As dancers, we spend countless hours training to develop the technical, physical, and mental skills needed to excel at our craft, whether it’s ballet, ballroom, commercial, or jazz. And, while dancing is the ultimate reward, as passionate performers… we also enjoy showing off our skills in front of an appreciative audience. However, sometimes performances are few and far between (thank you, COVID), you need more content for your branding, or you want a lasting reminder of what you have achieved through hard work, practice, and perseverance. Whatever the case, dance photos and photography are a proper art form, with their unique skills and techniques to master ‘the perfect shot.’ If you click on this article hoping to find tips and techniques to help you make your dance photos stand out (whether you’re the photographer or the subject), you’re in luck! Because that is precisely what this article is intended to do. Read on for our guide to dance photography, regardless of your camera (or phone!) or dance level.
Tip 1. Come Prepared.
Whether you’re planning to be photographed, the one taking the photos, or both (welcome to the selfie age! ), having ideas and poses in mind is always a good idea. Consider your setting, the type of dance you want to capture, and the mood you want to convey in your photographs. Save some of your favorite contemporary poses, search Instagram and Pinterest for popular phrases like #contemporarydance and #contemporarydancer, or look up dance companies or dancers you admire that fit your theme. Sydney Dance Company, for example, could provide you with some great ideas for modern poses. Ballet, commercial, urban, jazz, tap, ballroom, salsa, lyrical – you name it, we’ve got it! Nothing is more frustrating than finding the perfect backdrop, wearing a great outfit, and having amazing edits for your photos but being unhappy with the poses you ended up with! Another tip: if you find a pose that works well on the day, don’t just take one photo and move on; make several attempts, so you have time to improve the framing, technique, angle, and everything else. It’s far quicker to modify and retake the image in person than spend hours later trying to repair or crop anything that wasn’t ‘just perfect.’
Tip 2. Play to Your Strengths.
This tip is intended for the dancer but applies to the photographer. Everyone’s talent and skill level are unique, and everyone excels and struggles in different areas. Make the most of your photo opportunity by emphasizing what you are most proud of. Jeté your heart out if you’re a fantastic jumper. Show off your beautiful arches and pointe work! If flexibility isn’t your strong suit, don’t make it the focal point of every shot by attempting a split kick. You will not only appear more awkward and uncomfortable, but you will also not be doing yourself credit. Nobody is a 10/10 master at everything, so think about your skills and use them to your advantage in every photo. You, too, photographers. If you’re not confident in capturing the perfect dance shot at night, keep practicing, and don’t give up. Instead, save it for when you have time to play and don’t need a flawless result, and instead, go somewhere you know you’re confident shooting when you need to capture the perfect dance pic. For example, I adore natural light, so you can guarantee I’ll photograph my dancers whenever possible.
Tip 3. Location, Location… Location!
This is an obvious suggestion, but I couldn’t write a dance photography how-to guide without including the item that dictates SO MUCH of your shot’s overall mood and vibe. Locations do not have to be mind-blowing and epic for an image to be good; they can be, but often the most precise locations produce the best results. First, you must decide what kind of setting will provide the desired outcomes from your photograph. Looking for something classy and fashionable? Clean, basic backdrops with less color and softer lighting will accomplish the work. Do you want pictures that are moody and atmospheric? Try a textured, dark wall, an empty parking lot, or somewhere urban, and choose gloomy weather over full, blazing daylight. Epic backdrops have their uses, but make sure they don’t take over the photo and overpower your dancer. You want dance to be the focal point of your image, not whatever is behind it. So, if you decide on something particularly bold or busy, think about framing the photo and positioning your subject, so they stay aware of the chaos. Time of day also has a role; a sunset or early morning light can dramatically influence a shot compared to a bright sunny day or a stormy, cloudy sky; try it out and see for yourself.
Tip 4. Lighting.
As previously said, lighting may make or break the quality of your photographs. Not only is there a lot or a little natural light, but it’s also essential to know where that light is about the photographer and the dancer. Backlit images (with the light source behind the dancer and away from the camera) produce beautiful halo effects and softer, more subdued colors in your photo. Pictures taken in direct sunlight will be bright and clear, with vibrant colors. Avoid shooting with the sun directly overhead, as this will most likely result in unflattering/harsh shadows on your subject and the background; instead, opt for mid-morning or mid-afternoon picture sessions when the sun is at a much more photo-friendly angle. Low light (dusk and dawn) can produce ethereal cinematic imagery. If you’re inside or short on sunlight, artificial light sources such as car headlights, parking lot lighting, a lamp, or even your phone can produce spectacular effects that add a new dimension and a completely different feel to the result of your photograph. When taking a picture, consider where your light source is coming from and how this will affect the image you’re attempting to achieve. Experiment! Move your light around, or if you can’t (for example, the sun), move the camera and dancer proportionately to the light and notice how much your photo changes!
