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  • Shooting MSA's 'Wonka'

    Anyone who knows me understands how much I enjoy shooting live theatre and dance. That said, photographing a live event — especially when it’s something you’ve never seen — can be daunting.

    Even though my skills have certainly evolved since I started shooting our kids’ dance recitals almost a decade ago, I’ve seen time and again why some compare photography to golf. No matter what, there’s always room for improvement.

    After a year away, I have greatly enjoyed shooting photos during the 2017-18 season for Metropolitan School of the Arts, which concluded last month with the annual spring production/recital. This year brought us four performances of “Wonka,” an adaptation of the famous children’s story.

    Photographing a show this large is both a marathon and a fascinating challenge. Four dress rehearsals in four nights, with class dances mixed in with the narrative, make up the three-hour show, which is then performed over a weekend.

    One goal I’ve always tried to meet is to photograph the director’s vision through my eyes (or eye, as the case may be). That means walking around and trying different shots from different parts of the auditorium, which is something you can do when shooting a dress rehearsal. At the same time, I work to be as inclusive as possible — taking photos of every dance and every group as they are on stage.

    The result is a lot of photos — about 6,000 shot for this particular show. It’s both the blessing and curse of digital photography — shooting way more than you might need because you can delete the image rather than pay for a print.

    Once the performance is over, that’s when the “job” part of this task truly begins: How do you take 1,500 photos from each of the four shows and present a selection in a way that:

    • Is not overwhelming.

    • Is fair to as many of the participants as you can capture.

    • Presents the show — and studio — in a good light.

    • Makes people want to come back for more.

    So, as I start to post photos from the show, let me explain the process.

    This year, MSA has purchased a license for a SmugMug website, where you can download watermarked photos for free and purchase prints/high-resolution downloads at a low cost. (The website is at http://metropolitanarts.smugmug.com). Parents and students can go here and download the photos for free (with our shared watermark), or purchase prints/downloads at a low cost.

    As much as parents and their children want to relive the memories of the show, sorting through masses of pictures puts a huge strain on the eyes. I’ve tried to break it down in a way that makes sense and allows you to find the photos in an organized manner.

    Sorting and cutting down the number of photos is the first phase. With double casting for many of the principal roles, I merged the ensembles from shows 1 and 4 and shows 2 and 3 to get the best possible representation of the narrative. Those are where these photos are from and they are the first albums you will see.

    I’ve tried to make sure every class dance is represented by at least one photo (usually more). Class dances from each show will appear in separate albums in the coming days, except for the ones that were featured in all performances and will be separated into a fifth album.

    Once the culling, sorting and organizing is complete, editing the photos (mostly cropping and color correction) begins. Each album is uploaded to the SmugMug site, and then I cull through the photos again so highlights can be shared on social media.

    Don’t worry: The photos on my Facebook page and MSA's are less than a third of what is on the SmugMug site. In all, more than 1,000 photos will be uploaded to SmugMug from the show.

    I’ve attempted to be as thorough and complete as possible. It’s not a perfect system, and chances are I’ve missed some things, but I hope I’ve captured the spirit and hard work that went into this show.

    If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at glenncook117@gmail.com, and enjoy the photos!