Tutorials |Photographing the London Theatres with Peter Dazeley

HOW TO... Photographing the London Theatres with Peter Dazeley


Peter Dazeley, known more commonly as simply ‘Dazeley’, is a world-renowned advertising photographer, working in London. Winner of numerous awards and a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, Dazeley is also acclaimed for his fine art and nude photography. In 2010 he was voted amongst the top 30 most influential photographers of the decade.

Following on from the huge success of his last two books, Unseen London and London Uncovered, Dazeley’s new book is London Theatres.

Offering a unique front-of-house and behind the scenes overview of 46 of the capital’s world-class theatrical spaces, London Theatres is a visually stunning collection of images, accompanied by text from leading theatre critic Michael Coveney and foreword from eminent actor Sir Mark Rylance. I spoke with Peter about his new book.

How did the book come about?

I’d shot seven or eight theatres for the other books and my publisher Andrew Dunn at Frances Lincoln suggested the idea of a theatre book. I thought it was a wonderful idea. Frances Lincoln found Michael (Coveney) and we sat down and discussed potential theatres.

There are 46 theatres in the book, although there are 270 in total in London. The book is divided into sections – Grande Dames, Pleasure Palaces, Popular Landmarks, Informal Delights, Legends Alive, Hidden Gems, Eastward Ho! and West End Jewels. I’m very pleased with the selection we ended up with.

What kit did you shoot with?

I shot the whole book on the Nikon D800 and D810. They deal with mixed lighting and long exposures so well – they’re shockingly easy to use. Nikon have transformed the way I work. I can travel lightly with the cameras and a tripod and there’s no need to use a laptop with the camera tethered.

The book was shot with natural lighting (apart from a touch of flash in the well at Sadler’s Wells), although we did bracket the exposures if we had very strong mixed lighting. At the London Palladium I think we hit a 30 second exposure, but the digital files just eat it up – modern DSLRs can work in such dark conditions.

Tom Miles take on the Nikon D500 and the moment of impact!

How long did the book take to shoot?

I shot the book over 10 months. It was slightly difficult with the more successful shows as they were often rehearsing in the day. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe Theatre was particularly challenging, as it’s a candlelit theatre and all the candles have to be lit by hand! We fitted in the shoots where we could.

I’d Google the theatre a bit beforehand to see what had been photographed before, and what I felt I could improve on. Then, when I arrived, I’d try and find the hidden bits – dressing rooms, boxes, orchestra pits, under and over the stage etc.

My main aim was not to end up with a book of red seats, and I think I’ve achieved that. I’d never realised the beauty of these theatres – when you go to a show you don’t see it. These are listed buildings and so hard for the owners to maintain, but they’re a wonderful asset of London.

Which theatre was the most challenging to shoot?

The most challenging theatre was probably The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, as listed above. Equally challenging though was Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Most theatres are at their quietest during July and August, but that is peak time for the Open Air Theatre and I needed good weather.

I scouted out the location and realised that with the height of the surrounding trees the shoot needed to be done near the middle of the day so that I didn’t get long shadows across the stage.

The staff were so helpful, but this was during the run of Jesus Christ Superstar and the mess of stage blood etc. on the stage each morning was horrendous!

The stage was cleaned just before the next performance, which was too late for me to shoot and they weren’t keen for me to clean the stage myself. In the end I shot the theatre in October during the Jane Austen season on a lovely Autumnal day, with just a few chairs as scenery on the stage.

Did you have a favourite theatre?

I can’t pick a favourite! I love St Martin’s Theatre (where The Mousetrap has been playing since 1974) and Wilton’s Music Hall (the oldest music hall in the world, which has been restored with loving care by the owners). The Haymarket is also one of my favourite theatres.

You must have discovered lots of fascinating facts…

Yes! The New Wimbledon Theatre had to have the angel on its roof removed during World War Two in case it inadvertently guided the Luftwaffe. The Theatre Royal in Drury Lane has two Royal boxes – dating back to when King George III and the Prince Regent famously ‘didn’t get on’.

The Playhouse Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre still have thunder runs – where a cannonball is sent down the run to make the sound of thunder. And St Martin’s Theatre is the only theatre with a Royal box at the back of the stalls.

It’s also home to the oldest prop in the West End – the clock on the mantelpiece for The Mousetrap. The curtain at Richmond Theatre was painted by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen before he became famous. And it was interesting to see the amazing electronics at The Palace Theatre (where Harry Potter is on) as they really show how theatre is moving on.

Who do you think will enjoy the book?

It’s for lovers of London, tourists, architects, theatregoers – it’s not just a photographic book.

And how is the book doing so far?

We only published at the beginning of September but it’s doing very well so far. We’ve had some good publicity, including the Jo Good show for BBC Radio London, which was recorded live in Joe Allen’s restaurant.

The book has also given me my career high three weeks ago on stage at The National Theatre. I was on stage with writer Michael Coveney and Sir Mark Rylance talking about the book and even got paid a fee!

I’m hoping that we’ll do a second edition of the book as well.

With many thanks to Peter Dazeley for his time.

You can buy Peter’s new book London Theatres on Amazon by clicking here

Ballet photographer Laurent Liotardo on using the Nikon D3400 in low light


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