I’m here to give you only honest and transparent information that I wish I had when I first started taking pictures of dance studios.
This guide specifically addresses how to photograph dance studio portraits in the spring and the business behind it.
I do cover some technical aspects with photography and lighting but the main thing I want you to take away is understanding the process and learning how to actually photograph a dance studio.
Let me show you why and give you a quick overview of who I am, Aaron.
I have been photographing dance studios for over 15 years working with 20+ dance studios, ranging in sizes as few as 30 dancers all the way up to 1000+ dancers.
I first started out bitten by the photography bug. I was your average photographer that did everything from family, senior, baby portraits – weddings, events
You name it I did it.
It wasn’t until a mentor of mine, Doug, introduced me to photographing dance studios. You can read more about my story here.
I loved the idea that you can photograph a lot of people in a short period of time.
Oh and the fact that you have cute kids in cute costumes that make it easy to sell pictures.
I went from knowing NOTHING about dance, to photographing a few studios, to making over Six Figures in 6 weeks, only photographing dance portraits in the spring. Income Report
Once you understand how to photograph dance studios its a duplicatable process.
So whether you want to photograph one studio or 10 its all pretty much the same with a few variations.
Not only is this type of seasonal photography a great service to add to your business, its the gift that keeps on giving.
There are a lot of other services you can offer dance studios throughout the year, along with building relationships with your customers that will spin-off to custom portraits or other services you want to offer
Now some people say photography is changing and that if you have been doing this for over 15 years you must have outdated ways.
Well, I hate to say dance portraits have not changed in decades, besides the way you capture the images (digital vs film).
The fundamental business principles are still the same. You just have to get creative in how you deliver
Yes, people have their own cameras and phones but this still doesn’t deter people from having someone professionally capture that perfect pose and expression of their child.
Plus we all know kids don’t like listening to parents when they tell them to look at the camera and say cheese.
That’s where you come in…..
The pro that will make mom and dad cry after seeing their prince or princess in that cute dance recital costume.
I want to show you there are only 4 stages in photographing dance studios.
I cover a lot of helpful information to get you started, so jump to what you feel is most important to you.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Understanding your why
Step 2: Setting up a website
Step 3: Marketing and promoting services
Step 4: Scheduling portrait day
Step 5: Setup and taking pictures
Step 6: Selling Pictures
Step 7: Processing Orders
Step 8: Customer Service
Step 9: Followup
Step 10: Growing your business and skills
This is the first and most important step in photographing dance studios. Now you say Aaron why would this be the first step.
When it comes to starting a business or doing anything for that matter, having that base understanding of why you are doing what you do will help motivate you to stick through it when things get tough.
Photographing dance studios is not easy when you first start.
There’s a lot of moving parts and skills that you need in order for everything to run effortlessly.
That is why a lot of photographers don’t bother even trying to get into this niche. They feel they can’t do it and it’s overwhelming.
CUT THAT OUT !!!
You can do this and is the reason why you should. Because most photographers don’t think about dance studios as something to get into, which means LESS competition.
I mean I didn’t. I had Doug introduce me to this industry.
If you want to achieve your goals you need to do what most people don’t want to do or know how to do.
Also, the big decision on whether this is right for you or not is, do you enjoy being around and photographing kids.
You need to have patience and a calm personality.
My why wasn’t focused necessarily around money.
Yes as I grew and created a process, the money followed but my main reason was time freedom and creating a sustainable source of business year after year.
Plus it doesn’t hurt that naturally they are all wearing cute costumes that most parents have a hard time resisting, not purchasing.
You can also check out my article on 10 Reasons Why You Should Photograph Dance Studios, which might give you ideas to find your WHY
If you’re new to photography or a veteran, nowadays everyone is online. You need to have a presence and the first place to start is with a website.
Before you can market yourself to dance studios you need to create a website or add a specific page that specifically talks about your dance photography services.
Having a portrait or wedding photography website isn’t good enough. Have a page dedicated to offering dance portrait services, directly speaks with your target audience (the dance studio owner).
Write out a list:
Building a relationship online is different than in person so you need to explain and show who you are, to gain trust.
The good news is, if you don’t have any coding or website building experience, there is a great platform that pro photographers use to both showcases there work / services and sale online.
I personally use Zenfolio.com and feel its the best option to start with.
When people place there order online its processed and shipped directly to the customer without you having to do anything.
Easy and best way to market yourself and make sales without all the headache
When it comes to marketing and outreach you need to first do your homework.
