I was working on a new production of Thomas Murray and the Upside Down River at Griffin Theatre here in Sydney recently, and chatting with the lighting designer before the dress rehearsal, he told me a couple of useful things. Having been there not long ago for The Dapto Chaser, I knew the stage was...let's call it unique. It's a wedge, between two seating blocks - not quite traverse, but certainly not a proscenium, either!
On that show, I'd found myself photographing much of it from the point of the triangle, rather than from the seating blocks; not least because you can see the other seating block in the back of the photos, if you're looking across the stage. But this was a different show, and of course, different designers.
"I've mostly lit the show from either end of the stage," he said, "so you might not want to photograph it from there."
But it's especially exciting this month, because not only do we have a range of stories & images from my friends in the group, but no less than five of us have been testing Fuji's hot new camera, the X-Pro 2, which is being unveiled in Tokyo as I post this.
Hundreds of people from all around the globe have grabbed a copy already - and, hopefully, enjoyed it - which made me think I should also mention our Flipboard magazine, which is where we post articles & images we've been reading lately, as much for our own interest amongst the group as to share with other photographers and interested folks...
I've been part of the Kage Collective since the beginning, and we've always wanted to find ways to work together on something, in spite of our being so far apart physically. Well, this is our first collaborative project - Under A Vagrant Sun, an e-book of our work on the past two solstices, released today on the most recent one...
I was really pleased to see that the announcement of the Sydney Theatre Awards this afternoon included The Dapto Chaser no less than three times - Best Independent Production, Glyn Nicholas for Best Direction, and Daryl Wallis for Best Score / Sound Design...
I was working recently with actor Andre de Vanny on a promotional image for a show he's working on, Swansong, which opens tonight at the Old Fitz Theatre here in Sydney - and it got me thinking about something that isn't talked about so much in photography, the use of white balance as a creative tool, to control or alter colour in an image.
Sure, there are a number of settings on pretty much any camera bigger than your phone (and even some apps) that let you choose the 'correct' colour that best matches your situation, from daylight to tungsten or fluorescent balance. But of course, lots of times there are many sources in an image - so how do you know which is the the one true white balance for your image?
Images of Andre de Vanny for Swansong, taken at the Old Fitz Theatre in Potts Point, on Thursday, 29 October 2015.
I've been working with the good folks at Leading Hand Design on a few things recently, and here's one that has come out just recently - the NIDA Summer Courses campaign, for Australia's leading drama school, based here in Sydney.
Because the school runs courses for just about all ages over the summer holidays, we had a range of current students to work with on the day - and I have to say, if the shoot was anything to go by, the courses must be pretty good...!
Once, early in my career, someone gave me wise advice about photographing events: 'remember, there are two sides to every story. There's what's happening on stage, and then there's the audience's reaction to it.'
Naturally, not every event I work on has an audience in attendance - often, I'm at a dress rehearsal, with only the director & crew - but also, most of the time, the audience (deliberately) isn't lit! So the opportunity to make use of this suggestion isn't always there; but once in a while, the chance comes along, and it's great to be able to take it...
I've never been entirely happy about referring to what I do as 'a photo shoot'. There's something over-simplistic about it, as if photography is merely a matter of being in the right place, and pointing something (a weapon?) in the right direction, and the results are whatever comes out of the camera when it goes off. So when I saw Eleanor Catton's tweet about military metaphors a little while ago, I understood what she meant right away.
Obviously there's a lot more to photography than just pointing and shooting, but nobody's come up with a better term for it; or at least, not one that has caught on. (Eleanor suggested photographers could 'flatter', 'immortalise' or 'seduce' the subject instead of 'shooting' them, but I haven't started using those - yet!)
I've talked before about how much happens after the shoot (for lack of a better term); but of course, there's what happens after the images are delivered to the client, as well. Who ultimately owns them?
