Theatre is a special kind of photography. Not only is the subject matter special, but so is the location. You are usually in a small, dark room with limited movement and posing options. It’s important to think creatively about how you can get your subjects to open up and expose their true personalities.
In this post I’ll share a few tips for theatre and event photography.
1 – Get To Know The Spectacle
When it comes to covering a live show, there are a slew of restrictions. This is why you should do your homework before photographing a show. This way, you’ll be ready to capture the most memorable moments, such as a musician’s solo, a dance move, a specific scene from a play, or your child’s entrance on stage, from the best possible vantage point.
Attend the rehearsals if you can. When people are on stage, you can see how they move, which side of the stage they’re on most of the time, and what they do at what time. This is a great opportunity to experiment with different perspectives and get some candid shots from behind the scenes. In dress rehearsals, which are also known as dry runs, you’ll have the best chances to take pictures. There is no audience, so you can move around freely and experiment with camera settings and angles. The actors are dressed as they will be for the live performance.
2 – Set Your Camera
The audio volume from the loudspeakers was generally lower in theater plays than it is at music concerts, which often have deafening tones and rumbling bass notes. In some cases, actors had to deliver their lines using only their voices on an acoustically optimized stage with no microphones or loudspeakers. The audience’s ability to maintain pin-drop silence is critical in these situations. Photography in theaters is sometimes prohibited because of the deterrent effect of using an old-school mirror-thumping DLSR camera that “clacks” when it takes a picture. As a result, it’s always a good idea to get permission from the show’s organizers before filming. Instead of interfering with the actual performances, request a special pass to shoot the dress rehearsal.
Certain camera features and settings are enabled so that I can shoot as unobtrusively as possible. I’ve disabled the autofocus confirmation “beeps,” which aren’t very loud but can get people’s attention in a pitch-black hallway. In addition, I use the electronic shutter to make the camera completely silent while it’s in operation. If you’re shooting with a DSLR, newer models have silent shutter options that eliminate mirror and shutter movement. Be aware that a mirrorless camera’s shutter is a mechanical device that can still make a slight audible noise when being used for photography. If at all possible, make your camera completely silent, and if you don’t have access to one, see if you can borrow someone else’s. Maintaining a positive working relationship with the production organizers begins with abiding by the house rules.
3 – Anticipate – Know Where The Action Will Be
Take advantage of the fact that you’re familiar with the show. “The Decisive Moment,” coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneer of street photography, describes that one split second in time when a larger feeling is caught. Consider when and where those moments will occur in the show and be prepared. As soon as the “decisive moment” comes along, you want to be prepared with everything you need to capture it. Prepare and organize your limited shooting time by creating a shot list in advance.
Before the event, have everything dialed in and ready: exposure, camera settings, framing, etc. My shot list included this punch, so I was prepared when it arrived.
4 – Ask Around – “Phone a friend”
If only a photographer had been present, every department would have known about a great show photo opportunity. Look into it to see what it is! The cast, crew, and front-of-house staff can all share their thoughts on what they think are the show’s high points and what they believe are the most dramatic or impactful moments. Include their suggestions in your shot list and make adjustments to your strategy for where and when you want to be in the theater.
Consult with photographers, directors, and artists to find out where the best shots are being taken. Don’t forget that the technicians are always keeping tabs on the show, often from a different vantage point.
5 – Study The lighting
The lighting department should be the first point of contact among all others. To make the show look good, these guys have a lot of experience and are paid well. It makes sense to utilize all of their skills. It’s even more important if you’re filming a show that you’ve never seen. Low fog, haze, and smoke all have a significant impact on your photos’ lighting. These are merely the individuals who will be able to clarify this for you. In addition, Lampies are just as eager as any performer to show off their creation of impressive lighting states by pointing you in the direction of many great photogenic moments!
What makes this picture great is the way the light is used. Contrasting colors and backlit water droplets give it an intense visual presence.
6 – Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark
In theater photos, one of the most common mistakes I see is a faulty camera. Automatic exposure settings aim for the best balance of light and dark areas when taking photos. Most of the time on stage, however, there will be vast areas of darkness punctuated by a few bright, contrasting highlights. As a result, photos are often a blotchy, shadowy mess with unidentifiable white spots where the action is supposed to be. to be found. If you’re comfortable doing it, you can compensate for this by manually setting your exposure.
