What I Learned From My First Dance School

Volume photography was not something I intentionally set out to pursue. I was roughly 5 years removed from volume when Scott and I were asked to photograph a dance school. We got the opportunity to interview for the job thanks to a friend who worked the front counter at a dance school. The school had just fired their photographer and my friend raved about us to the owner.  We had a great first meeting and by some miracle, they chose us!

At this point, regardless of all my previous experience in volume photography, I still had no clue how to photograph dance. To learn, Scott and I headed to a convention in Las Vegas with eyes on one lecture where we hoped to learn volume from the pros.  As luck would have it, I reconnected with Jeff Edwards and he pointed me to the H&H booth and introduced us to Jeff Locklear.  We were so blessed that H&H took us under their wing and provided us with the tools to do the job.

As the photo session quickly approached, I will admit, it was overwhelming. From order forms, to student data, to the photography set up and a ton of new equipment; this was a whole new world for Scott and I. And a great deal of money was going out, with no guarantee of money coming back in.

When we arrived on day 1, we are “greeted” by a dance studio owner who was furious about costume orders not being delivered on time. To say she was in a bad mood was an understatement. Then we were shown the space that we would be allowed to work in for sales. It was much smaller than what we needed. Fortunately, we had enough room for one 6′ table for our two barcode stations and the sales team. It seemed like we were avoiding a potentially rough start but very soon it got worse.  Our computers would not print the barcodes that were needed to keep track of dancers in the camera room. We quickly learned we were severely understaffed to deal with this type of breakdown.  I’m certain that at this point the owner of the studio was regretting her decision as the lobby filled with parents and dancers…all of them waiting on us! We powered through that day and the next. On our third day, a massive thunderstorm blew into town. Thus, chaos ensued. Parents and dancers were delayed due to flooded streets. And when they did finally arrive, they had rain soaked hair and running makeup. Once again, we stayed positive and pushed on towards our goal.  This first studio finished on schedule after 4 days and there were about 480 dancers. Most dancers had 3-4 costumes, some as many as 9 or 10. Leaving the dance studio, Scott and I were thankful to have survived but praying we could piece this photo session together and try to save face with the studio.

Upon completion of the dance school, we were fortunate to get some feedback from the owner. Some great and some not so great. Thankfully, we were given a chance for another year! We are proud to say that our first school is still our client and we have been with them for 9 years. Since that first year, we recognized the need to differentiate between our high end portrait business and our volume business so we created an entirely new business, Move Up Images, LLC. We have re-invented our ordering process and eliminated traditional order envelopes. We created our own volume dance workflow. As a result, we now have a one-of-a-kind system that parents are raving about on photo day.

A FEW KEY THINGS WE LEARNED

  1. Dance schools thrive on efficiency and structure. A photography company must be ready to stay on pace and maintain the schedule. These students are training to be performers and timing is everything.
  2. When technology breaks down (because it will) go old school and make a written list.  Using a list as a backup doesn’t require any extra time and it will never let you down.  ALWAYS have a paper trail that consists of the name of the dancers and their image numbers. If needed, you can rely on this to match the image with the data later at the office.
  3. Dance schools generally do not like change.  More often than not, you will come across a studio owner who has been conducting photo day the same way for 20 years.  You will not be able to change their ways on year 1, or even year 2.  But if you are patient and continue to build confidence with the studio owner and staff, then its likely you will be able to blend in your work flow over time.
  4. Happy Parents = Happy Studio!  Happy parents are your key to success in volume dance photography.  It starts by making certain orders are fulfilled correctly and the quality of your photography exceed expectations. Your customer service and interactions at the sales table is just as important as the quality of the photography you are producing. Parents are the biggest influencer on a studio owner. They spend countless hours in the dance studio and at competitions, totally devoted to their children’s pursuit of dance.  They always have the ear of the owner and can either make or break you.  So bend over backwards for the parents, constantly thank them for supporting you, and as a result you can rest easy knowing that you will have this school for a long time.

Scott and I love what we do! Nine years ago, I did not think I would end up back in the world of volume. But Scott and I set out with the idea to take charge of our lives. We are business people who love creativity and art however, we needed to earn a living. Having a business mindset as our priority has proven to be an effective way for us balance between our passion projects and reality of our needs. Thinking back to that conference in Vegas where it all began for us, one of our favorite take-a-ways was a line from Edwards that went something like this “look around the rooms as you go on with the conference, there will be a lot of flashy people in the front rows, all touting their awards, accomplishments and social media fame. You may think they are the ones making a good living and the people you should strive to be. However, there are always a few people in the back that aren’t worried about winning awards. These under-stated people are the ones making a great living doing what they love. Seek them out and learn from them.”

Megan Sockel

Scott and Megan Sockel are the husband and wife team behind the business. MoveUp Images LLC.  MoveUp is located in Omaha, Nebraska, however they service clients as far as Oceanside, California.  Their goal is to provide a boutique photography experience to the kids and the parents, for school, sports club, or dance studio.

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