Photographers: Let me let you in on one of my top shooting secrets

I had an amazing time a couple of weeks ago at our Paris workshop…from the wonderful location and talented photographers to the patient and easy-to-work-with dancers, I think a great time was had by all!

I wanted to take a quick moment to talk about something I feel could benefit a lot of photographers who shoot dancers. So often a dancer or photographer will come to a shoot with pre-existing ideas for poses and movements. This is always a great place to start. But sometimes you might see your dancer becoming frustrated that they are not quite able to accomplish the lines they are trying to emulate. Even with highly flexible or talented dancers you may encounter this frequently.

I’ve shot thousands of dancers over the years, and I have a secret for you!  Every dancer’s joints are a little bit different. Every one of them. Seems obvious when you think of it right?  Human joints bend and rotate in predictable ways. Most of us think in terms of overall flexibility, turnout, arch of the foot, etc. Yet small differences in each dancer’s actual joints can make the difference between just attempting a shot and getting it.

So what do you do when you find yourself in a situation where you or your dancer becomes frustrated? Don’t give up. Build the shot instead of just going for it.

I like to teach my dancers to work one body part at a time, starting at the legs, to finetune their lines. It begins and ends with the supporting leg is a phrase we have often considered putting on t-shirts because I say it daily in my studio! From there, work your way up the body one area at a time until you have the shape you want.

When the dancer doesn’t have the joint mobility in one or more areas of their body to be able to accomplish your goal, stay positive and start suggesting small changes till you get a shot you are pleased with. For instance, if the dancer has less shoulder mobility than you need for a particular arm line, change the one or both arm shapes until you get something you both like (while maintaining the leg line).

I often see dancers give up on a shot too early when they don’t like the results. I know you’ve seen it happen too…the look on their face that says they feel like they are terrible dancers. My approach to navigating this is to re-assure, ask them to trust me, and try tweaking certain lines (legs or arms or both), until we get it. This takes patience and skill at translating movement into 2 dimensions (something we dive into in my workshops and curriculum).

Just as important, however, is your ability to recognize quickly when it looks like a dancer is just not going to being able to do the movement you are working on. I am always out for my shots to be a positive confidence boosting session for the dancer. When you come up against a pose that either isn’t going to work at all for whatever reason–level of dancer, joint mobility, spinal twist (that’s a big one actually, I’ll blog about that one soon)–I move on fairly quickly. After about 2 or 3 tries I can usually see if a pose can be manipulated to work or if I should come up with a trigger phrase.

For example: “Oh! I just had a thought. Could you try this instead?” delivered in an excited voice.

Moving on to something that is easier for them to work on will boost their mood, their confidence in you, and soon, you’ll be back into the flow of your shoot.

If you were a shooter where would you want more instruction on this?

Robyn Jutsum

2 thoughts on “Photographers: Let me let you in on one of my top shooting secrets”

  1. I am a shooter and I would love to see the concept pose, a “not quite right” line, and a reimagined pose. Also, what are some phrases you use that help dancers understand what you are trying to capture (or want to avoid)?

    • Hi Rebekah, thank you so much for the feedback! We’ll definitely add that in to our list of topics to cover on the blog. We also go into detail on those topics in our workshops. If you would like more information on our workshops, please let us know, and please continue to follow the blog!


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