Creating Narrative Images: Betrayal By Rachel Neville

The idea for the Betrayal image came to me one morning more as a video idea around a personal incident in my life.  What woman hasn’t been frustrated to the extreme by her significant other, and what fantasies we create in our heads to deal with the frustration?
A few weeks later, I was shooting a commercial shoot for Averyboardman (a company that custom designs sofas and sofa beds) and, boom, there was this new couch.  It was the couch from my imagination!
Narrative photography Rachel neville
New York City Ballet dancers 
Preston Chamblee and  Jackie Bologna Photo Rachel Neville
So of course we pulled in a favor and asked to borrow it, and called in Preston Chamblee and  Jackie Bologna of New York City Ballet for the shoot.
I can’t tell you what fun it was to work up ideas with the two of them that ran a little macabre with a love story – and a knife!
See this end more of our work on my website and tell us what you think on Facebook.

Creating a Marketing Image that Reflects the Power of a Dance Company

I created this piece for contemporary dance company The Moving Architects in celebration of the company’s tenth anniversary season.

Our goal was to create an image that represented their 10th anniversary season in a way that connects to their branding and resonates with audiences.  Strong, contemporary shapes and emotional content are key to The Moving Architects’ work and to their branding concept.

The Moving Architects Photo Rachel Neville

We wanted to showcase these key elements in an image that could be cropped, or not, as needed for their programming. This is an important thing to keep in mind when you are looking at dance marketing decisions: how and where will you use your images, and how does they way you use your dance marketing images help to influence the design and production of those images.

The dancers in the photo shoot were moved to work with props that would help them illustrate their power, fearlessness and vulnerability.  And this image does precisely that.

Congratulations to The Moving Architects on their 10th Anniversary Season.  We look forward to enjoying your work, your energy, and your power, for years to come.

Human Nature Calendar Available Now

Some of you might remember the video we posted awhile ago from the tree shoot.  It is part of the Human Nature Project, an ongoing series I’ve been working on for the last year.

As part of the Human Nature Project, we gather dancers of all skin tones together to work up shapes that we find inspiring in nature.  The project has been such a wonderful experience to have the opportunity to create these organic shapes with so many generous dancers.

 photography calendar rachel neville
And now, I am so excited to be able to announce that the Rachel Neville Photography Human Nature Project is available as a wall calendar.
photo calendar rachel neville human nature project
This 11×11 calendar is a limited edition run of 500, and yes, friends, they are going to go fast!  If you are interested in giving the calendar as a gift, or hanging one on your wall for 2017, we are taking orders now.

Concept Photography of Dancers: Meet The Bird, by Rachel Neville

I love dance photography.  I have been a dancer, a teacher, and then a dance photographer for most of my life.  I grew up watching for the next cover of Dance Magazine.  I stared at the pictures in the programs of the companies I longed to dance for.  The shapes and emotions always connected my soul to another level of beauty and contagiousness.

Over the last years I have worked really hard to become as good at what I do as possible.  Forever fine-tuning lighting, the things that make a dancer shine on my canvas, the business side of running a thriving, working photography studio in NYC.  And then I realized, I was starting to miss the connection to the soul of what I was doing.  Working with dancers for their power, passion and physical technique is a piece of what fulfills and motivates.  And there is more.


The more – the full soul connection – means finding a way to start telling my own stories.  The element I often see missing from dance photography and marketing is the emotional content, the narratives, the reasons why we are drawn to dance as a connective art.


dance photography art photo rachel neville

Dancer Jorge Villarini meets a bird in flight


With this in mind, about 2 years, I started experimenting with a new body of work that drew together my love for dance photography, surreal illustration and narrative story telling through imagery.  And I’m excited to share that I’m ready to introduce that work to you now.