If a dance studio has contacted you then this step can be skipped. If you are trying to be proactive then you need to first:
1- Determine your driving distance (area of coverage)
2 – Do a simple google search “Dance Studios”
Once you determine the area or region you want to cover do a google search.
From that search create an excel spreadsheet and collect all the basic information such as e-mail, phone, address, and name.
You will also want to actually go on the dance studio’s website to learn more about them to narrow down your results.
Just by looking at how many staff members they have or the class schedule you can determine a rough estimate on whether its a small, medium, or large studios.
3 – Prepare What Questions to Ask
There are a few simple questions you need to ask the dance studio in order to get a better understanding on how you can help them.
I have a great article on Top 10 Questions to ask a Dance Studio – When Photographing Portraits
Questions to Ask a Dance Studio Director:
Just asking a few questions can give you a good understanding of how the dance studio operates and what they are expecting.
This will also help you determine if this is a dance studio you want to work with and will also help you in planning.
You need to find their pain point and SOLVE there problem.
If the dance studio doesn’t like passing out orders to parents — then you need to ship directly to the parents !!!
If the dance studio doesn’t like handling all the logistics then you need to make it easy on them and take care of all the details.
You sort of get the underlining theme. Make it easy on people and do a good job and they will praise you.
4 – Reach out to the dance studio(s)
Before I get into all the different ways you can market your services you need to know and understand the timeline.
Most Dance studios work around the school year calendar. When kids are off for summer or for the holidays so is the dance studio.
Come August and September dance studios are finishing up enrollment and preparing for classes for the fall.
This is the perfect time to initially reach out to talk with them.
Just a few months back they had their recital and as parents are coming back to the dance studio the studio owner is hearing good things or bad things about the photographer.
Whether they didn’t receive their pictures or the attitude of the photographer.
Be the knight in shiny armor.
Now they are not necessarily thinking of next year’s recital pictures but they are starting to plan and reserve space for the recital.
Also during this time, if you are able to get your foot in the door, you have an opportunity to start building a relationship throughout the year before spring recital pictures.
The dance studio may want you to photograph there Christmas performance or mommy and me classes.
There are a lot of other services you can offer dance studios, besides spring dance portraits
The next opportunity you have to get their attention is right before Christmas break or after the New Year.
This is the time they are starting to think more about spring recital and will be ordering costumes.
At the beginning of the year is also the time you would want to start making your schedule.
Whether you are only wanting to photograph 1 dance studio or multiple, being organized and knowing your schedule will be helpful once you start talking the dance studio
The last opportunity you have is in the spring. Now, this is the “last result” period.
Come March and April there will be some studios that waited to the last minute to reach out to a photographer to schedule or the photographer they had canceled on them
You may be able to pick up a few studios during this time but it’s encouraged to finalize your schedule at the beginning of the year.
5 – Marketing
When I first started out I was not afraid to reach out to dance studios. The worst thing that can happen is they say NO.
Do not let this discourage you and embrace it. When it comes to sales it’s a numbers game.
As long as you know who you are and what you are capable of, you will have the confidence to sell yourself.
YOU need to give a dance studio a reason to hire you.
And don’t tell them you are a great photographer and can provide high-quality pictures.
That is the base that all photographers should be doing, but what more?
Is it because of:
What is it that will make you stand out.
You have to remember that just like any and all businesses, dance studio owners are solicited all the time.
You need to stand out from the crowd, but while doing it you need to be you. Don’t offer the moon and not be able to fulfill those expectations.
Once you know what you can offer below are some ways and avenues you can market
The strategies I use with positive results:
Send out a short explanation on who you are and what you can do for them. Then wait a week or two for a followup e-mail
Call the dance studio and ask to speak with the dance studio owner or director. This you have to have finesse. NOBODY likes to be taken off guard and solicited.
With that said I have had good results if you catch the studio owner in the right mood
3 – Post Cards
Now you say, mailing postcards or information is old school thinking. Well, it’s still relevant today and is a great way for brand recognition.
It’s a soft approach to letting studios know who you are and it works.
I’ve even had dance studios call me and say I’ve been receiving your postcards for 3 years and have kept them knowing one day I may need to call you.
They had a photographer that was with them for over 10 years and eventually retired
Because I took a proactive approach it eventually paid off.
4 – Competitions and Conventions
Attending dance competitions and functions puts you in front of people instead of behind the desk.
This allows you to build face to face relationships with people and has led to me picking up multiple dance studios
5 – Showing up at the dance studio
This cold approach is like calling the studio but puts you in the door. Do this with caution because again nobody likes to be taken off guard and solicited without notice
You can simply just walk into a dance studio and bring them some cookies or a treat along with some information and state you simply are just wanting to drop off information so they better understand your services.
