Tips to Consider When Hiring and Working with a Photographer

By Kegan Marling

March 1, 2020, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

A knowledgeable dance photographer with an eye for composition and the ability to capture the right moment can be instrumental in documenting, promoting and sharing your work. Here are some tips and considerations when looking to work with a fine-art photographer:

1) Choosing a photographer and negotiating your agreement:

  • The best approach to finding a photographer is to ask your network and colleagues. It’s a quick and easy way to learn about a photographer’s work ethic and personality. Alternately, check out the photo credits for dance images you love and keep track of them (I like to peruse the In Dance calendar). You’ll probably notice your eye keeps gravitating towards particular photographers over time.
  • Before hiring anyone, be sure to review their portfolio closely to get a feel for their style. Every photographer has a different approach to framing and editing, and it’s best to find someone whose style suits your work. Do they often shoot close up or very wide? Do they fill the frame or leave lots of open space? Are their images active or statuesque? Saturated in color or muted? Architectural? Emotive?
  • Photographers are usually very clear about their rates and what you should expect to receive. In addition to their fee, be sure to go over these things in advance: arrival time and anticipated length of the shoot, how and when files will be delivered, image resolution size, cancellation policy, your usage rights, and if there are any additional post-processing costs. If the fee is outside of your range, you can politely let them know it’s too high for your budget, but don’t expect them to haggle over a price. Most performance photographers are already offering artists the lowest rate they can afford.
  • A promotional shoot can be a great way to test out working with a new photographer. You get marketing materials and a chance to see how they work, while providing the photographer an opportunity to learn about the work you’re making.
  • Plan to hire a photographer 2-3 months in advance when possible, especially if your event is only for one weekend.

2) Preparing for a shoot:

  • In general, capturing a show can be high-stress – there’s one chance for the photographer to catch the action and they usually haven’t seen the work in advance. Plus, they’re constantly adjusting for lighting changes and fast-moving action! Consider the following to help them in advance of the shoot.
  • Talk them through a rough outline of the flow of the show, noting any sudden shifts in lighting or focus. For example, if you have a dark section that is immediately followed by bright strobe lights, identify something that happens on stage right before the change, so your photographer can anticipate it.
  • Your stage lighting will be the primary factor in what the photographer can capture. Some lighting may look fantastic on stage but appear blown out or unrenderable on camera. Dim lighting is the obvious culprit, but other big challenges are deeply saturated colors (particularly red and blue), high contrast lighting (like bright spotlights), and mottled lighting. Talk to your photographer in advance about your lighting choices and they can help identify what might not capture well on camera. You may want to consider photographing those sections separately and adjusting the light levels for camera. At the very least, try to set aside time before the run to shoot a couple moments in the appropriate lighting so the photographer can try out different camera settings.
  • Before the shoot, take a moment to consider the background of your dance and look for anything that might show up unwanted in an image. The camera often picks up small details, and you can greatly improve the quality of photos by doing some simple things like hiding a cable running across the back or changing bright spike marks on the floor with colors similar to the floor color.
  • If you know the images are for a specific future purpose, or that you would prefer the photographer focus on a specific person, be clear about these requests in advance. For example, if I know a company is planning to use the images for a postcard, I’ll often shoot leaving plenty of empty space around the action so that it’s easy for someone to add text later.
  • Photographing a dress rehearsal can offer great flexibility for moving around the space, potentially allowing your photographer to capture more compelling angles and a more diverse set of images. And you won’t have to worry about camera noise or blocking audience members. If your photographer won’t be able to move during the performance, it’s best to discuss with them in advance about their location during the show.
  • If your budget allows, consider hiring them to photograph two performances. Having seen the work once already, the photographer will be better equipped to capture quick moments, try different angles, and compensate for lighting issues.

3) What should you expect afterwards:

  • Don’t expect your favorite moments to get captured. We’re doing our best to show off your work and capture the highlights, but sometimes bodies move too fast or a shape that looks great in 3D looks lifeless in 2D. If there’s something you absolutely must have captured, you should talk with your photographer about carving out time before the performance.
  • Editing takes time and every artist has a different process. Be sure to negotiate in advance if you have a specific deadline when you need some or all of the images.
  • Most photographers will deliver edited images only. You shouldn’t expect to receive unedited (raw) images unless you have specifically discussed this in advance. Photographers are usually happy to do additional touch-ups or editing for a fee.

And finally, please always credit your photographer! Photo credits directly impact a photographer’s ability to find work and are an important acknowledgement of their artistry. Many photographers will not work with someone a second time if they notice a consistent failure to credit. Please be considerate and acknowledge the work and artistry of your photographer!

This article appeared in the March 2020 issue of In Dance.


Kegan Marling is a San Francisco documentary and lifestyle photographer focused on queer communities, dance, and body/sex-positivity. His work has been in publications including the SF Chronicle, SF Weekly, Têtu, and Drummer Magazine, and is part of the permanent collection at SF General Hospital. He has created two short films in collaboration with playwright Brian Thorstenson for the National Queer Arts Festival, and is currently working on a photo essay on queer mythologies. keganmarling.org

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