Broadening My Assignments and Finding New Challenges

This is one of my most popular dance photos, and tells me people want to see more of the story than they see onstage.

As a publicity photographer for several community theaters, I see much of the hard work, strange details and backstage drama that most audience members never think about. I didn’t think much about it until someone praised a dance photo I’d taken only to test my camera settings.

This week I decided to exploit my access to theater rehearsals and start documenting some of the backstage and/or preparatory work that goes into a local show. So far, the project has been more challenging than I expected, but I look forward to the learning opportunities.

Backstage moment: The director and stage manager hurriedly adjust an actress's scarf.

During an "on-book" rehearsal for Hello Dolly, director Tracy Williams-Sutton considers Dr. Jim Halverson's reading. I used the Nikon 35mm f/2.0 lens to get reasonably close to the stage. I shot this at f/2.2, because I'm superstitious about shooting lenses wide open in high contrast environments.

I shot some candids during an early rehearsal for the Ojai Art Center Theater’s upcoming production of Hello Dolly, and the difficulty surprised me. I used fast, prime lenses and my Nikon D300, a very good low-light camera. Still, I wrestled with under-exposure.  The main problem, I think, is my technique. I lack rock-steady hands, so I need higher shutter speeds to reduce the effects of camera shake. Plus, my subjects usually move. A shutter speed of 1/200 leaves little room for error under the work lights of a room designed to be dark.

Director Tracy Williams-Sutton describes a scene to "Dolly" Jaye Hersh. in color, Jaye's red hair separates her from the background, but the high-ISO, underexposed image exhibits strange color and grain artifacts. In black and white, it just looks like a grainy photo. This was shot with my old 85mm f/1.8, at f/2 and ISO 3200.

The work lights do not provide a lot of illumination, but sometimes their direction works pretty well for people shots. Although the 35mm is not exactly wide-angle, especially on a cropped-sensor camera like mine, it's the widest fast prime I've got, and I'm determined to do this project with prime lenses.


Filed under Camera Gear, Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Low Light

2 responses to “Broadening My Assignments and Finding New Challenges

  1. myrna

    right on … easy to do candids when you have access to the productions … i would not be surprised if the actors love them too … m

  2. kaarina

    “backstage moment” is marvelous! k

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