I’ve been photographing performances and performers since 2008, professionally and for personal projects. I’ve photographed everything from opera to wrestlers, horses and cowboys in all kinds of venues, in a variety of working conditions, from rings to opera houses. My images have shown up on performers’ Facebook pages and websites, newspapers, annual reports, fine art prints and in as posters in Covent Garden. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great producers, stage managers and event staff, so this is not a series of a complaints. I think it’s useful to reflect on all the good things people running shows have done, though, that help everyone achieve the best possible results from a show. Here goes:
Having photo goals. It’s really helpful when producers/stage managers can tell me what they want from a show in terms of images. Will you want photos to document/promote a current production, promote future ones, or provide an ongoing image feed from a multi-day event? Communicating this information to me lets me know what to photograph during a production, turnaround times for finished images, and what fees apply.
Keeping the photographer informed. I’ve had a couple of instances where I’ve been advised not to shoot (or publish) particular performers and/or parts of a performance. For one large-scale theatrical performance this included dancers who were unclothed and it wasn’t a whim (though that doesn’t make a difference) – it was a contractual requirement on the part of the performer in question. It’s useful to clarify why this is the case, as in another situation the performer in question actually didn’t want to be photographed by a particular photographer – or hordes of iPhones – but was in fact OK with being photographed by the “house” shooters. We didn’t find this out until after the performance, and so there were no photos of her.
This also includes letting me know in advance where I can and can’t go to make images, and when I may need to move to accommodate a particular act or setting. And of course, not using a flash.
Having, articulating and enforcing a (no) photo policy. I’ve found this produces the best results for the audience, performers, and house photographers. It’s most effective when it’s announced at the start of a production and where signage is posted. In some instances it’s a union requirement. Whether or not this is the case, a (no) photo policy lets the audience enjoy a show without having to look over or around mobile devices cameras, and photographers’ backs. And of course, the audience pays to see the show, not us, so a photo policy, in my mind, facilitates their enjoyment. Badging the house shooter is also a good thing so the audience knows why we’re allowed to shoot when there’s a no-photo policy. Also, determining how many photographers you need can be helpful. I believe it’s good to have several to provide different angles and perspectives, as long as we’re not all tripping over each other. In my experience we’ve been pretty good at working things out, plus you never know when you might need to borrow a memory card.
Providing a clear line of sight. This is a tough one, as it’s often a venue rather than show consideration, but keeping speakers and monitors to the side or above the stage really helps. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to resolve/remove audience heads that may obstruct the stage, but then again, the audience pays the bills, and in some images, it’s also nice to see that there are, in fact, people there. This might include front row seating, but I usually find that I’m shooting up (so to speak) so it’s not always a great angle. Setting front row seats farther back from the stage is often helpful for reducing head-obstruction and providing a better angle. Personally, I prefer to stand anyway, as I have a higher line of sight and can move around more easily.
It’s relatively easy to produce high quality images, but photographers and production personnel need to play well with each other, and I believe the onus is on us as photographers to make this happen. If we can’t we may not be in a position to create those pictures, so a good relationship with producers and stage managers (as well as performers and the audience) is essential. A little planning and good sense go a long way.