To tell a complete story without words is the goal of many photographers. For live music performances, coordinating color, sets, larger than life movement and unpredictable actions takes practice, time, patience and preparation. When shooting musical theater, same rings true, however, you will have the comfort of predictability because every single action, movement, emotion and set change is coordinated and absolute. Know the basics and prepare yourself for your story in pictures — theater addition.
First, know the rules — what are the performance/venue regulations and how much access do you have? Ask management if you have some freedom to move around when photographing the performance. If pictures are prohibited during the performance, ask the director if you can attend a dress rehearsal to capture the shots you need. He may be willing to accept if you are able to share photos with the cast and crew.
Take in a Show Sans Camera
Experience the live performance before bringing in a camera to shoot. Evaluate the space. If you can go to a few rehearsals, take notes to see where the actors travel across the stage during different scenes and evaluate what big moments you’d like to highlight. The staging won’t change from night to night so you can get a solid lock on the shots you want.
Find performances that are not as booked up so you have a little more room to work in. If they have Monday evening performances, that’s the ticket. Telecharge.com can connect you with seats, hotels and dining in New York City, Boston or Philly if whether local or if traveling for your big shoot.
Utilize YouTube if you aren’t able to attend a show before your shoot so you know when the big scenes are.
Are memory cards formatted and in camera? Check. Clean lens? Check. Shoot mode, ISO, shutter speed and aperture set? Indeed it is. Be prepared when shooting musical theater so you aren’t fumbling for another lens in the dark.
Make an outline, a contingency plan, so you meet your goals. Follow your guidelines and walk away with THE shot.
JPG magazine, where even amateur photographers can upload photos, share stories and promote others, has some quick and easy quality tips for artists photographing live performances.
- Get close
- Stand to the side, not in the middle
- No flash
- Set camera to manual white balance (you don’t want auto setting overcorrecting due to the sudden color changes of stage lighting)
- Manually focus
- Capturing movement is OK; it can add life the the picture
- Use shutter priority mode
- Shoot away and take all the pictures you can
- Minimum ISO should be 800
- Maximum apeture – f 2.8
Tell the Story
The ultimate goal when photographing live stage performances is to tell a story without words. Include actions shots and stills, far and near, in order to capture the full scope and intimate moments of the production. Don’t shoot with a loud, clickity camera unless there is a loud musical number happening.
Don’t forget to get a shot of the full cast at the end of the show and ask to photograph stage hands backstage (they are part of the story).