Photographer Etiquette: Working with and for the dancer

Hooray! It’s the time of year again when I get to work toward new portfolio images and be creative! It’s a chance for me to get inspired and do some new things. I also have time to think and address some of the questions or issues photographers and dancers run into when it comes to shooting etiquette and working together.

Last week, I had a professional dancer in the studio and of course,  before getting down to work, we were talking. She had recently done a few shoots with photographers who were not fully seasoned in working with dancers, and as a result, she had some bad experiences. Nothing major, but of course it got me thinking and wanting to bring these points up to you guys in case it can help you the next time you are portfolio building too!

1) Discuss terms with your dancers before you shoot. Let them know what you are interested in doing and what they can expect in return. The dancer I mentioned expected to receive high resolution files in exchange for her time. When the photographer refused to give them up, she felt taken advantage of, and needless to say, she didn’t speak highly of the photographer to her fellow pro dancers.

Before any shoot, whether it’s creative, assignment or commissioned, I make sure the dancer knows what to expect, the conditions she/he’ll be dancing under, and what they receive at the end of the shoot.

2) Respect their bodies. Understand that dancers need time to warm up, get centered, and be on their legs. Recognize that they have a process that allows all of that to happen. Disregard for their process sets the stage for injury.

With the exception of shooting a campaign for companies where dancers have call times and arrive ready for anything, I treat each dancer in a shoot as if they are moving through a class. They need to work smaller movements first before moving on to larger movements and lines, and finally, when they are really warm, we move to jumps.

At the end of a shoot, once we know what their lines are and what looks best on them, we aim for creativity. It’s best not to toss dancers from one type of movement to another in rapid succession. What this means: Don’t start with a large jump followed by your dancer sitting down, then going for a certain line, then back to a jump. Following their natural rhythm will get you better shots faster.

3) Allow your dancer to have the time to look at the shots to fine tune their technique. Don’t be in a hurry to move on when you think you got the shot if they don’t like how they look. It takes significantly longer to get a good dance shot than most photographers realize. Your dancer will appreciate you so much more if you give her the chance to shift her lines to look her best (even better for you to have the skill to guide her into those lines).

To help address this issue even more, we’ve put together a video all about finding the dancer’s lines which will be available soon. I encourage you all to consider purchasing this video and signing up for one of my upcoming workshops which are aimed at helping you learn the elements of quality shooting and working with your dancers to get the best shots and improve your craft.

Leave a Comment