Dance Photography | How to work with Dancers

They say you’ve gotta give the people what they want, right?

And one of the questions I am most frequently asked by photographers is “How do you shoot a group of dancers”?

So today I want to take you through the process, on both sides, dancer AND photographer, cause you know we all gotta learn to work together.

My first shoot with a dancer was not at all what I expected. The dancer was a pre-professional and we had met at our home school co-op, but I made the rookie mistake of failing to thoroughly prepare. I understood my desired out come for my portfolio and I had a clear vision of what I wanted.  But I had NO CLUE about working with a dancer or how their lines and shapes worked in direct correlation to my camera. I ended up with beautiful images ONLY because the dancer knew exactly what to do and I came to the realization that I had a LONG WAY TO GO!  

Dancers need photos that allow viewers to get a sense of their style, abilities and professionalism, and help them gain more visibility. So here are FIVE common mistakes photographers make when attempting to work with dancers. Dancers take note:  LEARNING HOW TO WORK WITH A PHOTOGRAPHER is equally beneficial and helpful for you as well. So GO ON..KEEP READING! 


Mistake #1: Do your HOMEWORK

Explore different genre’s of dance before you begin photographing dancers.  Know the different styles and educate yourself on how each one is different and the language that the dancers use to describe the movement they execute.  It is important to communicate.  If you as a photographer are not comfortable with the terminology, then you need to help the dancer understand what you are wanting from them.

Dancers: Make sure you know who is photographing you. See if the photographer has 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.

As a testimony to my own growth, here’s an image from my VERY FIRST shoot w/a dancer.  Now…let me clarify > > > I’ve been a photographer for more than 30 years and professionally for more than 15, but this my friends is my first experience with a REAL LIVE DANCER!  


mckinney dance photographer, dance photography, ballet photography

Mistake #2: Not Being Prepared

Bring ideas of images that inspire you. Use resources available to you such as Pinterest or Instagram to create a mood or inspiration board and BRING IT WITH YOU TO THE SHOOT.  Pictures speak a 1000 words. So show what you want and it will help create the vision in your head. 

Dancers: Have a few poses that you think make you look good. Think about the angles and lines that look best on your body, and make sure you share your top choices with the photographer before you start shooting. Be aware of concepts that have already been done many times, which may make it hard for you to stand out when you are representing yourself as a brand.  

As a quick side note.  Sometimes it is beneficial to hire a choreographer to be present during your shoot.  Dancers are used to listening to their teachers and mentors and it’s nice to have an extra set of eyes to verify that the technique is being carried out the best of the dancer’s ability.  In the beautiful shots below of the lovely Stephens sisters, the talented Ms Shelly Bramhall accompanied me to help create an amazing collection for these sisters to treasure forever!

Mistake #3: Forgetting your limitations

Photographers, listen up!! It is as important for dancers to warm up for a photo shoot as it is for a performance. As the photographer, you should be mindful of the types of surfaces you’re asking the dancer to be present in. It’s your job to be mindful and ask them their strengths and limitations, whether it be to protect their body, clothing or integrity of the angle of the shot. 

Dancers: It’s perfectly acceptable to speak to 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 feel you’ve done a movement too much and would like to move on, just ask if you can try something else.

Mistake #4: 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 dancer may have ideas of their own.

Dancers: Some movement may be exciting while dancing but doesn’t translate to a two-dimensional photo. So be flexible and know 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 #5: Not showcasing individual strengths

Although you’ll most likely know before you pair up your dancers for a group shot what their strengths are, you want to make sure they are comfortable in the poses you are asking them to perform and that they translate really well.  If you do not pay attention to this mistake, you run the risk of creating an image that is not attractive, possibly injuring a dancer or spending too much time on an pose that inevitably doesn’t work at all. Step back and take a look at the group without the camera up to your eye and look at it in it’s entirety!

Dancers: Be willing to bring ideas and input to the group shot.  Creativity and collaboration are key to a successful shoot!  

Whether you’re a photographer or a dancer the key to an amazing shoot and beautiful group collaboration is COMMUNICATION!  Always show up and show off and be willing to be flexible.  

If you’ve been a part of an amazing shoot and want to share your experience, leave a comment below.  We all need a little help sparking great ideas, and what better way to get that, than sharing it with your friends.

All My Best!!!!



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