To start off the series, I’m talking about one of my favorite shots, ‘The Bird.’  The idea for The Bird came to me while I was driving to work on a bright blue, sunny morning.  With U2’s Beautiful Day blaring on the radio, I started thinking about what it might be like to be a bird in the sky at that moment.  That thought rolled through my head, running from the ‘well it must be beautiful to feel free’ to the ‘what would it feel like to run splat into those windows at night’.  And then I thought about the dancers I shoot, how we spend so much time working up jump shots just for the technique and joy of them… but what if we had a dancer meet a bird in flight, out of the blue?  And then what if the birds happened to look the same, like a person meeting his doppelganger? It’s almost not out of the question, dancers leap regularly, and birds do swoop low to check us out near the ground.


And so, the idea for the shot was born.


Creating this image of dancer and bird was challenging in many ways. It took about 3 weeks of research to find the right taxidermy bird (it’s an African Worler, and yes the bird in the image is real).  On the day before the shoot, the makeup artist we had booked canceled on us day before the shoot (and you can imagine it’s not easy to find someone who can do this type of body paint).  I managed to find Jaime Gruber within about 12 hours.  She was a godsend and just amazing to work with.


Jorge Villarini, my friend from Dance Theatre of Harlem, was required to stand for the 6 hours it took for the makeup to be done!  Jorge was one of the most professional dancers I have ever worked with.  When I talked with Jorge about the concept and sent him a picture of the bird, he came prepared having researched birds and their movements so that he could more accurately move like one.  We must have shot only about 200 shots and almost every one of them was stunning.  I will be eternally grateful to him.


Here’s a peek into what the shoot was like, here are some outtakes from the session, I hope you enjoy!


rachel neville art photography


dance photography narrative photography rachel neville


We’ll be rolling out more of these Behind the Scenes descriptions of our conceptual photography work over the next few months.  Thanks for taking a peek – check out more on my website.

Are You a ‘Poser’ or a ‘Flow-er’?

Regularly we see dancers in our studio that come to us saying ‘I don’t take very good pictures’. These are often really beautiful dancers who have trained at wonderful schools or who are already with a company. They often know what they look like in a mirror but don’t know why what they see in the mirror doesn’t translate to a photo or a screen.

look better in dance photos rachel neville nyc

Katherine Duffy, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville

I explain to the dancers that work with me that it is not that a matter of “I never look good in dance photos” just that they just need to finesse the poses and find the lines and shapes that work for them. Sometimes  small details need to be altered for the perspective to work in 2D. Sometimes it’s the angle or the shape of the leg or a specific shoulder line that needs to be adjusted.  We have explored these ideas here on the blog and in my studio.

But today I want to talk about something new that I’ve been working with over the last year: identifying dancers who are more movers rather than posers.

tips for better dance photos  know your dance style

Jordan Miller, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville

A few months ago I had a shoot with a gorgeous dancer from City Ballet. Just beautiful. A dream to watch. But when it came time to get down to shooting specific movements she had a hard time getting her lines, and specifically, her arms to look the way we wanted. She became frustrated and almost gave up. Really, the challenge for this dancer, who was used to a fast paced, flowing, moving environment in her work, was to slow down, breathe, and align with the details to get great shots.

Over the next couple of months, I started working to identify those dancers that I would categorize as ‘movers’ and those that are ‘posers’. And yes, my little internal, completely non-scientific experiment seemed to work.

dance photos better angles rachel neville know your dance style

Hayley Tavonatti, Dancer Photo Rachel Neville

Once a dancer was identified to be a mover, one who loves to flow, move quickly, whose energy is felt best emulated through fluid motion, I started working differently with them. We would pause, talk about the pose we were working on, breathe, slow down, get the muscle memory in place to build the shot. Once all the pieces were in place, we would then go back to performing it with the dancer’s energy and emotion. The results tended to be much more successful for them.

Now ask yourself, are you a mover or a poser? How does it affect your dancing? Could you benefit from slowing down, taking a breath and fine tuning the details before jumping back in? Or are you more of a poser who may get caught up in the details and need to throw some energy around, and just go for it now and then?

Drop us a line if you have a thought or found this helpful!

