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Seven Tips for Successful Improv Show Photography

So you’re going to photograph an improv show? Let’s face it, improv shows are kind of sucky to shoot: there’s not much light, you never know where the actors are going to be and for how long they’re going to be there.

I’ve been photographing improv shows quite some time now and I have learned a lot about show photography in those years. But also, I’m still learning things with almost every show that I shoot. Here are a few tips & tricks of show photography that can help you get the best shots.

1. Check your settings!

This may sound obvious, but I’m sure we’ve all made mistakes here. So, make sure that you’ve adjusted your camera settings. If you’ve been shooting cityscapes outside, your ISO settings will still be low and your autofocus field will probably be set to wide, and neither of those will be of any use shooting in a theatre.

2. Get up close and personal!

Unfortunately, too many improv scenes consist of two people talking at a distance. True, distance on stage can create an interesting tension between the characters which can be felt by an audience. However, in a still image the drama is best shown in close-ups, so break out that telephoto lens or just get as close to the action as you can!

3. Work the angles!

We’ve all seen dozens (if not hundreds) of shots straight at the stage, so you’ll want to switch it up. If the room allows you to move around so that you can capture the same scene from different sides. You never really know where the magic will happen on the stage. Also use different heights to shoot from. If the action is on the stage floor, get down to the same level… or bring your camera up high for an overhead shot!

4. Don’t shoot too much!

Every improv show is unique, and so you may want to capture every precious moment of it by shooting a buttload of pictures! But you don’t regret it when you get home after the show and you have to sort through 200+ shots to make a selection for the show. Set yourself limits on how many shots you’re going to make at a particular show: this will force you to look better at the performance and take the shots that matter most!

5. (Trigger warning!) Camera’s don’t shoot people, people shoot people!

There’s a maxim in photography that says that good photographers can make good photograph, even with bad cameras. This is true… but it’s a little less true when you’re photographing an improv show. Having a good camera certainly makes a difference. Since you’re shooting in low-light conditions and you can’t ask the actors to ‘hold that pose’, it helps if your camera produces little noise with high ISO settings. However, don’t let an older model camera stop you – go shoot that show!

6. Embrace work-up!

I get it, you’ve already put in so much time and effort shooting the show that you don’t want to spend much time working up the images. But trust me, work-up is where it’s at! Improv shows in particular don’t yield the best photos technically speaking, so it’s worth it to spend some time colour balancing, reducing noise, and finding the optimal cropping.

7. Lastly: Give yourself a break!

You may miss that incredible moment when that one actor did that amazing thing. You’re not perfect – give yourself a break: failing is part of improv and there’ll be another show another time. Also, most of the time, the company’s actors and producers are just super-happy that there are photographs of their show at all!


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