What Your Dance Photographer WON’T Tell You But Needs You To Know

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of New York’s most up-and-coming dance photographers, Theik Smith.
You might have seen his work fluttering around on IG featuring dancers with clean lines and crisp lighting. His photos can be seen with featuring some of New York’s best-known companies, dancers, and are often featured on this very site.
But what you may not know, is that after shooting HUNDREDS of dancers, Theik has shared his valuable insight of what every dancer should know when they schedule a dance photography shoot.

 What should dancers keep in mind when scheduling their shoot?

Theik says, when you’re scheduling with your photographer, for the love of all that’s good and holy, book a time that you have an excellent chance of coming through.
Everyone is busy, especially in New York.
You’re busy running around to rehearsals, auditions, classes, gym, shows, and eventually, bed for a few hours.

Real life issues come up, too: you get too sick to move, your family needs you for an emergency, your roommates need to be taken to the ER or the roof collapses in your apartment because of the insane leak coming from your neighbor’s tub or the single most important audition of your career was JUST made available and if you don’t make it you will have the single biggest regret of your life made real.

If this comes up, let your photographer know as soon as you can and communicate this as clearly as you can. We’ve all been there, and no decent person will hold that against you.

So, Theik, you’re talking about being flaky and inconsiderate?

Exactly. When a photographer is booking your session, and they’ve confirmed it, it’s locked in stone for them.
That means, they will be turning down or rearranging gigs on their end. A last minute cancellation sucks, but for the right reasons? We’ll get over it and fast.
But, when you’re obviously being a flake – telling us you’re “too sick” to come in, but we see on your Instagram feed that you’re at IHOP with friends and looking surprisingly well, for instance – that’s just incredibly irresponsible and disrespectful of another person’s time.

Okay, but what about scheduling a “tentative” shoot date?

If you know that life is crazy for you right now, don’t think it’s cool to ask for us to hold a “tentative date.”
If this is important to you, prioritize the shoot. If it’s not, don’t waste another creative professional’s time. If you can make time for rehearsals, auditions, training, gym, and shows, you can make the time to show up when you’re supposed to with a photographer.

Gotcha. So, as a dancer, when should our shoot preparation begin?

Your preparation should begin the night before. Of course, make sure you have all of the clothes that you want on camera clean and ready and packed up.
Now, if you’re really hoping to shoot with that favorite leotard/outfit/whatever but you’re unable to get into the wash in time: bring it, anyway. No one will be able to smell the outfit in the photo.
Some photographers aren’t going to be happy with what was just said, but it’s better that you get the shot with what you want than feel bad that you didn’t. Just make sure there aren’t any stains!

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So hygeine and grooming should be considered before a shoot as well?

Yes, grooming is also something that should be taken care of ahead of time, so you don’t have to worry about possibly arriving late. If shaving is part of your usual grooming processes, please make sure that’s done!
The last thing your photographer wants is to take care of unnecessary cleanup of armpits, bikini lines, legs or forearms.
Your hair, your body, your rules, always. But, if you do shave (or wax, or Nairetc.) and do so regularly, make sure that’s taken care of before you show up.

 Grooming wise, what’s your pet peeve?

MOISTURIZE YOUR SKIN. It cannot be stressed enough. I’ve spent too many hours photoshopping dry skin patches on practically every inch of the human body.
A little bit of lotion goes a LONG way.

 Should I cancel my shoot if I get a big zit the night before?

 Absolutely not. Do NOT freak out over random breakouts. A few random pimples are incredibly easy to take care of in Photoshop. They aren’t any reason to worry about “ruining” a shoot.

However, if you do have some permanent or long-term skin spots or conditions (like moles, birthmarks, psoriasis, etc. ) just communicate with your photographer and tell them what you’d like them to do about it in post-production: do you want things to be removed? Softened? Or, left alone?

 Can I ask the photographer to make sure those marks are taken care of?

Of course! Don’t make any assumptions as to what the photographer will or will not do: let them know what you’d prefer.
This also applies to tattoos: if you have a tattoo that you don’t want a parent or significant other to know about let the photographer know ahead of time.

Also, maybe don’t show that side of your body to the camera, if you can help it!

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Once the shoot is scheduled and everything is prepared the night before, what should a dancer do next?

Always, always, always confirm with the photographer the night before your shoot. If they haven’t reached out to you, reach out to them.
Make sure everyone knows what’s going on. Reaffirm the time and place you’re supposed to be meeting. It’s a great habit to get into and a great one to keep.

 Why is this so important?

It’s incredibly disrespectful to waste someone else’s time and even worse when you don’t do the courteous thing and apologize and explain what happened.
Photographers talk with other photographers.
They also talk to other dancers and choreographers. You do not want your name brought up in those conversations where it’s “Oh, yeah! That person? NEVER on time. And, they wonder how come no one takes them seriously…”

So don’t flake. Got it. In the dance world 15 minutes early is considered on time, does the same hold true in the photography realm?

 Yes. Sort of.
Do not show up more than 15 minutes early: that’s horribly obnoxious and you might be bumping into someone else’s scheduled time.
Do not show up more than 15 minutes late without a damn good reason and/or a head’s up.
Most everyone knows that public transportation can be the source of lateness (and aggravation. And frustration. And rage!) but you have no excuse to not let someone know you’re going to be running late when it’s happening.

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The day of the shoot.

I’ve heard some horror stories of young women showing up at a photo shoot and things going south. Can I bring a buddy?

