Is there anything better than a killer dance photoshoot? OF COURSE NOT! Whether you're taking headshots, model shots, or simply images that'll slay on Instagram, dance photography makes the world a prettier place.
To make sure your next dance photoshoot is as 🔥 as you are, we asked photographer Kenneth Edwards for his dos and don'ts. Follow his advice and your dance photography future will be as bright as your "golden hour" lighting.
How do you spell glamour? P-O-B. That's the Paris Opéra Ballet, of course—the endlessly glam home of some of the world's best dancers. I'm sure you've already drooled over the new POB website and its accompanying 3e Scene, a platform where performance meets digital art.
You may have also noticed that the étoiles have new, beautifully poetic portraits alongside their biographies. Thanks to photographer James Bort, we have a chance to glimpse these swiftly moving artists in a rare still moment. Even more special, POB has released a behind-the-scenes video that shows just how majestic the company's stars are.
L.A.-based dancer McKenzie Anderson recently booked a major industrial for Reebok. When she saw the photos of the other dancers they hired, she noticed one thing they all had in common: “Everybody who booked the job had a fitness headshot. There were no commercial headshots."
“Open auditions barely happen anymore, so your headshot is often your first audition," says Jennie LaCovey, an agent at Bloc. “If you don't have a great picture with great hair and makeup, you're not going to get called in." So what can you do to make sure your headshot gets you in the door? Read on to find out.
What Makes a Great Picture?
When casting directors look at your headshot, they should be able to imagine you in a range of different roles. That means you need to avoid anything distracting and keep the focus on your face. In commercial headshots, LaCovey recommends skipping the jewelry, crazy poses and busy backgrounds. Carolyn McLeod, who cast the recent movie High Strung, says casting directors look for images that “convey personality and energy." Even if you're auditioning for a dance role, they won't just be looking at your lines. “Don't forget to engage the face and eyes," McLeod says.
While it may be tempting to wear lots of makeup or ask for heavy photo editing, remember that you still need to look like yourself. “There's nothing worse than someone coming in to a casting and looking nothing like their photograph," McLeod says.
How Many Different Looks Do I Need?
For dancers hoping to book a wide range of jobs—from tours to movies to commercials—having a range of headshots is crucial. In addition to her fitness shot, Anderson has an “edgy" dance shot she submitted for a music video with pop artist Sofia Carson, and a clean-cut shot that helped her land a commercial for Amazon.
At minimum, LaCovey advises dancers to have two looks: a commercial shot and an edgier body shot. Commercial shots are generic and clean-cut—think light makeup, no jewelry and a bright T-shirt. Full-body (non-dance) shots are used for auditions for tours and music videos. Wear formfitting clothing, but make sure you're comfortable (if you're not, it'll show in your pictures).
Nicole Niestemski's fitness shot (Lindsay Rosenberg)
Most dancers opt to do one or two additional looks, depending on their budget and the types of auditions they're hoping to land. Dancers with a younger look often do a shot geared toward the kind of teen-focused roles you might see on the Disney or Nickelodeon channels. For these, you can take on more of a character—think layers or a mix of bright colors. A trendy or fashion-forward shot works well for dancers who often go on hip-hop auditions or to castings that ask you to “show your personal style." If you're interested in fitness modeling gigs, be sure to include a shot that shows your athleticism, highlighting muscle tone and flexibility.
What Should I Wear?
Picking your outfits can be the hardest part of the process. If you have an agency, make sure to run your outfits by them first. You don't want to spend money on photos only to find out afterward that your agency doesn't want to use them. “What looks good in person sometimes isn't what looks great on camera," Anderson says. Photographer Lindsay Rosenberg recommends steering clear of highly visible brand logos in your fitness shots. “Not wearing a huge logo is usually better so that you're not appealing to just one company."
How Should I Wear My Hair and Makeup?
While dancers spend a lot of time worrying about what to wear for headshots, hair and makeup are just as important. LaCovey says that one of the biggest problems she sees is when dancers don't vary their hairstyle or makeup between looks. “They don't change their commercial makeup into more intense makeup for an edgier shot, or they don't change their hairstyle, so when the pictures come back everything looks the same."
Consider enlisting professional help. While dancers are used to doing their makeup for the stage, professional makeup artists know what looks good on camera. They'll also have higher-quality makeup and be there to touch you up throughout the day. Check with your photographer for hair or makeup recommendations—most will have a list of people they work well with.
Rosenberg loves when dancers come in with a clear sense of what their goals are. “If you know yourself and you know what you want out of your dance career, it's a lot easier for us to work as a team to get you exactly the shots you need to get hired."
Don't be afraid to speak up on the day of the shoot. Your photographer and your hair and makeup artists will likely check in to see if you like how you look or how the shots are turning out. “If you're not happy about something, say it!" says Rosenberg. “Don't say yes to please anybody. This is your shoot, your day. Don't worry about offending us."
How to Find a Photographer
- Get recommendations: If you have an agent, they'll have a list of recommended photographers. If you're unrepresented, talk to working dancers and see who they've had good experiences with.
- Do your research: Look at the photographer's work online. Think about what your style is, and whether you fit in with the other dancers the photographer has shot. Anderson suggests looking at dancers who are booking the kind of jobs you want—who shot their photos?
- Think about budget: Headshots can be a big investment. Consider which photographers fit into your price range. Prices vary depending on things like how many looks you do, so see what different packages they offer.
- Talk to the photographers: Chat on the phone or in person to see if they're a good fit. If you're not comfortable, your pictures won't come out well.
Do you dream of posting gorgeous DIY dance photos online? These tips from one of the best professional dance photographers in the biz, Erin Baiano, will help you snap the perfect shot.
(courtesy Ashi Ross)
1, 2, 3, JUMP!
- Capture movement by counting off. “The shooter and the subject have to coordinate timing,” Baiano says. “For a jump, you could count, ‘One, two, down on three, and jump!’ ” Use trial and error to find the right moment to snap.
- Try different angles to add visual interest. Shoot from above or from below. “Don’t be afraid to move around until you get the best angle,” Baiano says.
- Use natural light. For outdoor shots, Baiano suggests shooting at “the magic hour,” when the sun’s about to set. “The light at that time is soft and flattering,” she explains. Avoid shooting at noon. “When the light is directly overhead, your eyes will cast shadows and you’ll look like a raccoon!” If you’re indoors, try to pick a time and space with as much natural light as possible.
(courtesy Mia Diaz)
Learn to love the flash. “You need flash more often than you think,” Baiano says. “If you’re backlit, use a flash. If it’s low light, you can be blurry without flash. If something doesn’t look right, even in daylight, try adding a flash. Just don’t use a flash when you’re taking a selfie or directing the camera at a mirror.” A flash too close to your face can make you look like a ghost, while a flash in the mirror will give off a glare.
- Think about your environment. “If where you are is part of what’s exciting about the shot, include as much of the environment as you can,” Baiano says. When you’re at the beach or crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, your viewers will want to see the sights. If the picture is just about you—or if you’re in a very plain environment—fill the frame with your body, instead.
- Keep it PG. Be aware of how much skin you’re showing and avoid doing overly sexual moves—especially if you’re young. Instagram and other social networks can close accounts with inappropriate content, and other users can report you.
(courtesy Hayden Hopkins)
Have fun! You can express yourself in photography just as you express yourself in dance. It’s OK to be inspired by photos you like of other dancers, but put your own spin on them. “Learn from your mistakes and keep trying different things,” Baiano says. “The more pictures you take, the better you’ll get.”
Perfected the art of the perfect dance shot? We want to see! Email your picture to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured as Dance Spirit's Photo of the Day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.