What’s it like on a professional theatre photo shoot?

a behind the scenes peek at an advance press pho­to shoot for My Fair Lady

What’s it like on a professional theatre photo shoot?

A lot more goes into pro­mot­ing a the­atre show than you might guess. For My Fair Lady at Play­Mak­ers in Chapel Hill NC, we often do pho­to shoots sev­er­al weeks before the final dress rehearsal to have some great images to use in ear­ly press releas­es and on social media. At times the shoots will be themed, like our ‘rich play­boy fash­ion’ shoot for Twelfth Night. For MFL, the idea was to show the range of Eliza­’s char­ac­ter, and let every­one know this would be a grit­ti­er, deep­er, less sac­cha­rine ver­sion than is some­times staged.

Pho­to-wise, we work fast and light. Although we bring our full on-the-go stu­dio light kit, this shoot only need­ed sim­ple (huge) scrims to soft­en the light, and sev­er­al of the areas were in a bit of soft shade… per­fect!

 Teen girl in pink shirt with large building columns behind her

Colin with our huge light scrim (isn’t that great light!)  & Lydia helping me test a ton of Chapel Hill locations the week before the shoot.


Since we shoot live to iPad, director Tyne RafaelI was able to see how the shoot was progressing, as well as share images & feedback with the actor (Mia Pinero)

 Finding the right look

We’re look­ing for areas that have a ‘Lon­don feel’ to the direc­tor, Tyne Rafaeli (a cer­ti­fied Brit!) and ones that have nice depth for soft back­grounds, inter­est­ing ele­ments to include, char­ac­ter like the aged brick, and most of all lover­ly (ahem, excuse me… it IS My Fair Lady after all!) LIGHT.

Our PR con­tact approves a short list of spots for pho­tos, and then after buy-in on them & ideas from the direc­tor, the ‘tal­ent’ arrives. On this shoot, instead of Col­in, our client Ros­alie actu­al­ly stood in for ‘Eliza’ so I could test the pho­tos and get her feed­back. One nice ben­e­fit is that my assis­tants and clients often end up with a num­ber of fun pho­tos of them­selves from my test shots:

photo of a woman in a red jacket looking seriously at the camera

Photo of PlayMakers PR staff Brittany in a row of columns





It takes a team

The actor is often sup­port­ed by key staff like a cos­tumer (not only to make sure it looks great… but to also make sure we don’t ruin these awe­some works in progress.) Cos­tumes on this show are by the amaz­ing Andrea Hood. There are oth­er props folks and a stage man­ag­er around as well.

detail photos of actor in a rough skirt 1900's boots with a flower basket at her feet

I have my best assis­tant Col­in there han­dling light move­ments (when we use lights), reflec­tors and scrims… and gen­er­al­ly keep­ing an eye on the iPad and me to be sure I don’t do any­thing wrong or miss some­thing key 🙂

In this pho­to, Col­in is hold­ing a huge 6′ light soft­en­ing scrim just out of frame above Mia. You can see a bit of the real light glare to the right in the back­ground.

actor Mia Pinero as Eliza shouting at someone

For this shoot, we worked through about 5 sit­u­a­tions in 20–30 min­utes to give the client a ton of dif­fer­ent ideas and looks for their ear­ly press and social media needs for the show.

Quick Edit

I had time right after the shoot, so I was able to get Play­Mak­ers some ear­ly favorites with­in a few hours (and they knew what was com­ing, since they saw many of the shots on iPad). Then I pared down 476 pho­tos to the 85 best and that’s the pool of images show­ing up to pro­mote the show on social, like their Insta­gram.

Grid to thumbnail photos, some have star ratings

Now, on to the final dress rehearsal in two weeks!


Want a peek at how it all comes together? Here’s a quick behind the scenes video our client grabbed of the shoot:

See more photos from this shoot HERE.

photo gallery of images from My Fair Lady

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