No Time, No Light, No Choice

This image appeared in the Ventura County Star. No editor ever lost his job for running a picture of two smiling young women. Badly lit, though..

All theatrical productions are chaotic behind the scenes. Children’s productions just ramp up the bedlam by a factor of 50 or so.

That’s why Ojai’s Gai Jones is such a treasure – she calmly captains the ship with utter determination and imperturbability. When Gai is in charge, the kids’ show goes on.

I’m no Gai Jones – I perturb pretty easily. I tried on two occasions to capture publicity photos for the Ojai Art Center’s children’s production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Shooting during rehearsal allows me to capture something I rarely get with posed images of children - these fleeting moments of unselfconscious interaction.

The first shoot took place during a costume check. Actors presented themselves on stage, and, after Gai reviewed their outfits, I jumped onstage with an on-camera flash unit and tried to grab two or three quick shots that might appeal to a newspaper editor. Regrettably, I did not bring my Gary Fong Lightsphere, which would have improved the quality of light, if only a little. An advantage of the Lightsphere is that it diffuses by bouncing light in all directions. However, the black theater walls and ceiling do not offer much reflection. The pressure of working fast with people who really needed to be doing other things got to me, and I missed a lot of details – like half-hidden faces in group shots, or people with dark hair posed against dark backgrounds. I found myself with a lot of unusable images.

With two to three lights and diffusers, I think this setup would have made a good publicity photo. The on-camera flash caused unpleasant reflections and shadows - the old one-two. With off camera lights, I could have lit different planes with different levels and quality of light.

For my second visit, I shot during a run-through of the first act. One of the terrific challenges: capturing the scope of the production while providing clear subjects compelling enough to draw a newspaper reader’s eye.  This play includes bare stage moments and elaborate sets. I would love a full day to move in close with a wide-angle lens and do the visuals justice.

Do I wish Grandpa Bucket was a little more to our right or out of the image altogether? Of course, but that's not the moment I caught. I like this as a PR image because it shows that capable adult actors are involved in this play, and that should attract people who might otherwise avoid a children's production (like me).

In a perfect world, I would arrive at the theater to find the sets completed and all the actors in costume, quietly awaiting my direction.  I’d set up my lights, carefully compose the shots, create powerful publicity images, and then retire to a beautiful actress’s dressing room for champagne and adoration. In this world, I catch whatever images I can under whatever light is available, and then write a blog about it…

Shot from the rear corner of the theater with a long lens. Would have been better from front and center with a wide-angle lens. That would have emphasized the people - Willy Wonka in particular - while keeping the colorful set in the picture. I learn as I go.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the Oompa-Loompas are adorable:

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Filed under Dance and Theater, Lighting, Professional vs. Amateur

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