Robin’s tips for photographing theatre

I have shared some tips on Concert Photography quite recently (which can be found here) but I have also recently dipped my toes into theater photography. Live plays and theaters share many similarities with musicals and concerts and they are often presented in a mixed genre for increased dramatic and production quality. However, I have also been to a few theater shows that are almost entirely different and require a different set of shooting rules and photography considerations in comparison to traditional concert photography. In this article I explore the importance of playing by the house rules and at the same time finding ways to optimize camera settings to get the best out of a given situation. Special thanks to Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Center (KLPAC) for the opportunity to shoot the dress rehearsal for their recent theater play titled “The Ring of Nibelung”.

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Faster isn’t always better

*Or, an example in construction series.

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Like most photographers…I am not immune to the siren’s song of very fast lenses. And even less immune to the lure of lenses that are fast and designed to deliver performance at maximum aperture – think of the Zeiss Otus series, for instance. We’re even willing to compromise with older designs that perhaps don’t perform or resolve quite to the level we’ve come to expect from modern lenses on modern high resolution sensors, but write it off as being ‘characterful’ or ‘nostalgic’. Or even trying to rationalise that we don’t need such high resolution since most of the frame is out of focus anyway, plus we want a smooth transition between the bits that are and the bits that aren’t. And then we try to adapt lenses to systems they were never designed for (here, and here) – with varying degrees of success. However: the reality is we probably don’t need such tools the vast majority of the time, and even from a creative standpoint – a wider aperture doesn’t necessarily make an image better.

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Photoessay: Remarkable sunsets, part I

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You’ll probably notice a power pylon in every single one of these images: that’s because it’s the same one. This series is support for my theory that if you watch a scene or subject for long enough, something interesting will happen. (Depending of course on the subject, it might take more time than you have available.) Over the course of the last two and a bit years living here – I’ve had the chance to execute a long term observation project. That, and it’s a nice way to end the day rather than staring at a computer screen (again). There’s no extra post processing or manipulation; if anything, given the extreme dynamic range of backlit clouds vs shadowy hills, I’ve had to flatten the images to try and hold highlights – more so since most of the clipping tends to happen only in the red channel. Those of you that live in cities in the tropics will know that nice sunsets are rare because by time it’s dusk, both solution and evaporation during the day make for typically heavy cloud (or rain); yet in every single one of these images, there was the right mix of low level haze (to provide an effective warm filter for the sun just before setting) and high level clouds to be illuminated by that and contrast against an otherwise clear sky. Such exceptions are also why a local photographer living in an interesting location is going to anytime outshoot the visiting team – you simply can’t be there for long enough for exceptional things to happen; the statistics are against you. Excuse me, it’s 7.30 again and time for today’s show… MT

Shot over a long, long period of time with a wide variety of equipment. Mostly processed with PS Workflow III, though a couple were SOOC JPEG from the Olympus PEN F.

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Discussions: Commonly encountered photographers’ dilemmas

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Choices, choices

Today’s post is a series of open topics to be discussed in the comments: ten choices we we regularly encounter as photographers I suspect we have our own general stand, but tend to adapt to the situation. Nevertheless – I find these sometimes philosophical choices can have a huge impact on the outcome of the image.

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MT’s scrapbook: still life interludes, part I

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Two questions to address today – firstly, what differentiates the scrapbook series from photoessays, and secondly, why do they tend to be monochrome? What I post here in the form of photoessays are much more tightly curated series around a certain subject or theme, shot with the sole purpose and intention of photography, and sequenced into a storyline from a much larger set. The images are individually post processed and made consistent. The scrapbook series is more spontaneous – there is never a narrative because they’re single snippets grabbed here and there and then sorted into something visually coherent (which isn’t the same as a storyline). They’re opportunistic as opposed to planned or sought; sometimes single, sometimes in a mini-sequence. And there’s no post processing; what you see is a resized SOOC JPEG. They also tend to be monochrome, both as a concession to prioritise the light and also because there’s no need to correct for accurate color. It’s my compromise to keep my hand in practice, but for times when I don’t have the time to commit to something more focused. Today: more long shadow play, with a candid guest appearance from some Mapplethorpian bananas… MT

The Scrapbook series is shot on an Olympus PEN F, with unedited JPEGs straight from camera bar resizing (and of course some choice settings).

