I am a performance photographer from Gainesville, Florida. I shoot theatre, dance, and concerts. I’ve worked with some incredibly talented performers and directors. Musicals are my favorite.
I’ve been shooting performance since 2009 when I was pressed into service as a City volunteer with a Panasonic Lumix shot on auto. I had no idea what I was doing.
I have had nine covers of a now-defunct arts magazine and I didn’t save a single copy.
Nikon for ten years, starting with crop sensor and eventually shooting the D5 and the D850. That was until I met NYC-based backstage photographer Davy Mack on Facebook and marveled at his gorgeous Sony portraits.
I switched over to Sony pro cameras in August 2019. Clients noticed and were impressed with the color rendering and the sharpness of the Sony images.
Sony A9 II and Sony A9 — these two mighty machines made an immediate impact on my work, especially in the ballet. The Sony A9 II shoots 20 fps on electronic shutter and is my main camera.
When needed, the 20 fps speed lets me capture that tiny moment where movement is suspended in the air. I don’t fire away extravagantly but time the shot based on my knowledge of dance (See: Dance Photography tips).
One shutter-press and I have the shot! It’s nice to know that you have that speed when you need it. Also, quite often I do not see the shows beforehand; that speed also comes in handy when there is sudden action. Mostly I use tracking but also spot and wide.
Battery life in both cameras is impressive and I do not need to carry spares. I can even shoot a big musical like “Kiss Me, Kate” and still have power for another shoot!
Grips are a must. I use the Sony VG-C4EM Vertical Grip for the Sony A9 II and the Sony VGC3EM Vertical Grip for the Sony A9. The grips provide an extra measure of stability as well as increased battery life.
Sony 24-70 mm f/2.8: This is my go-to lens for all types of performance. It is my workhorse lens that covers most stages except for smaller black boxes and big theatres. I use this lens about 75% of the time. It gives context and is a great storyteller.
Sony 70-200 f/2.8: Perfect zoom for important close-ups. At large theatres, I use this lens exclusively from a few rows back. I also use it to zoom in on lead characters in smaller stages where I might want a more portrait-style image. You do have to be careful not to crowd your image, though.
Sony 135mm f/1.8: This is a portrait lens that I take with me in case I encounter a very dark lighting scheme! Shooting a prime of this focal length can be tricky and I must be ready to move!
I don’t use flash on the job. I do have a trio of Profoto strobes for other work!
Oh, the never-ending quest for the perfect camera bag!
Think Tank Photo Airport International V2: This is the best bag for transporting my gear to theatres. Finally! I had been lugging two cameras and two heavy lenses around on my back or shoulder and my trapezius muscles needed a break!
Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW: A beast of a bag with military-like styling. It’s like wearing a turtle shell. I carried it for years to performance jobs, stuffed with all my gear, until my shoulders shouted “Surrender!” and I bought the wheeled Think Tank bag. However, nothing beats the ProTactic for protection.
I don’t use a tripod for performance or in the studio. I move around a lot and am always in motion. I do have a basic tripod: A Manfrotto 055 Aluminum 3-Section Tripod Kit with Ball Head that I keep in the back of my car.
Hardware & Software
I use both Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. I have VSCO in Adobe Lightroom as well as some presets from DVLOP. When used, a preset is a base for me and I create my own edit around it.
I recently purchased Skylum Luminar 4 and I am very pleased with the skin retouching. It’s simple and fast and looks very natural. Mostly I use it for under-eye discolorations and when necessary, to smooth out rough skin.
Matthews 259535 Full Apple Box – 12x8x20: There is one theatre with an odd rake that dips down. Having something to stand on fixes that problem.
Sony Tough 128GB UHS-II (but I have yet to fill one!), Glucose tablets (orange flavor preferred), Quest cookie, Sucrets, Systane eyedrops. And spare lens and butt caps. I buy Breakthrough lens caps from Amazon and they come with a little red camera cloth that is handy to have in the bag.
To me, performance photography is a sport. I have to be in shape or my pictures won’t be. I walk five miles a day or do aerobics. I run, kneel, stand on my toes, or dangle precariously from light fixtures (just kidding!).
I put as many miles on my legs as I do on my cameras, or so it seems. The challenge of the unknown is an adrenaline rush!
www.suzannamars.com | @suzannamars
Check out these 8 essential tools to help you succeed as a professional photographer.
Includes limited-time discounts.