Cirque Du Soleil‘s Luzia is in Calgary until September 22nd, and the Mexican themed show has been doing so well, double shows are offered on the weekends. I was very excited to shoot the Calgary premiere of Luzia on August 19th. I’ve never photographed a Cirque show before. I’ve photographed a variety of aerial competitions and events, but for live shows, I’ve mainly shot concerts.

The gear and knowledge needed to shoot concerts are what you need to photograph a Cirque show. Although stage lighting looks great to our eyes, its relatively dim to a camera sensor. To shoot in these conditions and get high-quality images, you will want a high-end camera with excellent ISO capabilities and fast glass. A higher ISO setting means the sensor is more sensitive to light but also introduces more noise into the image and reduces the dynamic range of the picture. Fast glass refers to lenses with apertures of <f2.8. The goal is to get as much light to the sensor as possible within whatever limitation you have.

This image of the crowd and a performer was shot at ISO3200. My ISO was generally kept between 1600 and 3200.

At the Calgary premiere there was only one other photographer, so we had two rows of eight seats to ourselves. It was easy to move around a little bit, but generally, both of us picked a spot we liked and only moved for a couple of acts. Our seats were in the first and second row, just off the center of the stage. Because of our proximity to the stage, I used a Nikkor f2.8 24-70mm on a Nikon D810 and a Tamron f2.8 15-30mm (my 14-24mm was in for repairs at Nikon, thanks for the loaner The Camera Store!).

Trapeze and Cyr wheel.

There were a few moments where I wanted my 70-200mm but not enough to be awkwardly trying to switch lenses in the seats while clowns were running around in front of us. Many of the scenes were big with lots of people and props. The wider focal lengths were great for capturing that. Especially for some of Luzia’s big water scenes.

This image was shot at 15mm. It was cropped a bit in post and also straightened because apparently, I wasn’t sitting straight.

For many of the acts, the people or props were moving quite fast. I tried to keep my shutter speed above 1/250s unless there was minimal movement from the subject.

Capturing the birds in mid flight!

I found the most challenging act to shoot was the aerial straps act (this is one of the apparatuses I train on). For a lot of the act, the performer was moving quite fast. He was also being pulled up and down by technicians. There were some tendrils of fabric hanging down for the scene that made focusing tricky with all the movement.

Aerial straps over a pool of water.

One of the easiest acts to shoot was the hand balancing one. His movements were mostly slow and controlled. There were only a few instances where another person would block my line of sight, so focusing was easy.

One arm handstands from the hand balancer.

As I mentioned previously, we were shooting from the front two rows. When the performers were at the edge of the stage, the angles and lens distortion could be challenging to work with, but some compositions and positions worked out great.

Capturing the blur of the spinning soccer ball as the performer casually moved into this position.

As a concert photographer, I am used to getting the best images I can under whatever the restrictions are. Usually, these are restriction like only being able to photograph the first three songs, no barrier between the crowd and me, poor lighting, etc. There can always be something you would change or wish could be different, but in these cases, accept the challenge and get some great shots anyway! If it were too easy, I probably wouldn’t think this kind of photography was fun :).

Catching air! A wide angle was great for showcasing all the components of this act and the height achieved by some of the fliers.

Check out some more images in my Luzia gallery.