Photographing the arts: two sides to every story
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.
Photographing a crowd isn't always the easiest thing to do; as I mentioned, often there's very little light on them, but also it's hard to get everyone doing the same thing at the same time, or to scan the crowd for the best reaction without calling attention to myself. It's hard to get an honest reaction if I've been spotted!
There are also a few secrets to showing a crowd in its best light - for one thing, I always prefer to show a slice of them, rather than the edge of a group. If you can't see where the crowd ends, they seem unlimited in the image; your imagination extends the image, rather than being able to see a limit to the group of people. They might go on forever!
Of course, the holy grail in this situation is to somehow get both the audience AND the performer in a single image, which is by definition quite tricky. Let's face it, generally the aim is for them to be looking at each other, not both facing the camera!
But there are exceptions - conductors don't face the audience, though that means the photographer (or at least the camera) needs to be on stage with the orchestra. It's possible, and I've done it - my Jacobsen Sound Blimp means I can be effectively silent during the concert, and even (if needed) trigger the camera remotely from off stage, or in the audience.
Being in position to capture an image like this takes planning. In most situations, it would be utterly inappropriate to open a door and walk into a theatre or concert hall mid-event to take up a position at the front of the stage - or on it! So either a remote camera needs to be in position when the time comes, or the photographer does.
Pre-setting a camera usually means a bit of guesswork, though - in terms of light & exposure, but also the focus point of the image, and the overall layout of the image itself; being there with the camera in hand gives me the option to choose different framings, rather than just one pre-set position.
The advantage of images like this is for sponsor reports, and funding proposals for future shows; you can say as much as you like about the audience reaction to a production, but actually having photographs showing it can be far more convincing than a list of figures. Happy people, in visibly large numbers, are quite compelling!
Sometimes, of course, the audience reaction is part of the show - like when Wellington dance group The Real Hot Bitches (their term, not mine!) tried to set a new world record for mass dance, to the tune of Bon Jovi's Living On A Prayer, at the Cuba St Carnival in 2007. Once in a while, capturing the crowd is the easy part!
And every so often, something magical happens - in 2012 I was working on a recital by the marvellous soprano Madeleine Pierard for Chamber Music New Zealand, and they'd asked for a few crowd reactions if I could get them. Of course with my blimp it wasn't a problem to be there during the concert, so I dressed in black, wore silent shoes and crept around near the stage when the recital ended.
Months later, someone stopped me at another CMNZ concert to thank me for this image, which they'd seen in the brochure for the 2013 season: they had come specially to that concert on their 50th wedding anniversary, and were delighted that someone had recorded their night out!
(I just wish I'd had the presence of mind to get their name & address, I'd have gladly sent them a nice print of it - if you're out there, get in touch!)