OK, OK. We all know your work “speaks for itself.”

But in today’s competitive market, potent imagery sells. Not to mention, it’s just plain fun to express yourself through pictures.

Planning and managing your own promotional portfolio can be a daunting task for seasoned models, camera-phobes, and weekend warriors, alike. I’m about to shed some insight into my thought process – in other words, how I go about conceptualizing, executing and selecting my most successful images.

Bear in mind, there is no silver bullet: what works for me won’t necessarily work for Jillina, Rachel Brice, Dina, or even you. So please read this as a loosey-goosey starting point upon which to shape your own great ideas, not as The Ten Commandments Rewritten By Carrara the Gorgeous :-P

  • Who Are You? This may or may not be overstating the obvious, but should be the foundation for every photo shoot you go on, from here to the day you hang up your hip scarf for good. A quickie marketing exercise to keep you on your toes: sum up your brand/style/identity in 8 words or less.  Are you sexy? Fashionable? Whimsical? The All-American dancer next door? Bint el-beled, all the way? In what ways might you sum that up into pictures?
  • Who’s Looking? We all know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all customer, or Plato’s Ideal Belly Dance Client. You are unique and so are the people who see your pictures. Who are they? Go beyond age, gender and ethnicity. Think about how they dress, what their favorite pastimes are, their values, their level of education. What do you think your best customers would appreciate in a set of pictures?
  • How Do You Want to Say it? Imagine you’re selling laundry detergent. You’re not just selling the box of tide – you’re also pitching the end result, which is clean clothes. There are a million different ways to use photos to express soft, clean, fresh-smelling clothes. A kid coming in from a baseball game, covered in dirt. A woman wearing a pristine white dress, running down the beach. A mother snuggling under a soft blanket with a baby. A guy in a business suit, precariously diving into a plate of Penne Puttanesca. Now, apply this to belly dance. How would you express that you’re a dynamic performer, a well-loved teacher, a fixture at any high-end corporate event, or whatever it is that you’re trying to say? Would you say it through slick studio images? Artsy fantasy-inspired PhotoShop magic? Daring locations? Kick-ass live-action shots?
  • Think Outside the Box: Do you want to explore your bolder side, but you’re not sure where to start? Imagine you’re on America’s Next Top Model. Your budget is unlimited and you can go anywhere and do anything. You can go as subtle or over the top as you wish. And let’s face it: if you’re on ANTM, you’re most likely not going to stand in front of a black or white backdrop doing veil poses. Where would you go? A warehouse? A rocky cliff? A shark tank? An English garden? Take 5 minutes to jot it all down, no matter how wacky it might sound. Now, reel it back. Cross off the ones that won’t work and select your top 5. Do a Google search to see if you can find similar locations, locally. Sand dunes on the beach can stand in for the desert. You can go “Greek” at many old buildings with dramatic pillars, columns and arches. Heck, I’ve found waterfalls and castles in Connecticut! The impossible just might be closer than you think.
  • Localize It! Chances are, unless you’re Jillina-caliber, you’re working in a local market. So why not create a little emotional impact for your viewers and make your images hit close to home? If you look at my gallery, you’ll see that I shoot at lots of state parks and local landmarks. Connecticut is a shore state where locals spend many a summer day along the coastline. So I’ll often include these happy, familiar sights in my pictures. Dancer and silk veil designer extraordinaire Je’Sennia of A’Kai Silks does this beautifully as well, incorporating the lush scenery of Hawaii into her online catalog.
  • Hold Your Performance Pics to a Higher Standard: This bullet point is sure to cause some controversy, but I’m a firm believer that quality trumps quantity when selecting “live action” shots for your website. This seems to be a positive trend lately, as dancers seem to be posting more professional shots than candids from shows. It goes without saying that belly dance is tricky to photograph. There are too many odd transitional poses where our stomachs stick out. Lighting conditions aren’t always optimal. Too often, we trust our performance imagery in the hands of well-meaning amateurs, resulting in red-eye, blurriness, heads getting chopped off. Not all of us have the luxury of bringing a pro photographer to all of our gigs. But we do have the choice to use only the live shots that are 100% flattering. If you or a friend are skilled in PhotoShop, this is a great tool for enhancing the clarity of a photo or eliminating red eye.

Contrary to popular advice, there is no right or wrong way to express yourself through promotional imagery. A streamlined, sophisticated dancer might look and feel her best with clean studio shots. The family-friendly, All-American dancer may want to include several live shots of herself interacting with a lively crowd, as well as a few pictures of her more conservative costume looks. As for me, I enlist the help of fashion photographers to express my flair for escapism with bold, fanciful editorial shots.

At the end of the day, my friends, it’s all about you. So start brainstorming, do some soul searching, and most importantly, happy shooting!

Carrara Nour

What Do You Think About All This?