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5 Tips on How to Shoot a Burlesque Show Like a Pro

July 21, 2011 Articles, Performance, Tips & Tricks

It’s the first day of the Toronto Burlesque Festival and I’m looking forward to not only shooting the entire gig, but also reconnecting with many out-of-town performers that I haven’t seen since last year’s festival.

If you’re thinking of getting into burlesque photography – capturing the razzle dazzle of the costumes, the slinky vavavoom of the luscious ladies (and men), and all the twirl and whirl of the tassled pasties – then you should keep in mind some simple, but important tips to make your experience – and the performer’s as well – a great one:

Tip 1 - Give a Little Respect

The ladies and gents of burlesque are professional performers providing you with entertainment for the evening. If you’re a serious photographer and not with the iPhone crowd, respecting the performers and their boundaries will go a long way. Shooting from the seats/floor is perfectly fine and expected, but don’t try to follow a performer into the dressing room, either before or after the performance to try and get that “up close and personal” shot. Not only is this area their private space, but there are people getting changed in there!

Tip 2 - Don’t Bring All Your Gear

If you’re like me, you own a tripod, several lenses, and all kinds of camera accessories. You may even own multiple cameras or a video camera. Remember where you’re shooting – traditionally small clubs or venues that will have row seating if you’re lucky. Even if you manage to snag a front row seat or a middle aisle seat, these areas need to be clear to accomodate the performers that use them as part of their routine, aerialists, wait staff, and other guests that are constantly getting in and out of their seats to go to the bar. Don’t put anything in the way that may trip someone up. You don’t need a tripod and large bags to hold gear so leave them at home. My gear at shows:

  • a small camera bag (hip or backpack)
  • one camera
  • 35mm or zoom (depending on where you’re sitting) or both
  • extra battery (never go without an extra battery!)
  • extra cards
  • lens cleaner
  • business cards for later

Tip 3 - Never Ever Ever Ever Use a Flash

Not sure if I’ve stressed enough that you shouldn’t use a flash during the performance. There are several reasons, some aesthetic and others are for the performers.

  1. Using a flash in a small venue will blow out your shot, making it look flat. Learn to use your camera on manual mode with ambient light instead – the photos will have more depth.
  2. You’ll make all the other photographers around you angry as they won’t be able to properly meter their own shots.
  3. You’ll throw off the performers. They already have a lot of lights on them, they don’t need you to keep setting off yours throughout their performance.
  4. It’s usually not allowed.

Just leave your external flash at home.

Tip 4 - It Never Hurts to Ask

Don’t assume that your ticket automatically gives you the right to photograph the performance and use the photos in any way you choose, especially commercially. By asking the venue or the organizer of the show if you can shoot it, you not only show respect for the performers, you elevate yourself from the snapshot crowd and may just get on the burlesque radar as a serious performance photographer to look out for.

Tip 5 - Share and Share Alike

Once you start shooting some shows, you’ll start to have a collection of (hopefully) great performance shots that you may want to use in your online portfolio or Flickr. Don’t forget the performers that helped you get those great portfolio shots – without whom you wouldn’t have had such an awesome time and photos. Sending copies of your photos – lores, small (small!) watermark is fine – to the performers shows respect for their craft, promotes your skills, and gets your name out there.

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