Photographing Richmond’s Historic Byrd Theater

Above: It was a cold, gray day in Richmond â” perfect for shooting indoors. Here’s an iPhone pic of me in front of The Byrd (photo by Brad Moore).

So, last month I’m reading USA Today (online) and I run across an article about classic old historic movie theaters (link) and I saw that one of them was in Richmond, Virginia, which was great because in just a few days I was going to be in Richmond with my seminar tour. So, I asked my assistant Lynn to contact the theater and see if there was any way I could come in the day before my seminar; set up a tripod; and take  some shots of the theater while it was empty. Well, as luck would have it, the theater manager (a really cool guy named Todd Schall-Vess) was a KelbyOne subscriber and had some of my books as well, so we were all set for our afternoon shoot, and he pretty much gave us the run of the place, which was awesome.

Above: Here’s the Byrd from the very back of the theater shot with a 15mm fisheye lens on a full frame 5D Mark III. The fisheye is so wide that you’re also seeing the balcony, which is right over my head, in this shot. Click on it for a larger view.

Above: Here’s a behind-the-scenes shot. I mostly shot from the seating areas, and tried both of my lenses for each location (a 15mm fisheye, and a 16-35mm).

Above: Here’s a fisheye from the balcony.

There are not HDRs
I did shoot three exposures (one regular exposure, one 2-stops under-exposed, and one 2-stops over), and I tried doing some HDRs, including 32-bit HDRs but the problem was always the chandelier â” when the HDRs merged into a single file, the chandelier was still blown out big time, so instead I put all three images into the same file on their own separate layers (Open all three images, then go under Photoshop’s File menu, under Scripts, and choose Load Files into Stack). Then I just used Layer Masks to paint in the chandelier and ceiling from the layer that was under-exposed, and then I painted in areas that needed to be brightened from the over-exposed layer, so kind of an old-fashioned layer mask party. It takes longer, but it was much more effective than the results I was getting from regular HDRs (including trying Photomatix Pro 5).

Above: Here’s a closer view.

Above: Here’s the reverse view, from the stage looking back at the house, shot with the 16-35mm at 16mm. 

Above: Another behind-the-scenes shot. Using a travel tripod and a cable release. Can’t believe we actually remembered it. 

Above: Here’s a fisheye version from the same shooting position. 

The theater is MUCH darker than it looks in these photos
In fact it’s so dark that Todd Schall-Vess (the theater’s manager, and a photographer himself), told us that one time a photographer was there to shoot the theater and asked Todd to turn the lights on. Todd told him, “All the lights are on.” I could see how he’d ask that â” it was incredibly dark inside, so my shots are actually brighter than the theater. When I made them look like it really did, you would swear the shots were 2-stops under-exposed.

The Byrd Rocks!
My thanks to Todd Schall-Vess for letting us takes some photos of The Byrd. Just a beautiful place, and if a three-hour long movie hadn’t been playing that night, Brad and I would have been there that night to take in a show â” it’s a perfect place for it, and one of just a handful left like it anywhere in the country, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity.

OK, I’ve gotta hit the sack â” big day today here in Vegas and a long flight home.

Hope you have a Tuesday packed with all the wholesome goodness of 100% whole grain. ;-)



  1. As you’ve discovered you can gain entree to places most people can’t. Why not start the Kelbyone “Photographing American Unique Places” project. I bet among the members are archeologists, historians, etc. who’d be happy to suggest similar unique historic sites. You wouldn’t have to do all the photography yourself. Imagine the Scott Kelby Historic Photowalk to document such sites. Think of the subsequent photo books, videos, etc. The publicity. your legacy gift to the country. You could have web sites dedicated to old theaters, bridges, old building, new building, parks, mountains, rivers, lakes, etc. Say you picked up 1000 new photographers in 50 states at 99 bucks a head, there’d be cash flow to cover some expenses. Think bigger.

  2. I love shooting places like this, I’ve shot most of our old textile mills here which have now been mostly turned into apartments. I find if you know anyone with the fire departments or fire marshal it’s not hard to gain access. The fact is you won’t get in unless you ask, and I’ve found the fastest way to a mans heart is his stomach (as I own a popular landmark restaurant) :)
    Awesome find Scott!

  3. So The Brad shooting you (at) The Byrd! Or was it The Brad’s Beard?
    Nice story and great photos. Guess you just never know where you going to find a K1 follower!

  4. That “load into stack” trick you just slipped in… First time I’ve heard it that I can remember (~). Neat trick. Tell RC to drop/demo that into one of his tips and tricks sessions.

  5. That “load into stack” trick you just slipped in… First time I’ve heard it that I can remember (~). Neat trick. Tell RC to drop/demo that into one of his tips and tricks sessions.

  6. Let me know the next time you’re in the Chattanooga area and I’ll see if I can get you in the Tivoli Theatre. I know one of the lead hands that sets up for shows.

  7. Glad you could “shoot the Byrd” while you were in Richmond. There are a couple of other pretty awesome theaters to check into… hoping you will bring the “Reloaded” tour here next year. The Altria Theater (formerly the Landmark Theater, and also formerly The Mosque Theater) is quite a sight and a throwback to about 1930, I think… a bit art deco. There’s also the Carpenter Theater, located downtown, a few short blocks from your hotel. Come on back!

  8. Pingback: 3blackbird
Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Today, I’m Loving Mylio on a Whole New Level

Next Post

It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Kevin Mullins!