Instead, or if lighting conditions change too quickly for you to keep up manually (as they often do in fast action shows, concerts, or other circus-like events), use spot metering to properly expose your brightly lit subjects. Remember to have courage, even in the dark! Allow the hair on your blacks to fall out if you want to be totally black. It’s perfectly fine to lose your deep shadows in theater because it’s different from most other photography situations. You can also use a faster shutter speed and/or a lower ISO because of this, resulting in sharper, less noisy photos!
This photo would be a noisy shadowy mess with a bright spot if the camera tried to choose the correct exposure.
7 – Vary Your Position
It gets monotonous taking photos from the same location over and over again. Move around as much as you can during the show to capture images from various perspectives and locations. Getting to the balcony, orchestra pit, wings, or catwalks for a unique vantage point and a good shot is even better. You shouldn’t go overboard with the crowd shots, but a few that show the size of the venue and provide some context can be useful.
Take to the skies, the depths, or even the water to get a fresh look at the action.
8 – Shoot Wide, But Mostly Shoot Tight
Variate your photos’ focal length (“zoom”) in the same way you did in the previous tip. Avoid over-relying on the use of wide shots for setting up or when the entire stage is bustling with activity. People, especially in dramas and comedies, prefer tighter shots. You should take a variety of photos, but the closer and more detailed your shots are, the better. “If your pictures are not good enough you are not close enough,” famous war photographer Robert Capa once said. Showing off all of the hard work of the hair, makeup, and wardrobe departments will make them swoon!
Accompanists put in a lot of time and effort to perfecting their facial expressions.
9 – Emotion Is Everything
The ability to capture on-stage emotion is one of the biggest advantages of shooting tight. Too often, theaters are depicted in photographs as if they were stick figures on a set. As a photographer, it’s your job to capture the emotions that actors want the audience to feel through their pictures. If you’ve made your shot list, you’ll know exactly when the most important parts of the show will be, and you’ll be ready to get up close and personal to capture the magic. Don’t worry about what you’ll miss if you don’t. Instead, think about what you’ll gain. Consider what you want your photo’s subject to be, and then fill the frame with it.
On stage, body language and facial expressions, as well as the direction in which performers are looking, all communicate emotion.
10 – Look For Depth – Foreground, Midground, Background
The more depth your photo has, the better it will look, just like when you’re taking pictures outside of a theater. Theatre photography frequently consists of “flat” images devoid of depth or perspective. Try to have elements in the foreground, midground, and background, if at all possible. Even better are “leading lines” that entice the viewer to look deeper into the image and create the illusion of depth.
This two-dimensional photograph has a three-dimensional appearance because of the presence of foreground, midground, and background elements.
11 – Equipment
I purposely waited until the end to bring up this point because I believe it receives far too much attention. Photographers are constantly looking for ways to improve their images, but it’s rare that upgrading their equipment is what’s preventing them from achieving their goals. However, shooting in theaters is extremely difficult – possibly the most difficult – and having high-quality equipment can make a big difference. In order to capture as much light as possible, it is better to use a fast prime lens with a large aperture rather than a kit zoom lens. In low light, any camera is preferable to a cell phone. While some photographers prefer to use tripods or monopods when shooting in theaters, I don’t see the point and think they’re a hassle to deal with. Finally, remember to turn off your flash!
12 – Shoot Tons, Post Few
The best tip, in my opinion, is to shoot a lot and post sparingly. A wise man once told me, “If you want to be twice as good of a photographer overnight, post half as many photos.” This advice has stuck with me throughout my photography career. Nowadays, thanks to the prevalence of social media, people are compelled to post anything and everything they take a picture of online. Take care what you release! People quickly grow tired of seeing the same photos over and over again, so they stop posting anything but the best of the best. When was the last time you went through a 150+ photo gallery on Facebook and looked at each and every picture? Can’t decide between two images that depict the same subject? Toss a coin and see which side comes up heads. No matter which option you choose, it won’t make a difference.
I sincerely hope you learned something new that you can apply to your future filming of theater performances. It can be a lot of fun to shoot something that is so dramatic, colorful, and sometimes emotionally impactful all at the same time if you approach it with an open mind. If you know of any other useful tidbits, please share them in the comments section below. We’re all here, after all, to take pictures and improve our skills as photographers!