You’re Not Showing Off Your Child’s Dance Photos
(and What to do About It)
It’s time to come clean: You love your dancer. You’re insanely proud of her. You want photos of her all over your house and Facebook and Instagram. The problem is that those professional photos you paid so much for just aren’t doing it for you but you can’t put your finger on why. They leave you cold, so the prints (or more likely, digitals) get tossed in a drawer, never to see the light of day. Sound familiar?
If your professional dance photos are nothing special (or even really, really bad), read on. There are things you can do before and during the shoot to make sure you get great photos. Here are the top five reasons you’re not in love with your child’s dance photos and what to do about it.
Problem 1: Human Pretzel Portraits
Every single day on Instagram, I see professional dance photographers posting photos that show regular dancers looking like contortionists for Cirque du Soleil. I get it. She’s super flexible and that looks impressive in a photo. Unfortunately the picture that’s meant to show off her flexibility can look awkward, and if you’re not careful, show more than is modest in a skimpy costume.
Solution: Dance Mom, it’s up to you to combat Human Pretzel Portraits. Before the shoot, check out your potential photographer’s website and Instagram. A good dance photographer knows what to watch out for and won’t present photos that look more like magic tricks than graceful dance poses. Second, for the sake of modesty, take a variety of skirts to the shoot or ask if the photographer has some available. You can still get that super-flexible shot without showing too much skin. Third, positioning is key. Your photographer should be very aware of angles that are most flattering and don’t make a young dancer look too mature. Ask to see photos in the camera and don’t be afraid to speak up!
Problem 2: Where’s My child?
This one usually occurs with dance photos that are shot outdoors. The photographer suggests a gorgeous location, like the beaches of Galveston or the mountains around Phoenix, and sets up the camera. The problem is that there’s so much other stuff going on in the resulting photos that the beauty of the dancer gets lost. We see lots of these on social media because many dance photographers don’t have their own studio space. They go to beautiful, free outdoor locations to shoot without thinking about whether the backdrop is adding to the photo or detracting.
Solution: Here’s another one where you stalk your photographer ahead of time. Check out his or her work and ask yourself if the dancer is the most beautiful thing in the photo. It shouldn’t be debatable. If the dancer has to compete with natural or manmade beauty, she gets lost. Even worse, visual clutter like people or a busy wall or cars will ruin an otherwise great photo. Choose a photographer that works in a studio space or uses simple outdoor scenery that doesn’t compete with the dancer. My preference, though, is indoor all the way because it makes more sense. Why on earth would you have your pointe shoes out on a railroad track? Don’t take pictures there.
Problem 3: Stiff as a Board
Dancers often have huge, creative, theatrical personalities. So what’s with the wooden poses in their recital costumes? Arms out, toe pointed in front, white background. You know you’ve got one for every year your daughter has danced and you know her sassy, spunky, larger-than-life personality is completely absent. It’s time to let these dinosaurs go.
Solution: You know how you’ve got to spend an extra hour doing your makeup to get “the natural look”? Same goes in photography. A “spontaneous” candid or relaxed action shot only happens with time and breathing room. In a cattle call photo shoot at your daughter’s studio, you’ve got 5 to 15 minutes to get the shot. The photographer has a few poses they know will sell, and wham bam thank you ma’am, on to the next kid. No time for personality! Mom, for better photos, book extra time outside the obligatory dance studio pics. Give your dancer time to warm up to the space and the photographer. Encourage a light, fun mood with lots of candids. Ask for precision in the serious shots and personality in every one!
Problem 4: Weird Faces, Clunky Hands, and Sickle Feet
This one comes from the “sure, I can shoot dance!” photographer. It doesn’t matter how good she is at newborns, portraits, or weddings. Dance photography is a different beast. When I started out, I thought every flashy, high-jumping, twirling, leg-kicking photo was a masterpiece. I was in for a rude awakening when my dancers rejected what looked like amazing pictures to my untrained eye! The problem is that a beautifully composed photo isn’t necessarily a good DANCE photo. There is so much technique and precision that goes into the dancer’s craft, and if the technique is not perfect, it’s not a good photo. Period. That means that a kick that’s not snapped at the very top of the arch is wrong and should be rejected. That knee, bent five percent too little or too much, is unacceptable. And even when you get all that right, there’s still the question of whether the face looks relaxed, the hair is doing something weird, or the foot is blurry. If your photographer was shooting family portraits yesterday, they’re not going to get this stuff right.
Solution: This can only be fixed by working with an experienced dance photographer. Stalk the websites of potential candidates and ask your dance mom friends for recommendations. Check out YouTube or the photographer’s website for video of her working. She should walk up and show the dancer the camera after every few shots. That way the dancer can make adjustments to insure that every pose has a few technically perfect frames to choose from. An experienced dance photographer sees every shoot as a collaboration and is fanatical about getting the technical stuff perfect.
Problem 5: Too Much of a Mediocre Thing
Our final problem is inspired by one of my first clients. Her last dance photographer had handed her a flash drive with a thousand raw images, 950 of which were terrible, and she had no idea what to do with them! She saw the 20 prints I presented to her to choose from and said, “Before working with you, I spent so much money on dance photos and don’t have a single thing to hang in my house! You’re showing me only 20 and I want to frame every single one!”
Solution: The secret here is that I also take up to a thousand images per session. The difference is that I eliminate 980 of them and only show you the ones worth framing. The way we do it is this: Immediately after the shoot, the dancer and I sit down and evaluate the shots. She tells me which ones she likes and are technically correct. That’s usually about 20%. From there, I choose the best ones to edit and print. When you come in, you see 20 technically perfect dance photos, with every hair, ruffle, and toe in place, and you can walk out with the prints the same day. Occasionally, I get the question, “where are the rest?” My answer is, “why would you want 980 duplicate photos that aren’t very good?”
The photographer you choose should not just have vision, but also have understanding of dance and the personality to work closely with dancers and Dance Moms. The good news is that Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and their own websites should show you everything you need to know about whether your photographer is a good fit for you or not. If you're thinking of doing a dance shoot in Scottsdale or Houston and would like to see if we're compatible, click below to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation. I can't wait to talk to you!