Photography in the theatre

27th February 2012
It's been busy ... and so I haven't been posting recently. There will shortly be some blog posts about trips to the Lake District and Scotland.

I very much enjoyed photographing the Lammas pantomime this month, and those photos are now up, albeit behind a password - but I may give you the password if you contact me and ask nicely ;0)

Shooting in a theatre is not easy. The first rule is NO FLASH, otherwise the lighting director who has worked so hard on lighting the stage perfectly will justifiably become very cross. The next problem is that actors have an unfortunate habit of moving, which means you need a high shutter speed to stop them blurring. This means you need a high ISO (speed rating), which in turn can lead to digital noise. Fortunately modern high-end cameras have an extraordinary ability to shoot cleanly at high ISOs. I usually work at ISO 5000 with my Canon 5D Mk II, using a 70-200 f2.8 zoom from the back of the theatre, often at around f4.5. This helps keep the shutter speed up, as well as giving shallow depth of field, blurring the background nicely. I sometimes use a monopod, but I find a tripod just hinders me. If there is any noise because of the high ISO, it is easily removed in software.

The next problem is the need to capture the great expressions and gestures, body shapes etc. that you get during the performances. That means you need to know what is coming next. For the panto I shot two dress rehearsals and one performance, which gave me a good range of poses and expressions, and meant that by the performance I knew what was coming.

Finally, you have to shoot a lot of frames, because some will be blurred or less than perfect compositions (actors on a stage can suddenly move into messy arrangements, blink or hold something over their face - e.g. a truncheon!). I then had to edit the shots from the three stagings, choose the best, whittle them down and then process them (in Lightroom in my case). Phew! Great fun though.