Why (and How) to Hire a Professional Photographer for Marketing Your Dance Business
November 1, 2022

It’s worth the investment to showcase your dance business with fresh, high-quality visuals on a consistent basis. If you’re new to working with a visual artist, here’s what to expect.

If your dance business is not yet annually earmarking funds for professional photography, you’re missing out on an important advertising strategy, says Jill Tirone, a marketing strategist and the content and community manager for DanceStudioOwner.com. “When I talk to studio owners, I often hear that they can’t afford a professional photographer, but I try to encourage them to see it as an investment because it does boost your credibility,” she says.

Here’s how you can get the biggest bang for your photography buck: 

Determine what images you need and where you will use them.

First, identify all of the places you might use new images. If you want a giant canvas art piece, the size of the image and crop are going to be dramatically different from what you might need for a brochure or magazine ad. Digital images for your website would have another size and crop, as would social media images. If you have others involved with your marketing efforts or website maintenance, ask them what they need. It will help your photographer know whether they’ll need to shoot horizontally, vertically or both, and how much photo editing might be involved afterward.

“Think about your brand and how you want it portrayed, so there is consistency,” Tirone says. “Imagine your target audience as they view your website and what you want them to see or feel. For example, if you’re really looking to build your preschool program, then maybe don’t only focus on your elite competition teams. Instead show how much fun your youngest dancers have and how excited they are to come to class, as well as how clean and professional your studio looks.”

Consider more than just the portfolio.

Pay attention to what style of photos you want. Some photographers specialize in studio photography with backdrops and controlled lighting. Some excel at street photography where they capture moments in whatever light Mother Nature provides. Some only do product shots; others only want to work with live models. Do your research online, and don’t be afraid to ask other dance businesses for recommendations.

Jeremy Kyle, a freelance dancer who recently located to Manhattan, has a dance and portrait-photography business. He specializes in audition-portfolio shoots for pre-professional students and enjoys being able to use his dance expertise to coach students on clean lines. “If a photographer has dance experience, it can help with efficiency during the photo shoot,” he says. “As a trained professional ballet dancer, I can both identify and emphasize individual strengths in each student’s technique and line. My coaching ability is just as important as my photographic expertise.”

An audition portfolio shot of Chiyo Nishida by dance and portrait photographer Jeremy Kyle. Courtesy of Jeremy Kyle.

But don’t rule out someone just because they’re not a trained dancer. Jayme Thornton, a photographer in Manhattan, has never had a technique class, but he has been shooting cover images for Dance Magazine for about 15 years and has also worked with Jo+Jax Dancewear and Harlequin Floors (not to mention his capturing portraits of Iggy Pop, Kate Winslet and Jay-Z and his work with numerous luxury brands). He’s learned that dancers can self-critique their lines or poses when he places a Mylar mirror just behind his camera lens.

As you chat with potential hires, note whether you have an easy-going rapport with them. “You want to do business with like-minded people,” says Jon DeMott, president of DanceWear Corner, a large dance retailer in Orlando that regularly hires photographers to capture events and showcase new product lines with models. “You don’t have to be friends, but you need to know that you’re going to spend a quality day or two with this person and that they will work with you to get a specific shot.”

And always do a background check—even if it’s a simple Google search—and check references. Ask about their liability insurance coverage, especially with freelance, independent contractors. If you don’t have media release forms from your students, start that process early (and, in the future, require it as part of your fall registration). Inquire whether the photographer has their own release forms, especially when minors are involved.

Above: a photographer from Evoke Studios setting up a shot of two young dancers in front of DanceWear Corner in Orlando. Below: one of the shots the store can use in its promotions. Photos by Evoke Studios, courtesy of DanceWear Corner.

Discuss your vision and decide who to hire. 

Talk through your vision with potential hires. “Ask them what they need to help make the photo shoot successful,” DeMott says, adding that it’s imperative to develop a script—a run-of-show, if you will—well in advance of the big day. Include a list of all of the photos you would like (from must-haves down to your wish list, which could be cut if you run out of time). Note each “scene” and the number of participants, what style number or colors they might be wearing, what kind of hair and makeup they’ll have, and whether there will be props, either held by the dancers or involving something more dramatic, like trampolines or silks. (Dance retailers, you may find these tips for taking and using dance product photos helpful.) “All of that should be hashed out in advance,” DeMott says. “If you wait until the actual day, you’re in trouble. The photographers just want to execute the vision and make the most of the time they have.”

Discuss how much time will be needed and whether the job is a project rate or an hourly rate. Kyle, for example, has a base rate for active shooting time that includes a specific number of images. For audition-portfolio sessions held at a dance school, the students each pay him a deposit that gets applied to their session. If a school requests a promotional shoot, he usually requires travel fees, a deposit and an hourly rate. In some cases, however, Kyle offers significant discounts on promotional shoots if the school allows him to set up for individual audition-photo shoots in their space. And, depending on the situation, he might also waive the travel fees and/or offer a first hour of promotional material for free. 

A marketing shot for DanceWear Corner: Showcasing friendly staff and tempting products can draw people to your store. Photo by Evoke Studios, courtesy of DanceWear Corner.

Avoid surprises with a contract that includes usage rights.

The photographer’s contract should include the agreed-upon rate, a general description of the shoot, the number of images (edited or unedited) to be delivered, a timeline for delivery, any extra fees for additional edits or images, travel fees and detailed usage rights. Most photographers want to maintain ownership of their intellectual property and will provide usage rights only. Have a thorough conversation about how you will be allowed to use the images, if (or when) a photo credit is necessary, and whether you’re allowed to crop or alter the image in any way.

“Sometimes when I shoot something for Dance Magazine, dancers will save the online image and use it to promote their own dance business and they don’t credit me,” Thornton says. “That gets really complicated because they’re not authorized to do that.”

The announcement of a professional shoot to staff and young dancers can also be used as a teaching moment: What are usage rights, and when and how do you properly credit artists and creators on social media? “It’s a professional courtesy to always tag artists on social media if you’re using their work,” Thornton says. “It helps everyone involved.”

Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from New York University and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.

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