In addition to your head shot, it’s useful to create and collect publicity and production shots whenever you have the opportunity. A gallery of high-quality photos of you on stage in costume is a great addition to your web site. It helps opera companies get an idea of what you are like in action and demonstrates your dramatic versatility. 


Opera companies, training programs and schools commonly engage a professional photographer to document their productions, and you can usually also license their photos for your own purposes. The increasing affordability of digital cameras and improvements in the quality of phone cameras is leading singers themselves to take up a photography hobby, often with delightful and valuable results. This post will offer guidelines for licensing and crediting the work of professional photographers, as well as encouragement to try your own hand at capturing production images. 


Professional Production Shots


As with headshot photography, opera photography is an art in and of itself. Prominent photographers who specialize in capturing gorgeous production shots include Ken Howard, Corey Weaver, and Marty Sohl (please click the photographers’ names to view their opera photo galleries).


Tenor Marcello Giordani as D*** Johnson in Puccini’s La fanciulla del west at The Metropolitan Opera.

Photo © Marty Sohl


I’m able to use this image by Marty Sohl because it has been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and made available for distribution under their cc-by-sa-2.0 license. Under nearly all other circumstances, however, permission to use the work of a professional photographer must be properly granted and licensed. 


When a photographer is contracted by an opera house or school, the underlying copyright for a production photograph stays with the photographer, so the first step is usually to contact the photographer directly in order to license their images for your own use; the license the opera company purchased does not extend to the performers appearing in their photos.


When a photographer works for a news organization, it is more likely that their photographs are “works for hire”. That means that the image must still be credited to the photographer who took it, but the copyright is owned by the news organization, and must be licensed from them. Sometimes the news organization outsources its licensing. For example, to license a photograph owned by The New York Times, you must do so via this site.  


Photographers and copyright owners set their own licensing terms, and they can vary wildly. Some will permit you to use their images for free so long as you credit them properly, while others will charge more than $100 per photo for a limited time period and set narrow restrictions for their use. Whatever their terms, be sure to obtain a written agreement and credit all photos properly: 


For a photograph owned by its photographer: Photo © Marty Sohl

For a photograph owned by someone else: Photo by Marty Sohl / © The New York Times



The Singer as Photographer


These days, singers often do a beautiful job of documenting the productions they appear in. Their point of view represents close relationships with the opera, the production, and their colleagues, and the resulting images will reflect that. In the biography on his web site, tenor Lawrence Brownlee mentions his skill as “an accomplished photographer, specializing in artist portraits of his on-stage colleagues.” Mezzo-soprano Joyce Didonato has been honing her photography skills for years. A blog post from 2007 expressed her excitement at the arrival of a new camera: “The beautiful thing is that it came just in time for my debut at the San Francisco Opera as Octavian, and I found the distraction of shooting photos backstage to be a beautiful balm to the nerves pulsing through my veins screaming ‘what have I gotten myself into????’” When I interviewed baritone Lucas Meachem for Classical Singer Magazine last year, I asked his colleagues for candid photos I could use to illustrate the article. Soprano Jennifer Rowley, Musetta to his Marcella in the Covent Garden production of La Bohème, provided a photo taken by their Mimì, Anna Netrebko. 



Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey loves taking photos of the opera productions in which she’s involved. “Professional photographers don’t always know what we want our performance photos to look like,” she points out. “We make lots of odd faces while singing! I think as a singer, I understand what others would want from a production photo.” A self-taught photographer, Samantha’s camera of choice these days is a Canon 7D Mark ii.

Photo © Jiyang Chen

Baritone Craig Verm in the title role of Eugene Onegin, Aspen Opera Theatre Center.

Photo © Samantha Hankey

Mezzo-sopranos Fleur Barron and Alexandra Rodrick, baritone Kihun Yoon, and soprano Natalie Dewey in a production of Carmen, Aspen Opera Theatre Center.

Photo © Samantha Hankey


Tenor Roy Hage, soprano Heather Phillips and conductor Teddy Poll,

Double Exposure, Opera Philadelphia. Photo © Samantha Hankey


Mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron and tenor Joshua Guerrero in Carmen,

Aspen Opera Theatre Center. Photo © Samantha Hankey


Mezzo-soprano Alexandra Schenck as Olga in Eugene Onegin, Aspen Opera Theatre Center.

Photo © Samantha Hankey 





Backstage candid shots can also sometimes be useful for press and publicity purposes. Like the photo Anna Netrebko took that ended up in Classical Singer, they often show a side of the performer not necessarily revealed in production photos. 


Soprano Kelli Butler defeats some virtual monsters backstage in between appearances

as Queen of the Night

If photography is something that you enjoy, bring your camera to the set, take some candids, and try your hand at shooting some production photos (begin careful, of course, to stay well out of the way of colleagues and staff!). The results may end up being extremely useful for your fellow singers, and some of them may return the favor! 


Have you taken any production photos or backstage candids that you’re proud of? Share them in the comments section!  

Visit the Singer's Audition Handbook for more audition resources.

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