Dividing the Estate. A play directed by Stephen Dietz

I went to Zachary Scott Theater last night to see a new play directed by Stephen Dietz.  The play, Dividing the Estate, written by Texas playwright, Horton Foote,  is set in rural Texas and concerns a family hell bent on dividing up the family estate to save each member of the family from his own, self-inflicted, economic demise.  Stephen Dietz was masterfully directing the play and even though it was an early dress rehearsal the cast pulled off a great performance.  I really enjoyed it.  Some parts had me laughing out loud while others reminded me of more or less universal family dynamics.

But I was there to get some work done. We started right at 8 pm. I used three cameras:  an Olympus EP3 (with VF2 finder) and both the 45mm 1.8 Olympus lens and the 25mm Lumix Leica Summilux 1.4.  The combinations worked well.  I kept that camera at ISO 800 and the files were well behaved.  My one modification to the EP3, for this evening's work, was to cover the blue "on" light with a piece of black gaffer's tape.  It was too bright for my taste.  The camera locked focus quickly and I shot mostly in the range of f2.8 @ 1/125th.

I used a Sony a57 camera with the 70 to 200mm f2.8 G lens.  I used the lens at f3.2 and generally, with the camera set at ISO 3200 I was able to shoot without any problems at shutter speeds of 1/250th to 1/500th of a second.  I was happy with the camera's ability to lock focus quickly and I was happy with the shallow depth of field and uncluttered feel to the out of focus areas.  The files at 3200 ISO were just fine (shot Jpeg fine at 16 megapixels).

My final camera/lens combination was the Sony a77 couple with the 16-50mm lens.  I shot this combo at f4, 1/125 to 1/250th of a second @ ISO 1600.  I shot these files in the raw format.  Not for any brilliant reason but because I forgot to switch the camera to Jpeg after my last project...
The noise at 1600 was easy to handle and the files looked the best of all three cameras.  But not by much.  I would have been happy shooting with any of the three.  

All of the cameras were shot handheld and the image stabilization was turned on for all three.  Not that it matters but I was using Transcend class 10 SDHC cards, 16 gigs, in each camera.  I've been using them since I switched to cameras that take SD's with no issues.

I have become much more used to the layout of the buttons and controls on the Sony cameras and I was much more comfortable using the cameras in the dark at the rehearsal.  I credited that to having already clicked through about 30,000 exposures between my three Sony cameras since I bought them several months ago...

I really enjoy shooting dress rehearsals for plays.  Not just plays I would enjoy as an audience member (like this one...) but also work that is challenging to me as an audience member.  When I'm shooting I'm following the basic story but I'm mostly looking for things that are more engaging to me like an actor's pose or gesture.  From the commanding stance of the actor in the image just above to the engagement of the actor below.

What the marketing people really want to see is different than what I want to see as a photographer.  Their interest is in groupings like the one below that, with the addition of a good caption, go a long way to giving a short hand glimpse at what the play is all about.

In between dramatic moments and groupings I like to take images that are more akin to portraits.  The lighting on this production was especially good for photography with well filled shadows and not too many lighting cues with over the top color casts that might not succumb even to good post processing...

I love the juxtaposition of the forward actor and the out of focus actor in the middle plane.  The light coming through the side window and the plane of the back wall add so much dimension.

Austin acting legend, Barbara Chisholm, had me laughing out loud in her role as a Houston woman of means who's, "NEVER WORKED A DAY IN MY LIFE !!!"  She played the role so well.  I know.  I've been to Houston...

I'm sitting in the studio now.  I've post processed all of the files and I'm waiting for Lightroom to convert everything to manageable Jpegs.  It's taking a while to crunch through the large raw files I shot with the a77.  Once we've converted everything I'll stick the files on DVD's for the marketing director.

We are transitioning to Summer here.  I've ordered a new air conditioner to replace the dying one in the studio.  It should be here tomorrow.  We don't mess around with dying air conditioners in Texas.  Not after last Summer.  

I'm busy putting together a book of essays for my e-book project.  More about that to come.

Hope everyone is staying cool and having fun.


  1. Great work! The images remind me of a story board we would use in live TV production to block the shots. I think we will be going to the theater.

  2. Kirk, I love the your theater shots and that you are such a theater-goer. Here is a question... Do attend a rehearsal first and then shoot a second rehearsal? I can see you don't stay in one location as you shoot, but do you ever go onstage (nearer to the actors) to get a better angle? I used to shoot in the theater years ago with pushed Ektachrome 160 -- it must be a real dream to shoot at ISOs such as 1600 or 3200.

    1. Richard, I don't go to a pre-rehearsal. I do talk to the marketing director and I generally have a sense of what the play is about. The MD will tell me that "this is cool and it happens at the top of act two.." Or, "There's pyrotechnics and a water blast at the close of the fourth scene, be ready when you see/hear this." I can move around the perimeter to my heart's content but I try never to step on the stage. I remember the Ektachrome years. I used to shoot a lot of productions with M series Leicas. Tri-X in one camera and Kodak Tungsten 320T pushed one stop in another....

      I would guess I've seen about 240 plays in the last 19 years. Not a bad track record for a non-theater major....

  3. Some absolutely wonderful character faces in this productions. Makes me wish I was there to see it. THe white haired lady with the cane - that's a knockout shot.

  4. Wonderful shots.

    On a gear note, take care with the Transcend cards - they're great cheap cards, but they aren't nearly as physically durable as the Sandisk cards, and that matters a lot more with SD. (I actually had a Transcend die under only a small amount of flex because traces lifted off the thin PCB. The good Sandisk cards have the whole works encased in a rigid chunk of epoxy.)

  5. The actors must love these. It's so hard to capture a clear image showing both the big and small things that go into the physical part of the craft, which you do so well here - bravo!

  6. I'm always amazed at how informative your posts are; intended as such or not, they are always subtle lessons.

    Also, I really like the tension in the group shot. The layers comment brought what was probably a subconscious observation to light and prompted me to look back at many of your photos.

    Great post.


    1. Thanks Joe. I love the idea of layering light and subject.


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