Riley JB - Photographer & Alchemist


Calgary photographer, Riley JB, writes essays, photo stories, reviews & tutorials in his photographic Journal.

The Stones:: Theatre Photography

I was recently hired by Vertigo Theatre's Y Stage to make production photos of the play 'The Stones'.  I thought I would just write a quick blog about theatre photography for those who have not had the opportunity to give it a go.

Preparation for Theatre Photography

Before doing any kind of photography that I am paid for I get a little bit of anxiety. I worry that I won't be able to deliver a good product that is worth the money they are giving me. And of course I think I am a hack that will be exposed as the fraud that I am in grande fashion in front of everyone. So to quell that anxiety by about 8% I did a little prep.

I went the night before the planned shoot and watched the show as a member of the audience. This is probably the only thing I can think of doing to really prepare myself for it. I get to see the stage, the set, the theatre, the actors and most importantly the lighting cues. I took note of pivotal moments of the play that tell the story and would translate well to photographs. These moments would be the must haves to capture and everything in between would be icing on top.

I watched and enjoyed the story and I got all the shots I needed.. in my head. Now the hard part was capturing those same shots onto the sensor of my camera.

Go Time

The next day I hauled my gear to the theatre. This performance was strictly for photography and there was no audience.  As the show was nearing the end of its run these photos would not be used for promotion but more for archival for the theatre company as well as those working on the show. Despite this, I was still going to shoot it as if they were going to be promo shots.

I was using my Canon 5D Mark III and my workhorse lens for this show was the EF 24-105 f/4L. Now I know what people who are high above me in the hierarchy of professional photography.. "Why not the 24-70 f/2.8L??" I know that gives another stop of light which would be great in the dark theatre environment but the reason is I own the 24-105 and I don't own a 24-70. I really think the 24-105 is written off by many as just a kit lens.. but I find it to be quite sharp, has image stabilization, and has a better focal length range than the 24-70. But truth be told I probably would not have used a 24-70 wide open so I could still have both actors in focus when they were several feet apart.

There are a couple ways to shoot a play. The actors can pose as if they are doing a scene of the play or they can actually do it. I find it much easier to have the actors just run through the play and not do staged shots from scenes within the play. It is a more organic process for me to watch it unfold and to look for the shots I want. But it was nice that I could say "hold that" and they could hold a pose for a few seconds longer than if they were playing to an audience.

The Photos

The last photo is of guitarist Tyler Rambie who provided the live soundtrack to this show on his guitar. He did sound effects and everything just using his guitar. As he was standing in one place I switched to my 50mm f/1.2L to grab a few shots of him playing. I could of probably spent another hour just taking detail shots of the guitar, amp and him playing but they had a show to do for an audience after this.


This is a very small sampling of photos. I delivered 75 edited photos to the theatre for their use. I am trying to create my own style of production photography for theatre and something I hope to continue.

Vertigo is a great local theatre here in Calgary and it was a fun experience for me to do production photos again and  I really enjoyed it. Especially as I am moving towards more portraiture than just landscapes this Spring.

Oh! Also.. I wore my Holdfast MoneyMaker strap for the first time that wasn't just around my house annoying my wife.. and it did great. Definitely the best strap on the market.