It's fun to look back a year and see what we were photographing at Zach Theatre.

A Marketing photo from "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." 

I was over at Zach Theatre a week ago and I walked around the offices. In every hallway they have framed production photos which span decades. All are printed 12x18 inches and are well matted. All but a handful were made by me. There is generally only one image per production but they were carefully curated by the marketing director.

When I walked through I could "see" every camera that I used to take the photos. We started with M series Leicas and Hasselblads, worked our way through a few generations of Contax film cameras and Nikon film cameras; and then there is the long progression of digital cameras, starting with an Olympus e-10 (the first really effective digital "bridge" camera) and continuing through all the different formats and brands, and ending up, recently, with the Panasonic GH5s. 

It's interesting to see that, while there are some minor technical differences in the images between all the generations of cameras, the differences are not nearly as great as camera advertising, photographer blogs and photo-oriented websites would have one believe. The magic is never in whatever camera was used. Whether the photos work or not (aesthetically) is all tied to several decidedly non-technical factors. To wit: Did I compose the scene in an interesting and dynamic way? Did I capture the peak of action within the scene? Was I able to get on film (or "on sensor") the expressions on the actors' faces that help define and refine the story being told on the stage? Using mostly manual focus, was I able to do all of the above while getting sharp focus on constantly moving actors?

If you really think that today's photography is challenging you should step back a decade or two and try nailing focus, and shifting exposure parameters, through the dim prism of, or reversed waist level finder of, a Hasselblad 500C/M camera and a lens with a long manual focus throw. Everything else will seem like gravy on biscuits by comparison...

Part of theater photography is having an intuition for where actors will move next and what their future actions will be. You have to put yourself and camera into the place where the actors will end up next. Not where they were a few seconds ago.

There was a time when we set up, lit and meticulously styled the promotional photographs. Those are still my favorites.


  1. Kirk

    Is there a chance that you could post a selection of these promo photographs? I'm interested in seeing the differences between the current photos done at rehearsals and the earlier ones that were more set up.


  2. Hi Jay, from 1986 to 2000 most of the images were done on film. Most of the chromes are boxed up and put away somewhere. I don't have the bandwidth to find them, re-edit and scan them. I don't even own a scanner anymore! I'll just invite you to Austin to walk through the hallways of the theater and see them in person.

  3. Having done some panning at a motorsport event with a 500CM held upside down (it just happened to be the only camera I had with me on the day :) ) we definitely have it easy these days. Most of what makes for a good photograph for me is capturing the moment, the subject and the light most of this relies on the timing, instinct and skill of the photographer, not whether he has a 40 megapixel sensor or a 10 megapixel sensor.

  4. Quite interesting.
    "Having done some panning at a motorsport event with a 500CM held upside down (it just happened to be the only camera I had with me on the day :) )"

    Absolutely agree


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