Category Archives: Theatrical

Candlelit Promo

Earlier in the week I took a promotional shot for a production of Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer. The brief from the director was for a shot of the characters lit only by candlelight.

The shot was taken in a rehearsal room and the grouping composed with the lights on. Selected members of the cast were then given large tealights to hold and the lights turned out. We then made adjustments to the positioning of the candles whilst the cast remained otherwise perfectly still. This allowed us to get the best lighting angles.

The resulting shot was exposed at F9 for ¼sec at ASA1600 with a focal length of 58mm. A smaller aperture was needed for the depth of field of about a metre, although the larger image shows that the nearest subject is a little out of focus.

The only retouching was applied to the character in the top left of the picture where the portion of face that was in shadow was lightened a little.

Fawlty Towers

It’s been a busy month for theatrical photography. Earlier in the week I photographed three episodes of Fawlty Towers at Hertford Theatre. The three acts features The Hotel Inspector, The Germans and The Kipper and The Corpse.

Many productions have their own special challenges and this was no exception. The first and obvious challenge is that the action comes thick and fast. This is partly offset by the fact that the plotlines are well known, but the principal characters are quite animated, so there’s lots of movement (with the exception of The Major, Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby of course). So, relatively fast shutter speeds are the order of the day, and this means wide apertures and/or high ISOs. Given that the lighting was in general very good, I took a risk and chose ISO400 and shot in Aperture Priority. This typically gave me speeds of around 160th or 250th. I might have chosen ISO800 or even 1600 but I wanted to minimise noise, albeit at the risk of a few blurry photos!

The second challenge was the set. The action of Fawlty Towers takes place in a number of locations, including the lobby, dining room, bar and bedrooms. In this production, all of these locations were incorporated into a single set, using zones for each room.

Photo of the set for Fawlty Towers at Hertford Theatre

The centre of the stage represented the lobby, whilst the bar and dining room were set to the left and right, with view of the kitchen beyond the dining room. Cleverly, the bedrooms were quite literally on the first floor. All of this made for some interesting sightlines, not to mention giving the lighting technicians a few challenges.

I shot the bedroom scenes from the top of the raked seating at the back of the auditorium using a 55-200mm lens (APS crop-factor of 1.5 and a 35mm equivalent of 300mm). This gave me an adequate view of the staging, which is probably more than could be said for the audience in the front row.

Some of the bar and dining room scenes presented issues due to the restricted space and lighting at the very edge of the stage, but I was able to capture some perfectly good groupings nonetheless..

There was also a short scene set in the kitchen, where only the characters heads are visible. This again, was shot from halfway up the raked seating, allowing views over the top of the saloon doors. Unfortunately I didn’t get an ideal view as I should probably have been a little further up.

I find that setting the colour balance to tungsten often works well for stage lighting. The lighting angles during this scene created some quite strong shadows so I used Photoshop to raise the levels a little. The green cast represents the way the scene was lit.

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The Killing Of Sister George

Yesterday evening I photographed a production of The Killing Of Sister George by Frank Marcus, presented by The Company Of Players at The Little Theatre in Bengeo.

Intimate theatres like this allow you to get much closer to the action, although fixed seating can present an obstacle and limit your angles. Luckily, The Little Theatre has removable seating, so there’s plently of flexibility. You can shoot from the back of the small auditorium or practically get on stage with the performers!

Theatrical Photography: The Producers

S7AAPXPS47UX Yesterday I photographed a production of The Producers, presented by Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society. This was the final dress rehearsal before the opening night and despite the technical challenges, the cast and crew didn’t let the last minute hitches distract from what is clearly going to be an excellent show.

From a photographic point of view there were lots of excellent shots to be had, with lots of movement and physical comedy.

The show was well lit, which is always a help when there’s lots of movement, especially during the dance numbers.

There were also lots of opportunities for close-ups and facial expressions.

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Pantomime Publicity

I recently took some publicity shots for a forthcoming pantomime, Robin Hood.

The photos featured the main principles and were taken outside the theatre company’s headquarters in front of a portable white background. The shoot featured both individual and group shots, including some posed action shots. I used one of the group shots to blend in a woodland background, reflecting the setting of the pantomime.

I already had a background that fitted the scene and taken from a similar angle, although the lighting was a little harder to match, both in terms of the direction and quality of light. However, I was quite pleased with the effect, despite the fact that many people would recognise that the image had been shopped.

Nunsense 2: The Second Coming

Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society are staging a production of Nunsense 2 at their studio theatre this week.

An interesting shoot due to the confined space and highly contrasting levels of light. For many of the scenes I chose manual exposure mode and I was quite pleased with the results.

Year Of The Rat

A shot here from Year Of The Rat, presented by The Company Of Players at The Little Theatre in Hertford.

The production features Jim Markey playing George Orwell (left) accompanied by various characters from Animal Farm, played by Andy Kirtley (right).

Tomb With A View

My second job at Hertford Theatre this month, photographing Hertford Dramatic & Operatic Society‘s production of Tomb With a View by Norman Robbins.

The action takes place in the library of the family home, the gothic Monument House, represented by a box set.

The first and last acts are set during the evening, with the lighting reflecting the colour temperature and characteristics of artificial light. The second act is set during the day, and is both brighter and cooler.

There’s plenty in this production to keep the photographer busy, with eccentric characters and costumes and plenty of drama.

Godfrey Marriott as Marcus Tomb and Keith Morbey as family solicitor Hamilton Penworthy
Davina Foster plays Freda Mountjoy
Jim Markey as Perry, listens in on a conversation between family solicitor Hamilton Penworthy and nurse Anne Franklin
The late Septimus Tomb’s will is not to everyone’s liking

Continue reading Tomb With A View

Theatrical Lighting

Theatrical lighting can present the photographer with huge challenges. A dramatic lighting plot can typically feature strong colours and highly contrasting areas of localised light. Sometimes the action will take place in areas of subdued lighting or feature highly animated characters. All of these conspire against the camera’s metering system to the point where the photographer has to make decisions that are outside the cameras designed remit.

Camera metering systems are designed to deal with “average” scenes. These are typically situations where the average of colour and light amount to a mid grey. The job of a lighting designer on the other hand is to produce a spectacle that is far from average. The human eye has an enormous capacity to deal with differing levels of light and white balance within a scene, much more than most cameras. The challenge to the photographer is to make decisions about exposure and white balance that best reflects what the eye sees on the stage.

Faced with this challenge, the theatrical photographer has a couple of options. The first is to allow the camera to make decisions about exposure and white balance. This can work in some situations, but not others. The alternative is to take control and override the camera’s automatic settings and choose the aperture and shutter speed yourself.

Allowing the camera to make all the decisions can work in some circumstances where lighting is less dramatic. However, if you’re faced with bright and dark areas on the stage you may need to change metering modes.

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Ware Operatic Society stage a major production every year at the Hertford Theatre. This year’s presentation is Rogers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, directed by John Hedben.

The society’s productions are always of a high calibre, with excellent performances from talented singers, as well as colourful sets and lighting – a gift to the theatrical photographer!

Fiona Wilkie and Craig Berry as Julie Jordan and Billy Bigelow
Mick Wilson and Izzy Bates as Jigger and Carrie
David Ronco plays God
Katy Bovaird and supporting cast

Continue reading Carousel