Pro Dancer Goes From Career-Ending Injury to Master Photographer

Dance studio

Retired professional dancer Rachel Neville did not let her career-ending injury slow her down, and founded a successful photography business by using her industry experience and teaching skills to create dynamic and powerful shots of dancers.

From on a Stage to Behind the Lens

Rachel Neville founded her Rachel Neville Studios in 2014 after she retired from her dancing career. With a degree in photography, she built up her shooting experience before setting up her own studio and pursuing full-time dance photography as her niche.

Rachel Neville in a studio

Today, she runs her New York-based studio with the help of Andrew Fassbender, who also trained and danced professionally. Over a decade ago, Neville took his audition photos before he went full circle and retired from dancing and joined her studio as a studio director and second shooter.

The studio’s mission is “to make a positive and lasting impact on the wellbeing and sustainability of the dance world,” Fassbender tells PetaPixel. ” We do this through high value, empowering, confidence-building media creation. We help dancers get jobs, and companies sell tickets.”

In the modern digital age, attention-grabbing photos are essential as they show a dancer’s technique in great detail. Photos like these can help stand out during audition submissions when dancers have seconds to grab the director’s attention.

Rachel Neville's dance photo studio Rachel Neville's dance photo studio Rachel Neville's dance photo studio

“For dancers, their social media, in a way, is their portfolio, and their digital marketing presence can make such a strong impact on the viability of their career’s trajectory,” Fassbender explains.

Dancers’ Artistic Expression in Front of a Lens

The studio offers two types of shoots: audition and creative. While the audition shots are an investment in a dancer’s portfolio, the creative shots allow both the dancer and the photographer to shine on a different level as they combine artistic ideas with striking poses and movement.

Rachel Neville's dance photo studioRachel Neville's dance photo studio

The process for creative shots starts with a detailed questionnaire that are used to learn more about each dancer’s ideas. Some come with a fully fleshed-out mood board, while others put their full trust into both photographers’ vision. For example, the studio is known for its work with fabric and colored backgrounds, so some dancers may also lean towards incorporating those elements in their creative shoots.

Rachel Neville's dance photo studio

Rachel Neville's dance photo studio

Neville and Fassbender’s vast dance experience has helped them understand both sides of the camera well. Before any artistic expression comes into the photo, the top priority during shoots is the dancer’s safety.

Rachel Neville's dance photo studio Rachel Neville's dance photo studio Rachel Neville's dance photo studio

“A dancer’s body is their instrument, and they cannot afford to get injured during a photoshoot — it could totally sideline their career,” Fassbender explains. “Be cognizant of the surface you’re working on, ensuring that the dancer isn’t, for example, doing repeated jumps on a cement floor.”

Regarding creative compositions and picking out the right settings, Fassbender recommends that photographers familiarize themselves with the timing of movements or poses they want to shoot. Learning how they flow will help understand when to press the shutter.

“Some movements are very fast, and some happen slower,” he says. “I would recommend shooting on a single shot and not burst so that you have full control of the exact timing of the shot. You could also ask your dancer to come prepared with a moodboard of poses that they are interested in doing to help you get started in the flow of the shoot.”

More of the studio’s work can be found on its website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photos by Rachel Neville Studios.