Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How to Prepare for a Dance Shoot

Recently I received this post on my Facebook Fan Page from Tony Howell - "Jordan! LOVE LOVE LOVE your body of work. Have you written anywhere on how to plan/prepare for a dance photo shoot? Should one? Thank you!"

I've done lots of dance photography, yet I've never written about preparation. Great idea, Tony! Since the images in Dancers Among Us are so conceptual, I'll use promotional dancer photographs to illustrate these points instead. The prep for Dancers Among Us is different from general dance photography preparation (I sense another post topic in the works).

Dance Clothing vs. Street Clothing

Here's the big aesthetic decision we need to make. Should the mood of the photos be more classic or contemporary? Are you wearing tights or jeans? A leotard or a dress? Heels, pointe shoes or bare feet? Since I primarily shoot on location, I tend to like contemporary clothing to match the surroundings. However, sometimes a more dance-y look in a contemporary setting can be quite striking.

Here are examples of street clothing in contemporary settings-

Here are some dance clothing examples in contemporary settings -

Special note to women: If you're wearing a skirt, be aware of your choice of skivvies! They should blend in or be a fashion statement.

No matter what clothes you're wearing, make sure they don't restrict your movement AT ALL. Your photos are meant to represent the VERY BEST of what you can do physically. Don't compromise your skills because your tight, restrictive jeans make your ass look great. You're a dancer - your ass would look great in a burlap sack. That said, a burlap sack is a terrible idea - the clothes should show off your shape, highlight your lines, and yet be free of physical limitations.

Here are two contrasting clothing approaches with Marcella Guarino, and they both work well.

Preparation and Improvisation

Chance favors the prepared mind. I love to shoot spontaneously, but we need a certain amount of preparation to be free to improvise. To prepare for your photo shoot, you need to first know your strong suit as a dancer. Are you better at lots of jumps and high kicks, or are beautiful lines your thing?

Arianna Bickle has impressive extensions, so we looked for different ways to showcase them.

For Jennifer Lee Crowl, we chose a setting and pose that would create a striking image. A more subtle pose needs a strong visual component for effect, whereas big athletic movements don't need that additional element to be effective (though it doesn't hurt).

In addition to knowing what you want to highlight, you should also have as many options as possible ready. It's very important to have a repertoire to draw upon so you can get a lot of variety in a short period of time. It's like an actor who knows her lines and blocking - during the shoot the time is spent creating rather than practicing.

If you're a terrific jumper, like Sarah Bumgarner, be ready with a variety of your most impressive jumps.

Sarah also happens to be amazingly flexible. In addition to her impressive jumps, she arrived with many options showcasing her flexibility.

As a Paul Taylor dancer, Jeffery Smith has incredible skill with physical interpretation. Not to beat a dead horse here, but he had a wealth of options for me to choose. You'll never go broke making a photographer (or choreographer) look good.

Keep an open mind, but stay safe.

This is essential to the creative process. Only work with photographers you respect and trust. The most unique photographs come from unexpected places; the craziest ideas often lead to the coolest shots. Try anything, as long as you feel safe. I tend to push my dancers to their physical limitations, and I rely on them to know when they're too tired or if the pose I suggest is too difficult or just plain crazy. If you're feeling unsafe, STOP IMMEDIATELY and discuss it with the photographer. Dancers are conditioned to never say, "I can't" I've been the beneficiary of this attitude many, many times, and I admire all of you for it. But believe me, you don't have to be flying with abandon through the air to have a great photo.

Simpler poses can be beautiful as well. Just be safe!

Warm up!!!!

Do I really need to insult all the dancers reading this by suggesting that you warm up before the photo shoot? Apparently I do, because it rarely happens. If possible, take a class in the morning, and warm up like you're about to perform (or rehearse, at the very least).


Did you notice the under-representation of male dancers in this post? Me too. So I'm offering $75 off dancer photographs to any male dancer who mentions this post.