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The Professional Ballerina – Working With Allison DeBona

  • Summerana 

I had the honor of photographing Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton from Ballet West and “Breaking Pointe” TV series during an incredible and monumental time. Not only is Allison DeBona a professional level ballerina, but she was expecting her and Rex’s first child. Photographing professional ballerinas is a learning curve from what we maternity or portrait photographers typically do during a session. If you get the honor to photograph such a graceful artist, here are a few things you can keep in mind.



One thing I learned when working with professional ballerinas was that the angle we should shoot at is not the same as all of our other maternity clients or portrait clients. Usually, we are wanting to be shooting straight on or on a slightly downward angle from above our clients to help hide double chins or to help the shape of the angle to be more flattering for the clients figure. For ballet dancers, the angle is quite the opposite. You want that standing leg to be elongated to add to the beautiful and slender look of ballerinas that we all love so much. The correct angle is to get lower than our regular straight-on standing position and to actually shoot with an upward angle so that we’re not shortening that standing leg at all. Using this angle will give the ballerina that beautiful elongated pose that they are working so hard to obtain.



Working with professional ballerinas is very different from a regular maternity client or ballet dancer. Depending on the public exposure the ballerina has, any poses that can be shown on media platforms has to be very precise and perfected or they could get backlash from the public eye or professional arena. Talk to your ballerina to find out what their pose needs are and be prepared to show them the back of the camera while shooting. This way they can see what they are doing and alter the pose as needed to get the perfect one. Allison, her husband Rex, and I sat down at the end of the ballet pose series of the session and went through each of those images so that they could pick out and veto any image that could not be shown or shared on media platforms. There are so many things that can make the pose incorrect that only they will know. (Even if it looks perfectly beautiful to the rest of us.) After editing their selections I deleted all other
images from the ballet pose series so that I would not accidentally include or edit a “wrong pose” image later on. Respecting their art and the perfectionism that goes into the beauty and elegance of their poses is a big part of our job as a photographer and storyteller. Allison was also a maternity client and she knew where she could or could not push her body to in the ballet poses. If you’re photographing a ballerina while being
pregnant, talk to your client and respect the poses they are comfortable doing. Some ballet poses might pull on some muscles or areas of the body that they are not able to safely access while being pregnant.


In the “Fall”

Talking once more about poses, some poses are considered incorrect when they are performed in a straight standing position. The correct “pose” is actually captured in the “fall” of the pose when the ballerina leads into the upward position and then falls forward to catch themselves at the end of the movement. If your ballerina is in the professional field, this will be particularly important. You don’t have to personally know what is or is
not the correct capture of their poses, but your ballerina will know and it’s your job to be aware and open to these posing specifics.


Respect the Art

Something Allison had mentioned to me during the shoot is that there have been some times during their professional career where she or some of their company had been asked to do poses during photo shoots that were not the most respectful type poses and apparently had bothered her in one way or another. Keep in mind that their art is one of intense beauty and grace and should be treated as such. With the amount of lifelong dedication and hard work that goes into getting to the level they have achieved in their profession, we should be respectful of the art itself and treat what they do to the highest degree.


Not just ballerinas!

During your session, incorporate maternity poses that are all about them being themselves and not associated with their art or profession. Some of my favorite portraits from this session were the ones of Allison and Rex backlit and loving up on their soon to come baby boy. Sure, the maternity ballet poses were epic, but I wanted them to have something special just for them and outside of their normal requested specialty. This is such a special time in their lives. During our session, I came to pick up on the fact that ballerinas on the professional level a lot of the time will not have very many pregnancies in their life if any! So if you do get the chance to photograph such an incredible event, not only is it something that is extra special for you as the photographer, but might just be a once in a lifetime experience for your ballerina. Document it beautifully!

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