Ten Beautiful Pointe Shoe Poses for Your Next Photoshoot

You’ve got your daughter’s standard ballet photo provided by the dance studio. You know the one—weight on the back leg, front foot pointed, ballet arms to the side. Or maybe she’s graduated to the arabesque and head shot, the ones where you reserve her 15-minute time slot for $75 or more. She has to nail those two bland poses, and you get two digital photos that look just like everyone else’s.

It’s time to upgrade. Your ballerina has worked her ruffled butt off for years to have the strength to nail some amazing poses. Why aren’t you showing that off? Here are ten beautiful pointe shoe poses from my portfolio that will show off all that hard work and give you unique photos that are worthy of all that hard work.

 Strong, elegant, and totally doable for younger dancers.

Strong, elegant, and totally doable for younger dancers.

 A fun variation on the classic arabesque.

A fun variation on the classic arabesque.

 This seated pose is deceptively difficult, but makes an amazing portrait.

This seated pose is deceptively difficult, but makes an amazing portrait.

 Showing those elegant arms, but this time on relevé.

Showing those elegant arms, but this time on relevé.

 This sculptural pose is one only a ballerina can nail.

This sculptural pose is one only a ballerina can nail.

 This one requires a fan and a lot of patience, but is totally worth it!

This one requires a fan and a lot of patience, but is totally worth it!

 Is your dancer a little bit quirky?!? Show her personality with this fun pose!

Is your dancer a little bit quirky?!? Show her personality with this fun pose!

 No Photoshop here. Just an amazing dancer and a lot of patience.

No Photoshop here. Just an amazing dancer and a lot of patience.

 Looking for a dramatic statement for your wall? This is the one!

Looking for a dramatic statement for your wall? This is the one!

 Spontaneous, relaxed, and oh so elegant.

Spontaneous, relaxed, and oh so elegant.

You see, pointe shoe photoshoots don’t have to be only about the classic poses. Get that head shot and arabesque, but make sure you get some fun poses to show off your dancer’s unique personality. She’ll only be this age once!

Eight Wardrobe Ideas for Your Dance Shoot!

Wondering what to wear for that dance photoshoot you’ve got coming up?  Here are a few ideas from my dance photography portfolio to spark your imagination!  

1.  Tried and true.  As a dance photographer, I want to make sure dancers bring as many options as possible using solid colors, and especially black, white, and nude.  I want to take very clean, graphic photos, where the dancer is the center of attention, not a busy background or wild pattern or costume.  I also want clothing that is as form fitting as possible so we can see muscle tone and those beautiful shapes she’s making.  If you bring nothing else, it should be a neutral leotard!

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2.  A little edge.  I love to see ballerinas introduce a little rock and roll edge to their (usually very soft, feminine) look.  Here, we have a leather jacket, tall socks over pointe shoes, and fishnets all serving to amp up the looks.  As long as it’s age appropriate, have fun and show your style!

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3.  Flowing skirts.  I keep these on hand in a few colors.  They’re great for covering skimpy leotards and for showing movement in a kick or leap.  Whenever possible, I try to match the top with the skirt.  I want everything to flow together to emphasize the line of the dancer.

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4.  That recital costume!  I know it seems impossible when parents have spent so much money on competition and recital costumes, but sometimes they forget to bring them to the shoot!  That performance was brief and that costume was expensive.  Make sure you have gorgeous photos of it!

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5.  Prints, but very very sparingly.  Notice when you watch TV that very few people wear busy patterns on camera.  It’s because they don’t photograph well.  Larger patterns work better than small, but you just don’t know until you see it.  If you love something, bring it, but make sure you have lots of other options.  Here are two prints that work because they’re bold and uncluttered.

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6.  Wide leg pants.  These are fun!  You can lose precise shape from the leg with a wide hem, but they can make for some fun photos.  Play with shapes, but be sure to keep the top form-fitting. Notice the large, bold print. It works when there are large areas of solid color alongside it.

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7.  Branded clothing.  Is your daughter a dance ambassador or sponsored in some way?  You know you need to deliver photos of her promoting the brand, but what if she isn’t sponsored?  Do it anyway!  If you love Lucky Leo or Russian Pointe, bring them to the shoot, get great professional photos, and tag the heck out of them!  They might repost your photos or send you free stuff!  The leggings in this photo were sent to the dancer for free, just for her help in promoting the brand! Thanks www.forgottentribes.com!

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8.  Think outside the box.  Last but not least, bring things that show your personality, even if they don’t fit within these rules—as long as you have options!  This dress was a vintage piece worn to the prom by the dancer.  It’s a print, which doesn’t always work, but (because it’s large and simple) it looks great here.  In other words, don’t be afraid to try something quirky!

