Helping the Viewer See

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These images are from the show Keep by Francesca Pazniokas, directed by Stephanie C. Cunningham and produced by Wide Eyed Productions and Mastodon Theatre Company.

Keep looks at the relationships of four sisters who have traversed a difficult childhood into adulthood with more or less success (depending on how you measure success).  It takes place in the cluttered home of one of the sisters, Nicola.  By cluttered, we’re talking hoarder.  While it makes of a visually interesting set, it also makes it very hard to guide the eye to what is important.  To help the viewer, I made use of radial and graduated filters to give make certain areas subtly brighter and therefore catch the eye.

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Dealing With New Technology or I’ve Been LED Astray!

More and more I’m finding LED lighting being used in small budget theatre.  I get the appeal — one instrument can give multiple color looks, as opposed to gelling lights, where you would need multiple instruments giving one look each.  Plus you’re saving on gels and you never don’t have the color you want.  Lots of plusses.

But they can drive photographers crazy!  Take a look at this photo of the usually lovely Elizabeth Inghram in I Knew It! from Nylon Fusion’s This Round’s On Us short play festival. Of 11 plays using the same lights, only a couple had such a marked effect, but what do you do with this?!?

LED Trouble-01

Well, you desaturate and pull down the highlights.  And you’ve got this:
LED Trouble-02
Salvageable, but not great.

The problem seems to be most visible with highly saturated colors at high levels.  Some photographers report that lower shutter speeds seem to help the issue — which is counter intuitive, since it seems to happen when the lights are brighter.  The thought is that the issue is caused by pulse-width modulation (PWM).  Basically, there are two ways to control the brightness of an LED — analogue and PWM.  The former is a regulation of how much power goes to the LED.  It is inefficient, power-wise, and can result in inaccuracies color.  PWM essentially turns the LED on and off at high speed.  If your light is at full, it spends all the time on.  At 50%, it’s cycling on and off so it is on half the time.  At 10% it’s on 10% of the time and off 90%.  This can result in a visible flicker to the LED, so with multiple LEDs in an instrument, you would ensure that the LEDs are not cycling together, so some are on while others are off.

But here’s where it gets more complicated.  With an RGB LED instrument you have red, green and blue LEDs combining to make all the different colors of the rainbow and each primary color will be at a different power level, to combine and make the desired color.  Take this swatch, for instance:


This lovely blue has an RGB value of 60/40/200, respectively.  Now these are values out of 255, so percentage wise, we’re talking red being on 26% of the time, green on 16% of the time and blue on 78% of the time. That’s at full.  If we want that color at 75%, we’re getting into algebra.  Now each set of LEDs are hopefully working to prevent flicker amongst themselves, but who can say at the moment in time when the shutter clicks how many of which LEDs are actually on.  But now you can see how a longer exposure would help average things out.

If anyone can poke holes in any of my assumptions (and there are a lot of them!), please reach out on Facebook.  I’d love to be more confident when I see LED instruments that I won’t have hours of post-processing ahead of me.

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Scenario: Script to Perform


For the past year I’ve been one of the house videographers for The Kitchen, a visual and performance arts space that’s been around almost as long as me.  For some of the projects I shoot, they ask me to come in and watch a dress rehearsal to get an idea of what I’m in for.  Scenario: Script to Perform was one of those times.  I’ve been wanting to expand into photographing dance, so I asked if I could shoot during the dress.

To borrow from the Kitchen’s description of the piece:

choreographer Gillian Walsh continues her work with scores. The score—a constellation of derived language and numerical codes—orients the dancer toward form and away from performance, towards dance as non-fiction form. Scenario is infinite emptiness: undermining expectations of extroversion and theatrical effect, it is structural choreographic thought without a dance.

It was a fascinating piece to watch, almost meditative at times.  The set was the blank walls of the Kitchen’s performance space, with the lighting by Zack Tinkelman changing things up — from cold fluorescent, to a warmer “normal” look and into deeply saturated blues and magentas (again courtesy of LEDs and again giving an odd oversaturated, almost blacklight look on camera).  The movement was not dynamic, but there were some nice images created with the dancers’ positions in space.  To a certain extent, I was having to rely on my Viewpoints training to look for spatial relationship, repetition, architecture, shape, etc.  So thank you, Anne and SITI Company, for making this one successful!