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Market challenges and predictions, late-2018 edition

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Construction images, because, well, we’re building something here…

As with every industry, the cycle time for major changes is getting shorter and shorter for photography. I would argue that we’re now late into the second phase of digital (first phase: early digital at the cutting edge for pros, scientific applications etc.; second phase: consumer) and on the verge of the third phase. What does this mean in real terms? Why is the overall enthusiast photographic market softer? What remains to get excited about as a hobbyist? At the risk of inciting every troll between here and DPR, I break out the crystal ball…

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On assignment photoessay: Development details, part II

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As promised – the continuation of the previous set of images shot at the same time at the same location, but curated and psotprocessed to very different objectives. You’ll notice that there are very few overlaps; different mood, different images. Perhaps the biggest change is in the handling of light and shadows: the very hard tropical sun that creates black hole shadows that works so well for monochrome is tricky to manage in color; especially when it comes to foliage (of which there is plenty here). There’s a lot of midtone dodging required to ensure the tonal transitions from highlights to shadows are natural; but not so much that things look flat. Some portions never quite get sun at this time of year due to the orientation of the plot, meaning we had to get creative in post again to ensure coherency – highlight dodge, midtone burn (the opposite for the areas in direct sunlight). I personally like the Magritte-esque clouds, and the eveningscapes… MT

Shot with a D850, 19 PCE and Sigma 100-400 (unfortunately there aren’t really any equivalents in the Hasselblad system yet) and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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On assignment photoessay: Development details, part I


Today’s set is the result of an interesting client brief earlier in the year: shoot details of the development for several objectives: a) the usual promotion via social media, advertising etc; b) developer portfolio and award entries; c) for use as decor in the development itself. The latter is the biggest challenge of the lot, because you have to find angles and light that people who live there every day won’t see or won’t mind seeing or would like to discover through the images; and on top of that do it in a limited period of time – the small window between completion and handover. That leaves us at both the mercy of the weather (and thus light) during that window, as well as not really having time to ‘live in’ the development itself. Nevertheless – I actually landed up delivering two sets of images; monochrome for decor to both render the scenes somewhat abstract and era/time-independent, and color, for portfolio. Here’s the interesting bit: the two sets almost don’t overlap at all, though in totality they are both self-coherent. I present both sets here (and in the next post) for you to see yourself just how much the mood and feel changes… MT

Shot with a D850, 19 PCE and Sigma 100-400 (unfortunately there aren’t really any equivalents in the Hasselblad system yet) and processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Photoessay: Mechanical

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The functional, dirty innards of construction machinery have always fascinated me by simple virtue of the endless textures and colors they offer. More than that, as a subject matter they offer a wealth of compositional possibilities because the ideas ‘work’ all the way from wide-angle-context-in clearly identifiable subject, to highly compressed perspective abstract. On a wider scale the scenes present something perhaps a little different to most viewing audiences, yet familiar enough to not completely alienate; on the other hand, the tight vignettes might be something people working in the industry and with the machines see every day but not necessarily notice. It is of course our challenge to find, isolate and present these…MT

Shot over a long, long period of time with a wide variety of equipment and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Around the wet markets

If you have been following my articles for a while now you may have noticed that I shoot a lot in local Malaysian wet markets. Even my mum finds it hard to believe that I spend so much time in actual markets though I go not with the intention to buy fresh meat and vegetables but to hunt for photography opportunities. Almost every new camera or lens review has featured a few sample photographs taken at various wet market locations in Kuala Lumpur. I want to explain my fascination with the wet market and why I keep returning to the similar spots early in the mornings.

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