Another year’s Toronto Burlesque Festival has come and gone, and this was a terrific one. I’ve completed my first cull of the more than 7600 photos I made over 5 shows this time out. I’m currently down to about 250 per show that need a second look. I can generally count the number of images that I can release without any sharpening, lightening, cropping, etc. on one hand, but most need some form of post-processing. More than anything else, those adjustments usually have something to do with lighting – my misjudgment, resulting in underexposure of an image, a sudden lighting change, or lighting that doesn’t work from a photographic perspective. That last one is probably the most challenging. What looks good to an audience member (or maybe not) may not work at all as far as the camera’s sensor is concerned. Usually I try to adjust the colour balance to bring up skin tones in a performer, but often, particularly with solid blue or red light, it’s simply not possible. Here’s an example from Betsy Swoon’s wonderful performance this year(also cropped.) This turned out better than most, I think. Usually I convert the photo to black and white. Also this time out, I tried using automatic ISO settings at the suggestion of my photo pal Olena Sullivan, and that seemed to work quite well in getting better exposures overall.



This year we also had a lot of yellow/green performers. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or had something to do with LED lighting, but I spent more time adjusting for that than anything else. Here’s an example of this, from Ava Noir’s terrific performance (again, also cropped – not knowing what a performer is going to do from one moment to the next, I prefer to shoot wide and crop later.)



I don’t think this is as much of a concern for an audience as it is for me as a photographer. I’m looking for a particular moment when it all comes together – performance, lighting and motion. In a perfect world, I’d like to see coloured lighting as an accent, from the background or sides of a performer, with the dominant colour being a good halogen based white follow spot. That usually provides me with a pretty predictable situation where I can be confident my camera settings will capture a decent image.

The audience has other things on their minds. They’re focused on the dynamics of the performance. In many instances moody, coloured or low lighting can heighten excitement and audience engagement. The challenge is using working with setup to produce images that present performers in a good light.

Header photo – Capital City Burlesque