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.