When I was studying drama at university, I went for an interview to spend the summer at the Banff Centre For The Arts. I'd been focussing on the technical side of theatre at that point, including a bit of stage management, and thought this might be an interesting way to spend a few months between school terms.
The question was asked: did I read music? And frankly, it had never occurred to me that this might be a useful skill - our university programme was pure theatre, not even musicals, much less opera or dance; so it had never come up, and of course I didn't. So, I didn't go to Banff, and I didn't become a stage manager...
I've been doing a bit of work recently with the lovely folks at the Darlinghurst Theatre Company, who are based in the (amazing!) Eternity Theatre, not far from my office in Surry Hills here in Sydney.
Their latest show, Ride & Fourplay, which opened last week, is actually two one-act plays by author Jane Bodie put together for the first time; curiously though, they feel absolutely right together...
It was already dusk when we arrived, and the sun was setting as we found the beach for the first time. Through a gap in the hills it appeared, a small river snaking its way to the sea; and it was there that the wind hit us.
I hadn't seen many beaches like this in New Zealand before; the hard surface felt more like icy snow to walk on, sometimes strong enough to support your weight, other times fragmenting underfoot...
In my previous essay on photographing the arts, I was talking about selecting images from a shoot; now, we're on to the conversion and correction of the files themselves, taking a RAW file and turning it into a beautiful, finished image.
RAW files are the original camera files, which contain far more image data than an in-camera .jpg, so as a result there's a lot you can do in the RAW conversion process - and, there are a lot of choices that need to be made for each image that gets worked on. Sometimes, it's possible to take settings and copy them from one image to the rest, and get consistent results that way - but that's rare in the performing arts, as the light usually changes from scene to scene, or from one part of the stage to another. Having been a lighting designer, I know how hard it is to get an even, smooth spread of light across a stage, if that's what the aim is - but often, it's not!
Something a little different this week for my Lost & Found blog - I don't talk about it so often here, but when I'm not being a photographer, sometimes I'm spending my time researching a silent-era film producer / director / actor from New Zealand, by the name of Rupert Julian.
I stumbled across the story of Rupert some ten years ago (or more, come to think of it), when I was watching the 1943 Phantom of the Opera DVD with the alternate audio commentary track on - y'know, as you do. A historian by the name of Scott MacQueen was talking about the production, and just threw in as a minor aside that 'of course, the 1925 silent version of the Phantom was directed by the son of a New Zealand sheep farmer - but that's a whole 'nother story!’
Waitangi. The word is weighted with meaning, in New Zealand at least, as the treaty between the Crown and the chiefs of the many Maori tribes was signed there in 1840, or at least a number of signatures were made there; and it's also home to annual celebrations on Waitangi Day (6 Feb) each year, which are sometimes controversial, or marred by protests against the government of the time.
But it's also now a scenic reserve, open to the public most of the year; and, in 2006 on a road trip with my parents (who were visiting en route back to Canada from a trip to Australia), I drove up north from Auckland to the Bay Of Islands area to see it...
In all my photographic estimates, I include a short list of what happens after the actual photography takes place - it always surprises me that most people think images are finished the moment they're taken, so I want to outline how much more goes into making something better than just an in-camera .jpg.
Those are fine some of the time, don't get me wrong; but when you're working in the performing arts, most often you're working in low light, at the ragged edge of what cameras are capable of; and the images often need a little help to look their best, after the fact...
It's a funny feeling being able to take a picture of a train, FROM the train itself; but sometimes, it happens.
Last summer I was aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, travelling from Vancouver to Calgary on some of the original tracks laid by the founders of the Canadian National Railway, and took this image out the side of our car of the front of the train heading off into the distance, and dragging us along with it...
Just wanted to briefly mention a new essay of mine over on the Kage Collective site, that went up this week - it's about some of the issues that go with upgrading or changing your camera, which I must admit I've fallen victim to many, many times over the years...! But, as always, it touches on a few other issues as well.
