Concerts, theater productions and more

The only thing better than watching an amazing show live is having the chance to photograph it, its guts, its glory and all. If you think experiencing a live theater production as an audience member is thrilling and dramatic, you haven’t seen the half of it yet.

Stage productions aren’t always theater-based, though they’re a lot of fun to shoot – TED-style talks, industry presentations at conventions, and musical performances are all equally relevant. These live event photography tips apply to all of the above, and then some.

1. Arrive early (and wear dark clothes)

A step.

You, the live event photographer, are an appearance. Apparently someone hired you, and the photos were, in fact, submitted. Have you ever really been there, though? No one can remember.

Stage photographers should be dressed modestly and virtually all in black, like any other member of the backstage team. Even if you were lucky enough to be called in for a tech scout before the show, you should still arrive early, fed, and ready to shoot well before your actual call time. This gives you a valuable window of time to prepare for the evening.

Find an unobtrusive, unused corner of the venue to establish Camera City, a place to recharge your batteries, plug in your laptop, and store your camera bag and lens bag. With your gear ready, you’ll be able to get your work done throughout the night without worrying, fumbling, or being left without something vital at the wrong time.


2. Locate the best places in advance

An actor who plays.

An extremely important part of that pre-show due diligence: acquiring a workable lay of the land, especially if you’ve never set foot there before in your life.

After settling in, grab your coffee and take a few laps, front and back of the house, wherever you’re allowed to roam. Take a look at the lighting setup to start formulating the most effective plan of attack; if the lighting director is available, you can even show up and ask about their design for the show.

3. Stay low-key and distraction-free

A person taking a picture of the scene.

With a live event or stage production, there are two parties that must be avoided at all costs: the talent performing on stage and the audience who have probably already paid a lot of money to see them strut their stuff. . Your role is secondary to both; think about how the emotion of an undisturbed performance enhances the value of each shot.

If all the dancers or speakers are staring straight into the lens, your photos probably won’t have the same sense of gravity and wonder. Be polite, stay away, and always be ready to step aside when someone more important needs to sneak up on you. Sometimes your backstage area will be a very small amount of space to work in, but the show must go on.

4. Invest in a soundproof camera muzzle

A hidden shot of some musicians.

A noise-canceling camera muzzle will silence every shot. This ensures that noise from your camera will never spoil the scene or presentation.

For budding career documentarians, this investment is an absolute must. With a camera muzzle, you’ll be more than equipped to capture even very sensitive and silent debates, and you may have the opportunity to film larger events in your city if you can land the right job and get in with it. good people.

Even if you’re just shooting for fun or for your family and friends, muzzles can help you take pictures on the sly. Again, the goal is to avoid drawing attention to yourself. Keep the spotlight where it belongs and never worry about your shutter stealing the show again.

5. Leave your flash in the green room

A few dancers on stage.

Flashes and strobe lights are great for cast and crew photos after the performance is over, but they’re just a bit too noticeable to use during a live performance. In fact, if performers are dancing or doing stunts, using flash while on stage can be dangerous for them.

The stage lighting technician has their own job to do – it will be up to you to make the most of the light coming out of the rafters at any given time.

There is also the philosophy that this type of photography should stay true to the spirit of the occasion. The stage light is unique and expressive, but more importantly, it makes all of your photos look like they actually took place in the setting you’re working in. You want your photos to look like Broadway, not like they were taken in a basement.

6. Shoot long, but keep a shorter aim on you

A musician leading his group.

We’ve all been there: the director relegated you to the back of the room, behind the last row of seats, without exception, or you left. No problem if you have at least a 200mm lens on you, or possibly a 400mm lens if you’re literally shooting from the back of an opera house. Should that be the only focus you have on your person? We would say no.

Some shows may feature cast members or speakers entering the fray from the front of the house, for example, which may mean they walk right past you. Whether they’re lit by a spotlight right now or quietly stepping into their role without fanfare, it’s a great opportunity to land a winning shot.

Wider shots of the scene can also be something to prepare – a long lens for sniping singles and a portrait length lens for capturing the whole troop or group. If you’re always ready, you’ll never miss a great shot when it comes.

Related: Composition Tips for New Photographers

7. Harness rim lighting whenever possible

A wild stage lighting installation.

Stage lighting is strong and harsh by definition, as is stage makeup. Both are great to see up close, but, without exaggeration, the performers on stage and the emotions they convey would be much harder for the audience to read.

In a theatrical setting, many of the front-on-stage portraits you capture will look very “theatrical”, which is good. However, there may be times throughout the show where something a little more dramatic may be in order.

Stage lighting is likely to follow the mood of the story; a solitary fresnel-lit soliloquy from above may not be traditionally or commercially lit, but it can still be a breathtaking photo to take. Positioning oneself so that the projector surrounds the subject is a way of distinguishing the figure of the performer without any real key.

8. Tell every part of the story

A solitary practicing violinist.

Depending on your personal involvement in the show, you may be able to document the pre-show preparation – we don’t advise making your way into a dressing room, but it’s likely that the cast and crew will be rehearsing or move before the lights in the house are turned off. If they’re friendly and not too busy, they might be happy to take some behind-the-scenes photos.

After the show, if you don’t have to leave until a certain time, you might be interested in doing the same sort of thing. The rush of a dilapidated performance, the joy of an artist who has danced with all his heart, and the jubilee of a job well done all provide incredible fodder for moving and meaningful portraits that end up being fond memories for all. the parties involved.

It’s not just about the show: you’re there to photograph the talent that makes it all possible, and it can be a truly wonderful feeling when it all comes together perfectly. Not bad for a Thursday night.

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About the Author

Stewart C. Hartline