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Ten Stunning Handmade Costumes to Inspire Your Solo

Is crafting your Dance Mom super power?  (If you don’t know, take this quiz!). I’m not a mom, but I swear I kind of want to have a baby so I can put her in dance class and make her recital costumes!  (OK, that’s a terrible idea, but I am super inspired to make my own halloween costume!).  After looking at these specialty costumes made by independent designers, I find myself analyzing how they were made and wanting to start my own project!

Here are ten stunning competition or solo costumes to get your wheels turning.  If crafting IS your super power, I challenge you to use these as inspiration and make your own sparkly wonderfulness!  If it’s not, the designers are noted so you can get in touch and commission your own!

 Pretty in peach from 2 Die 4 Costumes.  2die4costumes@gmail.com

Pretty in peach from 2 Die 4 Costumes. 2die4costumes@gmail.com

 2. Sheer perfection from Lovely Costumes ( www.etsy.com )

2. Sheer perfection from Lovely Costumes (www.etsy.com)

 3. Blue’s hues by Amparo Costumes. @amparooc

3. Blue’s hues by Amparo Costumes. @amparooc

 4. Rhinestone cowgirl by Jordan Grace Princesswear. www.jordangraceprincesswear.com

4. Rhinestone cowgirl by Jordan Grace Princesswear. www.jordangraceprincesswear.com


 5. Making me blush by Frilledneck Coture. www. frilledneckfashion.com.au

5. Making me blush by Frilledneck Coture. www.frilledneckfashion.com.au

 6. Anything but beige by Sewn by Dawn.  www.sewnbydawn.com

6. Anything but beige by Sewn by Dawn. www.sewnbydawn.com

 7. Plum perfect by Diamond and Crystals ( www.etsy.com )

7. Plum perfect by Diamond and Crystals (www.etsy.com)

 8. Understated elegance by Solant Costumes. ( www.etsy.com )

8. Understated elegance by Solant Costumes. (www.etsy.com)

 9. Ballerina blues by Odile Tutu.  www.odiletutu.com

9. Ballerina blues by Odile Tutu. www.odiletutu.com

 Lovely in lilac by Dancewear by Patricia. www.dancewearbypatricia.com

Lovely in lilac by Dancewear by Patricia. www.dancewearbypatricia.com

I’m Just Being Honest…

    Most of my dance moms don't realize that I started out as a boudoir photographer.  I loved making women feel beautiful, but I often felt like I was fighting an uphill battle against their own minds and what they world tells us we should look like.  Even though I now shoot young dancers, I think my experience with adult insecurities helped me understand a bit of what my dancers face every day.

     One of my first clients was the mother of a two year old.  She’d gotten pregnant right after getting married, and she felt that her husband had only ever seen her body pregnant or post-baby, and she really wanted to give him some sexy photos of her.  I was thrilled to help.

    On the day of her shoot, she looked amazing.  Gorgeous hair and makeup, beautiful olive skin that we super pale people fantasize about having.  Beautiful curves and slim legs.  As we were starting the shoot, I asked if she had told anyone she was doing a boudoir photography session.  She said she had only told her sister, who was younger, with no children, and a size two.

    “She said I was too fat to have pictures taken in my underwear.”  I was appalled.  This woman was nowhere near fat!  I was busy envying her small waist, and her sister had just told her she was fat!  I felt sad for her.  Then I got mad.  

    I got mad because this is what we do.  We hold ourselves and our friends and even strangers to a ridiculous standard and criticize in the name of “honesty.”  Honestly, this woman had a beautiful face.  Honestly, she had gorgeous black eyes and glossy hair and straight white teeth.  Honestly, she was young and healthy and her body had given life to her son.  Honestly, her sister can bite me.

    So I photographed this woman from angles and using props that disguised the (slight) tummy she was self-conscious about.  Right out of the camera, with no Photoshop plastic surgery, her pictures were amazing.  She looked like a goddess.  I had seen it as soon as I met her, but her sister saw her as a frumpy mom and refused to see the gorgeous, sexy woman she actually was.  

    This is how I look at the world.  My problem isn’t trying hard to find something beautiful in a person’s appearance.  My problem is that I want to tell strangers on the street that they’re stunning.  I want to tell the woman next to me in line at the bank that she has gorgeous hair or cute shoes or beautiful eyes.  I don’t, usually, because people find that creepy, but it’s there.

