Whether you’re shooting headshots, audition pics, or content for your social media, high-quality professional photoshoots are an important investment for a dancer. Doing your prep work in advance will help facilitate a successful shoot.
Do your research
Don’t just dive in blind. If you go into your photoshoot unsure of what you want out of it, that’ll come across in your photos.
This all goes back to branding – honoring your goals, strengths, and values and identifying those opportunities that best align with and support your brand.
When you do your research, it’s more likely that all the pieces will come together. And that’s where the magic happens.
What do you want out of the shoot?
- If you are applying to summer intensives, college conservatories, or professional companies, research what audition photos are required.
- If you’re shooting headshots, do you need a concert, commercial, or legit look?
- If you’re creating content for your website or social media platforms, what are you trying to express in these images?
Who do you want to work with?
- Make a list of your favorite dance photographers and reach out for an introductory phone call.
- Ask about their process, address your goals and needs, and figure out the right fit.
*Remember, dance photography is an art all its own, and you want to make sure you vibe with your photographer. When you feel comfortable working as a team, your shoot will be more collaborative and creative.
Dance is a 3D art form—but photography is (obviously) a 2D medium. Practice some posing ahead of time so you get a sense of angles, positions, and shapes that make you look and feel your best. Photography captures a moment in time, so play around with your posing to find your sweet spot.
Set up your iPhone or camera in the studio and take the time to practice flattering, foundational poses:
- Arabesques and Attitudes
Arabesques and attitudes almost always shoot better directly to the side. But if that doesn’t quite do the trick try a very slight diagonal line, up or downstage.
- À La Seconde
The secret ingredient here is going to be ensuring your supporting leg stays as turned out as possible. Sometimes your arm line might affect how high you can get your leg due to how your body is built… sometimes ribs can get in the way! Try several different port de bras positions to help facilitate a leg close to the ear.
- Passé Devant or Derrière
Here is an excellent place to show impeccable line and give you an opportunity to work with your expression or intention.
Jetés, sissones, and other jumps are great to show power and passion.
- Often, a great way to come up with something really cool is to work an improv session with your photographer and see what happens. I often have dancers just flow and move, picking lines that I think might be interesting. When I see something unique or beautiful, we pause to work on that shot and get it just right.
Look the part
Bring clothing options that flatter your body and show off a bit of personality. Look at the style of the jobs that interest you and pick your wardrobe accordingly—
- Classical versus contemporary
- Summer intensive (student) versus professional company
- Musical theater versus commercial work
Talk with your photographer, agent, or dance teacher about what colors, cuts, and styles are most flattering on your unique body (Often, our favorite items aren’t necessarily the best choices for auditions or headshots).
No matter if you’re a guy or a girl and dreaming of Broadway or ballet, you want to choose dancewear that shows off your body’s lines and supports (rather than distracts from) your brand.
When it comes to what you wear/bring on the day of the shoot, make sure that:
- Everything is ironed/steamed and folded nicely to transport to the studio
- Black items have been de-linted
- Pieces are in good condition (no runs in tights or overstretched leotards)
- You bring skin tone undergarments (when needed)
- If you’re shooting outdoors, you’re wearing shoes that can get a little beat up (i.e. don’t bring your brand new pointes shoes if you can help it!)
Your hair and makeup should ‘look the part,’ too!
- For ballet and contemporary work, hair should be slicked back in a bun or French twist.
- For musical theater and commercial work, your hair should look like ‘everyday you’ but better (luscious waves, touched-up roots, and extra volume).
In both cases, makeup should be clean and natural (but more than you’d wear to class normally). Define your eyes with some eyeshadow and mascara, brush up your brows, add color to your face with gentle contour, highlight, and blush, and swipe on a natural-looking lip to finish the look.
If you want less stress on the day of your shoot, consider hiring a stylist and/or hair and makeup artist. Though an additional investment, these added experts provide an ‘outside’ perspective of what looks best on you, and can add that extra WOW factor to your final image proofs. Reach out to friends or your photographer for referrals, or look to Instagram to find creative artists that will complement your brand. Most photographers will have one or many hair and makeup artists that they are accustomed to working with (We have a team of 4 at our studio that we work with on a regular basis).
Look at Pinterest, Instagram, and websites of your dance companies and shows. Save a folder to your phone of images that make you feel inspired – almost like a virtual vision board. Include your prospective summer intensive, dream performance venue, your favorite dance icons, and anything else that #SparksJoy.
These don’t just have to be dance photos. You can include far-away destinations, interesting textures, whimsical colors, beauty or fashion campaigns, animals, nature scenes, and more. If an image (or song, scent, or sensation) feels representative of your brand aesthetic, add it to your inspo-folder. Because it’s virtual, you can keep editing (and keep getting inspired!).
After you confirm the photographer for your shoot, share your ‘mood board’ with them so they can get a feel for what inspires you and what vision you have for your photoshoot. They might even ask to add to your ‘mood board,’ which makes for a cool creative and collaborative process.
Tune your instrument
As a dancer, your body is your instrument, and you want to look and feel your best on the day of your shoot.
Get back in class (regularly) before you get in front of the camera.
Dancing does not correlate to the expression, “It’s just like riding a bike.” While your mind may remember what to do, your body will take coaching and repetition to get back in the groove. It may take a while to regain your turnout, flexibility, and strength (especially after the year we’ve had taking virtual class from home). Ease back into your training to avoid injury. Have patience. Practice grace.
The week before your photoshoot, drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep. Nourish your body with foods that give you energy and, on the day of your shoot, go for those meals and snacks that you’d typically eat before a performance or audition. Unfamiliar foods might cause bloating or indigestion, so it’s best to stick with what you’re accustomed to.
Make a playlist
Dancers naturally respond to music. Curate a playlist to set the vibe for your shoot – one that pumps you up but isn’t too distracting from the shoot. Start streaming your playlist the morning of your shoot to get you in the headspace to feel, create, and perform your best – as you do your hair and makeup, while you’re eating breakfast, and on your commute to the shoot.
Most photographers will have a bluetooth speaker on set (if you’re shooting indoors), but it’s always a good idea to ask (and ask permission to stream your playlist) ahead of time.
Wow! That was a lot of information. But trust us – putting in the work ahead of time will make for a successful shoot with lots of images to choose from. Doing your research, preparing your body and mind, and communicating your vision with your team makes the process easier, more collaborative, and exciting for all.
Photo: Jojo Sampaio by Rachel Neville