Ballet Photography

December 2020

Like all the other performing arts organizations, my daughter’s ballet school, Crossroads Dance Theatre, could not perform their regular Nutcracker show this year. A grand show is a great motivator for perfecting technique and choreography. Although not a substitute, as a gift to my one of my daughters and her class, we held a photo shoot around the time we normally would have been performing the Nutcracker. Each girl received one posed shot and one headshot.

7 photo collage of ballet students
ballet student posing
ballet student posing


The girls were given advance instructions on how to prepare. For example, make up for a headshot is different than make up for a performance, where the audience is viewing in person but from a potentially long distance. With the help and consultation of their teacher, each girl chose an appropriate pose to photograph. To keep it fun and different, the school allowed the girls to choose a non traditional hairstyle. I was amazed at how much the girls loved being able to let their hair down! We kept costumes to a minimum, and used no props. We wanted to focus on each dancer’s form exclusively.

ballet student leaping

Covid Safety

Because her ballet school has been very responsible and consistent with social distancing and masking requirements, we limited the photo shoot to only one class of girls. During the photo shoot, all school staff, dancers, and I remained masked. The dancers were only allowed to remove their mask during their photo time. For the posed images, keeping a very long distance away was of course not a problem since I would have done that anyway. Not only were these full length images but many of them were beyond full length with outstretched limbs. I found myself backed up all the way against the opposite wall to keep from cutting off feet and hands.

ballet student posing

Ballet Technique

I believe if a photographer understands the fundamentals and foundations of photography and light, and has a solid technical understanding of using artificial light, this type of photography is not actually very different from my other work…with one great exception.

A challenge in photographing dance like this that what looks like a an amazing photograph both technically and artistically may not be a great photograph after all. I’m sure many photographers have been frustrated photographing what they deem to be an amazing photograph, only to have the dancer frown upon viewing it.

Photographers look at lighting, tone, sharpness, focus, composition, and emotion. A dancer will look at her fingers, a foot direction, a bent knee, so many tiny details. They all have to come together at the same time.

I am a lifestyle photographer who focuses on real, raw moments, preaching authenticity and connection over perfection. But for these, I had to be in a completely different mindset.

And although I have years and years of driving to ballet classes and watching performances, I do not have an deep understanding of these fine elements a dancer is looking for. Ballet is inherently nit picky, to put it bluntly. Because of that, I knew that I had to shoot tethered and have the school staff consult on the images.

young ballet student


With a close-knit group of sweet girls, shooting tethered made for a fun time. Not only could the teacher pinpoint exactly what she is looking for, the girls could see how beautiful they looked. They ooh’d and ah’d over each others’ images. The dancer, the teacher, and I could collaborate on which angles looked best. The school operates with the mission and philosophy of encouragement and valuing the worth of each girl. So this turned into a time of enjoyment, not anxiety.

Each girl could choose to keep trying if they wanted to perfect their image. In some cases, they realized that perhaps that particular pose was not translating to the image they had in mind. Or perhaps a different skirt would work better.

Another benefit of teachers collaborating with the images is that teachers understand where each student is in the progression of her ballet journey. They know if a student is nursing an injury. Before and during the photo shoot, teachers can help each student find a pose that is challenging, but not beyond their level. However, seeing their images can also encourage students to perhaps strive for a higher bar.

ballet student
ballet student


Of course I used my trusty Sony A7III. In order to somewhat mimic a stage experience, I used my Tamron 70-180mm lens but had to switch to the Tamron 28-75mm when limbs were extended.

Next time I would also try using my Tamron 17-28mm to get a totally different feel. Yes, I did complete the trio of these amazing Tamron lenses.

ballet student
ballet student

I loved how beautifully this girls performed. And we wouldn’t have had time to do a photoshoot in the rush and preparation for a show. Although definitely not a replacement for a large show, I hope they have a keepsake of something fun that was able to happen despite yet another cancelation due to Covid.

Are you interested in photography for your ballet school? Contact me to get started or ask any questions.

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