    So next time you have the opportunity to criticize someone’s appearance, don’t take it.  Find the thing that makes them beautiful and comment about that.  Tell them that what you envy about them.  Honestly, why would you do anything else?

A Birthday Party, a Handstand, and All. Those. Shoots.

Hi, folks!  I know it’s been a while, but I’m back.  After redesigning the website and shooting in Houston for two weeks, I’m back posting on Tutu Tuesdays!  Here’s a quick recap of my recent trip.  

The main reason for going was to shoot dancers in Houston, like I do a few times a year, but the timing was around my niece’s fourth birthday.  I can’t believe my baby Harper is four!  She’s grown into an opinionated, funny, easygoing little princess / super hero.  A few weeks prior, I had been to Disneyland for the first time and brought my girls back Minnie Mouse ears.  Here they are showing them off!  That’s the birthday girl on the right.  She looks like she’s full of mischief, right?

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If you’ve been following my quest to do a handstand, you’ll be happy to know I finally succeeded!  My best friend and yoga photo client and I have been discussing the best way to get over the fear of falling on your head, and I decided I was going to learn to do it or die trying.    Why?  Because I’m 41, and at this age, if you’re not actively moving toward some fitness goal, you’re moving away from it.  That’s true in life though, right?  If you’re not working for something, you’re losing ground.  Next step, I’ll work on getting it unsupported–but don’t hold your breath.

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And third, all those shoots.  Still editing.  And editing.  And editing.

I had my first shoot with a male dancer, Rhys Hudson.  He’s a brilliant dancer and super nice guy who has just announced that he’s been accepted as a trainee at Boston Ballet.  Here’s one behind the scenes with his sweet mom.

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Then the adorable Isabella.  Then Elle, my youngest dance shoot ever.  Then gorgeous, poised, bubbly Maddie.  They’ll all get their own blog posts when I’ve finished their edits.

And finally Avery.  If you’ve followed me on Instagram and Facebook for long, you’ll know that Avery was the one who started it all.  Her mom, my (other) best friend urged me to try dance photography, and, despite my reservations, I fell in love.  Avery’s birthday is coming up in a couple weeks.  She’ll be 14, but I’ve been her Auntie Em for 14 years and nine months now, because I loved her long before she was born.  Without knowing it, she changed the direction of my career and life, and I’ll always be grateful.

I’ve used some old photos and video of Avery, along with the new studio photos we shot to show her evolution as a dancer.  I hope it inspires all the parents out there to get professional photos made because they grow up so fast.

Featured Photographer?!? Whaaat?!???

Dootoodootooooo!  That's the sound of trumpets, in case you didn't know.  I'm just so excited to share something huuuuge!

My dance magazine debut ran this weekend!  Dance Feature Magazine has a two page spread with me as the Featured Photographer for the March Issue!  They're a relatively new publication that features industry professionals and up-and-coming dancers.  Dance Feature Magazine has run a few of my photos on their Instagram page in the past, and I'm so excited that they chose me—and more importantly, my dancers—for the full magazine.  

They asked for a handful of photos, from which they chose two.  The talented models are Avery Alley and Maddie Medina, both ballerinas from Houston.  I'm so glad their hard work is being rewarded!

Check out my spread here, and please visit dancefeaturemagazine.com to download the full copy.  

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The Silver Lining to a Weird Cloud

If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve seen this face a lot lately.  Her name is Adrieanna Gaston, and she’s my latest muse.

Finding Adrieanna is also a little win for me in the up-and-down road of starting a business.  I met her through a contest I ran in the Phoenix area to give away some free head shot sessions for joining my email list.  I got tons of entries and was feeling really confident about the direction the business was headed.  I chose nine email addresses at random (one for every 50 entries) and notified them that they’d won. 

And then I waited.  Only one out of the nine responded.  I’d had over 400 entries and only one out of nine winners responded?  That can’t be right.  So I emailed again.  One more made an appointment. 

Long story short:  I had trouble getting people to show up for this free thing I was giving away.  I learned that people are either suspicious of or don’t value something free.  I was frustrated and more than a little defeated.  I’d pretty much written off the whole contest thing—until Adrieanna walked in.

She’d been very responsive, made an appointment right away, and was eager to get going.  I knew nothing other than that she was a college student and dancer.  Imagine my surprise when this tall, beautiful young woman with gorgeous almond-shaped eyes walked into my studio!

Adrieanna was easy and comfortable in front of the camera, and she hit every pose and expression I asked for.  She was alternately sexy and adorable and genuinely seemed to have no idea how much the camera loved her.  When I finished editing the photos a few weeks later, I emailed her and pretty much demanded she get a modeling agent.  I’ve never done that with a subject.  And she was a free contest shoot!  On top of it all, she was a smart, sweet girl who was more than appreciative of what I do.  That goes a long way with me! 

