This past October I was fortunate to travel to New York City to photograph the Company while they were performing at the Koch Theater. Although I photographed the dress rehearsals from out front in the theater, I spent most of my time shooting backstage and during class each day.
Photographing class in the morning was a challenge because the entire company was in one studio and it was quite a bit smaller than they’re used to in San Francisco. So although I usually don’t move around a lot while I shoot, just finding a place to sit was difficult. At one point, I was crouched under the piano since that was the only place available.
Conversely, the backstage area in the theater is quite large, so I was able to explore the area a bit more. This time, I approached shooting backstage a little differently than I normally do: I decided to use wider lenses to capture more of the theater and the environment. Most of the time I use fast telephotos but on this trip I used mainly a 35mm and 50mm Summicron on a Leica M9. My main objective using these lenses was to capture “a scene” rather than a specific dancer or activity.
When I’m shooting backstage the first and most important thing is the light and where it’s coming from. Most of the light is pouring through the wings from the stage lights but sometimes there are also small lights here and there so the dancers can see during the performance. Although they’re quite dim, they can be useful as backlights or even key lights; the photographs below with Sarah Van Patten and Alexandra Meyer-Lorey were taken with just those types of lights.
People often ask me how I set the cameras meter to compensate for the extreme differences in the source of light backstage. All my exposures are always done manually. I used to take a spot meter readings often and adjust accordingly. Now, I found I can actually take a few meter readings in the beginning and then adjust my exposure just using my eye and the photographic zone system. This lets me work faster and have the control I need in order for the photograph be the way I imagine it before I click the shutter. Combine that with manually focusing a rangefinder camera in near darkness and things can be a little tricky. But I feel that this the only way I can get what I want from each photo.
Did you enjoy these behind-the-scenes photos? Leave a comment!