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The Challenge of Theatrical Photography

by Robert Crowe

People come to the theater to see as well as hear. The spoken words drive the story. They are written down, printed, and can be read without attending a performance. The visual experience is more ephemeral. The expressions of the actors, their gestures, physical movement around the stage and the impact of costumes vanishes when the lights come up—unless it is photographed.

Capturing all this in a still image is a demanding task. It is easier at a rehearsal. The photographer doesn’t have to worry about getting in the way of the audience. She or he can use a tripod to help freeze the action and ask the cast to strike and hold a pose. There may be some control of the light. Unfortunately, in an informal festival like the Fringe, that may not be possible. Shooting during a performance requires preparation and luck. The camera needs to have high light sensitivity without distracting graininess. Lenses must be fast to let in as much light as possible, keeping the shutter speed up to prevent blur. Stage lights need to be bright but without too much contrast.

If all this falls together, the lucky photographer sees an expressive moment and is fast to react. A good result keeps the memory of the show alive.


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