Photo Call Lighting


CB Mods
So what do designers do about photo call? Do they alter their plot? Do they design with cameras in mind? How do you get good images of your design for use in a portfolio?
Blahumbug to that "actress".
Mentioned in the thread on Footlights was the question of photo call.

For all of the theatres that I have worked for no lighting was altered for photo call. Since legally the recording of shows on video (or audio) is not permitted, most designers don't design for that. However, if an recording agreement were reached with the licensing firm and the actors the design would not change.

For photo call, you just have to know how to take the pictures correctly. Especially with the newest generation of DSLRs it is getting easier to shoot in low light and get good quality photos. Take a look at my website, all the theatre photos were taken from 30 or more feet from the stage with a fast lens and a tripod. They come out great, and the cameras that are newer than mine are even better. Digital cameras automatically compensate for white balance, which helps a lot. Sometimes you have to be picky about how the light metering is done though, so you get the right exposure.

The same results can be achieved with film in fact this show was shot on film and scanned. The key to shooting film is knowing that you need to color correct. If you go to the store and buy a roll of Kodak Gold film and shoot it in the theatre, all your prints will come out yellow. Why? Because the film is not balanced for tungsten light. So you have two choices, shoot tungsten film or use an 80A blue correction filter. The above mentioned photos were shot on ISO 1600 speed film with an 80A filter.

The other key to photo call is that it is photo call. Taking photos during a show is hard. In low light you need slow shutter speeds which means that if actors move the image gets blurred. So at photo call the actors may take a few lines and then hold a pose so the photographers can shoot. The other thing that slow shutter speeds mean is that you need a tripod! Holding a camera still at a shutter speed slower than 1/30 of a second is really hard. Fast lenses are useful, but expensive, if you have good glass you can usually make do.

I am less in touch with the video world, but I know that we have some video heads here so maybe they can pitch in as to how filming shows works.


Well-Known Member
Video can be tricky, especially with concerts. I used to hate it when I would find an upcoming show was going to be taped! Now, mind you, most of my work was back in the 80's and video equipment has come a long way, but some of the problems have not changed. Video equipment does not have anywhere nears the contrast range as film, which does not have anywhere nears the range of the human eye. Updated stats are needed as mine are old, but to give you an idea: Human eye- 1,000,000 to 1 (From that darkest possible visible item to the brightest.) Film - 1000 to 1. Video- 20 to 1. Now, newer high def cameras get a much better ratio, but if the signal has to be run over an NTSC system, a lot of that is lost. So, there is a black wall. Anything below that point will just be black background. There is also a white wall. Anything above that point washes out. Film has the same type of problem, but the walls are much further apart. The answer back then was to compromise the live show and white-wash the front of the stage to give the video a strong black pedestal. (prevent from falling below the black wall.) Color was another problem. Although video is often balanced for 3200, getting a white check was critical. (may be better these days.) Also, color latitude was limited. On the NTSC system, color hue is phase modulated, and saturation is amplitude modulated. Although broadcast cameras of the day were 400 lines or better resolution, Chroma resolution is only about 40 lines on NTSC. AM saturation was/is ridiculous. What looked nice to the human eye was often overblown and saturated on the live shot.

I hope it works out better for you guys these days!


Well-Known Member
I'm not to the DSLR world yet, but that's the next step...I've currently got a nice Kodak higher-level consumer camera (z612) that has 12x zoom, 6MP, and manually adjustable everything (but I leave focus to the camera). I usually leave the aperature at the lowest setting available for the zoom that I'm at, and vary between 1/4 and 1/800 sec shutter speed depending on the lighting - yeah, we've had some super-bright cues that I had to use 1/800 for, but most are between 1/10 and 1/80 sec shutter. When I'm taking pix during the run of a show, since I don't have a DSLR yet, I anticipate when the actors/dancers will be still for the 1/10 sec or so that I need to take the picture, and try to catch them in that moment by pushing the button far enough before it so that my camera shutter snaps in that snippit of time, because this camera isn't all that fast after you press the button. You can also get really good shots in dance this way - for instance, during a recent dance show here, I was able to catch one of the dancers mid-air - legs blurry, but head, shoulders, arms, and top half of costume relatively in focus - it was a sweet shot.

And generally for cues that have very, very low levels we just hit enter and roll all of the intensity values up. And on a side note, we had a photographer that came for that dance concert that will never ever be shooting for us again - she basically said that they couldn't shoot in the light levels that were on stage, even though it was a moderate cue, not a really dim cue. And we were getting great pix on our consumer camers, and their DSLR couldn't do it, because she couldn't use it at all...even after our TD showed them a perfectly good picture on his camera, she still complained - and showed our TD an overexposed picture saying that the light wasn't bright what did we do? "hey - put groups 1 thru 24 at full - give this **** some light!"
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Active Member
I am currently shooting with a lower end Nikon DSLR, the D40 to be precise. I had been shooting film for a while, but couldn't deal with developing costs and the pain of digitizing everything in the end.

Usually, I don't get the luxury of a photo call. However, if I feel that by the night of the last dress rehearsal that my board op/stage manager are comfortable enough with the cues, I will walk the space and try to pick up as many different angles as possible, snap off as many shots as I can in the hopes that some will turn out good. I try to use a 80mm F2 for that kind of stuff and shoot around ISO 500 at about 1/60th.

However, if I don't have the luxury, I'm usually stuck with a long lens from back of house on opening night or something. What I tend to do in this situations is set up on camera body on a tripod with a wide angle lens (I've got a 32mm F2 that's beautiful) to get the full image of the stage, to see what the whole picture looks like, and then use another body (compliments of my father) on a monopod w/ some sort of telephoto (I tend to use a 80-200 or a 35 to 125 depending on how far back I am) to really capture emotion and subtitles in the lighting.

I find I will usually need to do some color correction or digital noise reduction in photoshop, but most of the images don't need too much doctoring. I only play with the ones I'm putting on my resume.

I try to avoid using frame stills as much as possible -- they never have the same quality image as I hope they would.

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