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Theatre photography

Updated: 24 hours ago

Somewhen in December 2021, I was doom scrolling through my Facebook when I saw a post, "Help" it said. A local theatre group had been let down by their photographer at very short notice. So I replied "Me", within a few minutes Jack contacted me. So I went to Tenbury High School to meet up. I think its called happenstance! Jack and I immediately got on well together. I think that this first shoot, was for Matilda.

Since then I have photographed 38 session for Ludwig Theatre Arts, at a conservative average of 400 photos per shoot, thats 15,200 photos! About a quarter of these are headshots and the remainder are performance shots, either as dress rehearsal or the live production.

Mostly I use two lights and a reflector. Although some of the studio areas have a mirrored wall, which makes for a single light and a reflector.

This is backstage at the Courtyard in Hereford. This is my go-to setup as it yields very relaible results and a really beautiful headshots, or indeed, portraits.

These sessions take place very commonly during the dress rehearsal. There is a very short window of opportunity between the first and second half to do the headshots. It has to run perfectly. One of the most important peices of gear is sticky tape. I get someone to sit for me, so that I can set up the balance between the two lights and the reflector. Where the Actor then stands is critical. Too close to the backdrop and its not bokeded out enough, too close to either of the lights and the scene is unbalance. The answer is a little cross of sticky tape on the floor. There is a little bit of variation because there is a huge difference in the various heights of the actors. This is subtle, but I notice it!

This clip is of the setup in the Gallery at the Courtyard, the little yellow tape cross is visible on the floor.

Once the lights are balanced and everything is ready, all hell breaks loose. Each actor is brought over to me by the chaperone. I get them centered on the cross, pose them and take the shot. I then confirm with the actor that this is ok. Sometimes the flashes don't fire. Sometimes there is hair or clothing out of place, occasionally they look grumpy! I do a square-on from the front shot, then one at 45degrees, left and right. This is important, if the actor has not worked out which is their favorite side. Most people have a favored side to be photographed from!

Some of the actors I have photographed several times, or this may be their first time, they usually have a bit, occasionally a lot of anxiety. I demonstrate how I want them to stand by acting out the pose, explain briefly how to hold their face, hands and smile, then get the shot. The process that has evolved over these three years, is very successful. I have been teaching TaeKwonDo since 2016, so I am very used to getting people to stand in a certain way. Stances in TaeKwonDo are critical, posing for photography is critical. Young people who have never modeled often struggle with a particular pose, my TaeKwonDo training is perfect for demonstrating the correct position.

The hard part of all this is the schedule. The dress rehearsal is usually the evening before opening night. Ludwig Theatre Arts, the production company need the images for the social media advertsing the following morning, ready for the opening night.

I get home, start the computer, put the kettle on. I have learnt this the hard way. I have very strict storage and backup rules. I put the RAW files into a folder marked LTA, then the name and date of the shoot. There is also a folder for the Jpegs etc.

By now the kettle has boiled and I get a cup of hot chocolate and set to! Each individual photo is opened in the RAW processor, I use Nikons NX Studio, It was free and works extremely well with my cameras, its also quite fast. Each photo is examined for colour balance, the stage shots often need this adjusting. As long as I have set up the "studio" carefully, there is no cropping, no colour adjustment, occasionally I have set it up a bit dark, so I have to lighten each shot. Each adjustment takes time. That can be as much as a minute, which can make me a bit grumpy. However, mostly there are only a few shots that need any adjustment. The sheer volume fo photos often means that this can take two or more hours. Once every photo has been examined, culled if necessary, adjusted, cropped and all the other miriad of things then might need to be done, I have a seperate folder, full of Jpegs. These are then further processed and downsized into another folder. I have a very large storage drive! If it all goes well, I can send the finished photos over to Jack by midnight. The latest has been 2am (I didn't get home until 11pm) I send them via email and a google photos file. They are then ready for distribution around Facebook, Instagram and the printed leaflets at the theatre. I have a bit of a lie-in in the morning.

I feel very pleased with myself when all this is completed. Whilst I retain the legal copyright of each image, the images belong to LTA, as they are paying me for the service. I am often asked by parents of the actors, if they can have a photo of their guy on stage. The images belong to LTA!

Also, almost all of the actors are under 16yrs, so I would have to have a release form for each guy.

This last shot is Jack, who is an extremely talented producer. He has been treading the boards for most of his life and has aquired and extraordinary range of skills which he brings to every production that he does. When I photographed "Les Mis" at the Courtyard in Hereford in January 2024, it actually brought tears to me.

Over the three years that I have been photographing the LTA productions I have witnessed the most wonderful progression and development of the actors. I see their confidence grow and that is magical!

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