Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra

West Road Concert Hall, orchestra lineup
CUCO Orchestra at West Road Concert Hall

I am watching the Eurovision Song Contest on SVT play. The winner has already been announced, but I was busy photoshopping when the programme first broadcast so it is replay time for me. The songs are better than I remember from previous years, and the choreography, lighting and effects on stage are very impressive. Earlier today (Saturday) my camera and I spent three hours with the Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra in the West Road Concert Hall. They were rehearsing for tonight’s concert, and the entire orchestra had dressed up in stage clothes for the photography session. They also turned on the stage lights for part of the rehearsal to make it look more like a real concert. I really like to photograph the rehearsals. It is more interactive than a normal concert, and not only do I get to hear great music, I also have the opportunity to photograph.

Grace Catherine Greiner playing the violin
Snapping a few shots before the concert rehearsal starts. Here Grace Catherine Greiner. I ended up making a lot of these photos black and white since I felt the natural colours were a bit boring, the colours were not adding very much.

Originally I was only planning on bringing my 50 and 85 mm lenses with me, but I turned back and picked up my 20 mm lens also, and I am glad that I did. That lens gave me the opportunity to take some nice wide angle shots of the entire orchestra. My other prime lenses are really good, but the 20 mm lens has got a lot of distortion and is less sharp, which is why I don’t always bring it with me. If I should have the option to buy it again I would probably opt for a slightly less wide angle lens with better optics. Anyway, you work with what you have and the lens can do a great job if you use it right, just keep people away from the periphery.

The pianist's hand reflected in the black wood of a Steinway & son piano
I saw the reflection in the piano and got in close to snap a few shots of the hands. The final image is a fairly tight crop. I’ve brightened the reflection a bit with a gradient filter and darkened the hand to the right.

When I arrived people were still gathering, I met up and talked with Karys Orman, who was coordinating things, about the plan for the afternoon. They wanted photos for next year’s programme, they also wanted photos of the evening’s guest stars Jamie Phillips and Melanie Ragge, as well as some portraits of the new student president and vice-president of their society. The rehearsal had not yet started, so I took the opportunity to walk around a bit among the orchestra taking a few shots. After they began playing I mostly circled the orchestra, which meant that the people in the centre of the orchestra did not get photographed as much as those on the periphery. Melanie was only there for the first part of the rehearsal, so the focus was on getting a few good shots of her.

Melanie Ragge playing in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
Melanie Ragge was the soloist for the evening. Here I turned the photo black and white, and added a split toning.
Gabrielle Teychenne playing violin in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
Gabrielle Teychenne playing the violin. I added a strong vignetting to deemphasise the girl to the right who only got half her face in the frame.

Part of the way through the rehearsal I took a break and walked away with Ben Glassberg and Giverny McAndry to do the portrait photos. We had access to a big room with big windows placed high up on the walls, which meant that I did not need to use the flash that I had brought along. Here we tried to position them so that the light would come in from the side to add a bit of depth to their faces. They were really fun to work with, when I was taking photos of Ben then I could see Giverny doing a silly dance behind me in the reflection of the camera screen. She was trying to make him laugh, and doing a pretty good job.

Ben Glassberg and Giverny McAndry
Ben Glassberg and Giverny McAndry. These two were great fun to photograph, this is one of the more serious photos we took.
Tom Edinburgh playing the trumpet in West Road Concert Hall
Tom Edinburgh playing the trumpet. Here I am trying to get a bit of the orchestra in the background to give the photo context. Because the light does not change I set the exposure once, and then kept the same settings. This allows me to focus my attention on composition.
Jamie listening to the orchestra from afar
A couple of times Jamie moved around in the auditorium to listen to the orchestra from different places. Here you can see him conducting from the audience seats. There was a big difference in brightness between the stage and the audience seats. I had to brighten the foreground considerably in post processing to make this photo come together.

There was a fun episode when Jamie (the conductor) walked away from the orchestra to listen from afar. This left the conductor podium empty “they don’t need me, they can play all by themselves”, so I took the opportunity to jump up there and snap a few shots from his view of the world.  When Jamie came back he offered me his conductor wand, and I could probably have got away with trying to weave a few musical spells, but I figured it was better to let the professionals do the job.

Eleanor Thompson playing the violin
Eleanor Thompson playing the violin. I added vignetting to put the focus on her as Grace to the right was only partly in the frame.
Jamie Phillips conducting the orchestra at West Road Concert Hall
Jamie Phillips in action.
Chloe Rush at West Road Concert Hall
Who knew clearing away chairs was so much fun? In the foreground Chloe Rush.
Rosie Bowker
Rosie Bowker. It was just a split second that she looked up, but that made the picture.
West Road Concert Hall orchestra closeup
Gabrielle Teychenne, Lydia Caines, Nick Bleisch and Hannah Bell.

I ended up taking about 600 photos, which is a lot to go through afterwards. Need to be a bit more selective with what I shoot, at the same time I do prefer to snap a few more shots to make sure I capture the decisive moment. Also my workflow could probably be optimised. It was great that they had all dressed up for the rehearsal so that we could get good photos, I felt honoured that they wanted to do that.

– Johannes

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