If you feel like bringing someone with you: tell the photographer ahead of time. Seriously, don’t show up with an extra person (or three) with you.

 Okay, but why?

Most photographers are working with very expensive equipment that they’ve taken years to acquire. It only takes moments for that gear to be broken – or stolen. That’s one of the reasons some photographers do NOT like extra people there, especially if they’re “surprises.”
The most common reason, though, why most photographers aren’t happy with clients bringing extra people to the shoot is because they’re a wildcard.
If you are bringing someone, make sure that, at best, they won’t be affecting your shoot negatively. If you know that you need sexier, commercial shots but you’re going to feel horribly uncomfortable with your mother there: ask someone else to come with you!
Make sure your friend is going to be OK, sitting in the corner for however long the shoot goes on. Make sure that they have a cell phone charger and something to do to occupy themselves.
But, if they have experience, or they’re game, they might also be useful to hold reflectors or adjust wardrobe in between shots.

So should I just suck it up, arrive alone, and chance it with a new photographer?

Of course not, you have a right to bring someone with you to help make you feel safe and comfortable. Tons of photographers in New York shoot out of their apartments.
Obviously, the first line of safety is asking around about the photographer. Have your friends shot with them before? What was the vibe like?
After that: there’s still no shame in asking someone to come with you. Just clear it with the photographer ahead of time.
That being said, it’s also within the rights of the photographer to say that they don’t feel comfortable with it. That’s a conversation that you guys will have to have with your photographer.

So who commonly accompanies dancers to a shoot?

I’ve shot with people who have brought their mothers, fathers, children, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, dance partners, best friends, and pets (Eh, hem Amber!).

I love meeting new people – as long as I know they’re coming! 

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During the shoot.

 The lights are on. I’m in my outfit. Now what do I do?

Do yourself a favor and look up poses ahead of time. No, seriously: do your homework. Have a plan of action in place.
The last thing I want to do is look at you, floundering around and scratching your head, then looking at ME and going, “…uh… what do I do now?”
You’re the dancer.
You’re the one who spends most of their waking hours pursuing this craft.
I’m the dude with the camera and the lights.

But can’t my photographer just tell me what to do?

Chances are, you won’t always be in front of a photographer like that. In fact, you may have already been there: working with a photographer that offers no usable direction and spends more time talking to their lights than they do you.
You have a couple of hours to spend with this person and you need to make sure that you get shots that are useful to you.
So come in with poses.
Find some of your favorite dance photos/poses and make a folder of things that you would like to play with.
Be honest with yourself, of course, and pick things that you are confident you can pull off!

But it’s better to have some inspiration at your fingertips than having the blind lead the blind.

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It’s just taking photos, aren’t all photographers created equal?

No and no.
I would not recommend going to a photographer who doesn’t have strong dance photos and expect them to be able to get you what you need. Just as you wouldn’t ask a ballet dancer to do her best impression of a B-girl and do some elbow hops (“It’s all just dance, right?!”), you shouldn’t go to a headshot photographer and expect them to capture the beautiful, graceful lines of a grand jete.
Well, at least, with ease and efficiency.
A lot of photographers who aren’t dedicated to capturing the craft of dance WILL post shots where your feet are sickled, your hands are stiff, your shoulders are too high (or low), or you’ve got a dumb expression on your face because you held your breath too long.

I booked my shoot and my photographer isn’t a “dance” photographer, am I screwed?

If you have the time, talk to them.” Tell them what a dancer sees in their shots. Point out the things that ruin shots for you guys.
Some will listen, and they’ll work incredibly hard to get the right shots for you.
Some won’t listen. Don’t waste your time with those guys. Unless you want mediocre shots.

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After the shoot.

Okay, so after the shoot. I have my pictures. What now?

First and foremost stop with the Instagram filters.
*Pause* Put your ear to the ground for a moment.
That sound you hear is a legion of photographers all screaming into the night in unyielding frustration.

But why? They’re MY pictures, why shouldn’t I edit them how I please?

It’s insulting to the photographer.
Seriously, unless you clear it with them first, you have no idea how obnoxious that comes across.
We spend our time, making sure that we get the look that we want for the shot as we’re crafting our style (which you should have been attracted to in the first place!) and then you take anywhere from 1-4 hours of work on a shot and ruin it with a flick of your fingers because… why?!

Yikes. What else?

While we’re on the subject of re-posting your photos…
Please credit the photographer on the appropriate platform.
It really doesn’t take much time for you to do that one, simple courtesy: just tag them. They should be credited for their work, just as you should be credited for yours.
I rarely see a photographer consistently NOT tag who they work with. But, on the other side of the coin…
You know who you are. Just tag them.


What if I do a shoot and don’t get my photos right away?

After shooting, if the photographer hasn’t provided you with the agreed upon shots: reach out to them in a timely manner.
As mentioned earlier, we are all busy and things slip through the cracks.
Do not hesitate, however, to reach out to the photographer and remind them of what you’re owed. Don’t wait a month… or three months… or a year. You are OWED your due and, at the very least, a response. Find out what’s going on.

What if they ghost?

Tell your friends.
They don’t need to worry about if they’re ever going to see their shots, too.

Anything else

Nope, that’s really about it.
In addition to his novel advice, Theik graciously offered any New York-based Dancers Who Lift 20% off their shoot with him, now through September.
Just use code: DancersWhoLift when booking your appointment.
For some dance photography inspiration, feel free to give him a follow and a like on Facebook at “Theik Smith Photo” and Instagram @TheikPhoto
As always, feel free to comment or reach out to me as well.


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