REDEFINE | Dance Photography featuring Gianna Grace Photography, founder of Dancers of RVA


“There is only one sun. We can’t all claim to only have one way to use the light, but we can REDEFINE how we choose to express it. “

Tell us a bit about your journey and how you came across the opportunity to photograph dancers?

In late 2013 I was transitioning from my full time to job to becoming a full time photographer. I was having wine with my dear friend Jenny on her patio. She was a dance teacher at a local studio and worked for their professional dance company, The Brandon Ballet. She told me I should apply to be their company photographer for their upcoming season. I think I may have laughed a little as she suggested this. Not to be rude, but totally because I was not at all a trained dance photographer. What Jenny did know about me is that I have a passion and deep love inside me for the art of dancing. As a young girl, I was obsessed with the ballet. I had several Degas painting series of his famous ballet dancers on my wall. Classical music was always my go-to. I still have the Hook on Classic record I listened to as a child, pretending I was a ballerina in my room. I wanted to be a dancer, but taking dance classes were not an option as a child. When I applied for the position at the Brandon Ballet I was so insecure, I thought for sure I would not get this position. But have you ever heard the saying “God doesn’t always call the qualified, he qualifies his called”? This is exactly how I felt, I was being called. Soon after accepting the position, the artistic directors poured countless hours working with me, showing me technique and what to listen for in the music and what to look for in each dancer to know their bodies. I learned when they would be in peak positions or when they were about to move. I attended practices and hours and hours of rehearsals. I feel in love. I soon learned as much as photographers are protective of their craft, dancers are equally as protective. I learned what was good shot, the perfect positions; all the little details mattered. The in fact were the big details. I became very in tune with movement, fingers, toes, ankles, legs, shoulders, every body part has a place and it had to be in place. Aside from the thousands of pictures I took over the year with this company, it was the stories of the dancers that moved me. Before moving to Virginia, I worked with the dance company for three years. For those three seasons, I photographed their live performances of Dracula, Nutcracker, Hansel & Gretel, and Aladdin. I also photographed their dance studio recital pictures. Before we moved to Richmond, I had this idea to start a project in Tampa. I had always been very moved by Humans of NY and thought how neat it would be to do something with dancers. One day I was sitting backstage with a dancer who was sharing his journey. The story was so intense I thought to myself “I wish every knew the journey many of these dancers must travel to get where they are.” That is when I thought of it, I wanted to photograph dancers in a place they loved, a place that was part of their journey. I wanted to give them a platform to share their stories. This is how Dancers of RVA (Richmond,VA) came about. Starting in June, I started working with professional dancers in the Richmond area. Having a strong dance portfolio with the Brandon Ballet gifted me the opportunity to feel confident to work with dance studios when I moved to Richmond. I am elated to share that I now the official photographer with the STAVNA Ballet and have enjoyed being their company photographer for the past year. With Stavna’s artistic director’s, Shannon, support, we have started a local collaboration called Dancers of RVA. Monthly I feature local professional dancers, we collaborate to choose a location dear to their art where we schedule their photography session. Together we choose their favorite pictures and feature them on the blog where they share their dance journey. It is hard to articulate how collaborating with dancers fills my heart. I leave every session, never wanting our session to end.

How do you prepare for a shoot with a dancer? Is there a specific schedule you have to follow?

When I am working with a dancer for the Dancers of RVA project, we first connect on location. In this project, the dancers choose locations in our city that are important to their dance journey or their life. I believe when dancers are in an element that inspires them they really shine. I like to spend time establishing a relationship before the session. I could tell the difference in the sessions with dancers I had several conversations or meeting with versus dancers I would meet for the first time at our session. I truly believe they can feel my passion for their art and so when our passions to create combine it creates something beautiful. I talk a lot about leading lines and composition with my dancers. I talk to them about tying in their movement with their environment. Together we create a movement that compliments their environment and brings them, the dancer, together with their environment to create a picture the brings man and nature together. This is my favorite part. We will also talk about their strengths. Not every dancer is a strong jumper or may not be flexible. We focus on their strengths as a dancer in their session. I would like to tell you I am very prepared for these shoots, but sometimes I don’t see the location until I arrive, so I heavily rely on the dancer to tell me what speaks to them, then I try to take that location and connect it with my dancer. I love the challenge of not knowing what we will create until we get there. It has really pushed me as an artist to look for light, looks for things that may not feel right, but it amazes me how it becomes right when the dancers enter the location or spot we are looking at together.

