Theater photography is a rewarding experience if the photographer be prepared for and aware of his/her mission in advance. Usually very dim and dramatic lighting of the scene, limiting rules and regulations and also movements of the performers make it challenging to end up with good usable photos.
In this regard it would be helpful to note some tips in advance in order to increase the chance of achieving satisfactory results out of the hard effort.
- Build rapport with the performance cast and crews especially the director and the scene manager.
- Make sure to be totally aware of the rules and regulations.
- If possible review (watch with your photography goals in mind) the whole performance and if necessary take notes (no actual photo shooting yet!).
- Wear comfortable (preferably black to blend more into the usually dark surrounding) outfit and especially (quiet) shoes.
- Have some food and drinks accessible as the session may take several hours.
- At the day of shooting pack some extra batteries, memory cards and (if possible) back up camera.
- If possible use fast lenses (2.8 and faster) as mostly the scenes are lighten in very dim and dramatic way. Stabilized ones (IS, VR, VC, whatever they call it) are definitely helpful to diminish photographers hand movements but totally handicapped in dealing with the photography objects movements.
- Use cameras with proper high ISO performance. Usually the camera has to shoot in ISO 1600 or higher where lower end consumer ones tend to produce very noisy and soft images.
- Preferably use fast camera bodies with lots of available image buffer which makes you able to shoot multiple RAWs just in a second. More autofocus point will be also helpful to avoid loss of focus or inaccurate focus when shooting fast moving performers.
- Use quality fast zooms as this will allow changing composition very fast and convenient compared to primes. Although having some fast and descent primes in your bag would be a good idea for more static low pace performances.
- Shoot RAW when possible. It is really important when considering the usually tricky lighting condition of performances composed of many different light sources, modifiers and colors.
- Be bold enough to change your perspective and composition. Shoot at different angles, extremely wide and dramatically narrow, from overhead, sides and even laying down on the scene.
- Usually it would be far more convenient (produces better results) to shoot the technical rehearsal (the final rehearsal with all the dresses and make ups) instead of shooting the actual performance in presence of the whole audience.
- Be prepared to shoot hundreds of photos as like other action photography assignments many dozens of the shots will be revealed as useless at the end of the day.
Just as a hint I name some proper (mostly back-breaking expensive) gears of Canon which can be used for theater photography:
- Canon 1Ds bodies (1D bodies are also good with higher frame rates but lower ISO performance)
- Canon 5D mk II
- Canon 7D
- Canon 40D (good performance considering the price)
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L
- Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
- Canon fast Primes (14, 24, 50, 85 and even 135mm) are all descent.
As stated the experience is challenging but the results will be unexpectedly satisfying and the skills will be really helpful in other eras from portraiture to fashion or even sport photography.