Plainview’s Beauty and the Beast


Shooting at a variety of local theatres, I get to see lots of different venues and production capabilities. Some have large stages, some can reconfigure the stage, some are small and intimate.


I’ve been shooting the one annual musical production of Plainview Community Theater for a few years. Previously, they’ve had their shows in the Jon Hassler Theater. It was used for professional productions since 1999 or so, and PCT was able to stage their shows there. While not a sophisticated theater, it did have good seating and was setup with a full complement of stage lighting.


Alas, the building was sold and is no longer available to PCT. Instead, they used the sanctuary of the church across the street from the old Hassler. It’s much smaller with pews for seats and no lighting. But the group made do, constructing a stage and bringing in lights on large stands. Scene changes used minimal pieces that could be easily brought in and out or reconfigured as needed.


The lights provided less ambience than might be expected at a musical, but in some ways made photography easier. They were good and bright, there were some hot and cold spots, but they really weren’t able to do a lot of gels.


It’s all really an amazing community effort to make a big musical happen. I’m always struck by the community spirit I witness at these shows. They are big, they have a big cast, everyone seems to be so thrilled to be in or working on the show. And they fill all the seats they can make available.


I view it as the poster child for community theatre. An amazing outlet for a small town filled with folks who love putting on a show. I heard there was some discussion of trying to gain support for adding a suitable auditorium to their high school which could certainly bring their productions up to another level. I hope they can manage that – their community sure deserves it.


Once again, the show this year, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, was a hit with their audience. And while the lighting was limited, they sure had their share of fun and colorful costumes, so the photos can highlight that.


A large black drape covered much of the front of the sanctuary. I tried to keep that behind the players for the most part, and black works well to showcase the colors and actors.

I haven’t heard what show they will tackle next year, but I’m sure it will be fun. I wonder where it be staged…

I have a couple theatre shoots coming soon, one this month and another early December. Should be a blast!

Riverland’s Into the Woods


Earlier this month, I shot the first show of the fall semester at Riverland, Into the Woods. It’s a Sondheim musical that’s a sort of mash-up of several fairy tails into one story. It was made into a movie last year which was my first experience with the story.


I find I really enjoy Sondheim. Music and lyrics are engaging and fun. The Riverland folks did a great job with it. I’d have loved to sit through it as a regular audience member, but I didn’t make it back to the show after shooting the final rehearsal.


Photographing the show was fun, though. The set – the woods – was done well and lighting was a treat which is always great for me. Lots of colorful costumes rounded out the look, giving me tons to work with.


To shoot a show like this, it helps to have some good technical capabilities – a camera that can cope with lower light levels is a real plus.


That’s probably the biggest technical factor I need for shooting theatre. The 5D MkIII is up to the task, but I do sometimes look longingly at the spec for Sony’s cameras and Nikon’s using Sony sensors. But I love the ergonomics of the Canon and how it fits me.


Rumors have the Mk IV coming “soon” which will perhaps improve in the low light arena. Meanwhile, there’s really no complaining for what this hardware can do. Sometimes I recall where we were in film days, and there’s no comparison. You work with what you have, but I’d never be getting this kind of quality if I was limited to film.


It’s sometimes fun to go back and shoot “analog,” develop it using smelly chemicals, waiting to see how you did until the processing is complete. It forces a discipline that’s a useful exercise and produces a look that is just a bit different. It can be emulated in digital, but it’s still somehow a little different.

When push comes to shove, though, I’d never want to give up the expansive world digital opens for us as artists.

I have another show to blog about soon, but I’m also looking forward to the next Riverland show I’ll be shooting in November.

Catch Me if You Can at RCT


The current show at Rochester Civic Theatre is Catch Me if You Can – The Musical, a musical adaptation of the movie, itself an adaptation of the book. I remember reading the book some time before the movie. It was intriguing both because of the sheer gumption of Frank Abagnale, especially at such a young age, and the insecurity of so many institutions like banks. He was able to forge checks using the system against itself. While a lot of what he did would no longer work, the computer-driven world has its own insecurities. As we’ve seen.


I remember wondering how this story would work as a musical. My first question was if they portrayed Abagnale’s time in a French prison. The description in the book was not happy. Perhaps in a musical like Les Mis it might work. But, no, there is no prison scene.


There is an abundance of fun songs and – in this production – a ton of great dancing. The players worked their tales off, and it shows!


The sets are pretty simple with a few pieces moving on and off stage between scenes. That lets scene changes become more-or-less nonexistent. Often, as a song happens down stage right, things are moving behind them and suddenly we’re into the next scene.


When I saw the show as an audience member on opening night, I was able to pay more attention to this. There were one or two scenes that actually take a few seconds, but most happen almost seamlessly. For shooting, it meant it was pretty constant from the start until intermission and then until the end. For the audience, it means the show moves fast.


