Career Advice

The 5 Biggest Mistakes Dancers Make at Photo Shoots

Andrew Eccles is known for his dynamic shots of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Here, Rachael McLaren.

My first dance photo shoot was an epic fail. The photographer was professional and we had a great working relationship, but I made the rookie mistake of failing to thoroughly prepare. I didn't understand the purpose of the photos and how they should serve my career, so I ended up with images that were beautiful but that belonged on a model comp card, not in a dance portfolio.

Dancers need photos that allow viewers to get a sense of their style, abilities and professionalism, and help them gain more visibility. Yet, dance shots can be incred­­ibly difficult to get right. Avoid these five common mistakes.


Mistake: Not researching the photographer

Explore a photographer's work before going into a shoot, suggests Andrew Eccles, award-winning photographer and longtime collaborator with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. See if they have experience working with dancers. If they don't, determine whether their work could translate into your vision. When you trust your photographer, you're more likely to be open and move freely in front of the camera.

Ailey's Linda Celeste Sims. PC Andrew Eccles

Mistake: Not preparing for the shoot

Bring ideas of images that inspire you. "Have a few poses that you think make you look good," says Quinn Wharton, photographer and former dancer. Instagram and Pinterest are great resources to search for inspiration.

Think about the angles and lines that look best on your body, and share your top choices with the photographer before you start shooting. Be wary of concepts that have already been done many times, which may make it hard for you to stand out. "Try to be as simple as possible," says dancer, choreographer and photographer Jacob Jonas. "Let the movement and structure of your body be the focus."

Mistake: Forgetting your body's needs

It's just as important to warm up for a photo shoot as it is for a performance. While the photographer should be mindful of the types of surfaces being used, it's your job to protect your body. It's perfectly acceptable to speak up for yourself in a shoot, especially if the photographer doesn't have much experience working with dancers.

Getting a great shot often requires you to repeat the same movement several times. Listen to your body: "If you've done a movement enough and would like to move on, just ask if you can try something else," says Paige Fraser, dancer with Visceral Dance Chicago.

Mistake: Going in with a closed mind

Taking photos is like any other creative process. It takes patience, flexibility and a willingness to try new things. Know that not everything you've planned will work, and the photographer may have ideas of their own.

Ailey dancers. PC Andrew Eccles, Courtesy Ailey

"Some movement may be exciting while dancing but doesn't translate to a two-dimensional photo," says Eccles. If your original ideas aren't working, use the photographer's direction to imagine new possibilities. Focus on what is working, and move forward with that.

Mistake: Not communicating post-shoot

Although you'll most likely pay a fee for your photos, the photographer still owns the rights to the images and might use them to promote their work. Review the final shots and decide which ones you're comfortable having shared. "What may be beautiful to the photographer is not always the best line or angle for a dancer," says Fraser. "Communicate with them before pictures are posted. Most photographers will respect that."

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