blog by

rob kircher

Friday, February 1, 2008

Shooting in the Theater… No not like John Wilkes Booth

I think it was Ansell Adams who, when asked once by a student the settings he used to take a particular landscape, replied… “The right ones.” Of course he was correct but this answer was not as helpful as the student wanted.

Well often times we are asked this very question and the answer really is “the right ones.” But settings alone do not make the photograph. Each shooting environment presents its own set challenges which go way beyond the setting used. So I thought I’d start a series of post that describe how I handled certain shooting conditions. As I learn and refine new techniques I’ll post them here along with some photos.

Remember while reading these posts that there are many ways to skin a cat so my methods certainly are not he be all to end all. Also remember that much of this will be written as I’m learning and discovering so certainly don’t think of me as an all knowing authority.

To organize these posts I’ll add labels to each new post so you can then filter by label and read only the post dealing with condition of interest. To filter the post simple click on the label listed to the right or click on the label at the bottom of any post.

So let’s get started.

As the title of this post suggests I thought I’d start this series discussing a little bit about Theater photography. Terry and I have been shooting theater at Visitation for 5 years now. We do it for the love of the craft, support of the program, and of course because we get great photos of the kids as they perform in the shows.

In that time I’ve learned three basic things that aren’t directly related to the physical camera settings.

1) Know the show!!! To get the best shots you have to be able to predict the timing of those shots. Knowing the show will help you see scene evolve and help you predict the action in time to shoot it. There’s nothing worse than missing that all important kiss because you just didn’t know it was coming. Also remember that just knowing the show may not be enough. Just because you’ve seen different production of the same show doesn’t mean that this production will be blocked and/or acted the same way. To resolve this issue make sure you hit a rehearsal or two of the production you are planning to shoot.

2) Mind the audience. Camera’s make noise and if you were sitting in an audience watching a show you sure wouldn’t want to hear kerchunk every few minutes from around the theater. By far best solution to this problem is to shoot when the audience isn’t present; during dress rehearsals. Besides not disturbing the audience, there are huge advantages to shooting during dress and well discuss them in a later entry.

3) A theater is DARK; or is it? Certainly from the seats a theater is dark but you’re not photographing the audience now are you.
You are shooting the action on the stage which low and behold is lit, many times very well lit. Problem is depending on your proximity to the stage your camera doesn’t always understand this so you need to keep it in mind throughout your shoot. You need to expose for the light on the stage not the ambient light around you. This really means that it’s equally as important to know the lighting design as it is to know the show itself. How best to learn lighting design? Go to the rehearsals!!! Noticing a theme here?

The real lesson here is, rehearsals are you best friend. You’ll do yourself a big favor if you forget about shooting the actual performance and shoot during dress. Use the actual performance to get those last few shots that you missed during dress.


  1. Great shots. I love theater pix. Great advice on taking shots during dress rehearsal. If only more overly enthusiastic parents with the point and shoots would do the same!

  2. As you will see in my next post, if I ever complete it, I give full credit to Terry for shooting at dress rehearsals. It was her insight that initiated the rehearsal sessions and as the official photographer she could get away with it. David wouldn't be too happy with all the other parents invading his rehearsals to shoot their photos. ;-)

  3. They are great shots. I liked the comment about 'overly enthusastic parents'.

    Luckily I don't know any of those.