I Photographer: Grand Opera Shooter Marty Sohl

Shooting the Metropolitan Opera is a grand profession

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Dan Bracaglia

How did you start shooting for the Met?
I shot the San Francisco Opera for 20 years and developed a relationship with the Metropolitan Opera. They invited me to come and do a shoot—like a tryout—and it worked.

What led you to opera photography?
I started out as a dancer with a little ballet company in San Francisco. I was sitting around watching rehearsals a lot, so I got myself a camera and started playing around with it. I started shooting performances, went to the San Francisco Ballet, and shot a couple of rehearsals. The San Francisco Opera saw those photos, asked me to do a test shoot, and they liked my work. That was 1982.

How well do you have to know the operas?
I've been doing it so long that I know a lot of opera stories, but I'm not an expert. I just go with my instinct. It helps to do a few rehearsals—and to know the story, of course. Mostly I just keep my camera focused on the performers, and when they do something exciting or dramatic or touching, then I shoot. I shoot a lot.

How many frames?
For a full dress rehearsal, as many as 1,500 to 2,000. There are so many variables. You think you've got the moment perfect, and when you look at it, somebody's doing something: They're licking their lips, their eyes are closed.

Do you move about the theater?
At some of the final dress rehear-sals, there's an audience, so it's hard to move around. For those, I stand in the photographers' section. But for earlier rehearsals, we have access to pretty much all of the theater: We can go way downstage right or left, up to the boxes or the parterre section for different angles, or up above to see the set.

What gear do you use?
I just bought a Canon EOS 5D Mark III that I love. It's the best so far for me—the quality of the files in dark lighting is so much better than my previous cameras, it's amazing.

Do you have any say on the lighting?
We shoot with available light on the stage—we don't have any control over the lighting at all. The hardest part is when there are pools of very bright light and parts of the stage are really dark—that makes it hard to expose correctly. When it's lit very bright and flat, it's harder for me to get a good, sharp image than when there's a little contrast. I like contrasty lighting.

What makes opera photography special for you?
I love the grand sets of opera—the colors, the lighting, the grandeur. It's really exciting to me.

How do you capture that?
I zoom out my 24-70mm f/2.8 USM. Or I get farther back in the theater and try to get full stage shots, stopping down a bit to get deeper focus. Quite often, I get the best full-stage shots during early dress rehearsals, where I have access to the center of the theater.

How much editing do you do?
I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, mostly to lighten and sharpen and to clean up the shadows. Then I'll export photos chosen for the press to Photoshop and do more touching up, removing obvious wig lines or distracting things. Occasionally I have been known to make a singer look a bit thinner, but not often [laughs]!

Which operas are your favorites?
The old ones, with the big stage filled with hundreds of people. I really love Turandot and Aida. There's a trend in modern operas toward sparse sets, and they're fun to shoot, but I really love the old grandeur of the opera. A beautiful stage and all those lights. The best singers in the world.

Marty Sohl is one of two main photographers for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, where she lives during the season (September through May). Off-season, she lives with her family and dogs in Fort Worth, TX. See more of her work at martysohlphoto.com and at PopPhoto.com/sohl.