Dancers Review Photo Shoot with Rachel Neville in NYC

Recently, we did a mini-photoshoot at the Rachel Neville Photography Studio in NYC with a group of dancers from the Richmond Ballet.  After the shoot, we caught up with dancers Mara Milner, Anna Sundquist and Alexandra Lammon who shared what it was like to work with Rachel Neville, the kind of preparation needed before the dance photo shoot, and the lessons they learned from the photo shoot.

How would you describe the experience of shooting with Rachel?

Shooting with Rachel was unlike any other photoshoot I have ever experienced. Instead of spending a few hours taking some photos, I left feeling like I had just completed a course in Audition 101. Rachel has such an incredible eye for both dance and photography and it seemed like every suggestion she threw my way immensely improved the final product.

I especially appreciated how she wasn’t afraid to tell it how it is. From giving leotard and pointe shoe advice to yelling at me when I wasn’t reaching my full potential in a shot, she really knows just the right way to motivate her clients and do the best she can to help them be successful in this industry.

She is such a knowledgeable reference in the dance world and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of the 11 hours we spent at her studio!

-Mara Milner

dancer richmond ballet photo rachel neville

Mara Milner, Richmond Ballet Photo Rachel Neville

How did it feel to participate in the photoshoot with your fellow dancers?

It was so helpful to be working and learning alongside my colleagues and friends.  From the second we stepped into Rachel’s studio, I immediately felt more comfortable than I would have been, had I been alone. With music playing, the atmosphere felt like our dressing room at the theater. The positive feedback from both Rachel and my friends when we nailed a photo was so reassuring.

In addition to giving us a chance to rest a bit in between poses, I learned so much from observing the other dancers being shot and hearing the compliments and critiques coming from Rachel. Feeling what Rachel is suggesting is useful, but sometimes, seeing those changes on another body can be even more advantageous.

-Mara Milner

What is the biggest challenge for you during the photo shoot?

For me, the biggest challenge was describing myself as a dancer in order for Rachel to get the shots to best portray me. Throughout the day, the photos, talking with Rachel, and support from my friends, I came out of the shoot with a much better idea of who I am as a dancer and how I can use that towards my advantage.

-Anna Sundquist

two piece black dance ware ballet photo rachel neville

Anna Sundquist, Richmond Ballet Photo Rachel Neville

What did you enjoy most during your Rachel Neville Photography dance photoshoot?

My favorite thing was seeing the evolution of each pose. At first, the pose might have looked alright, but as we tweaked it, the photo became extraordinary. Rachel’s tips and corrections made all the difference. She also encouraged us to be more artistic with our arms and experiment, to find what looked best.

-Anna Sundquist

What is the biggest challenge for you when you prepare for a photo shoot?

For me, my biggest challenge is getting my confidence up. I can be very insecure and compare myself to others and think I won’t be good enough.

-Alexandra Lammon

richmond ballet photo Rachel Neville dance Alexandra Lammon

Alexandra Lammon, Richmond Ballet Photo Rachel Neville

What would you tell other dancers who are preparing for a photo shoot – any tips or tricks to remember?

Definitely let your ego out the window and trust in Rachel. She has a great eye for things and may do something the unconventional way, but you won’t be disappointed with the results. Keep your head up, just because the dancer next to you is doing something does not mean you’re supposed to be able to do it also. Everyone is different and unique. You’ll shine more being your own person than trying to copy someone else.

-Alexandra Lammon

Schedule a dance photo shoot for you or a group mini-photoshoot.


Advice on Transitioning from Dancer to Trainer: Spotlight on Katie Dettling

We recently had the pleasure of working with Katie and Grant Dettling, co-founders of Fit-Arts, a Pilates and wellness studio on the Upper West Side.  In addition to being a successful entrepreneur in the health and fitness field, Katie and her husband Grant, are former dancers.

Katie spoke with us about navigating the dancer to trainer transition and the resources she used to cultivate a successful career after dance.  She also told us about the lessons she brings from dance into the world of fitness and entrepreneurship, and what it was like working with Rachel Neville Photography to create fitness marketing images for her company and its new website:

1. What lessons from your dance career did you use to transition to a successful fitness training career?

A long career in dance instills qualities like discipline, work ethic, adaptability, strong multi-tasking capabilities and more that we have used to transition. But beyond that, a critical quality in a successful fitness trainer/wellness coach is empathy.

