It is unfortunate but I have seen how some photographers pray on women and sometimes minors! So, as a dance photographer who primary works with female dancers, and with the majority of the dancers beings minors, I have a few rules I follow to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable. If you are a minor, please involve your parents or legal guardian in every step of the process. I hope to educate both dancers and parents on how to avoid these predatory photographers and what proper behavior on set should be.
Tip number 1: Research the photographer.
I don't mean just checking out their instagram, facebook page, or their website. Email or DM a few people that particular photographer has worked with. Find out what their experiences were like. Sometimes people are intimidated by reporting inappropriate behaviors in a public forum because of the fear of backlash. In a private setting, people tend to be more willing to open up. Whatever you do, please respect their privacy! DO NOT make the conversation or the names of the persons public without their, and their parents' permission. If your instinct tells you something is fishy...it's time to walk away.
Tip number 2: Agree on what the shoot is going to be beforehand.
Will it be indoors, outdoors, outfit choices, the theme of the shoot...etc? There shouldn't be surprises. Any photographer worth hiring should have a line of communication with the subject. If you are uncomfortable with any part of the shoot, you have every right to say no without explaining yourself. If the photographer tries to convince you otherwise..it's time to walk away.
Tip number 3: Bring someone with you.
I personally don't shoot minors without at least one of the parents or a legal guardian present...during the WHOLE shoot. I think it's insane for a photographer to take on underage clients without supervision. And I highly recommend adult dancers to bring someone as well. I always suggest adult dancers to bring someone, but that choice is theirs. With minors, that's a deal breaker...no adult supervision, no photoshoot.
If a photographer does not want you to bring someone or wants to be alone with you...it's time to walk away.
Tip number 4: No physical contact.
I can't speak on how the dancers, or how other photographers feel about this rule, but I personally do not touch the dancers. The only times I make physical contact with the dancers is when I first meet them with a handshake, and the parting handshake. There were times the dancer and/or the parents request a parting hug, and since I'm indifferent about it, I do accept hugs. Other than that...unless it's life or death...for example a car jumped the curb and headed our way, obviously I'd make sure you get out of the way. I avoid making physical contacts. If there is a strand of hair in the way, or something is off with the outfit, I either ask the dancers to fix it or have the parents to do it.
This tip is really for the photographers...keep your hands to yourself. But I'd like to stress to the dancers as well, physical touching is NOT THE NORM. If the photographer does not follow this rule after you have expressed your objection...it's time to walk away.
Tip number 5: Speak up.
For whatever reason, any reason at all, if you are not comfortable with anything...speak up and let the photographer know. Even if both parties agreed upon something before the shoot. An experienced photographer should constantly check in with you. However, we can't read minds. We need your help on letting us know what your thoughts are on, say, a particular outfit, a particular pose, a particular location...etc. If the photographer ignores or tries to convince you otherwise...it's time to walk away.
Update: I asked my friend and fellow dance photographer, Szabina, to go through my post and see if I missed anything, and she mentioned something I would not have think of...do not accept anything the photographer promises will help you relax. It's a red flag all around regardless of their intentions.
This is by no means a complete guide to keeping you and your loved ones safe, but I think it's a start. If there is anything you'd like to add, please use the contact form below to let me know. I'm more than willing to learn and incorporate your suggestions into my own shoots. Thank you for reading.
If you are interested in a dance photoshoot in the Chicago area, please check out my portfolio and contact me using the form.
Jeff Yin Is an international award winning Dance Photographer from Chicago.