Loving Black and White – Theatre Photography

I often photograph theatre dress rehearsals and its something I really love doing. It can be quite testing at times as lighting can be low or harsh and cameras do not always find it easy to replicate what is in front of them in these situations. The photos below were from a dress rehearsal of ‘Therese Raquin‘ in The Bute Theatre at Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

I used to work in theatre as a stage manager and did a certain amount of lighting design for various companies to varying degrees of success … I liked lighting shows that needed more textural lighting and often the ‘scenes’ I liked the most often had the least number of lights pointing at the subject. I now only do the odd bits of lighting (mainly a carol service every year) but still, like to make the final look of it interesting for the audience … and of course for me to photograph!

I produce the ‘production shots’ in colour for the theatre company as this gives a photographic representation of the show. It is important to capture the key moments of the production as well as good close-ups and wides of the set and actors. The colour and design of a production have been thought about for many many hours so my job is to replicate that in the production photographs.

This is not always that easy when the lighting designer may be using light sources with different colour temperatures. For example, a standard theatrical lantern has a colour temperature of around 3250K whereas other lighting has a different temperature depending on its type of bulb used. A fluorescent tube used in a theatre show gives off a green tinge to photographs and moving lights have a different type of ‘bulb’ that has a far higher temperature. This is all very dull but can be important in bringing the right colour to the final photograph – even if the camera was not able to recreate the colour properly. This can often be the case when looking at the shot on the back of camera…

So getting the feel right in the photographs is vital and I often have to think back to the production when editing to get to try and get the best match in the colour balance of the photograph. So with all that in mind … I find it quite nice to revisit certain shows and turn a number of the photographs into black and white therefore removing this colour issue

This mainly works for me when the lighting in the show is more textural – maybe achieved with fewer lights or shafts of light that isolate a subject on the stage. This can be achieved by back or top lighting as well. The first photograph below benefits from this and with the brides dress and veil it works very well. The photos I love the most out of the ones below are in a similar vein and work because the subject is picked out against the black or several elements are lightly lit allowing everything else to fade into the back ground.

I will hopefully dig out a few more examples of this over the next month or so and show more examples. I love these photos and they remind me of a time when theatre photography was all black and white. These were often shown in the textbooks I used to read as a student! But that was a very long time ago!

You can see more of my theatre work here (I must properly set up a commercial page) and a blog from another production here.

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