Between collaborating so intimately with colleagues to achieve a common goal (the performance), dealing with a wide variety of personalities, ups, downs, achievements, disappointments, pain and injury, dancers can be very empathetic. Put that together with a career that only lasts until late thirties if your lucky, and a dancer in their thirties (like us) can empathize uncommonly with client’s pain, life transitions, frustrations and stressors. These are the reasons they come to fitness and wellness. These are the issues they are trying to address. If you can’t put yourself in your client’s shoes and really see the world through their needs and pains, you won’t be able to motivate and help them.

dancer turned trainer photo by rachel neville

On the more technical side, many years of experimenting with diverse dance techniques and cross training methods have allowed us untold hours of trial and error experience in achieving a desired aesthetic from the human body. These elements combined allow us to use the anatomy and postural analysis we’ve studied to draw from multiple exercise and wellness modalities to tailor sessions (both the actual exercises and the focus of those exercises) to exactly what a client needs and responds best to. It is what we love about fitness training, it’s like a human puzzle:)

I think a combination of these skills allow us to first connect with clients and then give them the results they are looking for. There is nothing more rewarding than having people leave time with you feeling better than when they came in!


2. How does the concept of marketing change from marketing yourself as a dancer to marketing your fitness business?

Some aspects are the same, close attention to aesthetic for one. It’s difficult to market your business without marketing yourself, “walking the walk” if you will. The difference with fitness is the aesthetic tends to be aspirational but still attainable: exuding health, vibrancy, musculature, good form, ease of movement. In dance, it’s all much more extreme. This can feel inaccessible to your average client.

Another big difference is amount of control and content. As a dancer, your company often controls images. Due to the limited resources/time of non-profits, results are usually minimal dated content, and in my experience not anything I would have chosen. Additionally, social media was in it’s infancy during much of my career. So I didn’t have a whole lot of content nor anywhere to put it. In marketing our own fitness business, we can prioritize good content and control the images/branding we are putting out there. It does take time but it’s also really fun to play around with ideas and document the journey of our business!

From start to finish the experience with Rachel Neville Photography was not only incredibly results driven and effective, but fun and inspiring.

3. What was your experience like working with Rachel?

Incredible! My reaction during the shoot was, “Where have you been my whole career?” Photo shoots during our dance career were often disorganized and the results disappointing. Something like: run out of rehearsal for 1 hour, throw this costume on that doesn’t quite fit and pose yourself somehow. It wasn’t unusual to hate every shot that came out of it. The dancers or ballet master or whoever might come up with decent posing ideas, but it just never came across well on camera. Rachel explained to me that lines end up looking different in 2 dimensions, you have to know how to tweak them for the camera. And that is even MORE important nowadays, since so much media is out there in 2 dimensions. Similar to the precision I was speaking to earlier, Rachel has a very precise eye from her dance background. She will keep tweaking every detail of your position until it looks right.

From start to finish the experience with Rachel Neville Photography was not only incredibly results driven and effective, but fun and inspiring. Rachel is an incredible entrepreneur and so knowledgeable about images for marketing. She not only takes great pictures, but helps you figure out what style of images to go for.

 pilates studio photo rachel neville

4. Did anything surprise you about your photo shoot experience?

Yes. How much Rachel pushed us to get our best possible results. I can’t tell you how many times in my past I wish someone had told me to point my foot really hard or press my shoulders back in a photo. I was sore for 2 days after the shoot, and it was SO worth it.

5. Can you describe your primary goal for your marketing efforts?

We are just building our new business, so our goals are simple. With our marketing, we want to clearly embody our mission and name (establish our branding). They combine our artistic and fitness perspective into Fit-Arts: where every body is a work of art. We will use this image on our website, social media, targeted Facebook ads, plus limited print flyers etc to increase awareness of our business and offerings. We hope to attract a range of core clients who need our specialties including: Athletic & Dance Conditioning, Injury Rehabilitation, Women’s Health, Barre For Men, and Stress Reduction. Ultimately, the goal is to increase our client base and online presence enough to open a separate location (our studio is dedicated space within our apartment to start), as well as run workshops on special subjects and offer summer retreats/intensives.