The moral of the story is that even though the contest wasn’t 100% smooth, I met—and have yet to meet—some really great people through it. I was reminded to keep plugging away through perceived setbacks because something good is right around the corner.  I have a few more winners to shoot, and I can’t wait to show you the results.  For now, enjoy these photos of Adrieanna Gaston.  I believe she’s got a great career in modeling ahead if she decides to pursue it!

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Photographer or Dance Photographer?

These days, the cost of good photography equipment is lower than ever.  That’s great because it’s easier to take good photos than ever before.  Unfortunately, it’s also easier to take bad photos better than ever before. (Never thought about that, did you?).  Anyone with a camera can take a photo of a dancer, but why do some dance photos look so much better than others?

Believe it or not, the average professional photographer (much less amateur!) can’t take great dance photos and here are five reasons why.

1.     Speed.  You really need a camera that can operate at very high speed. The high shutter speed means that the motion will be frozen with no blur. 

2.     Shots per jump.  My old (very good quality pro camera) gave me maybe three shots during a typical dancer’s jump.  It seems like a lot, but I recently upgraded to one that would give me six or seven frames per jump.  If you want the jump caught at the absolute peak height, which do you think is better?  More frames per jump means more chances to get the perfect shot.

3.     Lighting.  Portrait photographers light their subjects to NOT show every wrinkle and shadow on a subject.  Dance photographers are trying to bring out every muscle, and that means lighting in a way that is absolutely wrong for portraits. 

4.     Facial tension.  The biggest indicator of either an inexperienced photographer or an inexperienced dancer is the facial expression in the final shot.  Dancers screw their faces up during difficult moves, but viewers don’t notice it until the camera captures it.  An experienced dancer will do it less, but it’s up to the photographer to watch for that about-to-be-hit-in-the-face look.  A pro will redo the shot until every element is perfect and the dancer’s face looks relaxed.

5.     Sickle feet.  That’s shorthand for everything that could possibly be “incorrect” in a dance photo.  Your ballet hands could be off.  Your turnout could be mediocre.  Your knee could be bent just a tiny bit too much.  A non-dance photographer can’t see the tiny details that are particular to dance and can ruin a photo.  A professional dance photographer sees them as they’re happening and shows you on the back of the camera to allow you to make changes during the shoot.  Your final photos are perfect because your dance photographer knew what to look for.

If you’re choosing a photographer to capture all those hours of hard work, be sure to find one who specializes in dance so you will get the most for your money.

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Get the Most Out of Your Photo Session!

I love photographing athletes of all kinds.  Finding ways to show their beauty, physical fitness, and individuality is what excites me about working with the gorgeous women and girls who come to my studio.  Whether you’re a dancer, a yogi, a swimmer, or a personal trainer, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of our session and help me create photos you will be proud of.  Here are five tips to help you prepare for your shoot.

1.     Spend some time on Pinterest to get an idea of what you want from your photos.  Are you attracted to gritty black and white?  High fashion?  Theatrical?  Clean lines?  Bright colors?  We can achieve all those looks, but we both need to be prepared.  Send me screen shots of those ideas at least a week in advance so I can create a strategy.  I’ll let you know if I have the equipment and backdrops needed to create your dream photos, and if not, we’ll figure out how to make it happen. 

2.     Get a spray tan.  If you’re ultra pale like me, it will be very hard to show muscle definition.  Think about the intensely tanned and oiled look of bodybuilders in competition.  They do that so the judges can see the highlights and shadows of their muscles, which is exactly what I’m trying to bring out in your photos.  Don’t go all oily He-Man level tan, but a little touch of color will help define that muscle tone.

3.     Get your nails done.  They don’t need to be bright or long or fancy.  They don’t even need to be painted, but if they are, they need to be freshly painted, with no chips.  (No, I can’t touch them up in Photoshop).  Neutral fleshy tones will make your digits look longer (like wearing a nude shoe), and bolder shades will stand out and give a hint at your personality. 

4.     If you color your hair, get it freshened up a few days before the shoot.  Play around with some different styles.  If you want it off your face, think about ways to keep it in place while you’re dancing, jumping, or standing on your head.

5.     And this one is for the moms of daughters being photographed:  Come wearing an outfit you love, with your hair and makeup done.  The shoot may be all about her, but if you’re prepared to jump in some shots, we can get a few mother daughter pics at no extra charge.  It will only take a few minutes, and I guarantee you’ll be happy to have photos of yourself together!