Shooting the show, it’s musical theatre standard methods. Lots of colorful costumes, gel’d lights, spots. There’s a lot of dancing, many big dance numbers. All challenging and all rewarding when you get a good photo.


These shows are a bit more work in post, as well, mainly to cope with the large dynamic range especially when spots are used.


There are hot spots (from normal lights, not spot lights) to deal with, too. I have developed some tricks to work around these issues.


There are also  some things you can do in a theatre photo that look good but wouldn’t work at all for many other types of photography.


It’s all about lights and lighting and, I think, about how we interpret what we see. And what we expect to see.


The other problem I sometimes have with musicals is culling the shots down. Visually, there is so much happening and so much movement that there are many photos one can (and this one does) take. Eventually, I have to ask if each shot tells something of the story or if it’s not much different from some other shot.


Do I keep the really nice photo of the couple sitting on the gurney staring lovingly into each others eyes, or the fun one with the pillow and laughs? I end up keeping both.


A drama just doesn’t produce as many. When a show is dialog-driven, the actors may move around to keep the intensity for the audience, but for still photography, the goal is more to find that one angle, the one photo that communicates the emotion of that interaction.


For a musical, it’s in some ways more of an event, a performance of singing and dancing that we’ve come to enjoy. So I want my photos to bring that across. Sometimes, there’s a deeper meaning or darker mood to a musical, and those provide challenges which seem to cross the two genres.

Catch Me runs just one more weekend. It’s immensely entertaining, the music is great, and the RCT cast and crew will keep you engaged and laughing. A truly fun show!

SMNPPA and the Gladiolas


I belong to a local professional photographers group, Southern Minnesota Professional Photographers Association, or SMNPPA for short. We’re affiliated with the larger Minnesota PPA and the Professional Photographers of America. It exists for promoting networking with other professional photographers as well as providing education opportunities for its members.


We meet once a month, usually having a speaker providing instruction in some aspect of photography or business or marketing or some combination of the above. Some of our speakers are local, but we also often bring in folks from quite distant parts of the country. It’s a great organization and quite a deal for what you get – in case any of my readers is also shooting professionally.

One of our members and director of programs, Heather, has parents who plant over four acres of gladiolas on their farm near Potsdam, MN. She had the great idea to take the opportunity to have one of our meetings at the farm when the flowers were in bloom.


For this meeting, we had a couple short talks covering macro (close-up) photography and environmental portraiture. Then, we were out to the field to shoot.


Most of our meetings don’t include shooting, although we usually have one all-day meeting with some shooting in the summer. This meeting was different having the short instruction time and the rest of the evening photographing around the glads. The weather was great and as the sun moved lower in the sky, the light became very nice.


I brought extension tubes to shoot a few close-ups of the flowers, experimenting a bit with a couple techniques. There was a bit of a breeze early, but it calmed down nicely for us making the macro shooting a little easier.


Heather lined up three models for us, so I took Barret over by some of the red flowers and took a few photos as the sun was setting.


As I was looking around, I happened to see the sky come to life away from the sun. My favorite sky color – I call it a magenta sky – highlighted some high thin clouds. (See my post about my Grand Canyon visit to see one of my favorite photos of the canyon with this same magenta-colored sky.)

I knew this would last just minutes. It was “oh! oh! where can we shoot??? Now!!” I found a stand of flowers to pose Barret by, sat on the ground and fired away. It was then that I noticed the gladiolas she was standing next to had colors so similar to those above her. What more could I ask for?


And sure enough, the clouds soon went dark. Heather and a few others shot a some final photos of the models with the waning light in the west behind them to finish up the evening. The three young women were good sports – the temperature was dropping and the mosquitoes were biting.

We wrapped up and headed to a local tavern for dinner and drinks. Heather’s folks donate many flowers to St. Mary’s hospital (part of the Mayo system) and other organizations. They’ve been in the news several times – recently here – and now I’ve been able to see and wander through the awesome acres of glads. I also had a chance to talk to her father, John, about what goes into it. It was fascinating and great to feel his passion for it.

Those of us drawn to photography understand how that sort of passion works. And why we can spend hours talking about it.

Mari’s Last Friday

RCT Staff

Those of you who wander this blog from time to time know I volunteer my photography skills regularly to Rochester Civic Theatre. And I’ve done so for, well, let’s say a few years. A theatre like this becomes something of a family. I’ve become friends with many who also volunteer – as actors, musicians, crew, set builders, etc. – and also theatre staff, current and past.

Folks come together from all over, with varied backgrounds, and work to bring performance art to the community and make it the very best they can. It’s very rewarding and fun, and I encourage everyone to become involved.


Friday nights during the summer, RCT has their free patio concerts. Last Friday was the final one of the 2015 summer. Sad to see summer come to an end, and this was yet another sign that autumn will be on its way soon. But it was sad for a different reason. A family reason.


Mari has been a rock of sanity and calm at RCT for several years. She’s been the go-to person for me. Headshots go to Mari for the program. Questions about this or that? I contact Mari. She’s been a stage manager. She’s been on stage. She’s at many of the events we attend.


