I miss photographing dance events

I miss shooting dance events.

I didn't think I would. I had started to feel like I'd had my fill. That was mostly, in all honesty, because of the money.

I had started to think of dance photography as my way of putting something back into the community. Every dance photographer knows that very few events can afford to pay an actual, real life photographer fee. So I saw it as part time paid work and part time volunteering. Other dancers give so much back to the community through volunteering - so I can too.

This decision of mine, to accept less money and do it partly to give back ... It clashed "a little" with some event organisers going "you want to get paid ... this much?" I have already lowered my fees by A LOT, and am essentially asking for the lowest fees I can survive on. Organisers thinking that they can just give me a free ticket to the event as payment ... that means I'm essentially paying to work. There is a common misunderstanding that as a photographer, I will also have time to dance and enjoy the event. I'm sure some people can do that, but I can't. I'm either working, or not; jumping between is too hard.

Another mistake organisers make is they think they are just paying me for the time I spend at the event. But it takes much longer to sort through and process my photos, than to actually take them. Not to mention the (quite expensive) equipment, taxes, website fees ... Where is that money supposed to come from?

I have to mention here that far from all organisers do this! Some have already budgeted to pay a decent amount of money for good photography (yay!). Some say "I'm sorry, we can't afford that". That is obviously totally okay! I know how hard organisers have to struggle to make ends meet. It's the ones claiming that I'm being unreasonably expensive that started to really grind my gears. It wears you down, putting SO much time and effort into delivering good work, just for people to be surprised (or even rude) that you want and need to get paid for the work you do. In short: I was starting to feel used, and I sucked the joy out of photography for me.

And then all dance events disappeared and slowly, slowly I started to miss it.

I started looking back at my photos and thinking "this work isn't actually so bad".

I remembered the joy of capturing a moment that feels real and unexpected

or rehearsed and tweaked into perfection

and I love it all.

I missed capturing the comps,

the shows,

the learning,

the hanging out,

the jam circles,

the music,

the connection,

but most of all

the joy.

There's such joy in photography for me. Through having other people devaluing my work, I started devaluing it, too. And then, because of the pandemic, I became separated in time from the negative experiences I had ... But the positive ones shine as brightly as ever. And I can't wait to do it again. I can't wait. I just need to remember that I know the value of my own work. Even when others don't.

(I told Liam about this and he joked that "you started to feel used and now that it's been a while, the negative feelings have subsided and you're ready to be used again?" to which I didn't know what to say ... other than ... I hope it won't be like that.)

(The photos in this post are favourites from 2019 and early 2020. Here are favourites from 2017 and 2018.)

Also, while I'm at it, and since you're here: Yes, I think it's problematic that I have been, and still want to continue, making money off of a culture that is not inherently my own. I'm still trying to navigate this and I'm not sure yet what to do. I don't think that I'll reach the conclusion that the right thing to do is to stop dancing entirely. It might be the case that the right thing to do is to stop doing dance photography. While I'm figuring it out, I feel that the best course of action is to donate to anti-racism charities. Please let me know if you have other ideas or think I could be acting differently, and have the spoons to help me with this!

Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb and His Orchestra | Love and Kisses


  1. <3
    I support all of this! You are a great photographer and more importantly a great human!

    As a fellow dance photographer I empathize with this. I was also feeling the same and had positioned myself as one of the more 'expensive' dance event photographers to try to avoid this. This also meant that I got much less work as a dance photographer. Even as a 'more expensive' dance photographer I still would not have been able to justify that as sustainable way to run my business. For a large event I would take as many photos as I would for a wedding day and get paid 1/10th. I don't think I will ever go back to that struggle and will instead pay to go to dance events and make money some other way because that is much more cost efficient for me.

    I hope they pay you and make it more expensive for me. I also hope they start paying themselves but that's a whole other rant :P

  2. While I have never entered the realm of professional photography, I feel where you are coming from. It does often seem a few dance event organisers, when they put together a budget, regard having a professional photographer as a "nice to have" and it features quite low in their priorities. I guess that's understandable, given all the other essential expenses such as the venue, musicians and often teachers. Later during the process, perhaps when enough tickets are sold and the balance sheet looks rosier, the thought of hiring the photographer emerges.

    Photography is an art form where the final product is appreciated, but the work to get there rarely is. No one sees the editing process, or the time taken looking for good light or interesting perspectives or the countless photos that didn't quite make the cut. What they see is an expensive camera and an operator. Sadly many people think they are simply hiring equipment with someone that knows which buttons to press. I feel that pain.

    As an amateur dance photographer, I always took photos for motivations other than making a living from it. I wanted to train myself to be more observant, I wanted to give friends some memories and sometimes I wanted an excuse to take a break from dancing and just chill out without the anxiety of saying no to dance requests. On some occasions, a few photos turned out well. Ones that I now proudly (arrogantly?) display in my living room. I admit, this has probably made the life for professionals harder - as some organisers now see such free or cheap amateurs like me as a potential option to get the photos they want.

    But the truth is, I can't consistently deliver the quantity of good photos that professionals like you deliver. I lack the experience, the trained eye. I can get one or two good photos if I'm lucky, but I don't want the pressure of a client expecting a large raft of high quality memories. I would find it extremely hard to both enjoy an event and dance lots and somehow find time to deliver all the professional photos a client wants as well. I am also consistently in awe of professionals like yourself and others who capture so many high quality, interesting and creative shots.

    Despite not even having the money woes, I still had anxieties. Mostly about getting bored of my own photos and lacking inspiration. The lockdown has made me reflect on this. I've looked at the joy captured in some photos and reminded myself what it was all about and I'm greatly looking forward to shooting again soon.

    Thanks for your story

    P.S. I love your photos too