The title says it all, how did I find my first models for my series "InMotion"? Quick tips based on my personal experience that may help you, if you're starting out as a dance photographer.
You may know it by now, "inMotion" is now a series dedicated to performers from athletes to dancers. But when I started, it was heavily dance-oriented. Like a lot of beginners, I had one major problem back then... How do I find models, artists to start building a consistent portfolio.
Indeed, you need a strong portfolio if you want to seduce brands, companies, or top world-class artists to work with you. I just couldn't proclaim myself as a dance photographer because my only experience was the cover of hip-hop dance competitions. So, without any images illustrating the direction of my project and the quality of my work, it was hard to convince anyone to hire me.
So you guessed it, your first pictures will be TFP (time for print) collaborations and this is maybe one of the most difficult things to do when you start: convince people to pose for you... for free! Of course, they will have your picture in exchange, but you will have to persuade people that the quality of your photos is worth as much as their time.
So the first step was a huge one, especially when I needed to explore other dance styles. So how did I do it? Where did I find the first dancers of the series? Here are some tips on how to start to find your first models.
"Making of" feat. in Montréal.
I'm from Strasbourg, so no need to hunt for ballerinas abroad. I searched locally. Like a lot of photographers, I wanted to work with the best artists, but when you start you can't expect superstars to work with you for a simple reason: you're nobody! Yes, that's how it works. They also want to work with the best photographers, so you've got to show them how strong your work is and how it can benefit their career.
The first thing that I've regretted doing, and a lot of people do, was approaching artists on social media (Facebook and Twitter for example). I know that It can be tempting, and it happens that a primary ballerina lives next door and you managed to find her Facebook page. Some still find this method intrusive and unprofessional especially if you're a newbie. Get out of social media and search for dancing schools and local companies instead. Pick up your phone and meet the artists where they are. I met my first dancers in a local dance school. I attended a rehearsal and ask for authorization to make a few pictures for a personal project. At the end of the class, I met several artists and asked them to work with me.
Attend shows & competitions and you might meet people interested in your project. Go out and talk about your projects to the people that surround you. You never know who can give you a helping hand. Keep in mind that you will likely have more chances to reach someone who is interested in your project in small companies or dance schools in your area. Why? They don't have the budget for an experienced photographer, and you're willing to make sacrifices to enrich your portfolio.
The web is an awesome tool! Search for dance networks ( networkdance.com ) and blogs. Facebook groups are more efficient than personal messages. Instead of reaching out to dancers directly on Facebook, find groups that were created to facilitate contacts between dancers and photographers. There's a lot of them out there. Don't expect to meet exceptional world-class dancers (although you might be surprised ), but you still can meet young talented artists searching for their first shoots. You can also make some searches on networkdance.com. Once you've found an interesting profile in your area, look at the dancer's resume and write down the name of his(her) company. Give a try to Model Mayhem ! I've met my first dance collaboration in New York there.
My first dance shoot in New York City with Savannah Lee
Something that bugs me on Facebook groups is the unclear and vague demands. In your messages, go straight to the point, explain exactly what you're looking for with a maximum of details. Give information on where, when, how, why, and precisely the most important thing: It's a "time for print" shoot (TFP) do not forget it! Big arguments in Facebook groups start when people do not specify it's a TFP collaboration. No need for you to make enemies. Also, you will boost your chance of success by knowing what you want. This will show others that you're serious about your craft.
I used to send a lot of emails and messages. Don't take it personally when people do not answer you. Don't give up and don't be afraid to insist (politely). It takes time to find the right contact for a dance school. Some receive hundreds of emails every day so yours could finish in the trash very easily. I've always wanted to work with the Opera National Du Rhin in my hometown and never knew how to reach out to them. After several calls, messages, and a lot of patience (about 9 months), I finally got to meet someone to talk to. They finally contacted me this year to officially work with them.
To give a boost to their work on social media some will not hesitate and hire dancers. I had no money at the time so this never was an option. But even if you have a lot of money, most of them will ask you for samples of your work and your resume. Their public image is important, they only want to work with the best. Without a strong portfolio, your chances are weak to convince them to pose for you. This is not something I would recommend at first, but if you do want to consider this option choose carefully the dancer. Depending on your budget, it has to be worth it!
Of course, this is temporary! Add to this the few tips on how to share your content on the web, and your name will slowly make its way into the community. People will look up to you, and might slowly consider working with a now experienced dance photographer. Once you will have gained some experience, and once you've built a solid portfolio, you will get to the next step... looking for clients. You will slowly be able to work with more experienced dancers and, who knows, you may quickly be spotted by a dance company or brand who will want your skills on their next campaign. Vanesa Garcia 1st Solist - Grands ballets canadiens de Montréal
So what do you think? Did you find my experience helpful? Or maybe you have your own tips to share? Tell me and I'll be glad to hear from you.
"Making of" feat. Bridgett Zehr in London