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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Telling a story at the theatre

If you're on assignment for either a magazine, or a commercial client, you can often tee it up so that you can photograph backstage, at dress rehearsals etc.

But when you're travelling by yourself, or with say a tour group, you won't usually get the same opportunity. So you have to photograph what everybody else sees.

The challenge then becomes to tell a complete story of the experience that goes beyond just a snap shot. As photographers we tend to concentrate on the main event - the performers on stage. But just photographing the pretty costumes and close-up portraits of the actors doesn't show what the experience is like as an audience member.

To do that you need to take the telephoto lens off and switch to the wide-angle. Because you won't be allowed to get up on stage you will need a way of fitting both the audience and the stage into the same frame and the wider the lens the easier this is to do.

One of the problems you encounter when you get both the stage and the audience in the same frame is the difference in light levels. The stage is hit by all sorts of lights, whereas the audience basically gets no direct lighting. It's all spill from the stage meaning that the first few rows are reasonably well lit, gradually fading to black the farther back you go.

By having both well-lit members of the audience, as well as darker areas behind them, you can give a feeling of intimacy and what it's like to sit in a darkened room and watch a performance so don't feel that you should only include the first few rows in your composition.

Keep an eye on your histogram to make sure that the stage isn't too bright too. Let your blacks fade to black rather than blow out the actors on stage. If you time these wide angle shot for quieter parts of the performance (helps if you have a programme of events) then you can get back to your long lens close-ups when the action is in full swing.

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