I love stage photography – watching the actors dive deep into a character and trying to catch the atmosphere of the scenes is fascinating. I got the opportunity to do so photographing the dress rehearsal of Agatha Christie’s famous whodunit “The Mousetrap”.
Dress rehearsals offer a rare opportunity – you can get as close as ever possible to the actors, when the director allows you to be on stage with them. Other than taking pictures at a performance, you don’t need to be way back behind the audience with a tele-lens and all its limitations. You are able to walk around the stage, look for the best perspectives and can catch the action inside the set of the play. It’s a bit like on a movie-stage, where the cameraman works inside the set rather than capturing everything “from the outside”. Over the years, I found, that this way of photographing shows will let the viewers get a much better idea of what to expect from a show, than the pictures from the “classic” audience perspective.
Theatre lighting can be quite difficult for the camera: it’s designed for the viewers’ eyes and not for a camera sensor. In other words: high ISO with all its downsides. With my Nikon D810 and a 4.0 aperture, I was getting shutter speeds between 1/15 to 1/80 at ISO 1600. Lens stabilization was helping a lot. Another issue are the huge contrasts, stage lighting can produce. Be it a follow-spot or a so-called “special” (a fixed light effect), they usually crush the highlights in the picture. The D810 has a special exposure mode, that looks for the brightest spot in the picture and corrects the exposure accordingly. Crushed highlights or unrecognizable faces from actors in the spotlight on a dim stage are no issue, anymore.
The other problem with this special performance: it was an open-air production, so the actors had wireless microphones glued to their cheeks. Looks horrible, so a lot of work went into photoshopping the microphones and the ugly, transparent “band-aids” out of the pictures.
For stage photography, of course, it’s best, if you’re familiar with the show and know the stage-action beforehand. But being on your toes and actively trying to follow the actors’ “impulses” can make you guess, what’s coming up next and not miss important moments, even if you don’t know the show. Unfortunately, the best, most dramatic moments of “The Mousetrap” need to stay unpublished here, because – as they say at the end of the performance: “welcome to the worldwide, sworn mousetrap-community – please don’t give away the surprise ending!”