This is not the time to jump in and sell but simply be present and ask questions if you can.
6 – Facebook and Social Media
If you have a budget spend a few dollars on facebook ads targeting owners of dance studios.
I’ve picked up a few dance studios this way but does require some research and skills to be effective
7 – Word of Mouth
This is not necessarily a marketing tactic but a result of you being known in the community and having a good reputation. Ask your clients or people you know to refer you to a dance studio.
I have many clients who’s kids, that danced at a specific dance studio I was wanting, led to me getting a foot in the door
Just by simply asking people that already know you, plant a bug in the dance studios ear, this gives you a way in to talk with them.
Now if you’re at this point you should have picked up at least one dance studio if you tried using one or all of the marketing approaches.
You shouldn’t overwhelm the dance studio with a lot of details but let them know you are capable of working with them
The next step would be scheduling and communicating with the studio before portrait day
Once you have made contact with your newly acquired dance studio and agreed that you will be photographing there spring portraits, you need to figure out how and when you will schedule the pictures.
I start this process usually at the beginning of the year (the end of January and in February)
I have a great article on 5 different ways to photograph a dance studio – that goes more in-depth on the different approaches along with articles written for each variation that gives great examples, pros and cons, on what to expect.
Figure out how you will photograph the dance studio:
Once you have figure out what the studio wants, you need to select a date.
It all depends on the size of the dance studio and the length of time you are going to spend taking pictures.
Let’s use the above option with photographing individual portraits only at the dance studio with signup
(Which is my go-to option and would recommend this over all the others if you have the opportunity)
You would talk with the studio and find a day that works for both your schedule and the studios.
Then you would provide a signup sheet that has spots for people to fill in their name, scheduled 5 dancers every 15 minutes.
Or whatever you feel comfortable on how many dancers you can photograph in a given amount of time
From there, having a signup, organizes everything and gives people a specific time to show up to the dance studio on portraits day.
You don’t want everyone showing up all at the same time.
It will be very hectic and unorganized.
If the dance studio wants group pictures then you would just have the studio schedule each class every 15-30 minutes to give you time to photograph the group then each individual child.
Keep in mind you have to understand the size of the dance studio. From all my experience I usually have around 40-50% participation on portrait day.
It’s just the name of the game. You will not be able to photograph 100% of the dance studio.
Larger the dance studio is, the more people there are, which means more likely there are going to be people that have schedules that conflict with portrait day
Yes, if you schedule group pictures you will have a better turnout because parents don’t want their child to be missing from the class picture but just because you have more people show up for group pictures doesn’t mean sales will be better.
If you go the direction of scheduling individual portraits only, your sales rate will be very high since people are specifically going out of there way to come get pictures of only their child.
Nobody is going to waste their time to come take pictures with no intention of ordering.
They do if groups are involved. For the fear of missing out (FOMO for any millennial reading)
Also, the most important thing you have to understand about photographing dance studios is the majority of dancers have multiple costumes or in multiple classes.
When scheduling you have to factor in that just because you might have 30 people sign up you may actually be photographing 90 costumes (each child having 3 outfits).
The number of costumes is the key and not the number of kids when scheduling.
Once you have a date set and determined how you are going to photograph the studio you need to communicate with all the parents to make sure they know when portrait day is and who you are.
Again if one of your selling points to the studio is that you want to make the process as easy for them as possible you need to help them by providing all the marketing materials to let people know when portrait day is.
I always e-mail the dance studio owner an e-mail template that can be forwarded to all the parents.
You want to include:
Along with the email I include a Facebook or social media graphic with some samples and verbiage.
If the dance studio hands out recital packets and paper flyers you would want to provide something that talks about pictures.
Along with paper flyers, I also provide a poster that has the same information and dates. This way they can put up in the dance studio or on the door for people to see and as a reminder.
The key is to make it where parents have no excuse not knowing when pictures are.
More people know the more people will show up for pictures and more sales you will have
Once you have a date down and portrait day marketing material sent out to the dance studio, you are done until that actual portrait day
Now is the day you take pictures.
You have some butterflies in your stomach with all the excitement and the unknowns but realize all the preliminary work you’ve done comes down to this day.
Don’t worry you will be fine.
Just keep these few points in mind
If anything goes wrong people will notice if you’re panicking and upset. As long as you are cool and calm you will be able to work through any issues.
