Photographing Theatre Work: How To Get Started

We like to focus on photography from time to time on HDSLR Shooter, and it’s always good to explore career options. We often talk about general photographers, wedding photographers, etc. But we’ve decided to focus on another option for photographers today: theatre photographers. If you enjoy theatre and photography, you may be able to make good money by becoming a theatre photographer. These niche photographers shoot promotional and editorial pictures for musicals, plays, comedy shows and other theatrical presentations. To break into this niche, however, you’ll need more than just a good camera.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door

While you might dream of shooting the Broadway stars, theatre photographer Ron Heerkins Jr. recommends breaking into theatre photography by scouting out small, local opportunities. Approach community theatre groups, local colleges, high schools and community arts organizations that put on performances. In the beginning, you may have to accept some gigs for free or for trade such as comped tickets to the show, and that’s perfectly fine. You’re learning. Shooting during a performance, when the light is low, requires a different set of skills than taking photos outside on a sunny day. Shooting backstage, or on-stage during a dress rehearsal, requires composition skills.
To capture close ups from your seat in the auditorium, you’ll need a zoom lens. To edit photos post-shooting and to bring out highlights or crop borders, you’ll want a strong photo editing program such as Photoshop. This software isn’t cheap, so you may need to accept outside gigs to pay for it.
You may also find yourself working on promotional photos, which may be shot before the director has even developed the costumes, set or characterization, notes Heerkens. For these assignments, you’ll need to think creatively about how to capture the drama through lighting and camera angles. As you get to know cast and crew members, they may ask you to shoot head shots, which require people skills.

Tips From the Pros

To make yourself as appealing as possible to theater organizations, try to see shows in your community and elsewhere. You can often find good deals on Broadway tickets, and seeing professional actors performing their craft can inspire you to continue honing your skills. You can also bring your camera to lectures, concerts and events in your community, which will allow you to practice shooting in a range of environments and light settings. Do respect any signs that prohibit photography from specific events; you don’t want to make a develop a reputation for disrespecting performing artists.
Once you have a couple of theatre-related assignments under your vest, you can create a digital or print portfolio that showcases your theatre work and other projects and can share your photos on social media. This will garner attention from potential clients as well as other photographers willing to share tips and tricks, suggests Heerkens. In Yankee Magazine, photography blogger Susan Cole Kelly suggests keeping your portfolio to 8-12 images. Collate a print portfolio in a book or select an online portfolio tool that allows for easy viewing of your work.
After the performance ends, these photographs become the archival record for the production. As such, they live on for future generations of directors, dramaturgs and actors. This also ensures a steady niche of jobs. Once you break into theater photography, you can continue working in this area for as long as you want.

Written by Jake Fruia

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