What is “stage photography” anyway?
Also known as performance photography, stage photography is the art of capturing still images of live stage performances: plays, musicals, concerts, recitals. (Yes, a musical is also a play. But this is how people say things. Don’t @ me.)
To sell tickets, attract donors and enhance their brands, producers of staged events use the work of stage photographers for the press, on their websites, in direct mail/email marketing and on their social media feeds. Down the road they may use these pictures in brochures and other print marketing collateral.
A good stage photographer must have not only full command of a camera, but also an eye for the elements that make stage performances compelling to an audience: drama, humor, conflict, romance, character, color and movement, and the production value embodied in sets, costumes, lights, props and special effects.
These are the things I capture. From more than 40 years as a professional actor and passionate theatregoer, I’ve learned how to spot—and snag—the moments that compel an audience to run to the box office.
Axiomatically, "stage photography" also says what SPOT doesn’t do: weddings, portraits, corporate events, bar/bat mitzvahs, birthdays.... SPOT specializes.
Your portfolio is divided into “Production,” “Publicity” and “Behind-the-Scenes” photographs. What’s the difference?
Production shots capture moments in the actual show just as the audience would see them, with full costumes, sets and lights.
Publicity shots are staged photographs of the performers, often taken in some environment other than a theater. These showcase the performers and attempt to give a feel for the marketable aspects of the show, but they are not the show—they’re teasers.
Behind-the-scenes shots are fly-on-the-wall candids showing actors, usually in street clothes, rehearsing or studying lines (or musicians practicing, or dancers stretching…. You get the idea), and sets being built, costumes being sewn, lights being hung, directors directing and so on. Theatregoers enjoy a peek at artists collaborating on the sausage.
Production shots are the most important. The media typically wants only these, and won’t use the others. The better the production shots you send a newspaper, the more likely the paper is to print them, and the sweeter the spot the paper will print them in.
Ever wonder how the paper decides which event to use for the cover of the weekend insert, or in the color banner over the masthead on the front page? Often it’s simply because they love a photo they were sent.
A great production photo in a primo spot in the local paper does more to sell tickets than almost anything else. And it’s free, except for the cost of the photographer, which is typically much lower than the rate for taking out even a small ad in the same paper.
The downside of production shots is that they can’t be made until almost opening night, and you can’t wait that long to start building excitement for your show.
While the papers won’t print ‘em, publicity and behind-the-scenes shots give you visuals weeks ahead of opening for use in email marketing, on your website and in social media and direct mail. They are your highest-caliber marketing ammo until production shots become available.
Do you shoot during live performances attended by an audience?
That depends on the kind of performance and the needs of the client.
The best time to shoot a play is at its final dress rehearsal, the last run without an audience. The costumes, sets, lights and performances are all ready, but with no worries about distracting the audience, I can move all around and capture exciting moments from the best angles. Shooting a dress rehearsal also means that the finished photographs are ready before opening night, which is a big help with marketing a show.
On occasion, a client has asked me to shoot an actual performance with audience. In such cases I stash myself in a corner or empty balcony so that I will not distract the audience, and I use a variety of techniques to capture the show from my hidey-hole. I never use a flash (I don’t even own one), and in such cases I can use a silent shutter mode on my camera so the audience doesn’t hear me. The results are not quite as good as what I can achieve without an audience, but I can still grab some great shots this way.
When it comes to concerts and recitals, there’s usually no dress rehearsal to attend—the only opportunity to capture the performance is when it goes in front of an audience. The client may even want some audience to appear in the photos, as part of the truth of the event. In such cases, I may shoot discretely from the shadows and/or from behind the seats.
But in the case of a live rock concert, club show or similar event, I may just move around and shoot as if the audience isn’t there. There’s so much noise and chaos at such events, the audience isn’t bothered by the random photog, who actually kinda becomes part of the show. In the end, it’s all up to the client.
You’re a professional actor and a professional photographer, so surely you do actor headshots, si?
You’d think so, wouldn’t ya? But no.
Oh sure, I can make a nice picture of your face—and it’s such a nice face. But you should expect more than that from a headshot photographer. A good headshot photographer is an expert on trends in actor marketing. He/she/they keeps up with what kinds of poses, backgrounds, angles, expressions and other factors are favored by agents, casting directors, directors and others who hold the keys to the acting kingdom—and these factors change with the wind.
A good headshot photographer not only takes a great photo of that wonderful face of yours, but also advises you on making photos with the best chance to land gigs. I can’t do that, because I couldn’t care less about that stuff, and I never understood it back when I did care.
If you want a great headshot photographer, hit me up on the Contact page. I can recommend a few.
You have “Tampa” in your business name—do you only work in Tampa?
Mais non, mon ami! I live in Tampa, but I’ll shoot anywhere within a drivable distance. For shoots more than 30 miles from Tampa, I add a small per-mile fee for the extra driving, but still charge my hourly rate only for the time I spend actually shooting and editing.
Yeah, about that…. What are your rates?
Lower than those charged by most other professional photographers in the area. Lower still for small producers; they get a break because small shops need great photos as much as the bigger operations, maybe more. To inquire about rates, hit me up through the Contact page.
Is it “theatre” (with an “re”) or “theater” (with an “er”)?
Everybody thinks they know what the rule is. Some people say “theatre” is British and “theater” is American. Some say “theatre” is the art and “theater” is the building. Some say we watch plays in a theatre and movies in a theater. Some say “theatre” is archaic and “theater” is modern and, hence, correct.
FUN FACT: There is no rule. There really isn’t. For convenience, media organizations will adopt a policy; for example, the Associated Press Stylebook requires “theater” in all cases, as does the New York Times. But that’s just so editors don’t have to think about it. There actually is no formal rule about this.
So, you can do you. Me, I like the art/building model, so that’s what I do. But I’m careful also to follow the naming conventions of the theatre companies themselves; here in Tampa we have Jobsite Theater and Stageworks Theatre, among others. In a world based on respect, everybody gets to define their own identity, and polite people follow along.