The theatrical photographer serves many functions as a member of a live production crew; he or she is both an adjunct to the marketing of the show and a historian that captures moments in cultural history for posterity.
When a theatrical photographer is hired on to a live show, such as a play, opera, or concert tour, this person will meet with both the marketing director for the production, as well as the producer and director. He or she will take instruction as to the particular needs from the photographs and be given a schedule to follow for attending the dress rehearsal and previews. Since many of the images will be used in advertising materials, such as posters, programs, or billboards, the photographer is invited to a first look of the show before live audiences are able to attend. He or she might first watch the full run-through of the show to understand the material and identify important moments to capture, then will move on to photograph a second, and perhaps even third performance. In those rehearsals, this person uses his or her creative eye and artistic instincts to take pictures which express the most character and emotion, in a single frame, without the aid of sound.
While working with the cast, the director may instruct the photographer to take specific photos, but most often, the photographer is free to operate independently. At the discretion of the director, the photographer may interact with the cast and pose scenes, with additional assistance from the lighting console operator, to achieve the best frame and look. There may also be a need to schedule a photo shoot in a studio to take press images of the cast for publication in electronic press skits. After completing the assignment, the photographer will select the best images to present to the production staff and edit the photos for clarity and color, cleaning up any rough areas.
Skills & Education
A college degree in fine art with a concentration in photography is recommended for this career, as the photographer must have a thorough education in both digital and film photography, as well as the concepts of framing a shot, color theory, and lighting. Some experience in theatrical production is helpful, because the individual must understand the principles of blocking and staging when working with actors on live sets. A liberal education in numerous areas of art can be beneficial; the photographer must have a trained eye that can see potential for compelling images before they happen. Since the job requires interaction with several senior staff members, the person in this role should be capable of effective communication and collaboration.
What to Expect
Many photographers get their starts in a theatrical career in college, volunteering for the theater department. Similarly, opportunities may exist to work with choral groups, local bands, and community theaters. Experience as a photojournalist is helpful but not required. Any assignments that allow you to further practice your craft are useful, but for those who wish to concentrate their careers in the entertainment industry, narrow your focus to relevant opportunities. Most often, the gigs come in the form of freelance work, so it is necessary to network and make the calls to actively seek out work. Do not be afraid to call up a local band or theater company to inquire about their photography needs. At first, you may have to volunteer your talents, but after a few successful assignments, your skills will be proven, and you will have a portfolio that proves you are a professional who is worthy of asking a fair price. It is important to set reasonable rate standards to protect your own market and to obtain a contract that details copyrights and licenses for the use of your images.
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