Photo by Julianna D'Agati

Photo Shoot Tips From 4 of Your Favorite Dance Photographers

Whether it's a stunning photo of your favorite ballerina, a snapshot of your team during a performance, a crazy flexy pose on your Insta feed or your super-cringey first-recital photo, we all have a dance photograph that sticks in our minds.

To ensure that all of your awkward dance photos remain in the past, and that every future shot can live rent-free in your mind, we got the scoop from four dance photographers on how you can be prepared for your next photo session as if it's your next performance—even if your audience will just be one person and a camera.

Julianna D'Agati

Dance Spirit: What mindset should dancers have before they step into a photo shoot?

Julianna D'Agati: Be confident and be yourself. Photo shoot nerves are always a thing, and that's normal. Being in front of a camera is not easy. But dancers need to remind themselves that they're artists and they create almost effortlessly. So loosen up, try different things and remember: You are art!

DS: Do you recommend dancers come in with poses planned, or improvise?

JD: I always love when dancers have some things in mind. A lot of dancers show up with a bunch of ideas they find on Pinterest or Instagram, and this helps us get more shots. But nothing beats improv. Natural movement is where you get all the cool and unique shapes that you won't find on Instagram.

DS: Should dancers have a specific goal in mind for photo shoots?

JD: I think everyone should have a specific goal for their images, whether it's for Instagram or for a magazine. It helps the photographer understand the big picture and how to edit.

DS: How do you get dancers to relax, move freely and let their personality shine through on camera?

JD: I always find that getting to know them and talking to them as if we were just two friends taking photos draws out more personality. Another thing I do when I first meet a dancer is ask them how their body works or if they can improv for me. This allows me to get familiar with their natural movement and be able to pose them if they need some help. I never ask them to do things that they aren't comfortable with, and I always match their energy (or bring out more of theirs).

DS: What are some tips you always find yourself giving dancers on set?

JD: Some pre-shoot tips I give to parents and dancers are to pre-stretch, bring a blanket, water, a brush, slides or slippers, and baby wipes for your feet.

Some tips I give during shoots are to relax the shoulders, face and eyebrows, relevé everything possible and try to make any extreme poses look easy.

Lee Gumbs

Dance Spirit: How do you help dancers achieve a unique shot?

Lee Gumbs: I try to keep the atmosphere as free and as relaxing as possible. When a dancer is in a pose, I try to think of ways to make it a little more innovative. I like catching dancers in motion and in between moments. Not just a leg in the air. If the leg is in the air, then we'll try something more creative with the arms or upper body.

DS: Should dancers have a specific goal in mind for photo shoots?

LG: When dancers come in, I tell them to have an idea of what kind of photos they want and have ideas of some poses, so they don't come in empty-handed. It helps them feel more prepared and allows the process to flow more seamlessly.

DS: How do you get dancers to relax, move freely and let their personality shine through on camera?

LG: I like to make shoots feel like a collaborative experience. I always aim to have a very zen, open and chill environment, and I like to have a conversation when they arrive to break the ice and get to know them. That way, they're more open once we start shooting.

Rhiannon Lee

Dance Spirit: Do you recommend dancers come in with poses planned, or improvise?

Rhiannon Lee: Some dancers do well with improv and letting things happen authentically, while others often need a little pre-planning to inspire them to be the best they can be.

DS: How do you help a dancer without the greatest tricks or flexibility achieve a dance shot that'll wow people?

RL: Not all dance photography is about tricks. Some of the most beautiful imagery I've ever created is simple. Fluidity of movement can be so beautiful, even in the absence of tricks or flexibility. It's just about captivating the audience the same way they would during a performance.

DS: How do you get dancers to relax, move freely and let their personality shine through on camera?

RL: Reminding them that we're all here to have a great time is so important. Photo shoots shouldn't be stressful. Dancers train so intensely, but photo shoots are the time to show and document how hard you've worked. Sometimes, the simplest direction to give is to "just dance through it."

DS: What's the No. 1 tip you always find yourself giving dancers on set?

RL: Relax, have fun and let the creativity happen organically. If you create from the heart, you will always be genuinely beautiful.

Jordan Matter

Dance Spirit: What mindset should dancers have before they step into a photo shoot?

Jordan Matter: Come in with a fearless mindset. Be ready to take risks (safely!) and be excited to do something new, creative and dance in places you wouldn't expect to.

DS: How do you help a dancer without the greatest tricks or flexibility achieve a dance shot that'll wow people?

JM: We all love dancers who have a lot of flexibility and can create those 'Wow' poses with over-splits and all that. But shots that wow people also have a lot to do with storytelling. I make sure to let dancers know that sometimes a subtle, low arabesque can be gorgeous too, if the story is right for the photo. The more creative you get with storytelling, the less you have to worry about the extreme flexibility.

DS: How do you get dancers to relax, move freely and let their personality shine through on camera?

JM: Dancers get enough criticism in their daily lives, so I always make photo shoots feel like a fun adventure. I tell them: "You already have your technique, you know what you're doing, you're here. I'm photographing you because you're really good and I'm excited to do it. So just trust yourself, have fun, enjoy the process, and we're going to get some awesome photos." If we're having fun and laughing, the shoot is gonna be a success.

DS: What are some tips you always find yourself giving dancers on set?

JM: A dancer works all day on how their fingers are placed in one move, so you can't expect to get the perfect dance photo in 10 minutes. It takes a while, so make sure you take the time to get it right.

Also, you're in charge of making sure that you feel safe with any suggestion from a photographer. A good photographer should ask you what your strengths are, but if they don't, or if they ask you to do something that isn't within your skill set, don't be afraid to speak up and make a recommendation.

Lastly, remember why you do this. There's so much pressure on dancers to be perfect, but I like to remind them "You dance because you love it, right?" So go out and have fun, and forget all that pressure.

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