Photographing the arts: what makes a great production image when the story is well known?

Earlier in this series, I talked about photographing a show that is unknown to its audience; my point was that the best publicity images are ones that leave an air of mystery - that pique the viewer's interest, and make them want to know more. But what about a show where the story is well known already - like a panto?

I was working recently with Bonnie Lythgoe Productions on their winter show, Cinderella, at the State Theatre in Sydney - and that's what made me really start looking at this question again.

Because really - the story is a given. So what you want to show in a still image is twofold - what's different about this production, and at the same time, what's familiar about it? How can you show off both the uniqueness of this version, and also capture the feeling of a story that's been told again and again, for over a hundred years?

The challenge for a theatre photographer is not just finding that image within the show, and making that decision on the fly while photographing (without having seen a rehearsal, most often) - but also combing through the photos in the small hours of the morning when the dress rehearsal ends, to have it standing by for media use at 9am the next day.

In the same way that a movie trailer shouldn't give away too much of a film, I'm always cautious about giving away the best parts of a show in the stills. I don't want anyone sitting through a show waiting for 'that moment' they saw on the poster, or in the lobby, to show up.

But let's face it, you can be fairly sure that a production of Cinderella is going to have a ball, right? So I'm not spoiling TOO much by showing that; and in some ways, that's a turning point in the story, where the hero & heroine are torn apart by the ticking clock.

So when - late at night, editing images - I saw this come up, I knew I'd found it.

Jaime Hadwen (Cinderella) and Tim Maddren (Prince Charming) dance at the ball at the State Theatre in Sydney.

Cinderella, Prince Charming, dancing at the ball. Lavish costumes, beautiful lighting, opulent surroundings. And framing them, a young group of dancers are...hearing the chimes of midnight. 

It's all about to go wrong, but Cinderella doesn't know it yet.

Could anything sum up that story better, in a single frame?

Cinderella continues until July 17th at the State Theatre in Sydney.