For more tips about working with a photographer, sign up for my email list.  I can’t wait to meet you and make your dream photos a reality!

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In the Zone (and in the Studio)

Why I Prefer to Shoot Indoors

Let me say first off, I WILL shoot outside.  The customer is the boss, and I’m happy to work with their vision.  I’m open to new ideas, and maybe one day I’ll change my mind, but for now my preference is to shoot indoors and here’s why.

The main reason is that dance is inherently theatrical.  It’s costumes and lighting and makeup.  It feels silly to me to take this glamorous world we’ve created out to beach.  Why on earth would you have your pointe shoes in the woods?  Or at the train tracks?  Have you ever, in your entire life, stood on train tracks, much less wearing a tutu and false eyelashes?  It’s silly.

Second, lighting.  Take a look at my photos.  They have a very specific, painterly look to them.  That’s done with lighting.  Sometimes it’s electric light, and sometimes it’s natural from a window or door, but I’m in control of where it comes from, and that makes my photos what they are.  It’s practically impossible to get that quality of light directly under the sun.

Third, I shoot mainly in Houston and Scottsdale.  It gets HOT, folks.  In Scottsdale, there are three months a year where the heat in truly dangerous.  The pigmentally challenged (like me) will be burned in a matter of minutes.  In Houston, it could be 80 degrees in January (or maybe 30?  Who knows?).  The temperature and light are unpredictable, but there’s one thing we do know.  It will be humid.  Most likely, you’ll be sweating before you even get stretched out, and that doesn’t make for great photos.

Fourth, these photos are about YOU.  Your face, your talent, your hard work.  I put you on a simple background, often with very plain clothing, so we see YOU.  No fountains or canyons or epic staircases.  Everything else is a distraction. 

So that’s why.  If your heart is set on outdoor photography, I’ll make it work.  Just realize that your photos will look very different than what you see on my website and Instagram.  And if you love the look of my work, you love indoor dance photography.  Who knew?

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You work HOW MANY hours on a shoot?!?

It seems like a pretty cushy job.  Show up at the studio, shoot for an hour or two a few days a week and then spend the rest of my time drinking mimosas at Olive and Ivy, right?  I wish.  

The truth is that I only do a handful of shoots a week, but each shoot is like an iceberg.  You only see the 10% that's above the surface.  The remaining 90% takes place behind the scenes.  In my apartment.  Often in my pajama bottoms.  Sometimes with mimosas.  But it's hard work, nonetheless.

As a client, this is the part you see.  Me being bossy, you jumping around, click, click, click.  This day alone is as exhausting for me as it is for you.  I feel like a circus ringmaster.  I'm continuously talking, directing, monitoring the camera settings, the lights, and every hair on your beautiful head.  It's an intense day and I love every minute of it.

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Then you go home and wait.  And I know you.  You're probably thinking, "what in the world is taking so long? It's been like two days!  Where are my photos?!"  Hold your horses.  

During a head shot session, I might take three to four hundred frames.  For the shoot above, it was more like a thousand.  That's because it involved motion, and we wanted to get every leap and twirl and turnout absolutely perfect. I mean, what's the point of working with a dance photographer if your kick isn't caught at the absolute peak?  Then add in the likelihood that your hair is going to do something weird or your skirt is going to cover your face or I catch you mid-blink. That's why we take so many shots.  Maybe one out of twenty will be good.

So we have about a thousand shots, and I cut out the totally unusable ones.  You know, the one where you look like you're about to be hit in the face by a softball (All dancers do it, believe me).  In this case, we were left with about six hundred.  

Then I bring you in to see them because I know how picky you are.  I have a pretty good idea of the technical aspects, but I'm not a dancer.  I don't want to spend hours and hours on edits only to have you tell me that your instructor would kill you if she saw your sickle foot in that shot! You choose the ones you want me to work on.  What you see is five or six hundred photos that look something like this, and you pick the ones with the best form.

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Yep, that's how they come out of the camera.  Surprised?  I told you I'm not drinking mimosas all day.  Those photos need work!  The raw photo is merely a sketch as far as I'm concerned, and this one is nowhere near finished.  

So you've given me a list of the ones that you'd be happy to show your instructors and that's where the real work begins.  I start editing fabric, erasing stray hairs, and making my small studio backdrop look like Carnegie Hall.  And here's the final product.

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Well, one of them.  That's the file I send to the printer.  If you've told me you are interested in prints, I print it, mat it, and hope you like it enough to buy.  Then I prepare a digital file in case you want it for your website.  See the difference?

