Portrait Photographers

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In the days of the repertory theatres where, by and large, the same team of actors would be performing a different play every week for fifty weeks out of the year it would be fair to say that their portraits were always on display outside the theatre.

Sadly ‘weekly rep’, as it was known as, is no longer with us but the tradition is generally still carried on by professional theatres showing the cast of the current production 

This was not happening at the Little Theatre when, in 1989, I was asked if I would supply such photographs by John Guillain for one of his own shows. Following this I was asked if I would do the same for The Leicester Drama Society shows and have done so ever since, for some 19 years. Also, if the play Director wishes, I am asked to supply the portrait photographs for the programme.

The display board in the Lower Foyer is created by Karen Gordon and it has to be in place, complete with photographs, for the opening night of the show previous to the one it refers to.

In order to achieve this Directors are asked to let me have the names of their cast and their rehearsal dates well in advance following which I arrange with the theatre management to provide me with accommodation that is suitable for my studio lighting equipment to be set up.

The set up I use is a grey blue background lit from below, a posing stool which will swivel and two electronic flash heads which are pointed into reflective umbrellas.The main light is angled at 45 degrees to one side and pointing down at the same angle. The fill-in light is set at head height and is also at 45 degrees to the other side. I am indebted to Karen Gordon who frequently helps me to set the equipment up and pack it away.

The photographs are usually in monochrome and are hand printed using traditional chemistry which means that they have a life of many years. I usually take four photographs of each actor and one is chosen from those four. I never ask any of them to smile but suggest different things for them to think about, at least one of which is almost guaranteed to get them to smile. My aim is always to try and obtain a relaxed likeness which
is pleasing to the eye.

Since first being asked to take these photographs it has been my pleasure to photograph nearly 800 different actors all of whom, at the time have been members of The Leicester Drama Society.

For the technically minded I use Canon cameras with a 300mm zoom lens set at 90mm so as to retain the natural contours of the face. The film is Ilford XP2 which I can arrange to have developed quickly in colour chemistry but which gives negatives that are suitable for monochrome printing.   

I rate the film at 200 ASA rather than the recommended 400 ASA.I am indebted to the theatre management for their help and am grateful for the tolerance of play directors whose rehearsal space I frequently invade.


Roy Wyse