How I Got the Shot: Rachel Neville

Posted by: on Mar 16, 2020

Rachel Neville is a New York City-based dance and movement photographer. Rachel creates unique, powerful, transformative visuals for dance companies and editorial publications that are designed to stop viewers, captivate their imagination and bring them into the theatre. Rachel has spent many years shooting dance for a variety of clients including Boston Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Dance Spirit Magazine, Dance Theatre of Harlem, 10 Hairy Legs, and Grishko. Follow here on Instagram @rachelnevillephoto or her personal site.

Each year as winter is on the cusp of turning to spring, we shift our focus in my studio from individual dancers to dance companies and commercial clients. Professional ballet companies tend to lay out their upcoming season 8-10 month in advance, and there is always a mad dash to shoot marketing materials in the spring, often without the costumes, sets or even the dancers knowing some of the choreography. Impactful, eye catching marketing images are integral to the survival and thriving of arts organizations, and ballet companies in particular. Creating images that bring more people into the theaters, thereby uplifting and creating inspiration for communities, is one of the things I’m wholeheartedly dedicated to in my career.

It’s such a rewarding experience to work with professional companies: of course there is the opportunity to shoot professional dancers, often those who are at the top of their careers. But creatively speaking, as a photographer I’m often in on the ground floor of the creative process; brainstorming ideas with the marketing department, supplying thoughts to the creative department, and making sure that the campaign is also aligning with the vision and direction of the Artistic Director. Each company we work with is very different – a different audience, different repertoire and different marketing needs. There is no ‘create, rinse, repeat’ in this world, which makes it an even more compelling, interesting, and fulfilling field to work in.

This year’s shoot for Carolina Ballet’s 2020-2021 marketing materials was a stand out for me. Carolina Ballet is a wonderful company with strong direction and fantastic talent, year after year. Not only do they have a lovely and dedicated creative team who bring 8 full productions to the city of Raleigh every year, but they like to change it up, take creative chances, try new things, while continually pushing their boundaries. The process typically starts about 2 months prior to the shoot date. Once we have an idea of what the next year’s rep is, we work up different theme ideas and the marketing department consults with the artistic team. This year, we wanted to go beyond images shot on seamless paper with added graphics and move into the theater where Carolina Ballet performs. The idea was to give the audience a glimpse into their world with a strong sense of story and drama, in addition to an intimate look “behind the scenes.”

We often travel to companies outside of NYC. Aside from grip, we bring the majority of our studio with us! This can include 8-12 heads, modifiers, and our entire digital station.

Gear we never leave home without:

  • Nikon D5
  • Nikon D810/850
  • Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8
  • Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8
  • Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8
  • Nikkor 50 f/1.8
  • Nikkor 85 f/2.8 Profoto D2s Profoto Air Remote
  • Chimera modifiers: 2×3, 1×4, 3×4 softboxes, and a 5’ octa, with grids for all
  • Profoto modifiers: 1×3 strip softboxes, reflectors, & beauty dishes with grids for all
  • Tether Tools TetherPro Cables
  • Tether Tools TetherBlock
  • MacBook Pro
  • Wacom Tablet Eizo Monitor
  • External Hard Drives

From the pre-light day through to the end of the 10 hour shoot day, it’s extremely important for everyone on the shoot to be able to instantly see not only what our light is doing but how the dancers are working. Dancers are trained to move and flow in a 3 dimensional space, whether studio or stage, but how we transition that to a 2 dimensional screen or print is an entirely different thing! Dancers who have worked with us previously understand many of my ‘tricks’, shifts and modifications that ensure their years of hard work and dedication to their art is translated to its fullest effect and integrity on the screen. Tether Tools is an integral part of that process for us!

I love mixing light. I just love it. So this year’s campaign was especially wonderful to work on. I had the opportunity to work with Carolina Ballet’s in house theater lighting designer in addition to using my strobes. It was a lovely challenge to balance theater lighting, while retaining the fully surgical precision that is a staple of my style of lighting. The resulting effect was wonderful: atmosphere and total control at the same time! The shoot was particularly ambitious in that we moved locations on the stage and in the theatre about 16 times throughout our shoot day, so everything needed to be planned out with a precise amount of detail in advance.

For a dancer to perform well during a shoot, we need to create safety for them. Being able to see themselves on screen immediately after a shot is taken is incredibly helpful to assess any minute details that we need to work on. A successful image will stop you in your tracks – there is a vibration that runs through your body when you see something that moves you. When this happens, we know we’ve got the shot!

At the end of the day, this project was a wonderful success. We worked with some incredible dancers, in a super cool location, and everybody walked away happy with the results! Thank you so much to Tether Tools inviting me to be a part of this publication, and for being an integral part of my process and workflow, and for the excellent technology that helps our shoots run smoothly without fail!

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