Posted in Shows



Theatre in the round.  Or at least, the rectangle.  It keeps a photographer on his toes!  Nylon Fusion Theatre Company presented their full length piece, Unmentionables, at Theatre 54.  It’s an intimate space, which I’d worked in before, as a fight director for a production called Homeward Bound.  For that one, they eschewed the traditional floor plan of stage at one end of the long room and audience at the other.  Instead, they put the barracks in which the is set all along one long wall, with the audience opposite.

In Unmentionables, director Montserrat Mendez and set designer Kyu Shin set the two playing areas (a Hollywood agent’s outer and inner offices) in the entirety of the space, save a 4′ strip around the space where the audience is seated.  The space is small, so there are no bad seats, but certainly where an audience member chooses to sit will affect which story lines are intimate and in their face and which are a bit more remote.  Of course for me, this meant running circuits of the room, trying to catch each moment from just the right angle.  Frequently, I’d be waiting for actors in a scene to hit a good position for where I was, only to give up and move to where the shot was, JUST in time for them to move to the angle I’d been waiting for! 

The lighting by Gilbert Peatro was lovely.  He had a challenge, creating two distinct areas with as little bleed as possible.  He made use of some LED instruments, mixed with traditional instruments, which gave some rich, saturated colors.  However, as I learned in this show (and the next one — Scenario: Script to Perform), the light they give is challenging for cameras.  It will be interesting to see the changes and adaptations I’ll have to make in the coming months and years as LEDs become more prevalent.

The show itself was very well done.  a 1930s tale of Hollywood, where everyone has a secret and everyone is trying to make it big – whatever that means to them.  Well directed and well acted, it was a pleasure to watch while I was shooting.


Posted in Nylon Fusion, Shows

Nylon Fusion Gala


This was a fun one.  But it also marked the beginning of a new era for me.

Nylon Fusion held a gala to raise funds for their upcoming projects.  It was also a fete honoring Austin Pendleton, who directed last season’s Luft Gangster and Broadway star and Disney princess Anika Noni Rose.  Oh and the entertainment was going to be provided by Mr. Wynton Marsalis and Mr. Ted Nash and their rhythm section.  Pretty sweet night!

After doing some major pining following the Masks shoot I had picked up some lighting gear.  B&H had a special on a pair of Canon 600ex-rts, the wireless controller and a couple of stands, umbrellas, etc., which I got in time for this gig.  I set up on their red carpet and shot the guests on their way in.  My friend Theik Smith, photographer and fellow fight guy, worked the crowd inside.  Once the festivities got underway, I went inside and shot John Patrick Shanley roasting, er, introducing Austin, followed by Austin’s acceptance speech.  Then came Anika.  Then came the music!  They did a gorgeous version of Blue Skies, Anika was convinced to get up and sing Summertime and there was a rip-roaring version of Sweet Georgia Brown, along with a couple others I can’t remember now.  Gorgeous stuff.

I was so glad to have the flashes!  Of course they made the shots in front of the step & repeat much crisper and “poppy”, but the difference between trying to shoot the musicians without a flash at high ISO and being able to bounce the flash off the wall and drop the ISO was, pardon the pun, night and day!

Posted in Nylon Fusion

This Round’s on Us: 1900 – 1920s


Nylon Fusion is starting a busy season and their first show of the year is one of their This Round’s on Us short play series.  This year they’ve parted ways with the holiday themes and are doing a series through time.  This first one covers 1900 to the 1920s.  Themes included WWI, Vaudeville, women beginning to come into their own and art and literature.  As usual, they had a tight group of 11 plays split between their 7:00 and 9:00 shows.  All but one were set in the time period (though a couple had time travelers from the current day), with the lone outlier set in current day, but inspired by the Charleston.

Nylon Fusion moved to TADA! with this iteration.  The space is fairly traditional — a relatively deep space with a raked audience.  It was deep enough where I decided to sit in the front row to get the best reach with my lenses.  It’s also a fairly wide space (by NYC standards) so I needed all three of my lenses (16-35, 24-70 and 70-200) at one time or another.

The lighting was a stock plot, with a LOT of blue in it, which had to be corrected out in many cases.  It was also fairly uneven, which made shooting and post-processing challenging.  It’s so hard to make a single plot (which might be the house stock plot) fit 11 different shows.

