Drawing upon my years of experience as a photojournalist, I create production stills and backstage photography for clients from London’s thriving theatre and film industries.
Photography for theatre and dance
Theatre is a living art, and unlike sculpture or painting it is in a constant state of change. The role of the photographer is therefore similar to that of photojournalist, capturing and recording events as perceived from their personal standpoint.
The subjective nature of theatre photography places a greater burden upon the photographer to reach beyond their normal boundaries and document everything they can, not just what they would normally find interesting. Personally, I will always try to make time to capture the following:
Set construction. If time and resources allow, a stop-motion recording of the building process makes a good cut-away for the ‘making-of’ video and a great animated GIF for sharing on social networks.
Rehearsal footage. The relatively good lighting (as compared to backstage) gives you a chance to showcase the often unseen stars, such as the director and choreographer.
Promotional photographs. These are usually best shot during dress rehearsals at a time pre-arranged with the producer. This is possibly the photographer’s only chance to direct the cast. It’s best to use that opportunity to construct an image that distills a key dramatic element of the play. Rather than trying to capture the whole cast, it is better to capture one or two lead roles and recreate the drama of their relationship in the play.
Backstage during run. The tension before an actor takes the stage, as brilliantly dramatised in the movie Black Swan, is a common trope audiences will engage with readily. Likewise, images of stars such as Marilyn Monroe in the powder room have created a mystical aura around the dressing-room.
Production photography for film
Movie production photography follows much the same rules as those outlined above, with the notable exception that the audience is invisible. Creating production stills for film is in one sense much easier than for theatre, as the photographer experiences a wonderful freedom of movement. While the layout of the stage and the presence of the attentive audience severely hampers my movement while shooting for theatre, when shooting with a film crew I am able to move fluidly about the set.
The only requirement is that the photographer does not interfere with the recording – either by getting in the shot, obstructing the crew, or making a sound that could be picked up by the microphones. Besides this, the photographer is more or less a free agent and can pick their shots with great artistic freedom. One approach I take is to create shots which encompass both cast and crew, giving the audience a palpable connection between the production they recognise and the crew they rarely imagine.
The greatest challenge for film stills photographers is the knowledge that this is ‘it’: once a scene is finished, once a moment has passed, it won’t come around again. You cannot show up for the second night to get some shots you feel you missed on the first. For this reason, the photographer on a film set can never afford to truly relax; in fact, the moment when cast and crew are finally off duty is often the best time for the photographer to be active.