6. Did the act of making these images change the way you thought about your marketing and your business?

Yes! Rachel had two long discussions with us to figure out where we were going with our business before we even showed up for the shoot. Her questions were the first time we had to express out loud things like: Who is your core customer and what makes you stand out from your competitors? We already knew we needed great professional images. From our previous experience managing for dance, we knew how limited marketing is without great images. Plus, with all the “do it yourself” web building and graphic design tools out there, great photos can pay off big time by going a long way towards designing great marketing for yourself. We also had ideas of a series of “artsy” body shots. But that was about it.

Rachel helped us shape a comprehensive set of images that would be of multi-purpose use for quite some time. She researched what was already out there so we were sure to stand out. She also encouraged us to think bigger and not sell ourselves short (as dancers are apt to do). Ultimately, she was even able to suggest which final images she would edit in a certain way for a website home page etc. With Rachel, it’s a whole process from ideas to implementation, much more than just the day you are in the studio shooting.

 A professional dancer needs to know where their pinkie finger is in relation to their opposite toe at all times. They constantly create subtle shifts in timing/balance/muscle recruitment, all while keeping in perfect sync … This allows us to understand exercise and anatomy at a visceral level.

7. Are there similarities between your dance career and your current career that strengthen the ways you are able to serve your clients?


Most fundamentally, the joy and habit of moving our bodies to their fullest expression and capability, a human birthright that is often denied in modern life. This is one of the reasons that dancers become dancers and why transitioning to a career in fitness is a natural one. Keeping that as our life focus and sharing it with others to improve their lives and health is why Grant and I got hooked on fitness. We’re so grateful we found a second career we are as passionate about as we were dancing. It took years, but we got there. Passion is SO important to success.


Because ballet is so precise, it instills the ability to perceive every intricate detail of the physical form. A professional dancer needs to know where their pinkie finger is in relation to their opposite toe at all times. They constantly create subtle shifts in timing/balance/muscle recruitment, all while keeping in perfect sync with either a partner or a line of 16 other dancers for example. This allows us to understand exercise and anatomy at a visceral level, and also along with years of teaching dance, to see and coach that level of specificity in others.

8. How would you characterize the transition process from dancer to trainer?

Natural, but with plenty of uncertainty, experimentation, risk taking and patience (admittedly reluctant patience more often than not). Our transition was quite roundabout (as they often are).
We moved to New York in order to keep working as freelance dancers while exploring options for our “life after performing.” We pursued Arts Management in hopes of improving situations experienced in our career and had a wonderful opportunity to co-manage a dance company here in NYC for two years, Dances Patrelle. We were able to hone our business skills and learn how to embody another role other than dancer (it’s amazing how long it takes to stop answering “dancer” when people ask you what you do).

It’s so satisfying to put all of our energy in one place, instead of pursuing 6 different career avenues at once, and to put all of that energy into something of our own making.

At the same time, we had been pursuing fitness certifications, not necessarily planning that as our long term focus. Destiny had other plans however, and we connected with some out of this world inspiring mentors in the fitness world right about the time we realized spending our days behind a desk just WASN”T for us. We also did counseling with Lauren Gordon at Career Transition For Dancers. She had us do a Myers Briggs personality test and low and behold, it suggested we would be great in things like healthcare and coaching.

SO despite the fact that it wasn’t what we would have thought a few years earlier, when I look back at it, it was meant to be! Put that together with the fact that I come from several generations of entrepreneurs (my great grandfather founded Hygenic, a 3 generation family company that produced health products and eventually invented the Theraband!!), and this is the perfect fit for us to now have a business.
It’s so satisfying to put all of our energy in one place, instead of pursuing 6 different career avenues at once, and to put all of that energy into something of our own making.