Next up will be the 1930s – 1940s. The Great Depression, Dust Bowl, and WWII.  Should be some good stuff!

Posted in Nylon Fusion, Shows



Several months ago my friend, Jessica Browne-White approached me about a shoot incorporating several masks that she had created.  She’s an amazing visual and performing artist whose work with art pianos I’ve shot before (see Sing for Hope 2013 Pianos Gala).  We finally nailed down a date and collected a couple of models from our friends and off to Central Park we went.

Yes, Central Park in January.  This January. The one with all the snow in it.  Jessi and I arrived on “set” first.  We found a great spot just off the East 76th Street entrance.  We had been considering the Alice in Wonderland statue and the Hans Christian Andersen statue, but on the way there we found a great spot with some expanses of snow, some exposed rock and an amazing tree that had been bowed to the ground, split open and looked like a natural gateway in the snow.  We got to work and shot a couple of masks with Jessi as model until Beth and Virginia arrived.

Once we were all there we started shooting in earnest.  Jessi had [7?] masks and we gave each its own story and location, using snow, trees, rocks and the Alice statue to play off the mood of the mask.

Finally, we shot some images of the three ladies together for an upcoming theatre project they are creating.

I learned a lot from this shoot.  The big one was how much I want to get some lighting tools to be able to craft the light the way I want it to be.  Steps have been taken!  See [gala] for the update.  I learned how much I have to learn about posing.  I was lucky to have three very photogenic models who are very conversant with the instruments of their bodies, but I still had some moments of struggling to express what I wanted.  Jessi and I have a date for spring, when it is warmer and drier, to do some more work together.  Oh, and there’s another piano on the way!

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Dead Special Crabs


A few years back, I played York in a production of Henry VI directed by my friend Adam Marple for his directing MFA thesis for Columbia University.  There are so many stories that I could tell from that production.  But importantly, there was a theatre company that co-produced the show, called Wide Eyed Productions.  It was a big financial risk for them, but they were trying to move to a new level and their people were integral to the show on all sides of the stage.  Last week, Kristin Skye Hoffman, Wide Eyed’s Artistic Director, contacted me because they were looking for a production photographer and their stage manager had recommended me — their SM was Rosie, the SM for the production of Richard III that I had performed in at the Secret Theatre.

So I reconnected with Wide Eyed Productions and some old friends from Henry who were taking a more comedic turn with this new piece.  Dead Special Crabs is a twisted take on a road trip, following I-95 from Maine to Maryland.  From one haven for the crabby crustacean to another.

The show was in The Barrow Group Theatre, where I shot The Tragedy of King Arthur and This Is How I Don’t Know How To Dance.  A split level set added some interesting staging opportunities, but a length of safety cable across the front was a challenge for me, frequently cutting right across faces.  The costuming added a lot, especially Kathy and Walter with their bright yellow cult-wear!

As a bonus, Time Out New York did choose one of my images as their Photo of the Week (the last one with the ship’s wheel)!

Posted in Shows



Last year SITI Company had their inaugural conservatory program.  One year of training in creating theatre using the tools that SITI company does: Viewpoints, Suzuki and composition of devised works.  The culmination of that year was the gorgeous This Is How I Don’t Know How To Dance, which I Got to shoot earlier this year.

Now, several months later, several of the artists have continued to collaborate and create work on their own, supported by SITI Company in the form of mentorship and some access to space.  They presented a first look at their work and asked me to come and photograph them.

I’m totally biased toward SITI Company, their work and the extension of their work ethic and artistic (pardon the pun) viewpoint.  What I saw was beautiful and brave. It was not theatre looking for the easy way out. It’s not about playing to the lowest common denominator in the hope of getting rich. It is theatre borne out of a need to tell stories, to pass on what it means to be us.

This is why I love theatre and what gets me going.

The shows include:

  • The Forgotten Princesses
  • Chekhov Vignette 1: On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco
  • Civility!
  • Chekhov Vignette 2: The Bear
Posted in Shows, SITI Company

Better late than never!

I’ve been having some technical issues with the behind the scenes of my website lately, which has prevented me from posting my latest shows.  Hopefully, we’re past it now, so some new posts will be coming soon!

Posted in Uncategorized