – anywhere from the back of the raked seating right up to the front of the stage.

As with all theatrical productions I never use flash. Stage lighting is more than adequate and a lot of work goes in to putting together a lighting plot that adds visual drama to the production.

Susan, Aslan and Lucy
Tumnus and Lucy

Continue reading The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

Theatrical Photography: Page One

There are some basic guidelines when approaching theatrical photography.

Photography of Ware Operatic Society's production of Titanic

Firstly – and I can’t emphasis this enough – do not use flash. Not only is it distracting to the performers, but it completely negates all the hard work that goes in to lighting a production. One of the key elements of any production is the lighting design, adding drama and effect, concentrating the audiences view and creating mood. Using a flashgun completely obliterates this – quite literally in a flash. Stage lighting is typically adequate enough for any respectable SLR. I often choose to shoot in manual mode and open up the lens aperture, whilst selecting an appropriate ISO speed for the lighting conditions. Otherwise you might want to use Shutter Priority and a speed setting (ISO) that gives you a shutter speed roughly equivalent to the focal length of the lens. On my Nikon 600 you can also set the ISO to auto in shutter or aperture modes.

Secondly, stay out of the way. A lot of work goes in to theatrical productions and the performers and backstage crew need to focus on their roles. Any distraction from a photographer should be kept to a minumum. Wear dark clothing so that you can blend as much in to the background.

If possible, photograph a dress rehearsal – so you won’t distract any audience and you will be able to cover more shooting angles.

Finally, shoot both wide and close up. Show the characters in relation to the set and each other.

It’s Panto Time

This year’s pantomime at Hertford Theatre was Sleeping Beauty, presented by Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society.

I’m no particular fan of pantomime as entertainment but as photographic material it’s marvellous! Lots of bright colours, animated characters, comedy expressions and plenty of light!

Photo of policeman and dame

I do a lot of work for HDOS and as well as photographing the shows I also provide displays of images during the run so that cast, crew and support staff can order prints and photo CDs of the production. These can either be collected later from The Society’s HQ or delivered to the customer’s home.

More photos of the production can be found on Facebook – just click on the link below.

Sleeping Beauty Facebook Gallery

Drama Promo Shoot

A few weeks ago I took some promotional shots for a local theatre company who were promoting their latest production Agatha Christie’s The Hollow.

The brief included a series of posed shots from the play featuring the performers in costume with props. The photos were then used in promotional materials including posters and the programme for the production.

The shots were taken in a rehearsal room at the company’s headquarters using my mobile studio.

Interestingly, the crab shown in the last image was actually a flat printed cardboard cutout, but through the magic of photography appears very real and three dimensional.

In addition to the posed shots I was also asked to provide some informal black and white images of the play in rehearsal. Other theatre companies have also asked for these in the past and I’m more than happy to provide these. The rehearsal shots were taken handheld using ambient lighting.

Along with the posed shots these images also appeared in the programme.

If you’d like to know more about the photographic services I offer to theatres and drama companies please click the link below.

Theatrical Photography

Blithe Spirit

As the Summer draws to a close many theatre companies are starting a new season. In Hertford, The Company Of Players opened their new season this week with a production of Blithe Spirit, directed by Paul Morton.

The Company is celebrating it’s 50th year and the opening night was attended by Sir Ian McKellen, who is president of the Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain, of which The Company is a member.

I do a lot of work for CoPs, who perform in a small 63 seat theatre close to Hertford town centre. The building was originally a school house and was purchased by The Company in the sixties. The size of the theatre means that you work very close to the stage and can get some excellent angles and close-ups that would be hard to achieve in a full sized auditorium. The downside for the performers of course is that they’re more than usually aware of the photographer in their midst.

Photo Gallery: Blithe Spirit
(from The Company Of Players website – opens in a new window)

Arabian Nights

Another theatrical assignment at Hertford Theatre! Last night I photographer the dress rehearsal of Arabian Nights, presented by the young wing of Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society.

This is an annual presentation by the group, known as the Young Idea, and gives the performers valuable experience working on a professional theatre and in front of a paying public. The production is staged for four nights, plus a matinee on Saturday.

As well as photographing the production for HDOS I also provide prints and photo CDs for cast, crew and proud parents.