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Do your homework – 5 tips for posing dancers and performers!

So this is for me the basics if you want to make things work and get the most out of your photoshoot with dancers and performers in general...

Do your homework, as suggested in the title, basically do a little research beforehand.

If you can learn a little bit more about your model, their experience, what they are specialized in, how long they have been performing and the type of productions they have been into and so on, you will do a better job!

Knowing his or her weaknesses and strengths helps a lot. You don't want to ask them things they cannot do, your job is to help them shine and be their best. On top of that, the other great thing is that you will save valuable time during your session.

Whatever the dance style, go watch performances... From ballet to hip-hop, you have to know a minimum about what you are about to shoot.

Knowing the history can also help, being able to recognize the different styles is mandatory! Go watch classical ballets and contemporary pieces it won't harm you and the worst that can happen is that you might have a good time. Learn to understand dancing in general, and get used to watching them move!

You can go as far as learning the vocabulary, the names behind certain moves, steps, and poses, which will greatly help you to communicate with them.

What leads to failure when shooting performers is bad or the lack of communication because we don't speak the same language.

So here is a simple approach to help you succeed, something I rely on, kind of the basics when I shoot performers.

1/ the location!

Is it busy or not? If you have loads of details in the background or around your subject keep it simple. A pose or move anyone can understand... not something too small, too compact, we have to know roughly where the limbs are and what is actually happening.

I personally use wide-angle lenses a lot, and sometimes my background is as important as the model.

Here in this picture of Anjara, I asked her to look up to compensate for the empty space above her head, of course, the red dress helps to catch the viewer's eye.

5d mark III / 24 - 70mm f2.8L Mark II 1/200s at f5.6 ISO100 - 24mm

Anjara Ballesteros - Menton (France)

If you have a simple plain, refined, clean, modern background, then you can go wild and choose to go for much more complex forms and shapes with your performer.

2/ Size in the frame

Depending on how much of the background you will include in the shot and the size of your model in your photo, a particular pose may or may not work. We talked about complex poses, shapes, and forms before, well if your picture is essentially centered on your subject, if the subject takes more than 50 % of the image you can almost do whatever you want. People will right away be drawn by the performance and the background will not really matter.

5d mark III / 85mm f1.8 1/800s at f2.5 ISO100 - 85mm


If your subject is smaller in the frame, and if you are using the environment, lines, and/ or light to draw the attention towards your performer... Then again keep it simple... Really basic poses sometimes work the best!

5d mark III / 16 - 35mm f2.8L Mark II 1/200s at f8 ISO400 - 16mm

Francesca Masutti - Strasbourg

5d mark III / 24 - 70mm f2.8L Mark II 1/1000s at f4 ISO800 - 20mm

Robin Ohl - Strasbourg

3/ Direction of light

Let's say you have your composition, you know how and at what angle you are going to take your shot, your model is placed but you don't know if she has to face you if she should turn right or left... Look at the shadows, look at how they fall on your subject's face and body. And then it's up to what you wish to create.

In this picture of Valentina, the light was coming from my left, so I asked her to face and go towards the light!

5d mark III / 24 - 70mm f2.8L Mark II 1/320s at f4.5 ISO125 - 24mm

Valentina Pierini - Rome

In the picture below I asked Isadora to do the same but Wanted that split lighting on her face so I asked her to slightly turn away from the light.

5d mark III / 24 - 70mm f2.8 Mark II 1/800s at f7.1 ISO200 - 61mm

Isadora Valero Meza - Lisbon

A little bonus tip, if you are shooting around noon and the sun is basically above your model's head, have them slightly raise their heads to avoid those dark eye sockets.

4/ Everything is in your scene

When I started I had a Graphic approach, everything was visual... and maybe that's why this channel is called HK VISUALS...

5d mark III / 11 - 24mm f4L 1/1000s at f10 ISO500 - 18mm

Lyria Van Moer - Cannes

Shapes, lines and forms, anything surrounding my model can help. Use anything that can visually help the viewer look where you want. The background can actually inspire your performer... Take a picture of the empty scene with the right composition, show it to your model, and explain what you imagine her or him to do. In your own words, tell them if you wish to have them continuing a line, imitating a shape or form, or using a handrail or a wall to lean on and so on...

5d mark IV / 24 - 70mm f2.8 Mark II 1/80s at f2.8 ISO250 - 25mm

Yvonne Smink - Toulouse (France)

For example here the idea was to continue the obvious lines of the handrails... To increase tension I deliberately placed her off-center.

5d mark III / 50mm f1.4 1/200s at f2.5 ISO800 - 50mm

Same here with Nicole!

5d mark III / 70 - 200mm f2.8 Mark II 1/200s at f4 ISO500 - 95mm

5/ Cheat

Yes, I said it... but let me explain: It doesn't harm to get a little inspiration from time to time. I do this less these days, but it used to help me a lot a few years back. Instead of losing your time trying to explain what pose, move, or jump you want your performer to do, create a collection of images, different galleries of moves, and poses on your phone. When you are struggling, and when you can't find words to describe what you mean, show a few examples to your performer.

We do not all have a choreographer or artistic director on set so this really comes in handy.

Of course, the idea is not to copy other people's work but to use it as a base and you are going to build upon that. Depending on your dancer's experience this should be enough, most of the ones I've worked with so far were sometimes hard to stop.

To end this article ask yourself these simple questions: What is the goal? What kind of shoot is this? What story do you want to tell?

By answering these questions and by going through all the different elements I shared with you, you will have a list of constraints.

This will help you and your model in the process of making decisions. Having too much freedom sometimes can be overwhelming. You've got to set limits, write down a scenario, keywords of what you want people to feel and see in the images you are about to make. Do you want something sexy, do you want something epic, and show the strength of your performer, or maybe you don't want people to focus too much on the model and you want them to have a much more neutral expression and make it very simple poses.

If you want to save some time as I said before do your homework. Visit your location before your shoot, make a list of shots with different composition options, try and imagine your performer and sketch the type of lines and forms you want to create or look at on the web and maybe find pictures of poses and moves that may come close to what you wish to do.

Again if you know what you aiming half the job is already done.

So, what about you? Do you have a few tips to share on posing performers? let me know in the comments below!


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