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Theater photography tips needed

Gary Albeck , Oct 16, 2000; 11:02 p.m.

I have an opportunity to photograph the interior of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia in December. Does anyone have tips for such photography. I can use a flash during intermission. I plan to use a 25mm wideangle with a Contax RX and TLA360 flash. I will also try some available light (tungsten) shots during the performance using a monopod and 135mm from my seat. I am especially interested in tips on film choice and technique.

Thank you, Gary


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Erol A. , Oct 17, 2000; 12:32 a.m.

Sounds like a great opportunity~ I've been photographing for my university theatre for the past two years and the most immediate concern of mine is your location relative to the stage- do you know how far you'll be and your angle? Lighting is anyone's guess- most shows are fairly dim but now and again there's an exception. Shooting with just a monopod may prove difficult, but should certainly be do-able. I've shot film as low as 320 for performance but I'd recommend Fuji NHGII at 640. Spot meter off of faces and compensate from there as you see fit, and you should be in pretty good shape. Avoid using the flash as much as possible for stage shots; the lighting is so important in theatre and your lab can correct for some of the tungsten cast if you shoot negative film. If black and white is your aim, I love Delta3200 at 1600 developed in Xtol 1:1. Give a few details on what your priorities will be when shooting and I'd be happy to share any more relevant experience I've got. Good luck, I must say as one who loves theatre and architecture (and I imagine this theatre must be amazing) I'm quite envious~

Roberto Miravalles , Oct 17, 2000; 06:35 a.m.

Dear Gary:

The color is good but for to collect the atmosphere in the theater the best is film in B&W. Of course without flash. The flahs is prohibit in the theater.

For this, the best is to work a minimun with 6400 ISO but 12000 ISO is the advisable.

The tripod is not a necessary requiriment. You must work with one speed of 1/60 or more fast (1/125, 1/250) for to stop the movement of the actors or ballet dancer. With any speed more solw, the people are blurred in the film.

If you work with one lens of 200mm or more, the monopod is indispensable.



Hector Javkin , Oct 17, 2000; 06:51 a.m.

For photographing during the performance, some of the techniques for concert photography will apply. There is a very nice description in the static pages of photo.net, http://www.photo.net/photo/canon/mirarchi/concert/concer_i" rel="nofollow">here

Hector Javkin , Oct 17, 2000; 07:07 a.m.

I just re-read part of the concert photography section, and it looks less useful to what you're doing than I remembered. Possibly the section on film might be worthwhile.

John Marsden , Oct 17, 2000; 07:43 a.m.

I assume this is a once off opportunity. If I were you I'd go to a few local theatres and ask if you can do some picture taking for them perhaps during rehearsals. An amateur group should welcome the chance to be photographed. The practice would be invaluable.

What is the risk that the persons sitting near you during the performance may object to you snapping away etc etc?

Does the Contax have an infrared remote. Maybe mount your camera before the performance somewhere special to take in the stage and surrounds then you trigger this from your seat. But will the noise upset people?

If you're traveling with exposed fast film watch out for the airport x-ray machines. Should you get it processed before returning? Which begs the question where in St Petersbug would you do that? Maybe your hotel room!!

Was that a Contax or Minox...?

Keith Nichols , Oct 17, 2000; 08:20 a.m.

You may not need extremely fast, hence grainy, film. Be prepared to use it, but take some 400 or 800 speed, too. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much light is available.

Ellis Vener , Oct 17, 2000; 09:25 a.m.

I advise you not to use flash and to try Kodak Ektachrome 320T slide film. This film pushes extremely well. I regularly rate it at 640 and have it push processed one stop. For color negative, try Fugi NHGII. Also bracket a bit. The stage will probably be much brighter than the audience details and trying to capture the extreme contrast range in one image will be difficult, so make some images of the theater and some of the stage and bracket.

George D. Gianni , Oct 17, 2000; 11:58 a.m.

What do you mean by "an opportunity to photograph"? Do you have an official permission? It may be difficult without one. Or do you intend to smuggle your camera into the theatre? Do you know where your seat is? I think you will have little choice since it is difficult to get tickets at all. I hope you are as lucky as I was.

The best seats are the front rows of the first or second circle. Only your next neighbour will notice what you are doing, if you put your elbows on your knees and shoot when the music is loud. Do not use flash, it kills the atmosphere and might cause you some trouble as well!

The last time I was in the Mariinsky and Bolshoi (more than 3 years ago) the stages were lit very well with tungsten light (no HMI) for Nutcracker and Trovatore. Ektachrome 320T (EPJ) worked fine with fast lenses (1.4/85mm and 1.4/50mm) hand held and pushed one stop. Make sure you know the metering system of your camera very well to avoid overexposures. I would not worry about the x-ray machines at Sheremetyevo 2 Moscow, they are safe. Nothing happened to my films in hand luggage. I do not know about Petersburg, I went there by train.

I wish you good luck. The performances in these theatres are a unique experience. Enjoy them as such and do not think only of the "opportunity to photograph". Final advice for Russia in general: be careful when you take candids of people in uniform. You may have some very unpleasant experiences!

Jonathan Van Matre , Oct 17, 2000; 03:50 p.m.

An alternative to the suggestions already offered, which suggest film ranging from medium-fast to very fast:

If you have the necessary permissions, and time to execute the shot (either during intermission or after the show), try using some very slow film and a long exposure.

Using available light, or a paint-with-flash technique with off-camera flash, and sufficiently slow film, you could execute a very nice and artistic interior picture. The movements and non-movements of the theater patrons during your long exposure could add an interesting dimension to your photo. Or, if possible, you might want to wait until the theater is empty to get a shot of the architecture alone. Maybe even at the end of one of these shots, convince one actor to come back and pose for you on the stage and pop a flash on him before closing the shutter.

All of these techniques require a good bit of practice to get the techniques right, so I'd highly recommend practicing in your neighborhood before the trip to Russia, but I think you may find the results just as interesting as your pictures of the actors and theater from during the performance.

Oh, and one other thing. If the theater has an interesting ceiling and you have some kind of off-camera shutter release or timer (sorry, I'm not too familiar with the Contax RX), don't forget to grab a couple of camera-on-the-floor shots of the ceiling.

Have fun and take risks! Cheers!

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