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Photo © Bettina Strenske

The Blue Dragon at the Barbican - Bettina Strenske, 2011

1 January 2012

When we attended the photocall for Robert Lepage’s project “The Blue Dragon” at the Barbican Theatre in London, we were given the standard three scenes to shoot, but shooting that day was particularly tricky as Lepage used a mixture of back and front projection which meant the theatre’s lighting levels could not be adjusted for the photocall.

Especially when shooting dance, theatrical photographers usually ask for more light so that we can freeze the dancer’s movements with fast shutter speeds. Of course you’ll say use a higher ISO, but, believe me, we are already hitting the upper limit. My Canon EOS 5D Mark II, for example, is probably set to ISO 3200 and I’m shooing wide open – to set the ISO even higher would mean the loss of too much image quality.

As only available light is used the light levels can alter quickly, so setting the camera to shutter priority may be better option than than using manual; but if you do find yourself struggling with the exposure there is always the consolation that all the other photographers are likely to be struggling just as much. When a photocall is going well, you hear a cacophony of mirrors flipping up and down, when it isn’t the stalls are engulfed by an eerie silence.

On this occasion, as the dancer Tai Wei Foo appeared on stage, the lighting levels dipped from bad to awful. In addition, the front projection created some strange patterns on her face which only became visible in post processing. Then the inevitable nightmare happened. As the dancer rushed off stage, the lights dipped further and some flashes went off. We certainly didn’t see that coming. So, as often happens, all the best laid plans for a picture were blown and getting something good was, perhaps, merely a fluke.

Bettina Strenske has worked as a professional photographer since 2005 and specialises in arts & entertainment and news. She is currently freelancing for London News Pictures.

Photographer since 2005. EPUK member since 2006.

See more work by Bettina Strenske

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