Devoted to Dance: Making the Move From Dancer to Dance Photographer

Devoted to Dance: Making the Move From Dancer to Dance Photographer

Dance has a way of moving people – and not just those who dedicate their lives to moving their bodies on the dance floor, the stage or in the studio. The art of dance can mesmerize and inspire millions, bring people to tears, and move people to think differently. Capturing movement and the beauty of dance in the form of a photo can be quite special, too. For photographers Rachel Neville and Andrew Fassbender, a life devoted to dance makes their photography business that much more meaningful. 

Rachel’s work is about saying, “yes,” and making things happen in a wholly refreshed and redefined way. Dance, dancing and dancers are the foundations to her visual art and inspiration. The art of movement serves Rachel well as she brings radical motion to the advertising world.

Andrew has a history with dance as well. For years, he taught and coached ballet at the pre-professional and professional level all over the country. In 2016 Rachel hand-picked and trained Andrew to be her second photographer and studio director. His attention to detail, familiarity with Rachel’s proprietary methods, and ability to coach dancers on a physical, psychological, and emotional level is unparalleled.

We connected with this dynamic duo to learn about their experience in the dance industry, their go-to gear and studio setup, how they use PhotoShelter for their photography business, and more. Scroll on to read our interview and make sure to follow along on our Instagram this week (@photoshelter) as we share a handful of the work created in their studio, including stunning group photos, beautiful portraits of dancers, and even a few captivating Instagram Reels!

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Photos by Rachel Neville and Andrew Fassbender.

Photo by Rachel Neville

How did you and your team get your start in photography? How did your photo studio come to be?

Rachel Neville: Rachel made the transition into photography after her dance career was cut short by an injury. She got a degree in photography and went on to work in all fields of photography ranging from still life, weddings, portraits, action/sports, all eventually serving her vision and honing her craft to create her unique studio dance photography style.

Andrew Fassbender: Andrew was truly the stereotypical “always had a camera glued to my hand” kind of story. It’s a cliché… but it’s true! There are pics from the early 90’s of a 7 year old Andrew shooting BTS stills on an old Canon AE1 at his younger sister’s birthday party. Always having had a camera in tow when training and performing as a dancer, having fun shoots on the weekends with his dancer friends, it was a natural transition into becoming a full time dance photographer once he finished his career as a professional dancer.

Photo by Rachel Neville

Describe the experience of working with dancers and photographing their passion, talent and movement. Why do you love this specialty/niche?

AF: Ballet dancers… there is nothing more beautiful that the human body can do. The geometry of the impressive shapes they can make, coupled with the pure visceral artistic emotions that they can convey… so beautiful! The storytelling that dancers can portray with their bodies is unreal!

It is such a blessing to be able to still be immersed in the dance world after we’ve retired as dancers.

Our clients love working with us because they know that we truly understand them, what they’re going through, and we know the ins and outs of dance technique. It truly takes a dancer to know dance.

Andrew Fassbender
Photo by Andrew Fassbender

I love the way you’ve been enhancing your work by adding striking visual elements to your Instagram Reels (e.g.: this one and this one). Can you talk us through this creative process and your decision to make these clips for social media?

AF: Dance is inherently a “movement” based art form and not a “still” one… yes photographs are beautiful, but it doesn’t fully capture the majestic motion of dance. While we do video as well (Rachel is also an accomplished director), we wanted a way to give “motion” to our still photography. We utilize everything from motion graphics templates, to filming our own stock footage… anything that has the same feel and vibe as the photograph.

Tell us about your gear. What cameras, lenses, tools and programs do you typically use in the studio? What’s one piece of equipment you can’t live without and why?

AF: Rachel shoots a Nikon D6, and Andrew shoots a Fuji XT4. The 2.8 trinity of zooms are our usual lenses in the studio… although we love a 35mm prime! Oddly… the piece of gear we can’t live without is a tetherblock by Tether Tools. We always shoot tethered, and the ports on cameras can be fragile and easily bumped… this has saved us time and time again! We also never leave home without our Wacom tablet! Rachel has a 3×4 Chimera softbox that is her BABY – she’s had it since she graduated from college and she quite literally built her business with this softbox. Chimera doesn’t even have the same logo anymore!

How long have you been using PhotoShelter? How does it help with your creative workflow and/or your photo business?

AF: We have been using PhotoShelter since 2016. The portfolio templates are beautiful and easy to use/update. The client facing side of the website is so user friendly and easy to use for proofing galleries and image delivery.

Rachel Neville Studios PhotoShelter website

Anything else you’d like to add or promote? We’re happy to share!

AF: We have been working hard behind the scenes on a brand new online video course all about dance photography that we’re hoping to have go live by the end of the Summer!  We took a break from workshops during the pandemic… but we are about to announce our Fall/Winter 2022 dance photography workshop series!

We’re also working on a book of portraits of dancers… a tour around the USA to work with dancers who can’t make it to NYC to work with us… Never dull around our studio!

If you want to see more of the stunning work Rachel, Andrew and the dancers they work with are producing at Rachel Neville Studios, follow along on Instagram (@photoshelter) this week as we share a selection of their photos for a dedicated Instagram takeover.

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Jeremy is the Content Marketing Manager at PhotoShelter, dedicated to connecting with our creative community and sharing inspiring stories.

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