Theatre Lighting…

DSCF7462Or how I learned to hate the architects…

Theatre lighting is a skilled artistic profession – a technical design discipline. It costs big money and earns big money on the stages of New York, London, Paris, and wherever spectacular presentation is expected. Las Vegas, Hollywood, and the cabarets of Tokyo are a whole ‘nother level of lighting.

Perth is a whole ‘nother level too. Sub basement D with the leaking sewer pipe and the dead rat, it would seem. Stage lighting here is horrible. Dark stages that need to be bright, holes in the pattern, “hatchet” lighting on delicate subjects, and overwhelming gels make stage photography a worrisome task – particularly if you are attempting to use the theatre scheme rather than a flash setup.

The use of available light for theatre shooting during performance is de rigueur elsewhere, as you daren’t disturb the view of the performance. You daren’t disturb the sound of the performance either, and there are technical conventions for that, but as I shoot belly dance shows here in Perth I am not worried about someone hearing the sound of a Fujifilm X shutter. I could probably fire off a three-band Enfield during some of the Arab music and no-one would be the wiser. Mind you, it would be unsafe to put a three-band Enfield in my hands during a performance because I would aim at the speakers…

Coming away from that appealing picture, I am left in Perth with some pretty dodgy lighting. The best I’ve seen in small venues has been taken away – the horrible old Bakery art space used to hold burlesque shows that were a lot of fun and the light setup was perfect for the genre.

Of course, that big money I mentioned at the start of this column is a factor, and looking in a professional publication you can see some pretty exciting prices for spotlights and floodlights. And to be fair, they have to stand pretty high temperatures and be sturdily made to go up on a high light bar. But I am guessing that it is not the price of the things that prevents their use here – it is the lack of foresight on the part of the theatre designers when they plan their showplace. They just don’t sit out in the audience and find whether they can actually see the performers. ” It’ll be right on the night” is all very well if it IS right on the night, but if it isn’t…

Well, since the use of flash is out ( except in certain circumstances ), and since it flattens out what otherwise may be decent background lighting, it looks as though the continued use of available light is the go for the future. Certainly Fujifilm X cameras can deliver ISO to 3200 and 6400 easily. I just need to supply my own steady illumination to supplement whatever the venue has. I am going to undertake an investigation into a couple of portable tower light stands with something on top that can flood a stage from the sides of the audience area but not obtrude too much onto the seating. A/C power probably, though there may be some sort of battery and light possible. It needs to be small enough to go into the Suzuki Swift and cheap enough to run. And I need to get the venue owners to agree to the use.

Wish me luck – I’m workin’ in the dark here.


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