Mari came to us from Japan. Her cultural background was very different from the typical American’s making for countless discussions. Yet I think she’d say she’d become American in many ways. All the best ways.


Mari’s visa was finally set to expire with no more possible extensions. So, this weekend she headed back to her homeland to start the next part of her life. Back in Japan.


And those of us here begin the next part of our life. Life far from Mari. A life without her joy so easily accessible. And we thank the technological times in which we live, knowing she’ll be closer than she’d have been just few years ago.


I took my Canon cameras to the event Friday. I was asked to shoot some video of a few special comments and song. And, I wandered around to capture some moments in stills as Mari said goodbye for now to many of her American friends. So glad I did.

I wanted to put together a post with some of the shots and to honor Mari and the impact she’s had on so many of us. But, to be truthful, it’s hard to find words that do it justice.

We love you, Mari! Japan had better treat you well. Keep in touch, and we will see you again!

Photoshop World 2015


I just returned from Photoshop World 2015 in Las Vegas. It was my fourth time attending the conference and Expo – three of them in Vegas. The day before the main conference begins, they have what I think they now call In-depth Workshops. Those of us who’ve been around a while still call them pre-cons. As in before the conference. I decided to spend a bit of time around Joe McNally again and take his pre-con.

I keep hoping some of Joe’s vast understanding of light and story-telling will rub off on me! We went to what is basically a large open space filled with various gym equipment used by some of the Vegas performers to train. As models, Joe brought some friends (who doesn’t he know?) from the local scene.

Charlotte is a show girl and was dressed as such. The lighting setups were set ahead of time, each station using a different kind of lighting arrangement. Charlotte is very natural and at home even with a line of photographers waiting to take a few pictures.


I decided to go for something whacky, and asked her to give me a surprised look. She was awesome. This is probably my favorite photo of the day.


Manu is a lead in Cirque du Soleil’s Ka. A very fit young man. And, he’s from Paris. The lighting station here was a black backdrop and rim lighting. Perfect for highlighting his physique. There was something missing, though.


I asked Manu if he’d mind removing his shirt. He obliged. When I checked a long while later, no one had apparently asked him to replace the shirt. Go figure!


Sasha is a former Olympic swimmer. I believe Joe said she performs in O. Beautiful lines and flexibility. Look at her fingers – no posing, she just naturally does that.


I had a little fun with her, too. I’m not sure she knew what to make of me. I figured they are standing there for 40 or 50 photographers – they were given some much-needed breaks – shooting frame after frame, so I wanted to add a bit of levity. Hey, I do what I can!


Drew is a former NFL player. I didn’t talk to Drew as much as I’d have liked – he was a very popular subject. Very popular. He had some cool props. While I was in line, he had a shirt on, and I was thinking it would be cool if he could tear it off for a photo. Someone beat me to that request, and from what I could hear, it turns out he had a handful of tear-away shirts. Too obvious, I guess.


He had just been oiled up, so I thought it would be good to try the cowboy hat and give me a just back from the field kind of look with a jacket over the shoulder. I’d like to have worked this a bit more, but I wanted others to have their opportunities to shoot.


Our final model, Alyssa, is a freelance acrobat. She said she can’t dance, but you’d think she must. She grew up in a circus performing family. I suspect this is just in her blood. She did some ring work, then a lot with this hanging fabric – climbing, sitting, hanging, and used it as a backdrop at ground level. When she was up in the air, I kept looking over at her amazed at her stamina. Hanging and moving without stopping. How can she do that? This station used continuous lights (no flash) which have some nice benefits. But what they don’t do well is overpower the ambient light, so lots of my shots of Alyssa have distracting backgrounds. But one benefit was everyone around her could all shoot at once – no flash triggers were needed.


While I was looking over at Manu later in the afternoon, I saw this incredible window light behind him. The sun had moved, pushing a lot more light through those windows. I kind of slipped in to grab some shots between the flashes of the photographer with the radio trigger. Made sure I stayed out of that photographer’s way, but I had to grab a few shots. Ambient light can be really great. But, it’s good to recognize that Manu was still in front of a black backdrop that helped guide that window light where it would produce this sort of pattern.

This was all on Monday. Photoshop World began in earnest on Tuesday starting with the always amazing keynote event. There’s always a theme and a video, and this year it was a spoof of Wayne’s World. They posted the whole keynote here – the first seven minutes or so is the video. This sets the tone for the conference, and you realize it’s going to be educational, but it’s going to be fun along the way, too!

Apart from the conference and Joe’s pre-con, I had some time to walk a ton, ride in the High Roller (basically a very large Ferris wheel), do some indoor freefall at the Vegas Indoor Skydiving center, and attend Zarkana, one of Cirque du Soleil’s amazing shows. I have a lot of iPhone photos! Ask to see them sometime!

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