Tip 5. Nail the Outfit.
It’s not simply the background, pose, or lighting that can significantly impact how great your shot turns out. Look at some of your favorite dance images, and you’ll note how much of a difference the dancer’s dress can make in either adding to or detracting from the overall beauty of the shot. Flowing skirts, eye-catching designs, and bright colors can influence how a dance shot turns out. So, while deciding on a shoot, one of the first tasks should be to plan an outfit. Baggy clothing is ideal for a more urban/moody shoot, but it may also spoil the lines and shape of a great posture. A bright, vibrant leotard can make a photo with a cleaner background, but it can also easily overpower if there’s already a lot going on. Similarly, old, dirty shoes that are coming apart can become the accidental star of your photo, so always try to wear clean, gorgeous clothing (whatever the type) and choose a dance attire that improves your shot. Some of my favorite choices are the sophisticated elegance of a high neck leotard, a long free-flowing skirt to allow you to play and create shapes with, and any fabrics or patterns that add an extra element of beauty to your photo, such as the exquisite Velvet Collection, which is a current favorite for the way it shimmers and catches the light with every movement. Superb! If you’re looking for a spectacular, one-of-a-kind costume to stand out in your photo, keep an eye on Energetiks’ New Arrivals.
Tip 6. Angles Are Everything.
We’ve all seen the old hold-the-phone-above-your-head trick with a slight chin tilt that works great for selfies. Dance images, like selfies, have tried right angles, but they’re usually different from other genres of photography. First, consider what you want to emphasize and enhance with a dancing photo: often, the goal is longer legs, higher jumps, and the illusion of force. You want your subject to appear in command and poised, and the easiest way to achieve this is to position the camera closer to the ground, below eye level. To obtain the best results, don’t be afraid to crouch or lay down (or, you know, put your iPhone on the floor if you’re shooting alone!). Shooting this way will frequently give your subject a more robust appearance while shooting above them will have the opposite effect. But, like with everything, rules are designed to be violated, so don’t take my word for it; make sure you’re experimenting with different angles to see which one gives you the desired impact, and don’t just snap every photo at boring old eye level (yawn). Bonus tip: Because dance is about the entire body, full-body photographs are a must, but you can also get creative with closer-in, cropped photos for exciting and unusual effects.
Tip 7. a Little Edit Never Hurt Nobody.
So you indeed did it: you nailed the stance, you decided on the lighting, you selected the background, and your wardrobe is on point! What happens next? You could call it a day and upload, caption, and post on Instagram… Alternatively, you might go the additional mile and make some last creative modifications that could transform your shot from a new favorite to an all-time favorite. Yes, Instagram and other apps include built-in filters and rudimentary editing tools that give you a few alternatives to experiment with. However, if you want more control over your image, I recommend looking into as many editing applications and tools (free and paid) as you can test out. Lightroom and Photoshop are the pro-greatest photographer’s friends. Still, if you don’t have the time or funds to invest in learning and purchasing such expensive software, there are many excellent, simple-to-use, low-cost alternatives. Consider the Lightroom and Photoshop programs, both of which have free versions with a plethora of fantastic capabilities, or try others such as Snapseed, VSCO, Carbon, or Afterlight. What you do with a photograph after you’ve captured it may be as transforming and joyful as the planning and taking process itself. Making minor adjustments to your image’s lighting, sharpness, saturation, and colors can take it to new heights and turn it into your own work of art.
Understanding not only the art of dance, but also the art of superb dance photography, is a fantastic ability that may be quite rewarding. So, whether you want to be the photographer, the dancer, or both for your next photoshoot, be patient, intelligent, and creative, and practice, practice, practice. Because all of the remarkable skills, knowledge, and bodily awareness that make you a great dancer can help you become a great dance photographer as well. Have fun and good luck with your photography!
Learn more: The Benefits of Pilates for a Dancer