It’s all about the experience for these kids and parents.
The last thing you want is an upset kid and more upset photographer. NO good
Make sure you arrive well before the start of your first appointment or group.
You don’t want to be stuck in traffic or feeling rushed.
Choose a room that helps with the flow of people. You will have kids changing in another room and parents waiting in the lobby or different room.
Before I go over the process you first are wondering what equipment should I use. Check out my resource page that has all the equipment that I use when photographing dance portraits.
The main thing you need to understand is that it doesn’t matter what camera you use or how expensive your equipment is, it all comes down to a few tools
Yes, there are a lot of other pieces of equipment and accessories that make things better and easier but if you were to walk into a studio with only these 3 things you can do the job.
When it comes to the background, I get asked all the time what do I use.
The simple answer is to pick a background that doesn’t take away from what is most important – the dancer and costume.
You can use a light grayish-blue muslin background, which I have done for 10+ years and has treated me well.
It keeps everything consistent year after year and whether the child has a light costume or dark costume it just looks good.
I have also used a high key white background and I probably will be migrating to this for most of my studios in the future.
Throughout the years I have tested all sorts of background from themed, paper, to black. I would highly recommend staying away from black.
It all comes to your personal preference and what the studio wants.
I know of some photographers that have multiple themed backgrounds depending on what the costume looks like.
This is definitely a selling point to dance studios and is geared more toward mini-session type photography.
I don’t personally do this since I work with 20+ dance studios and like to keep my process simple and consistent.
Also, the process I use allows me to work with any size and demographic studio. If you are providing a lot of custom services you may be limiting yourself on what studios can afford in working with you.
At the end of the day all the parents want is a properly lit, professional picture with their child smiling in a cute pose.
I keep the lighting setup clean and simple. I have a great article on lighting and setup for dance portraits, that will give you a more detailed overview and properly set up.
Now you HAVE to understand in photography there are unlimited ways to photograph something.
Everyone can give you there two sense on all the technical aspects of lighting and equipment.
I want to give you a brief and simple explanation so you’re not lost in the details.
If you’re using a white background setup you want to make sure you have 2 extra strobe lights to wash out the background.
For the 2 main lights, I have used a softbox for the main and then a reflective umbrella for the kicker.
These days, I now just use two umbrellas, one is a large hexagon umbrella and the other is just a reflective umbrella.
This helps in setup speed and I haven’t seen that much of a difference in quality.
You want to space them apart and adjust lighting to minimize shadows.
Here is a snapshot of my setup that I use every single time
Now that you have your background set up, lighting, and camera in hand you are ready to take pictures.
But before you have all this you also need to know how you are going to actually make money and the means you are going to sell pictures
If you have read my story you know that I started off like most of you will, selling photos online or pre-pay packages.
I now strictly sell my photos through instant viewing stations, directly after pictures are taken.
In addition, I do post images online for additional orders but I try not to give this option to parents right away
I want people to commit and make a decision on portrait day.
Ultimately this should be the direction you go if you decide to take on multiple dance studios. Your margins, profit, and efficiency will increase doing it this way.
This method of selling pictures has been around for ages. You see this a lot when photographing school or little league pictures.
You basically have preset packages that offer a variety of sizes and options in each package. Parents would then choose what package they want and then pay before seeing the pictures.
They are trusting that the picture you take, they will like.
This is a great way to make sure you are walking away from getting paid but does present a few issues you need to be aware of.
Most of the time packages are set up to only include one pose per package ordered.
When it comes to dance pictures most kids have multiple costumes so they would need to order multiple packages if they have multiple costumes photographed.
Second, you would need to make sure the one pose you decide to take is what the parent would want. When it comes to dance pictures there are 100’s of poses to choose from.
If you decide you want to only offer the option of people viewing and ordering their pictures online, this gives you a lot of flexibility and is the easiest way if your first starting out.
Offering online ordering allows you to take multiple poses per kiddo which in turns allows you the possibility to sell more pictures. As mentioned before I personally use Zenfolio.com and they make the whole process easy.
You also don’t have to worry about accepting payment and dealing with orders the day of the shoot. You just have to show up and take pictures.
There are a couple of things you have to take note is that YOU NEED TO:
It might also be a good thing to either collect a sitting fee or pre-sell and provide a credit toward pictures sold online.
You have to be diligent in reminding people to go online and order.
If you let time slip away people will forget and the momentum will be lost
When it comes to figuring out what you want to offer to your customers there are a lot of options out there.
