Sweet Charity

I like to capture motion and emotions. This week the main show at the ADC Theatre was Sweet Charity, a massive production directed by Tania Clarke. The cast and crew list fills an entire screen on Camdram. There are actors, singers and dancers all participating in the musical. I shot a staggering amount of photos, and have been processing them the last few evenings, but now they are finally done. Here are my favourite shots from the show, you can see the rest on Facebook.

Rosalind Peters as Charity and Tom Beaven in the opening scenes of the show. When I choose the photos for the blog I both want to pick those that look good, but also have enough to tell a story.
Here Charity is just about to get pushed into the water. They used a cloth and blue light to simulate water, which worked quite well. Almost all photos are shot with my 50 mm from a rather low angle. Part of the stage had been removed to make room for the orchestra, which meant that I could not get too close.
Poor Charity is getting rescued from the water. Here I was trying to capture the photo when everyone was looking at her, which was tricky as they kept talking to each other and doing other things in the background. For example there is one guy at the very back selling ice cream.
Megan Henson as Carmen, one of the dancers in the show. With big dance scenes I either wanted to go for repetition of patterns, or for closer photos of individuals standing out from the crowd. Here is one such example of the latter.
With low light photography it becomes a compromise between aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Here I am shooting at ISO 2000 to keep a shutter speed at 1/600 second. The aperture is at f/3.5. The reason I did not go all the way to f/1.4 is that I wanted to get a bit of depth of field.
Gabbie Bird strikes a pose. Notice that there is space around here without any of the other dancers obscuring her, making her the focus of the image. I have modified the image, removing one dancer that was only partly visible to the left, and a second dancer that was poking out just behind Gabbie.



Here Charity has just woken up after passing out during a dance with prince Charming. I like how they are framing her in this shot.
Another of the classical shots that I like with one of the actors in the foreground and someone else in the background out of focus providing context. The one thing I see now looking at this image is the bright cloth in the upper right corner which I should have either darkened or removed altogether. The colours are a bit orange also, but the light was tricky to work with.
Here George Longworth and Ella Duffy. If you did not see three people in this shot, look again. I originally made the photo in colour, but I found it much more interesting in black and white when Charity to the right is no longer immediately visible.
This is a composite shot, I took both frames from the same spot on the left side of the stage. The alignment function in photoshop is very powerful, and with a layer mask you can seamlessly blend the two layers afterwards.
Charity hides in the closet as prince charming and his woman retire to the bedchamber. Again, the two in the background provides context for Charity in the foreground.
Charity meets the claustrophobic Charlie, played by Tom Beaven, in a lift that suddenly gets stuck between two floors. I played around with a bit of perspective correction to get the frame in the background to have right angles, but that only made the actors look deformed, so I kept the original wonky version.
Enter the hippies. This was a really colourful dance with lots of great costumes.

Right as the hippie dance started, I needed to adjust the ISO on my camera. I did this by holding down the ISO button and turning one of the two dials to set the appropriate value. After taking a few shots I checked the histogram and noted that I had shot the photo with ISO 12800, and that it looked really bright which was weird because I had set the ISO value to something in the range of ISO 1000-2000. Somehow the auto-ISO function had turned on. Not good! On my new camera I did not know how to quickly turn it off, and the shots were getting too brightly exposed. In the break the dancers had exciteldly told me about this part of the show, and now I was missing the shots. My quick fix was to use the exposure compensation (+/-)-button to set a negative exposure compensation, telling the camera to underexpose the bright image it thought was correct exposure. That made the shots look ok, so I kept shooting a bit, but it bugged me that it was in auto-ISO mode. After a while I went back to fumbling with the camera controls before I realised that I could switch on-and-off the auto-ISO function by pressing the ISO button and turning the other of the two dials. So now I know for next time, which is great, but I would rather have learned it through the manual, however, I guess this way I will not forget it. Hopefully me writing it here will help someone else avoid the same problem in the future.

Speaking of auto-ISO and metering: I use matrix metering. There is also a highlight preserving metering mode. Another option to fixing the over-exposures, instead of using exposure compensation, would be to switch to that highlight preserving mode. It is supposedly useful when photographing concerts and theatre plays which have strong spotlights that would otherwise confuse the camera in the normal metering mode. I might give it a try when I photograph a future rehearsal.

With few means the actors created the illusion of being in a public transport. This shot was taken just as they disembark, and I have removed the two people on either end that were only partly visible within the frame. There was another photo where the train/bus/thingy suddenly stopped and they were all pushed against each other, but it was not as clean as this shot.
Amy Reddington’s gesture makes this shot. It is not entirely sharp, but I liked it enough to keep it.
This might be one of the photos where I am happiest with the framing. Charity and Charlie were having dinner together, but at different tables. The waiter is briefly flirting with Charity. I like how the barrier between them provides a nice separation of the frame.
The troop is getting ready for another dance performance. You might recognise Leora Taratula-Lyons (left of Rosalind) from one of my previous ballet blog posts.


They held the salute long enough for me to reframe the photo and get this shot. Here both the light in the foreground and the background looked great. I removed the last of the men to the right, since you could only see his shoulder, to make the photo a bit cleaner.
Charity is leaving the establishment, and the girls are throwing her a farewell party complete with gifts. Here one of them had bought baby clothes, since she thought Charity was getting married because she was pregnant.


Unfortunately Charlie is having second thoughts about marrying Charity, and things take a darker turn when he (like her previous boyfriend) pushes her into the water. For this scene I quickly switched to my 85 mm lens, because they were just too small when I was using the 50 mm. Switching lenses mid-scene is quite stressful, since it is dark and you cannot see too well, and you are missing things on stage.


