On stage with the cast of The Lion King
Most theatre photography shows the performance as it is seen on stage. Typically a photographer is given a seat way back in the stalls during a dress rehearsal, and the performers aren’t even aware they’re there. It is a faithful reproduction of the production, with no changes to the staging or lighting.
The Lion King musical has been running at London’s Lyceum Theatre for 17 years, and is based on the story and the songs of the Disney animated classic, first released in 1994. So when I was asked to shoot some new publicity shots for the awardwinning show, I wanted to come up with a fresh approach to the photography.
I work full time as a photographer and graphic artist for Dewynters, one of the best-known publicists in the West End. After watching the show again, I drew some scamps – quick sketches of the scenes that I wanted to capture that I could then use to explain my concept to my colleagues and The Lion King team.
My idea was to shoot composite shots that enabled the viewer to get right in there and be immersed in the environment – to break the ‘fourth wall’ as it’s known in theatrical circles. Each scene would be carefully set up for me, so wouldn’t necessarily be exactly what you saw on stage – but would still accurately represent the feel of the show, and stay faithful to the creative vision of director Julie Taymor and her team. I wanted to give a sense of the epic scale and colour of the show which has been seen by over 13 million theatregoers.
After talking to the creative team, we went into the specifics of what we’d need. It was a huge collaborative effort involving not just the actors, but make-up, lighting, wardrobe, stage hands... the whole Lyceum team. We shot six different images over two days, with each one taking about an hour to set up, test and shoot, from start to finish.
I used my Nikon D800, which I have been using for about four years… the image quality is superb and I’ve used shots from it for 48-sheet billboard posters. All the pictures were taken with my 24-70mm f/2.8, which allowed me to be close to the action and to use a slightly wide-angle view.
The Lion King has the best opening scene of any show I know. The Circle of Life uses the music of Elton John to show the newly-born Simba being introduced as the heir apparent to the animal kingdom. That moment stays with you forever, so when I was asked to do this job, there was no way I wasn’t going to shoot this scene.
Layer by layer
As with most of the shots, we built the scene up a layer at a time. We built Pride Rock, and then added in the animals who were going to be close to the camera, and then refined everyone’s positions until we had the shot. We then photographed each of the characters individually, so the position and size of each of the actors could be microadjusted in Photoshop to get exactly the right balance for the final publicity shot.
Stage lighting is traditionally set up so that it looks good from the back of the auditorium – so that everyone in the theatre can see exactly what is going on. For this shoot I supplemented this using Elinchrom flash heads, fired with wireless triggers, to add drama to the lighting. Everything was considered, whether it was to add a shaft of light here, or a bit of flare there.
Hopefully the finished shots capture the breathtaking feeling you get when you first see The Lion King for real.
I wanted to give a sense of the epic scale and colour of the show which has been seen by over 13 million theatregoers
Matt was given about an hour for each of the six publicity shots he took of the The Lion King The stage lighting was supplemented with Elinchrom flash heads to add drama to the lighting Many of the final shots were composites, combining shots of individual dancers to create the perfect whole