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Then I prepare a digital square file for Facebook and Instagram.  You gotta have that profile pic, am I right?

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Then I do it roughly 19 more times because I like to show twenty photos in my final reveal.  Crazy, right? Maybe, but look at the outcome. I would never be happy sending you home with photos right out of the camera.  I'm a perfectionist, and I want you to have twenty perfect photos, not a thousand mediocre ones.

So next time you wonder if good photography is worth the time and expense and me telling you to do that jump "just one more time," remember what goes into it.  It's an absolute labor of love for me, and I feel insanely lucky to be able to do it for a living.  

Whew.  Good post.  Now I think I'll have a mimosa.

Sahvanna Smiles

I had a great shoot a couple of weeks ago, and I've finished the editing and put together a little video to show how our day went.  The dancer is Sahvanna Thompson, an Arizona State dance student who was referred to me by another ASU client.

Sahvanna and I didn't have a chance to meet before the shoot, so I didn't know what to expect before she arrived.  She came in looking young and fresh and adorable (she's only 19) and ready to get shooting.  

I usually start with head shots, rather than motion shots, because if the dancer does a lot of jumping, she'll be tired and less fresh afterward.  We set up and I noticed that she never gave me a big smile, preferring not to show her braces.  I found this little quirk of hers charming.  Her smile in my photos looks knowing or ironic or cheeky, and I think it gives a little glimpse into her personality.  

My favorite thing about Sahvanna was her positive, upbeat nature.  She was recovering from a knee injury so we had to be cautious about jumping and kicking, but she never complained and attempted everything I asked.  She also told me a bit about her future plans, and they include using dance to help at-risk kids find direction and purpose.  I love that she wants to share her passion and talent to make a positive difference in the world.  

Here's a quick one minute video of our shoot.  Check it out to get an idea about what it's like to spend a few hours in my studio.  Scottsdale folks, I'm available for shoots now through mid-April, and I'll be working in Houston April 16 to 21.  Appointments are limited and filling quickly, so call or email for availability.  

Contest winners, blog posts, and magazine features! Oh my!

It's been a big week at Emily Black Photography!  The big announcement is that my free head shot contest has wrapped up and the NINE winners were chosen yesterday.  I'm not publishing any names here, but check your mailbox to see if you've won.  If not, I hope you'll consider making a free consultation appointment to discuss head shots and action shots taken with me. Check back, as I'll be publishing the photos I take of the winners!

The second thing is that the artist collective studio where I shoot has me featured on their blog this week.  It's an awesome space with tons of talented painters, photographers, designers, and other artists.  The piece is very kind and talks a bit about what I do.  Please check it out at https://www.creativecenterscottsdale.com/blog

And finally, I'm thrilled to announce that I've been featured in the national women's magazine Harness!  The magazine is mostly online, sometimes in print, and it's beautifully written and photographed.  In the article, I talk about my inspiration, why I love working with dancers, and how I got started. And they've put my photos on their home page!  Please take a look at https://www.harnessmagazine.com/scottsdale-photographer-celebrates-art-dance/

Congratulations to all the winners and to all the dancers chosen by Creative Center of Scottsdale and Harness magazine to be featured!

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Dreaming of Juilliard? Maddie Medina talks about her successful audition!

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Maddie Medina is a freshman at The Juilliard School, one of the most prestigious performing arts universities in the world.  I had the opportunity to photograph her over the summer, and she gave me some of the most exciting photos of my career.  I recently asked her about her background and the admissions process for Juilliard.  Read on for her path to studying in New York and her tips for college auditions.  Her answers may surprise you!

Emily:  How long have you been dancing?

Maddie: Since I was 3 years old.

Emily:  How many hours a week did you dance before being accepted at Juilliard?

Maddie:  I started off dancing only a few days a week when I was young.  When I was older, I attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as well as at Vitacca Dance Project, a private studio with pre-professional level training.  When I was a senior, I transferred to a different high school and began dancing only at Vitacca.

Emily:  Do you think serious students should go to high school at a performing arts school, general high school, or home school?

Maddie:  Dancing at school and a studio is very difficult.  It is hard to maintain school work and mental and physical stability.  I always recommend going to normal school and then dancing after school at a more pre-professional studio.

Emily:  Did you participate in any intensive programs where you lived away from home while in high school?

Maddie:  When I was fifteen I spent four weeks of my summer at Tulsa ballet, and when I was seventeen I spent five weeks of my summer in New York at American Ballet Theatre. 

Emily:  How many post-high school colleges, universities, or professional programs did you apply to?

