I have been associated with a local community-theater for a number of years, and I have fallen into being their “house photographer”. This is an interesting gig, in no small part because I get to see the shows that they put on. It has also given me plenty of trial-and-error opportunities to work on “performing-arts” photography technique as well as formal portraiture in the form of lobby-board headshots for the actors. I do all this as a volunteer for the free experience and free show.
One of the challenges here is that the marketing people always want publicity photos as early as possible to push the show. This is especially important for print media like posters and newspapers and Sunday-supplements, which all have long lead-times. The problem is that the bulk of the production, especially the photogenic stuff like costumes, sets and lighting are all geared to be ready by Opening Night, which means that they are not ready a week or two ahead of time when the marketing folks want their pictures. Even for rough out-of-costume “in-rehearsal” sessions it is often necessary to shoot around crowds of people milling around, piles of trash, scaffolding and some dude painting the set in the background. I usually go back to shoot the final dress-rehearsal of a production, largely for the theater’s “documentation” and the benefit of the cast, but this is too late for the papers. Since there is always time pressure, there is also a distinct limit to how much processing I can afford to do on these too.
In doing this it is necessary to recognize that unlike many commissions where the photography is the whole point of everyone being there; in the middle of a manic theater rehearsal the photographer is one of the least important participants and needs to yield to the demands of the director, stage manager and technical director. One of the ways that we deal with all of this is to set up off-stage tableaus of a few of the actors as they can get free from the rehearsal itself. The shot above is of the characters “Daddy Warbucks”, “Grace” and one of the two “Annie’s” in the production. Only “Warbucks” was in anything close to a costume and this had to be done in a “practice room” that was itself full of stage flotsam. I used two speedlights into small reflecting-umbrellas on either side of the camera to light this, with a third flash throwing a blue wash on the background. The flashes were fired with an inexpensive RF-trigger called a “Cactus V4”. This was shot with a Canon 5DmkIII and Canon EF85mm f1.2L lens (a magnificent lens, if horribly expensive). One of the points at this stage is to get a narrow angle-of-view to stay tight on the people and de-emphasize the lack of set. This will probably end up in the local newspaper in addition to the theater’s web-site. In the final rehearsal I often use wider focal-lengths to capture more of the set and lighting effects and to gain a better flavor for the overall production..