Photographer Etiquette: Working with and for the dancer

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

Last week, I had a professional dancer in the studio and of course, before getting down to work, we were chatting. 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 made me want to bring these points up to you guys in case it can help you the next time you are working on your portfolio!

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.

Dancer: Zeo Donnenfield

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.

If you have them sign a model release, it’s a good idea to do that prior to the shoot or at the beginning so there are no surprises for either of you going forward.

If you are shooting a concept that will benefit your portfolio more than the dancer, you might want to throw in a few extra shots for their needs as well.  All dancers need images for self-promotion, especially good ones!

Something else that’s important is making sure your dancer knows you are concerned with them looking good right from the beginning.  Don’t use or post shots that the dancers don’t feel represents themselves in the best light. Too often I see photographs of dancers where the dress or styling look amazing or the light fell just right etc. only to be distracted by a bent knee or sickled foot.

Everybody wants to look good, sure, but dancers are especially keen on looking their best because the professional impression they leave is based so much on the visual.

Dancer: Ana Maria Delmar

This consideration will go a long way towards developing the relationship between you and your dancers, and they will have confidence in not just working with you but suggesting you to their friends. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

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 will make them feel uncomfortable and not be able to give you their best throughout the shoot, not to mention, it 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.

Towards the middle to 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.

Dancer: Mary Hansohn

3) Allow your dancer to have the time to look at the shots. Give them the chance 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). Don’t be surprised if it takes 10, 20, 30 times to get the shot just right.

4) Create the type of working environment that you would want to work in.  Simple things can make a big difference for dancers such as:

– keeping your space warm (my studio is usually 74-80 degrees when shooting) for injury prevention

– Water and light snacks like fruit and nuts can go a long way to keeping dancer’s blood sugar up while being mindful of their physical needs

–  Keep an upbeat, positive vibe going.  Many dancers live their lives in a studios that are more nit-picky than positive. A nice, supportive environment can be refreshing.

– Don’t tell them you think it’s a great shot if it’s not.They are hyper critical and will not trust you if you declare that everything they do is wonderful.

Dancer: Kyono Chantal


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.

This is meant to shed light on your professional decorum when working with dancers. Always reach out with questions and feedback. I’m here to help YOU learn and grow as photographers!

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