TIPS FOR BELLYDANCE PHOTOSHOOTS
Many dancers ask me how to prepare for a shoot and I decided to compile this short list of tips and thoughts to help you better prepare for your photo session. Over the years I had the chance to work with some of the best dancers in the planet and observed some of the ways they prepare and conduct themselves during photoshoots. I hope these ideas help bring the best in your experience.
The first step I recommend is creating a mood board with inspirational images for your shoot. This is a collection of your favourite photographs of dancers, as well as of images in fashion and other areas you like. This is a creative blueprint to help you craft a vision for your photo session, helping you discover poses, make up, locations and lighting that appeal to you. Sharing the mood board with your photographer will help him plan the shoot from his point of view. Seeing all those photos together will reveal certain themes you like but maybe not on a conscious level. Maybe you are into bright, magical scenes, maybe you are drawn to feeling, closeups, or maybe you really enjoy a sexy powerful pose. Your mood board will help you see those preferences.
HAIR & MAKE UP
Having great hair and make up is one of the main elements of a successful shoot. Keep in mind that make up for stage is different than for photography. Unless you are going for a specific look, it's better to have more natural make up. If you think the effect is too subtle, you can always add and adjust later. Also, a lot of retouching can take place in Photoshop, which is something you want to discuss with your photographer ahead of time. If you have the chance to have your hair and make up professionally done, I highly recommend it. If you want to do it yourself, there is a number of online tutorials, including a few I shot with dancer Iana Komarnytska, which you can find here.
Here the mood board will help you get some ideas. Study the poses in the photographs you like. Practice them in front of a mirror. Like dance moves, posing benefits from practice, and eventually they become second nature. Have a few poses you definitely want to have cued up on your phone or printed out. Another interesting trick that works very well is to get into the pose you want slowly and fluidly, as if you were dancing in slow motion. Then work on slight variations until you go to the next one. For some spontaneous shots, try to set up a song you really like, something slow and nice, to which you can actually dance to, and let the photographer choose the moments to click. One other tip I like to give is to try to relax your face. We cary a lot of tension that shows on the lips and eyes. One quick trick that is always available to you is to take a moment, look down, relax your face and only continue when you feel ready. The shoot is for you, it's your art as much as the photographer's.
Costume choice and care is an art and you should consider it when picking which costumes you want to use. I always recommend to have a steam iron on set or prepare your costumes at home ahead of time. Also, pay attention to the possibilities for poses that your costume provides. Maybe your skirt flows nicely and you can work on some movement shots, or perhaps a tighter costume will allow you to explore curves and angles, or some signature movements on your dance repertoire. Do take time to select a costume that fits you and that you have tried before. Some costumes require minor fixes, and you don't want to wait to discover that on the day of the shoot.
Do you have a signature prop you like to use? Maybe a veil, wings, a sword, a cane, a shamadan? Maybe you would like to have a drum or another instrument on set. Sometimes even holding a flower or a lamp can give you an unique look. For a dancer doing her first professional photo session I usually recommend choosing one or two props she likes because it helps to calm the nerves by focusing on the prop. Props are also a great way to showcase a bit of your dancing preferences, and you should consider trying them out on your session. I recommend you tell your photographer ahead of time about your intention to use a particular prop. He may want to light a scene differently, or prepare the space so you can use it. Communication and planning are key.
Where to shoot? A studio, a home, a dance school, a restaurant, outside... so many options! I had the pleasure of doing bellydance shoots at amazing locations in many parts of the world, including some hard to get spaces. There is a little secret to getting those places to have your photoshoot. You just have to... ask. It's really that simple. It doesn't mean they will say yes every time, but if you don't ask you will never know. Also, you should see from their point of view how having these photos taken at their space will be good for them. Maybe you can give them some shots they can use to advertise their service. Maybe you have enough following on your social media that exposure becomes a bargaining chip. Bring value to the venue you are looking for and you will be surprised with how people are willing to be a part of your vision.
It may be obvious, but it's always a good thing to consider where you are going to use your images. Maybe you want a killer portrait for posters, or maybe you want a fun creative photo to boost your social media presence and show your work in the dance community. If you think of what you need photos for, you will be able to create a check list of images you need during your shoot, and you will be able to get great value from even a single session. If you intend to use photos for posters in festivals for example, you may want to choose a studio with a simple background so the photographer can 'cut you out' easily. If you have time, I always recommend asking the photographer to take a couple of simple shots focusing on the costume, in case you decide to update your wardrobe and sell your costume later.
This seems like funny advice, but it's possibly the most important one I can give you. Photographs are a celebration of your dance, of who you are and who you aspire to be. Just like with performances on stage, when you are having fun, it really shows, and it makes the whole process easier, letting your personality come through the lens. You've done your preparation, you know what you want, you trust the photographer, so when shooting time comes, put on your favourite music and let the magic happen.
I hope these tips where useful to you. From novices to experience dancers, I find that when you take time to think about these aspects you get more confident, creative and end up with images you will cherish for a long time. If you have any questions, feel free to send me a message and share this page with your friends.
For some inspiration, check out Pedro Bonatto's Bellydance Portfolio
Pedro Bonatto Photography | 416-400-7602 | firstname.lastname@example.org