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Importance of Professional Photos


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I have read through old threads (mid-2000's) and the consensus then seemed to be that photos taken by a professional photographer were preferable when submitting photos for company contract consideration. For Summer programs, I know from experience (which is supported by the opinions here on this board) that there is no need for professional photos, and those taken on an iPhone in a dance studio are just fine.


But what about now, with the proliferation of professional shots that we see everywhere on social media, etc? Does one have to have professional studio photos just to be considered for, say, a company audition?


DD recently had the opportunity to have photos (head shots and dance poses) taken by a professional photographer who photographs the large professional company with which her school is affiliated for what seemed to be a reasonable price (about $150). However, the whole experience was a BIG disappointment, and both DD and I feel like it was a waste of time and money. We are trying to figure out where we went wrong. After reviewing the proofs, we see that DD's leotard choice was completely wrong--but she had no idea how it would look in the photos, it was one that she likes wearing. Also, the students were given guidelines for what to wear only two days before the shoot, and then the setting changed from a professional studio to a ballet studio (and now the photographer wants an additional $90 per hour to remove the barres in the background), so what she and others thought would look good in a studio did not. She felt uncomfortable during the session, which is clear in her facial expressions. We were told that students would receive "coaching" for the photos, but there was very little time per dancer (about 10 minutes for head shots and about 15 to get the others), and it shows. In looking at the photos, since DD is away from home, it's hard to tell if the photos are shot from unflattering angles or if her technique is lacking (or both). Given that she is in a competitive program, I don't think she is as awkward as the photos portray her. I am also wondering if she should share the proofs with her teachers and see if they can give her feedback, but I don't know how constructive that would be...


She and I agree that none of the ones taken are suitable for a dance portfolio. DD struggles with confidence, and this experience has delivered a solid blow to her. We have contacted the photographer and the school, but they have not really responded except to say, "sorry you didn't like them."


From those who have either been down the road of professional auditions recently or who have children who have, we are looking for guidance. Is it worth spending between $500 and $1000 for a professional session (that seems to be the going rate for a 2 hour session with a reputable dance photographer)? We have seen mediocre dancers look phenomenal in such pictures. How important are these photos? DD wants to take iPhone photos with her friends and call it a day, but I am concerned that without professional photos, she will be at a disadvantage against all of the "instafamous" dancers with thousands of photos to choose from. Are these the only options?

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  • vrsfanatic


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DS15 seems to have the same rate of success with professional photos and the ones I took with iPhone in our building's hallway. I do hope that the main impression is derived from seeing the dancer at the live auditions. Everybody know how many tricks could be done to come up with the perfect picture - I do hope ballet schools realize that just as well.

For the professional photographer we paid about $200 for an hour and for the photos we paid separately.

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The professional photographer we used for DD's company audition photos was also a former dancer. So many of the "iffy's" were taken care of in her instructions prior to the shoot. She had a great eye and could tell before looking in her camera if the shot was a good one. So the ending set of proofs we got was pretty much a case of picking angles. This was a good while ago and prior to many budding photographers being able to take quality photos.


So I would say to you that the biggest thing for you to consider is that this is a dancer who is vying for a JOB. And therefore, all the considerations you would give if you were applying for your next career position should be given to her package. The key is for the package to be professional. If you feel that she does not look as good as she can look, then that is problematic. She should feel good about her package even though she may wish one or two things were a bit different. Just because she wants to be able to say that she presented the best thing she could at the time.

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Prior to any more photography, please have your daughter look up Rachel Neville's blog. She is a NYC based photographer and a former dancer. Her blog entries discuss things like choosing the right style leo for your body, angles, etc. She also had a series of short videos on these topics and more.


Just as with anything else, it is important to do your research. What do the images this photographer produces look like? Is this someone that understands what good technique is? Is this someone who may take nice photos but won't or can't provide guidance during the shoot? I think photographers who were or are dancers are uniquely suited for this.


A good dance photographer is also conscious of things like a relaxed face and turn out, for ex.


I am in the same place in the journey as you are, so I cannot say if it is worth it. I can say that even though I do some dance photography myself, I booked dd with someone else. I have done many SI audition photos, college app photos and headshots for actors and dancers. I felt dd needs someone with more than what I can offer at this time and sometimes who understands what companies are looking for in these photos.

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Interesting that you mention Rachel Neville, MelissaGA, because I was, in fact, reading some of those blogs when I decided to post here, but I need to read them again with a cooler head. I was so frustrated knowing there was so much that COULD have happened that didn't that I know I did not appreciate the information. I agree that DD should also read them.


We liked the gallery images the photographer I mentioned had, some were stage shots and some were studio, and they were very appealing overall and not too stylized (which occurred with the photographer the school used last year, though DD did not participate). In speaking briefly with the photographer, I was told that students would be "coached" by the school director during the shoot, but this did not happen.


At this point, I think we will be researching options and making phone calls. I am hoping that we can find a photographer who would be willing to work with our budget without shortchanging the process. You all have given us some good ideas/things to consider.

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DD had similar experience while at SAB. The photographer, while reputable, was rushed through an assembly line of about 15 dancers that day. She could only give my daughter about 30 minutes of her time to do head shot and dance poses. The results were less than stunning. They would be adequate for summer intensive auditions. But, these auditions are for jobs and a contract.


We then went to Rachel Neville. She spent about half a day on my daughter and produced the most stunning photographs I have ever seen. You get what you pay for in this business. While Rachel is expensive, she is worth it. Not only will you have professional quality photographs for your job audition, you will have life-long keepsakes that are museum worthy, in my opinion. She also has a wonderful hair and makeup artist on hand, if needed. Your head shots will be gorgeous.