Maddie:  I only applied to two schools, Boston Conservatory and Juilliard. I know that it was risky of me to do that since those are both very hard schools to get into, but I knew if I didn't make it in to either, I would have gone to community college while I would figure out companies I think I would be interested in while still taking open dance classes in Houston. 

Emily:  What was the audition process for Juilliard?

Maddie:  For Juilliard auditions, they travel to four cities to hold auditions, and they also hold six here in New York at the school. We start off with a ballet class, then a modern class, then a modern combination, then solos, then interviews. After each of these segments in the audition, they keep you in a separate room and call out the numbers who are staying and if your number is not called after each segment, then you are free to leave and will no longer be considered for the program. 

Emily:  What do you think was the biggest factor in your admission to Juilliard?

Maddie:  I think I impressed the teachers in the audition with my technique. Technique is SO important. If you are not training in ballet it is very important that you do.

Emily:  Do you think it’s important for a dancer to have an alternative career path or degree in case of injury or burnout?

Maddie:  I do not think it is important to have an alternative career path. If you really love dance, focus on that and believe in yourself. You can do anything with hard work and dedication. 

Emily:  And finally, what’s one thing that students applying to elite programs can do to stand out?

Maddie:  Wear what they ask you to wear, but wear what you are most confident in while still following the dress code. Do not wear too much makeup and eat really well all week of the audition and get plenty of sleep. Keep your eyes bright and be confident even if you are extremely nervous. SMILE! They want to see you. Be you and don't worry about anyone else. Trust in yourself.

 

Highlights of 2017!

We’re nearing the end of January! Can you believe it?  I’ve been meaning to do a little recap of 2017, and we’re almost a month into 2018!  

2017 was a difficult year personally, but that brought about huge growth in my business and artistic life.  A year after moving back to the US from England, I'm getting established in Scottsdale, where I have a studio space at Creative Center Scottsdale.  Shooting beautiful, strong dancers and yogis of all ages and sizes makes me feel empowered, and I love sharing my work with the world.  I finally feel like I’ve found the perfect balance between self-expression and making something others value.

I’ve also learned that being a working artist is about 10% art and 90% marketing.  I don’t love that part, but it gets me what I want—getting paid to take pictures of beautiful people!  

A few months ago, I posted a video I use as motivation to kick myself into gear when I’m having a hard day or don’t feel like doing the work.  There have been so many hard days in the last year that I’ve been tempted to give up a thousand times, and this little video has helped me keep it together more than once.  I’ve updated it here to show the best of 2017!  I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished and I hope it inspires you to work for your dreams.

Hack Your Brain to Eliminate Audition Nerves!

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    Do you know what Americans’ number one fear is? According to the Washington Post (and about a million other sources), it’s public speaking.  I get it.  I’m one of those sources.  I get insanely nervous speaking in front of a group.  Sweaty palms, heart racing, chest tightening, voice going up several octaves. It sucks.

    As a dancer, you probably have more experience with overcoming nerves than I do, but plenty of performers I know still struggle with nerves after thousands of performances.  No matter how hard you try to relax, your body is acting like there's a hungry tiger about to attack you on stage.  So how do you get your nerves under control and give an amazing performance when your body is freaking out?

    I use a method I learned from Mel Robbins’ fantastic book, The 5 Second Rule.  She says that she, as the most booked female motivational speaker in the world, still gets nervous every time she goes out on stage.  The way she combats it is called “reframing.”  I use it, and you can too.  Here’s how.

    Remember those symptoms we have when we get nervous? Sweaty palms, heart racing, that sort of thing?  Turns out, those are the exact same things that happen in your body when you’re simply excited about something.  Just found out your crush likes you back?  Your palms start to sweat and your heart feels like it’s going to explode, just like when a tiger is about to attack.  Your BODY is reacting the same way to feeling nervous as is does to feeling excited, and you can use that to your advantage.

    Next time you’re feeling nervous before an audition or performance, reframe that feeling as excitement.  That way, you convince your brain that there’s no danger by giving it a reason for those nervous feelings.  Your body doesn’t know the difference.  

When that sweaty-palm feeling comes on, instead of saying “I’m nervous,” which only brings more nerves, tell yourself you’re excited.  Say over and over in your mind “I’m excited to perform today…. I’m excited to perform today….” and guess what?  Your brain will chill out because it knows there’s nothing to be afraid of.  There can’t be a tiger on stage if you’re excited to perform!