What were the challenges for you in the beginning?

When I first started shooting the ballet I was so nervous, I kept missing the perfect leap or the fingers were not in position. I also had a lot of blurred fingers and toes. I had to really learn to master my camera settings with action shots. I also had to learn how to quickly adjust my ISO and shutter speed. During live performances as the lighting changes quickly and you cannot afford to miss a shot or overexpose a dancer. This was the biggest learning curve. Dedicating time at dress rehearsals always helped me perfect the show. I took good notes and knew every light change so I had my settings in my head. I learned to perfect the art of movement by studying the dancer and knowing the music, being intuitive with the dancer and music has helped me to get the shot (most of the time!)

Why are you passionate about capturing dance?

As a young girl, I always wanted to be a dancer. I had several Degas paintings on my wall. One of my favorites was the Ballet Rehearsal, it’s this gorgeous room with big windows and dancers practicing with a man playing the violin. I used to pretend I was one of those dancers. I have always loved to go to the ballet and I feel it in my soul. I love the discipline that goes into dance. I appreciate the art and work that goes into the art of dance, all forms of dance. Over the years, I have loved getting to know the dancers in the dance company and as much as I love photographing dancers I am even more excited to share their dance journey through pictures and through my blog in their own words. I have recently started working with different types of dancers and now I am learning how to photography modern and hip-hop. I am looking forward to always learning more!

Now the big question, do you dance?

Well, I kind of gave this one away! I do not dance. One day on a photo shoot, I had a dance instructor tell me, “You may not be a dancer, but you have a dancer’s soul.” I took this as the highest compliment. I have recently looked into taking an adult ballet class, so you never know! Never say never, right?

What are the tips you would share with anyone trying to break into photographing dancers?

I love this question so much! I feel like this has been the most rewarding part of my photography journey and if anyone has a passion for dance, maybe like me because they always dreamed of dancing or because they were a dancer, I think they should definitely look into this area of photography. I think these are important tips.
· Have a deep respect for the art of dance, understand that not every picture you love your dancer will love. Do not post a picture of a dancer if it is not their best, they will be embarrassed. Sometimes it’s as little as a finger out of place, but that is very important to them. It speaks to the level of their talent. The best way I can explain this would be if someone went into a session you downloaded and posted a blurry picture or an over/underexposed picture you would have cut. We only share our best, please only share their best. I see a lot of photographers post pictures of dancers that I know they would be disappointed to show. I don’t think this is common knowledge and this will set you apart in the dance community! Dancers want to work with photographers who will respect this!
· If you are interested in working with a dance studio maybe work with a few dancers first to have some work to share.
· Ask a local dance photographer for a mentorship, this is a great way to learn from someone who knows the ends and outs.
· There are a lot of formalities in the dance world, I learned a lot of these the hard way! Talk to your dance friends first before walking into a studio. Each studio has their own way of doing things! Once I asked a principal dancer to move for a group picture. I later learned I should have asked the pre-professional to move, not the principal dancer! I was so embarrassed!
· If you are going to shoot live performances watch your shutter speed. Sometimes when you are changing your ISO quickly you need to make sure you are keeping your shutter speed up high. You want to keep those fingers and toes in focus! I feel like this speaks volumes in dance photography.
· Maybe even start by seeing if your local dance companies need headshots, this could be a great way to start a relationship!
· When you first start (and even as a seasoned pro) ask for feedback from the dancer you are working with. You will grow leaps and bounds when you understand what makes for a great dance picture!
· I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t ever have a shot in mind. I believe each dancer will bring their best to the shoot. Having a shot in your head or something that may not be of their skill set could throw the harmony of the session off. Go with your dancer’s strengths and their vision. You will create something new and exciting together!




Katrina Boone is the artist behind Gianna Grace Photography . Her passion for dance and the story each dancer has to share is what inspired her to create her heart project Dancers of RVA. Katrina is passionate about give back photography. She believes there is so much beauty in the world and is super humbled to be the vice president of Beauty Revived, a non-profit dedicated to partnering with other big-hearted photographers who donate photography sessions and tell the stories of amazing women and children who give back to their communities. She also volunteers for the Gold Hope Project. Her vices are stationary, note cards and fine tip pens. Her ideal day is spending time with her family, riding her bike, reading a book, growing with camera, spending time with Jesus AND finding inspiration from all the talented photographers over at Dear Photographer

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