The last show of Sweet Charity was tonight. I hope you had a chance to see it! The Varsity review gave it 4/5 and The Cambridge Student gave it 8/10. There is also a Tab review.

– Johannes


Charity Hope Valentine – Rosalind Peters
Vittorio Vidal/Daddy Brubeck – George Longworth
Nickie – Caroline Sautter
Helene – Sarah Mercer
Ursula – Ella Duffy
Big Spender Girl – Kennedy Bloomer
Ensemble – Will Popplewell, James Ireland, Megan Thorpe, Isabelle Barber, Gabbie Bird, Joanna Clarke
Dance Captain – Emily Davey
Oscarr/Charlie – Tom Beaven
Dance Troupe – Leona Hayhoe, Amy Clifton, Nicole Rossides, Lucrezia Baldo, Leora Taratula-Lyons, Rebecca Maggs, Emma Hollows, Maddie Wong, Jessy Ahluwalia, Gabrielle Koupparis, Katie Duce, Hugh Burling, Camille Deer, Maria Ouvarova, Jasmine Walter, Imogen Grumley Traynor, Miranda Xu, Freya Aquarone, Sophie Protheroe, Hannah Templeman, Elena Natale, Emma Riggs, Constance Moss
Ensemble – Amy Reddington, Samantha Benson, James Daly, Imogen Mechie, Hao Feng
Good Fairy – Helena Blair
Herman – Daniel Rasbash
Dance Troupe – Caroline Hopper
Rosie – Anna Stürgkh
Dance Troupe – Chloe Slattery
Carmen – Megan Henson

Bass – Alex Maynard
Violin – Chris Wan, Patrick Flynn
Reed – Oliver Bardsley, Sarah Driver, Chris Nash, Will Reis
Trombone – Felicia Lane, Tim King
Percussion – Jacob Cunningham, Lucy Mackintosh
Keys – David Rice
Trumpet – Tristan Harkcom, Louis Day, Isaac Dunn, Katie Lodge

Production Team
Director – Tania Clarke
Musical Director – Stephen Gage
Assistant Producer – Jessie Lim
Assistant Musical Director – Ryan Rodrigues, Alex Maynard
Stage Manager – Victoria Collins
Deputy Stage Manager – Kit Fowler
Lighting Designer – Bethany Craik
Assistant Stage Manager – James Wright
Chief Electrician – Alan Egan
Costume Designer – Natalie So
Props Assistant – Katy Simpson
Producer – Josie Wastell
Publicity Designer – Sophia Pearson
Flying Director – Sam Payne
Set Designer – Matilda Ettedgui
Assistant Stage Manager – Issy Gately
Trailer Cinematographer – Nick Jones
Sound Designer – Ed Bray
Associate Director – Atri Banerjee
Publicist – Ruby Stewart-Liberty
Assistant Producer – Amy George
Assistant Director – Abigail Maton-Howarth
Repetiteur – James Mitchell, Harry Morgan, Joe Beighton
Assistant Musical Director – David Rice
Assistant Costume Designer – Michelle Lo
Make-Up Artist – Gabrielle Haigh, Selina Komers
Crew/Mic Runner – Lewis Scott
Assistant Stage Manager – Emmy Ravenshaw, Amy Karet
Flight Crew – Tom Louth, Oliver Duff, Francisco Shankland, David Wood
Technical Director – Sheanna Patel
Flight Crew – Sheanna Patel
Make-Up Artist – Diamond Abdulrahim, Olivia Franks
Production Photographer – Rob Eager
Dress Rehearsal Photographer – Johannes Hjorth
Assistant Sound Designer – Oliver Vibrans
Repetiteur – Orlando Gibbs
Costume Designer – Louise Houston

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  1. Dan Tilert
    November 16, 2014

    (Purely technical comment:)
    Ah, I gather that you upgraded to the D810. While that wouldn’t make any kind of economical sense for me to do I am curious of the highlight preserving mode. Indeed, it would be one of the strongest upgrade arguments for me.
    I have limited experience of shooting these kinds of subjects, but I find going full manual difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. Had the lighting been constant there wouldn’t be a problem, but with constantly changing lighting I think M+auto-ISO and exposure compensation often does a fair job, applying the principle of (directly translated from Swedish) “better getting it about right than exactly wrong”.

    Well, I guess it’s a training & experience thing. But the highlight preserving mode just might allow one to manage anyway.

  2. Dan Tilert
    November 16, 2014

    Oh, by the way, two questions:

    When shooting theatre, do you ever wish for a 70-200/2,8? Or would it just be too long and possibly too slow?


    If it’s “exactly wrong”, why not “aboutly right”?

  3. November 16, 2014

    There are times where I wish I had a zoom lens. I would not mind playing with a 70-200 mm lens, but if I were to invest in one I would probably go for the 24-70 mm range first. I usually stand very close to the stage. By moving sideways I can get very different composition, and more varied shots.. It also gives more of a sense of presence and being in the middle of it. Aperture wise I usually do not open it up wide open if the stage is well lit, as I prefer a bit of depth of field. So far my 50 mm prime lens is my favourite.

    I will try the highlight priority and let you know how it works. The sensor has pretty good dynamic range, so when photographing in manual and under exposing I can recover the exposure 2 stops without too much worry. Not that I should make a habit out of it, but it is good to have the safety net.

    And uhm… aboutly right sounds better than exactly wrong.

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