About Mike – Stories of Why #2

Story #2 – “We need more guys!”

The Intro

One of the first things anyone checks when inquiring with a new service provider is the About section. What makes them tick, why do they do this thing, and will they be good for me? I like mine, but it’s short. I want to do a series of posts that have more of why I do the things that I do.

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I’ve always found that stories are the best way to communicate things, so I’m going to share a few. How I got into photography, what influences my photographic style, what I do with all my free time (that’s a joke), and how I approach photography as an art. Hopefully, you find these entertaining, or maybe you need a cure for your insomnia. Either way, I hope someone will find this useful!

The Story

I still remember the day my neighbor came over to my house and asked me to audition for the school musical with him. I was in 6th grade, still figuring out middle school, trying to find my friend group, and trying not to embarrass myself every 10 seconds. But performing in a musical? At that time, I was terrible at keeping rhythm, couldn’t (and still can’t) dance, and was a major introvert. Trying to fit in did not equate to performing in a musical. 

“Hey man, we need more guys for the school musical.”

“Have you ever thought about why you need more guys? It’s a school musical.”

“Come on! It’s a lot of fun. You get to perform on stage!”

“That sounds embarrassing. I can’t dance!”

“The songs are super fun!”

“I just signed up for chorus so I wouldn’t have to learn an instrument. No way.”

“Dr. Sibbald runs it, she’s a blast!”

“She freaking terrifies me!”

“The musical casts are almost all girls. There’s like 6 girls to every guy!”

“When’s the audition?”

Now that my awful, teenage priorities have been aired publically, I can honestly say that I owe SO much to my old neighbor Alex. His convincing me to audition shaped much of who I am today.

Almost 20 years later, the theater continues to be one of my biggest passions. I don’t perform as much as I used too, but I still go to tons of shows and do what I can to support local theaters with my photography.

My Favorite Theater Roles To Date:

  • Nathan Detroit – Guys & Dolls
  • Jesus – Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Fender, Teen Council – Hairspray
  • Albert – Bye Bye Birdie
  • Chuck – Footloose
  • Wolf, Townsperson, and Corkscrew – Beauty & The Beast
  • Dancing Townsperson – All Shook Up
  • Cowboy Dancer – Crazy For You
  • Townsperson, Bottle Dancing Russian – Fiddler On The Roof
  • Brother #3- Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat
High School theater performance of Crazy For You Cowboy Trio
Mingo of the Cowboy Trio, Crazy for You

Things I learned from Theater:

  • I learned how to work with all kinds of people, personalities, and teams.
  • I also learned how to handle drama (on-stage and off).
  • It was great exercise (I was one of the few guys who could move well. So I “danced” a lot).
  • I developed a great group of friends (still never fit into any, but I could walk into almost any circle and get along with them).
  • I learned to appreciate all genres of music. I’ll listen to anything except pure screamo metal or mumble rap.
  • I refined my ability to paint, build sets, design & run lighting, and even do a little directing. 

But what really stuck with me was the use of lighting and staging to complement the performance of an actor to tell a story. 

If you’ve never seen a live theater performance, I highly recommend going, especially to a professional level show, because the lighting and sets will blow your mind. If you’re not up for that, then I’d suggest watching the TV series, Doctor Who. A BBC science-fiction show, it has technically been running for over 50 years (with a break of about 25 years until it re-started in 2005). It’s a fantastic series; very clever, very funny, very entertaining, and super well written. To get a taste, I’d start with Season 3, Episode 10 – “Blink

Sidenote: don’t watch it by yourself at night.

modern version Jesus of Jesus Christ Superstar theater production
Jesus, Jesus Christ Superstar

This lighting article by David Hobby, a brilliant photographer, explains why Doctor Who is a fantastic show from a visual sense. He details how the creators are downright brazen with their lighting choices to really tell the story of the episodes. Similar to the theater, it’s insanely colorful but with intent.

See, various colors trigger certain emotions and feelings in us as humans. 

  • Reds express anger, sometimes love. 
  • Blues signify peace and tranquility. 
  • Greens represent greed and envy. 
  • Purples are royal, majestic, and powerful. 
  • Yellows imbue warm and happy feelings.

So when watching a movie, tv-show, or looking at a picture, you can quickly determine the mood and the emotion of a story just by the color of the lighting. But wait, there’s more!

Varying the amount of light, changing its direction, and making it hard or soft (hard vs. smooth transitions between light and dark areas) are all critical, creative elements that further describe the mood and tone of a given story.

Want a lot of drama? Put a single, harsh spotlight on a person and darken the background. Wanna make it creepy? Aim it from the floor and up into their faces (this creates your typical campfire, horror lighting).

Want something bright and fun? Fill the scene with light, minimize the shadows, and make it all very soft and clean. This is known as “comedy” lighting; what you typically see on sitcoms or big jovial dance numbers on stage. 

Throw in some smart staging, composition (where the subject and other elements are placed within an image), and posing, and you can further the visual aides that make a story complete. Again, I learned a lot of these elements from the theater!

There are so many ways to tell a given story. The possibilities are endless, and that invigorates me. I want to tell tales, and I want to express them in ways that are vivid and full of emotion. The ability to take a casual viewer and put them into a scene with a visceral reaction is everything to me. 

Back to Now

Being a theater kid-inspired my photographic style of lighting and composition. It also made me who I am today: loud yet quiet, extroverted and introverted, a collector of all kinds of music, a barely passable “dancer,” hardworking, creative and analytical, a problem-solver, and always tapping out a rhythm. 

Hey Alex, thanks again for convincing me to audition for Oliver Twist. 

Sincerely, Orphan #17

To read the first of these stories, go read Story #1 for how I got into photography.

Want to do some theatrical lighting-inspired creative portraits? Learn more on this page.

Give me a shout if you need a new photographer for your theater or next production!

based in Atlanta and interested in working together?

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