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Adriana Lecouvreur Metropolitan Opera Maria Guleghina as Adriana Lecouvreur Canon EOS 5D, f/3.2 @ 300 mm, 1/200, ISO 800, No FlashMarty Sohl
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Aida Metropolitan Opera 6-30-2009 Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/4.5 @ 105 mm, 1/200, ISO 800Marty Sohl
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Ariadne auf Naxos Metropolitan Opera Nina Stemme as Ariadne Kathleen Kim as Zerbinetta Canon EOS 5D, f/4 @ 300 mm, 1/250, ISO 1600, No FlashMarty Sohl
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Pagliacci Metropolitan Opera 2009 Roberto Alagna as Canio Nuccia Focile as Nedda Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/2.8 @ 200 mm, 1/160, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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La Damnation de Faust Metropolitan Opera Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/2.8 @ 120 mm, 1/25, ISO 2000Marty Sohl
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La Damnation de Faust Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/2.8 @ 70 mm, 1/100, ISO 2000Marty Sohl
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Hansel and Gretel Metropolitan Opera Angelika Kirchschlager as Hansel Miah Persson as Gretel Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/4 @ 300 mm, 1/125, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Hansel and Gretel Metropolitan Opera 12-14-11 Kate Lindsey as Hansel Aleksandra Kurzak as Gretel Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/3.5 @ 145 mm, 1/320, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Hamlet Metropolitan Opera 2010 Marlis Petersen as Ophélie Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/3.2 @ 300 mm, 1/320, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Armida Metropolitan Opera 2-15-11 David Crawford as Astarotte Canon EOS 5D, f/2.8 @ 300 mm, 1/200, ISO 3200Marty Sohl
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Armida Metropolitan Opera 2-15-11 Canon EOS 5D, f/3.5 @ 51 mm, 1/50, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Armida Metropolitan Opera 2-15-11 Canon EOS 5D, f/4 @ 110 mm, 1/400, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Armida Metropolitan Opera 2-15-11 Kobie van Rensburg as Ubaldo Barry Banks as Carlo Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/4.5 @ 300 mm, 1/200, ISO 1250Marty Sohl
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Le Comte Ory Metropolitan Opera 3-21-11 Joyce DiDonato as Isolier Diana Damrau as Countess Adèle Canon EOS 7D, f/3.5 @ 300 mm, 1/250, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Le Comte Ory Metropolitan Opera 2-21-11 Juan Diego Florez as Count Ory Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/4.5 @ 300 mm, 1/250, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Madama Butterfly Metropolitan Opera 12-6-11 Canon EOS 5D, f/2.8 @ 300 mm, 1/50, ISO 1000Marty Sohl
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Le Nozze di Figaro Metropolitan Opera 2009 Danielle de Niese as Susanna Canon EOS 40D, f/4 @ 300 mm, 1/320, ISO 1000Marty Sohl
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Carmen Metropolitan Opera 1-16-10 Canon EOS 5D, f/2.8 @ 85 mm, 1/40, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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La Traviata Metropolitan Opera 3-30-12 Natalie Dessay as Violetta Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/4 @ 85 mm, 1/200, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Macbeth Metropolitan Opera 3-12-12 Nadja Michael as Lady Macbeth Thomas Hampson as Macbeth Canon EOS 7D, f/3.5 @ 145 mm, 1/320, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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La Traviata Metropolitan Opera 3-25-10 Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta James Valenti as Alfredo Canon EOS 5D, f/2.8 @ 300 mm, 1/60, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Les Contes d'Hoffmann Metropolitan Opera 10-6-10 Canon EOS 5D, f/3.2 @ 200 mm, 1/160, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Les Contes d'Hoffmann Metropolitan Opera 9-28-10 Ildar Abdrazakov as Coppélius Canon EOS 5D, f/2.8 @ 300 mm, 1/160, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Nabucco Metropolitan Opera 9-27-11 Canon EOS 5D, f/5.6 @ 42 mm, 1/40, ISO 640Marty Sohl
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Turandot Metropolitan Opera 10-26-09 Eduardo Valdes as Pong Joshua Hopkins as Ping Tony Stevenson as Pang Canon EOS 5D, f/4 @ 300 mm, 1/125, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Tosca Metropolitan Opera 1-10-11 Sondra Radvanovsky as Tosca Falk Struckmann as Scarpia Canon EOS 7D, f/3.2 @ 300 mm, 1/250, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Don Giovanni Metropolitan Opera, Oct. 2011 Ramón Vargas as Don Ottavio Marina Rebeka as Donna Anna Stefan Kocán as Commendatore Canon EOS 7D, f/2.8 @ 78 mm, 1/160, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Don Giovanni Metropolitan Opera, Oct. 2011 Luca Pisaroni as Leporello Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni Barbara Frittoli as Donna Elvira Canon EOS 7D, f/4 @ 73 mm, 1/200, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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La Fille Du Regiment Metropolitan Opera 12-8-11 Ann Murray as Marquise of Berkenfield Nino Machaidze as Marie Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/3.2 @ 173 mm, 1/160, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Ernani Metropolitan Opera 1-30-12 A scene from Verdi's Ernani, with Angela Meade as Elvira and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Don Carlo Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/3.2 @ 90 mm, 1/15, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Il Trovatore Metropolitan Opera 9-28-12 Morris Robinson as Ferrando Dolora Zajick as Azucena Canon EOS 5D Mark II, f/3.2 @ 300 mm, 1/250, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Aida Metropolitan Opera 11-20-12 Liudmyla Monastyrska as Aida Olga Borodina as Amneris Canon EOS 5D Mark III, f/2.8 @ 300 mm, 1/250, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Don Giovanni Metropolitan Opera 11-28-12 Erwin Schrott as Leporello Ildar Abdrazakov as Don Giovanni Canon EOS 5D Mark III, f/2.8 @ 165 mm, 1/250, ISO 1600Marty Sohl
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Un Ballo in Maschera Metropolitan Opera 2012 Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia Stephanie Blythe as Ulrica Canon EOS 5D Mark III, f/4 @ 300 mm, 1/160, ISO 2500Marty Sohl
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Die Frau ohne Schatten Metropolitan Opera NIKON D100, f/4 @ 175 mm, 1/80, ISO 640Marty Sohl
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