Jane Eyre

Following a critically acclaimed season at the National Theatre, Jane Eyre is touring the UK from April. I was commissioned to photograph the cast and crew on their first day of rehearsals.

Normally, these take place in a large, open space with chairs which we arrange so as not to have everyone just standing in a line. It's a quick group shot, a smaller group of the cast, and then a shot of the lead(s).

This time, I walked in to see this great set: 

Finally, a chance to place people on different levels, where they can have different poses in, on and around a relevant and interesting location.


The first thing is that when something looks good, it doesn't necessarily translate well or immediately in a photo. This angle is ok, but I didn't much want to include the fire exit to the left of A, nor the lights above the stage. Also, somehow I always feel I want to get in "among" a location, but by shooting from points A or B, at once I lose 1/4 of the useful area of stage, as well as showing the doors, tables, fire exits etc. (out of shot).


It seems something from around the bottom/left of the ramp is probably the best option. 

As for lighting, the yellowish ambient is 1/60 at f5 on 1250 ISO, but I've brightened it up here so it's perhaps a stop or so less. Ideally I want a better depth of field, as there are a lot of people and I'm intending to spread them around the set.

I have three speedlights and my stands reach about 8 feet high.

On the right (C) I can't use (any kind) of light on a stand, because it won't be high enough for people around point B: it would light them from below. Apart from the fact the ramp is sloped, the end of the stage is higher than the floor. Moving it further away would begin equate to side-lighting - as well as distributing the light more evenly across the image from right to left - I'd need a huge amount of power, and due to to numbers, some of the forty or so people would likely fall into shadow. It could be done at full power perhaps, but recycle times would be slow. 

On the left of A and running behind towards me, there's a wall, limiting lighting options there. It's white and it can be bounced off, but its relative proximity to those on the ramp means they'll be lit, but those around B won't be.

Bouncing isn't a good solution either as the ceiling is high and dark brown wood. A lot of power for a limited return. 

The messy diagram above shows what I ended up doing. On the left, a reflective umbrella at point A (which you can see in the final shot below). It has less effect as the light falls off moving across to the right, becoming more of a fill. 

The second light, also on a stand, was pointed at a grey curtain several metres away at C. Pointing it upwards at a 60° angle created a high bounce, which made a soft fill light, from above right.

I kept one light on camera and also pointed it up and backwards (roughly 75°), again to bounce high off the wall right behind me. This acted as a fill for those at the front, who had no light on them. 1/100 at f6.3 was enough (just barely) to keep people sharp throughout.

A simpler shot ie without flash, using a higher ISO (perhaps 2500 or 5000) and sorting colours and general muddiness later in post might have been preferable: the portrait below of the actress playing Jane used one light and took less than 30 seconds!