Next time you’re feeling nervous, just remember you’re actually excited!  Give it a try and let me know if reframing your fear as excitement works for you.  I’d love to hear your story!  And I highly recommend Mel Robbins' The 5 Second Rule for overcoming all sorts of personal hurdles, from performance anxiety to procrastination.

My Own Little Pep Rally

It’s been a scary, difficult, emotional, fantastic, horrible year.  In a couple of weeks, it will be twelve months since I left England.  Two moves and a hurricane later, I’m in Scottsdale, Arizona, still trying to sort out my personal life, get a business off the ground, and find an SPF high enough for my Irish complexion.  It’s so hard to go out on a limb, make changes, risk failure, have people doubt you and criticize you, be lonely, and question your sanity every single day.  Seriously.  I’ve almost packed it in a thousand times. 

For the days when I can’t take another setback—like yesterday when I had a flat tire AND cut my finger deeply enough that I might have needed a stitch or two—I have a little secret weapon.  It’s a highlight reel of the work I’ve done in the last year.  If there is anything I can say for certain, I have learned more in the last year than in the last (at least) seven combined.  Here’s the video I put together of just a few of my best shots of the last year.  When I need a boost, I watch this and remember why I’m doing what I’m doing and how much progress I’ve made.  And no, the song I chose is no accident.

Hurricane Harvey Was All About Me

There's this funny hierarchy in the photography world.  Humans love to judge and rank the value of people and careers, and artists are no different.  At the top of the food chain are the photographers who shoot Vogue covers and rockstars and travel with an entourage of lighting designers, stylists, and lowly bagel-bringing assistants.  They're some of the few photographers known by anyone outside the industry.  Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, and the few others that have reached superstar status are among the pantheon.

Behind them are the nature and culture photographers who shoot for National Geographic and the like.  Then, depending on your interest, maybe it's interior photographers like those that grace the cover of Architectural Digest or sports photographers that snap that heart-stopping catch or the emotion of the big game.  And down it goes, fine art photographers, journalist photographers, travel and product photographers, and on and on.  And waaaaay down at the bottom, there's the portrait photographer.  We take cute photos of kids and families.  Isn't that sweet?

I used to feel that way.  I was a Fine Artist.  I painted in oils and sculpted in porcelain.  Photography was fun way to document my vacation, but unless it was produced by Richard Avedon, it wasn't art.  That's until I found the need to make a living and I chose portraiture to build my business.  And then I saw how people reacted to my work.

I've seen the shock and excitement on people's faces when they see themselves or their family members through my eyes.  I've made them cry by presenting them with the only photo they've liked of themselves since their wedding twenty years before.  That is what art does, and I'll never again doubt whether I'm producing art or not.  

And now that Harvey has devastated Houston, I'm seeing the people rebuilding their lives and their homes.  If I needed any further validation of what I do, I can look at the people who evacuated and had to be rescued and what they took with them.  After people and pets, what are the first things they took from their homes when they knew they might lose everything?  Photographs.  Family photos of their parents and grandparents that can never be reproduced.  Pictures of their children as babies.  Wedding photos.  What's the most valuable thing people have in their homes?  Photographs.  Memories.  

I feel incredibly lucky that I came out of Harvey unscathed.  I had friends and family that sheltered me during the storm and the flooding.  I watched as the city started to rebuild when I had lost nothing of value.  But I joke that Harvey was sent to teach me a lesson and it taught me many.  It helped me clarify my direction and realize the value in what I do.

So when people imply that I'm just a portrait photographer, it doesn't bother me anymore.  I produce some of the most valuable things people own, things they would risk their lives to go back for when they're evacuating during a hurricane.  I make the things that you will pass down to your children.  I make the things that your grandchildren will go looking for when you're gone.  Photographs are some of our most important possessions.  Just ask the citizens of Houston who are rebuilding. 

In the house, believe it or not

I had the privilege of photographing an amazingly talented and adorable young dancer a few weeks back.  We shot at my tiny apartment studio in Houston, but I assured her and her mom that the final photos would make it look like she was in a huge performance space.  It took a lot of editing of my backdrop, but I think I pulled it off.  My reason for commenting on that is twofold.  First, when people ask why photography, especially dance photography, is expensive, that's one reason.  Even with a larger backdrop, there's a lot of editing that goes into every finished photograph.  The second reason is so you can see how much of photography is illusion.  Yes, she is absolutely pirouetting and leaping as pictured in the final photographs.  However, the space, the shadows, and the lighting are my creation, sometimes days or weeks after the actual shoot.

Here's a video of our day together.  Notice the small space we're working in.  One day I'll graduate to a big studio, but for now, all I need is a fun, enthusiastic dancer and a couple of lights!