For Photographers: Working the Psychology of Your Subject

Working the psychology of your subject in a shoot is not a talked-about thread in most photographer circles but is certainly super important when it comes to dealing with dancers.  Connect with your subject, get inside their heads, find out what makes them tick. These are probably some of the common tips you might have heard. Others could be allow the client to be themselves or let them show themselves to you. Not super helpful when you are concerned, as we all are, about getting them into the right line, or making sure our timing or lighting is correct.

But I assure you, the psychology, or “soft skills,” of my shoots are a top priority. I think they’re important enough that that I devote days of training to it for the photographers in my two year program.

It’s important to me that those of us who regularly deal with young girls in a highly competitive, often mentally negative environment, fully understand, empathize and support those we serve.

So let’s take a moment to talk about where these dancers are coming from and then, I’d love to hear from all of you! Let’s keep this conversation going, so we can all learn from each other.

Let’s start with this general overview:

Dancers really have one underlying concern. If they look good. Period. Depending on their training, family background, physicality etc, they will have different expectations of themselves. BUT, they all look at the professional dancers on Instagram and want to look like what they see scrolling through their feeds. They spend hours and hours in the studio training in what is often a very unforgiving format, being told over and over that what they are doing is not good enough. They are also doing this at a time in their lives when their brains are still developing. I’m not a psychologist, but here are a few key points to keep things in perspective when you are working with young dancers:

  • They start conceptualizing their futures. They’re thinking about their goals, taking into account others in their decisions, and weighing their options.
  • They know their personal strengths and weaknesses, but they are still at a stage where they may not be able to take those strengths and weaknesses into perspective and learn how to embrace and grow from them.
  • They’re going through puberty. Enough said.
  • For dancers,  this all means:
    • loss or gain of flexibility
    • changes in sleeping and eating habits
    • muscle development
    • loss of coordination
    • being prone to injuries
    • emotionally draining, sensitive

But regardless of age or experience, working the psychology of the subject of your shoot comes into play with every dancer. This is something that I haven’t really taken the time to address, so I plan to continue this conversation down the road! And in the meantime, I’ll have another “How I Got the Shot” for you guys in the next couple of weeks so keep an eye out for that!

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