Stage Photography of Tampa (SPOT) proprietor Ned Averill-Snell (he/him) is an award-winning actor, author and photographer based in Tampa, Florida. His stage photographs have appeared in the Tampa Bay Times, Creative Loafing and St. Pete Catalyst, and have decorated the websites and social media feeds of Florida theatre companies, BroadwayWorld and American Theatre magazine. Stage Photography of Tampa is a Florida-registered limited liability corporation (LLC).
"The SPOT Story"
There used to be this thing called a “designer photo call.”
My wife, Jo Averill-Snell, is a wonderful theatrical lighting designer. While she’s done really well without one, a while back we decided she should have a website showcasing her beautiful designs. Problem was, there were very few photos of her work available to populate the website.
Back in the day, theatre companies always did this thing dubbed a “photo call,” intended to give the lighting, set and costume designers a record of their work and to give the theatre company an archive of its productions. Typically conducted immediately following a dress rehearsal or performance, a photo call required the actors to work backwards through a list of key scenes, and to freeze their bodies anytime the photographer yelled “FREEZE!” to shoot.
Theatre companies hereabouts mostly stopped having photo calls long ago. Maybe that’s because everybody hated them. The actors were tired and sweaty and their costumes were wet and their makeup was running and they just wanted to go home, as did the stage manager and run crew. And the photos themselves often failed to capture the magic of the show—there’s a noticeable difference between an actor performing and an actor posing, especially a tired, grumpy, damp actor posing.
So, we had no good photos for Jo’s website. Oh, there were random publicity photos we could have asked for permission to use. But these were intended to show off the actors, not the lighting design.
I’m a husband. So my knee-jerk reaction to my wife having a problem is to try to solve that problem. Whether I can solve that problem, whether I’m the best person to solve that problem, and whether my wife even wants me to solve that problem are secondary considerations. I resolved to begin photographing Jo’s designs. Stampeding bison could not have stopped me.
I began carefully researching what kind of camera and lenses would best serve the purpose, what features a camera needed for the specific job of capturing Jo’s lights and the actors they lit. I determined the ideal camera and lenses for the job, I went out and bought 'em, and I started practicing however I could.
When at last it came time to shoot a show Jo had designed, I was nervous about asking the producer’s permission to crash the proceedings. So I decided to sweeten the deal by telling the producer—given I’d be there with a camera anyway—that I’d try to capture not just Jo’s lights, but also other things, actor moments and special effects and such. I promised I would share all of my photos with the producer, to be used however the producer wanted.
On that first show, I learned a ton. Very soon there was a second show, and a third. (Jo’s designs are in high demand.) I was happy with the design photos I was grabbing for Jo, and happy that my photography was getting better and better with each go.
But after a few shows, I made two discoveries I had never expected to make: One, I loved stage photography. There is no greater thrill than witnessing an instant of magic and somehow managing to nab it inside a camera. I was hooked. And two, producers were using my photos everywhere. My shots were popping up on the theatre companies’ websites, in their social media and direct marketing, and in the local papers.
Seems my work was good, and getting better. And I seemed to be filling a need. Everybody may have hated photo call, but they missed the photos. I was giving producers the benefits of a photo call without the nuisance and the uppity actors.
I was giving them photos rich in the qualities that make a performance compelling. Thanks to more than 40 years as a stage actor, I’m intimate with the virtues that set audience hearts aflutter, such assets as drama, humor, conflict, romance, character, color, movement, production value…. And many years in the day-job trenches of marketing communications have taught me how to recognize an image that will start ticketbuyers dialing.
I started shooting any show they’d let me attend, whether Jo did the lights or not. Over time, I branched out to making publicity photos, because producers asked for them.
After nearly two years honing my craft, I filed my LLC and went pro, because when you love doing something, you get to spend more time doing it if they pay you, and also because you would not believe what lenses cost. And then, finally, I wrote this overlong and random explanation of everything, because I’m that way.
Oh, yeah, and I did eventually do Jo’s website. You should see it. I’m not the greatest website designer, but there’s no hiding that Jo’s designs are spectacular, so the site is doing its job.
Me, I’m excited about shooting the next performance, and the one after that. I’m still thrilled every time I get the shot. It’s an addiction from which I hope I will never recover.
See you at the show.