I have tested countless strategies on what specialty items to offer and services and what I have concluded is just keeping it simple and offer the standard print sizes and digital images.
I do offer an acrylic cutout (statuette) but that is pretty much the only specialty item that I offer.
One would think that offering buttons, magnets, blankets, etc will help with your bottom line.
I found that keeping it simple makes the process more enjoyable for everyone and people don’t get overwhelmed with options.
Most people have a certain budget they want to spend on pictures. Would you rather have them choose higher-margin items such as prints or digital images than low margin items, such as specialty items?
It’s up to you and depending on what the dance studio is used to and where you are located I would say do some research and figure out what people want and offer that
When it comes to offering digital images. Just remember that once they have the images they won’t have the need to purchase anything else from you so charge a premium for the digital images that will allow them to print there own
If your wondering what actually price you should charge.
I hate to disapoint you but only you know your business and what you value your time and work for.
You definitely want a minimum sale of $25 but the way you set up your pricing and packages you can charge $100+
Higher the price people are paying, the better the product and service you need to offer.
After picture day is over you need to do one of two things, depending on what sales approach you took.
You need to either upload your images to your online ordering website or you need to process the orders.
But before you do anything you need to stay organized with
For all my print, digital, and specialty orders, I use RichmondProLabs.com
This part can be frustrating at times. Everyone has certain expectations on what they feel about the value and what they paid for.
The MOST important thing, if you take anything away from reading this article, is having impeccable customer service.
When I first started, I would get mad that people would call and complain about whatever they felt like complaining about.
They either were not happy because there was dirt on shoes or the picture wasn’t perfect, you name it I get people complaining about everything
I would get people tell me they didn’t receive their pictures or they were damaged. I would question and argue back with them, even though I have a tracking number.
It then came to the point that at the end of the day it really didn’t matter.
If I had 100 orders and only 5 people I had to refund or correct an issue, it was a low percentage and didn’t really affect the bottom line.
Its easier to say YES to someone and help them, than it is to so NO and then you have an upset customer
Upset customers are not good for business.
They will talk to other parents and the dance studio about their experience, which could end up making you lose the job in the future or with sales.
Now I’m not saying you have to give in to everyone and bend over backward for everything, use your best judgment for each case.
Just keep in mind it’s not worth your time having to deal with a problem customer than it is to spend a few extra dollars to correct an issue and move on with your life.
This is a key point I sell to all my dance studios is that if there are any issues that I take care of the customer promptly.
I tell people not to contact the dance studio because they can’t solve any issues with pictures.
The fewer the people call the dance studio, talking about you, the better you look to the dance studio.
Customer service will make or break your business and it’s really not that difficult if you just keep the customer’s best interest in mind.
Now that a few weeks or a month has gone by and everyone has received their orders and are happy you don’t want to just move on with life and your other goals
You want to reach back out to the dance studio thanking them for allowing you to photograph their dance studio and look forward to working with them next year.
You will pick up very quickly whether the dance studio also enjoyed the service you provided and will want to schedule you the right way to make sure you don’t book anyone else.
Whatever it is you don’t want to jump too quickly. Give it some time and reevaluate everything that went on when you photographed the dance studio.
There are a lot of factors when deciding whether you want to continue photographing the studio in the future.
I’ve had multiple studios that I didn’t enjoy, at first, but over time it got better. Sales grew and so did the studio.
If you are working with a smaller studio 100 dancers or less it’s a great time to get in on the ground if the studio is planning on growing.
Larger the dance studio is harder it is to get your foot in the door because they may have had a photographer with them for a long time.
After you have evaluated everything you can reach back out to the dance studio at the beginning of the year to give them feedback on how you can do better and for scheduling.
The last thing that you need to do in making sure all obligations are met is if the dance studio wanted something in return for you being able to photograph there studio, that you actually provide it.
Below are some that you can provide to dance studio directors
Whatever you decide you want to make sure to take care of this right after recital season is over.
Whether you’re just looking at photographing one studio or more, it doesn’t stop there.
More experience you have will lead to more confidence. There are a lot of dance studios out there and they need someone to take pictures for them.
It’s the same process for all of them. You basically then repeat every year.
I want to reiterate with you to keep everything simple.
Your main job is to capture someone’s child in a cute costume. It’s the execution that makes or breaks most photographers.
PS: If you’re wanting to learn how to market to dance studios so you can take pictures of there recital or spring portraits, signup for my FREE course on Marketing to dance studios as a photographer – 5 day challenge
Finally, if you have enjoyed this article or have any questions on how to photograph dance studio portraits, leave in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!
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