Also, thanks to ArtsHub here in Australia for publishing one of my Photographing The Arts series over on their site this week, too! Nice to see a few new visitors here on this site, and glad that it's resonating with people.
Just a quick entry in the Lost & Found files today - this one was captured on film (yes, film!) a few years ago when I owned a wonderful camera, the Hasselblad X-Pan, which I've written a bit about before.
The great thing about those was that they were compact rangefinders, like a Leica - but also that they took double-frame panoramic images right in the camera. None of this digital sweep-panorama iPhone stuff, you actually saw the frame the way it was going to be!
But gradually, I was absorbed into the digital world, and when I found a digital rangefinder - at that time, the Epson R-D1s - I sold the X-Pan; and I haven't had a film camera since.
As a photographer, my images are important to me; not just when I take them, but for years afterwards, whether it seems that they have any future use or not. I can't count the number of times I've had a call, years after an image was taken, to see if I still have the file anywhere - often because one of the people in it has passed on, but mentioned that this was their favourite photo of themselves at some point.
Or, as has happened, when someone I photographed has won a major award - say, the Man Booker Prize - and suddenly, the world's media needs an image I took. And, of course, sometimes it's just a matter of wanting to find something for historical purposes: that time someone performed here before everyone knew who they were, and so on...
This week's Lost & Found is a perfect example of why I started posting these - images I was very happy with, but that only I have seen. And even saying that, I saved them to my hard drive that week, and never looked at them again until now!
The 18th Sydney Biennale was held in July 2012, before I moved here from New Zealand; but while here on a visit I took a ferry to Cockatoo Island to see both the site and the installed works. It was a thoroughly impressive collection - and a beautiful sunny day, right in the middle of winter, which Sydney does very well I must say.
This week's Lost & Found is from a trip I won (on Twitter!) to Cairns quite by accident, when I was living in Wellington in 2010. If I recall correctly, Air New Zealand was adding direct flights to Cairns for the first time, and asked people to tweet something about how they'd get there. I sent a slightly snide reply (along the lines of 'in a plane, duh!') without actually intending to enter, and somehow or other wound up winning!
When I was photographing a theatre production recently, I had a quick conversation before the dress rehearsal, which went something like this: "Hi Robert, I'm the designer on this show - could you make sure you take some wide angle shots for my portfolio?"
Now, that's a perfectly normal, common and reasonable request - and one that raises an interesting question in terms of this sort of work: who exactly am I working for, or responsible to, when I photograph a show? And, how can I make them happy?
Continuing from last week's Lost & Found, here's a quick glimpse of another part of Canada's east coast, Nova Scotia. I didn't have a very solid mental picture of the Maritimes before going there in 2010, so of course there were surprises - I certainly didn't expect such lush forests!
The work I've been doing recently with Apocalypse Theatre and Pinchgut Opera got me thinking about what I try to achieve in production stills photography; so I thought I'd have a look at a show that epitomises my favourite kind of images from this sort of work - New Theatre of Riga's production, The Sound Of Silence, which I photographed for the New Zealand International Arts Festival in 2010...
That was the last thing the helpful lady at the information centre told me, before embarking on a walk for a couple of hours near Lake Placid, in upstate New York a few years ago. Don't go off the trail. Noted.
Oh, that - and it may get a bit marshy at one point...
I mentioned a while back that I'd been working on a show with the good folks at Apocalypse Theatre, The Dapto Chaser, which has opened now at Griffin Theatre here in Sydney - so I thought this would be a good chance to have a look at some of the images from our first shoot, the rehearsal space, and the final dress rehearsal before opening...
As it's Canada Day (if you factor in the date line, of course), I thought I'd post something from one of my visits back to 'the old country' where I grew up for today's Lost & Found.
This is from an area about 3h north of Toronto on the Great Lakes - Georgian Bay, to be specific, which is part of Lake Huron but practically a lake unto itself by any normal standards of measurement...