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We also had some photography challenges when dd was in training and getting ready to start out. In hindsight, the school wasn't a great deal of help - which was unfortunate as we were in a similar situation to you Blanche and far away from dd. At one point I remember researching a local photographer who she went to over the Christmas holiday. Photographer was nice enough, and she had her sister along to coach her, but I don't know that she felt comfortable and the shots weren't the greatest. The photographer has done some dance shoots, but isn't a former dancer.


She then had some done by friends in her first company - but I'd say these were more like creative collaborations than a series of shots expressly for auditions.


Finally dd did some research on her own and found someone who does a lot of work with our local company. She felt really comfortable with this person, and enjoyed the collaboration very much. The photos are pretty good too. She did try to save money and only booked a session of a couple of hours - she probably could have done more, but I think she was happy with the results.


To sum up, in our case the key was a short list of photographers with known experience, and dd being able to choose, among the short list, who she felt most comfortable with.


Neither of the professional photographers mentioned above had someone for hair and makeup.

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Our dd and all of her classmates had audition photos by the same photographer that The Royal Ballet School provided. He is also one of the photographers for the Royal Ballet and I believe he is a former dancer. The photos were excellent and he had the schedule perfected over many years of doing this for the graduate class. I believe that his experience and his point of view as a dancer helped make the shoot productive and the photos good. Of course, there was artistic similarity among all of the student's photos. I guess if a dancer is looking for totally unique, it wouldn't be the answer; however as someone up-thread mentioned, it's the audition that gets the job. Photos might help get the audition and a foot in the door. Our dd was told by the director of the school that the photos should show clean lines and evidence of a well-trained body. Once the photos were produced, our dd sat with the director and together they chose which photos did this the best. They weren't chosen for any reason but to convince a ballet company director that he/she should want to see what that dancer could do in an audition.

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So wonderful to hear that the director sat with a dancer to pick out photos. Unfortunately, that did not happen at SAB. What a great idea to have that perspective. Great advice!

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Blanche, I'm a photographer hobbiest, and I love doing dance photography! I wish you were local to me I could help you. But to me its really important that your daughter have a dance teacher on hand who can direct her in the shoot, someone she is really comfortable with. If you can get a photographer who used to be a dancer (there are a lot of them!) you will be better off. I don't think you need to spend $500-$1000, I have never seen that kind of pricing, and I'm in a major metro area.


Some girls are just more self conscious in front of the camera, so even if it means you getting out your I phone and playing with your daughter, shooting her in different poses, she just needs time to find a place where she can feel what looks good, if that makes sense?

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I actually agree with napnap. My DD has had many pictures taken over the years. A lot for summer programs, and now the last few years for jobs. When she was a trainee and in a company environment through the connected school, they were offered photography services very inexpensively. We were pretty happy with the results, especially considering the cost. They were standard pictures however, and he did not spend an inordinate amount of time of course with the dancers. The next chance we got (which by the way is every year, because you have to, at least in my DD's situation considering body changes), we called Rachel Neville and loved her approach, but DD was not in NYC and I really did not want to send her up there and pay out the very expensive fee for the session. So we decided to go with someone where she was locally - it was no longer the same school or town. I got some recommendations, and went with one of the associated photographers that took other professional's pictures in town. He spent quite a bit of time with my daughter, and she was so happy with the session! It was a pretty reasonable charge! We got back a couple of pictures and we were so so happy! Then she got back the rest of the pictures. Overall, in the end, we were okay with the pictures, but he did minimal color correction or tweaking - and my DD has face blemishes. Some were dark in places that were not changed. And I do know how to use photoshop, but I am not an expert at correcting pictures. I wanted my DD to go back to him and we would pay for any additional fixing and he did say he would do that, but she decided not to. She was happy with the photos, but I still feel like in my heart, they would have been better had I sent her to Rachel Neville. Moral of the story - I'm afraid when you talk about a job, you have to be prepared to do the best you can. Ironically, we will have to get new pictures again now, but she actually has a contract now, so I am hoping this is not going to be a big issue this next time. Frankly, I am not happy that we will have to get more taken yet again. Making me a little crazy..... I don't know what exactly we will do, but I will insist on professional. And I do agree that the photographer should have been a dancer. This will eliminate any issues with wrong poses. The dancer can have someone their to help instead, but believe me - if they are their age, they may not have as much of a critical eye or the ability to help them. You never know, but I think for me it took some of the worry out. After all, I was supplying the payment. :whistling:

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I would say that if your daughter is shooting for company class auditions, definitely go for professional photos with someone who regularly photographs dancers - preferably one of the photographers who has a dance background him/herself, and who can guide the dancer during the photo shoot with respect to position, choice of leotard and hairstyle, etc. It's well worth the expense. Based on DD's experience with the company audition circuit, while it's clear that what matters most is how the dancer actually dances once they get into the studio, it's not always so easy to get the audition invitation, so it's important that the resume and photos look as professional as possible. DD has had beautiful photos taken by both Rachelle Neville and Rosalie O'Connor and I would heartily recommend either one (with Rachelle's photos being a little edgier and Rosalie's somewhat more traditional).

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I don't know if it is within the rules to ask this question,,but if not could someone point me to somewhere to get the info.?

...Looking for a photographer in NYC area more in the $500 price range for arabesque photos for two dancers--One looking for a summer intensive arabesque,etc. series--And interested in some of the European and English intensives that take students from photos--Second dancer is looking for trainee/second company,,

Thank you!!

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Thank you so much for your response,I received prices where the most affordable option was close to 900 dollars,,I know she is worth every penny but just exploring other options and open to suggestions,,Thanks!

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