Suzanna Mars

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.

Cameras

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.

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.

Lenses

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!

Lights/Triggers

I don’t use flash on the job. I do have a trio of Profoto strobes for other work!

Bags/Straps

Oh, the never-ending quest for the perfect 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.

Tripods

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.

Misc

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

5 Comments

  1. Jorma Tuominen on May 8, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    Photographing performing arts on any level of ambition is both a physical and a mental challenge. There’s just so many variables when all the angles keep moving and the photographer tries to keep up. But it can be so satisfying when one gets it right. Ms. Mars gives us a very lively and well written description of her work. Having shot concert situations for decades sometimes as paid work but more often as a hobby and realizing that I have ended up with a very similar Sony setup on a more affordable amateur level (a7iii, f2.8 lenses) I just had to check out some of her work. Wow, it is inspiring and sometimes awe-inspiring! It just got harder to wait for the end of the lock-down. Thanks for the feature!

    • Suzanna Mars on May 9, 2020 at 11:39 am

      Thanks, Jorma! You have a great set-up to work with already and you can get some incredible shots with it. Please send me a note at [email protected] so we can continue this discussion. Concerts can be more challenging than theatre and dance bec. of their spontaneity. That’s where your ears and understanding of music comes in! I’d love to see your work!

  2. Gregory beale on May 8, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Great work! Would the 85 gm be more pratical? What made you go with the 135 gm?

    Again…fabulous work and thanks for sharing!

    • Suzanna Mars on May 9, 2020 at 11:43 am

      The 135 is a backup in case I get a very dark lighting scheme. It’s a portrait lens for me primarily, but here and there a dance show will be very dark and I can just back it up (I work in theatres I know very well, spatially) and make it work. It’s about knowing your space beforehand and asking some questions before the show. Since I also shoot headshots, the 135 made more sense to me (but, should I pick up a theatre where an 85 would be feasible–on a routine basis–I would get it. Still, the telephotos are my moneymakers).

  3. Suzanna Mars on May 8, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Hi, this is Suzanna Mars! I am delighted to be a featured photog on Shotkit and I am happy to answer any questions about my work or my gear (Sony/Nikon). Thanks for taking the time to read my feature.

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