Circus Photographers Keep Art in Focus

The District Ringer recently spoke to Dani Pierce and Shamal Halmat, both of whom excel at keeping circus arts in the frame. Learn about their life experiences with photography in part one of this series.

In part two, we share Pierce and Halmat’s advice on how to raise your photography and videography game, including practical tips, online resources, and artists who have personally inspired their work.

Photo by Shamal Halmat, (c) Shamal Deare Creative, 2019.

Pro Tips from Circus Photographers


  • Think about the story you want to tell. That’s the point of all art, photography and circus — to actually revolve around good storytelling.
  • Fire spinners: Slow down! To get a good photo, you kind of have to spin differently. Usually it’s too fast and chaotic. For ‘super spicy’ fire pictures, slow down as much as you can.
  • Good content is good content. For video, a lot of it comes down to making good, interesting content that people can relate to. It doesn’t really matter if you’re filming on an iPhone or a cinema-grade camera.
  • Master the basics. Learning the basics of photography and video — composition, frame rates, lighting, audio and editing — can go a long way. Try filming at ‘golden hour’ to embrace the power of natural light.
  • Circus artists: Give credit, and give back! Giving credit all the time is pretty important. And when working with a photographer, let them get something that could be for a portfolio — something they could actually use to get more work. Always keep them in mind and give them referrals to other people. If you’re dealing with event coordinators a lot, pass on the information for the photographer to work the same events.


  • Focus on the artist, and how to capture what they’re trying to convey. One of the things that drew me to the circus community is that it was a community of people who had taken seriously things that other people didn’t see as careers — and they really had a focused attention and commitment to their craft. I’ve always appreciated that. What I love about photography is that we’re able to capture other people’s art.
  • Explore ideas beyond the ‘best trick’ or ‘favorite pose.’ I will often see beauty in the form that maybe the artist — that isn’t the most dynamic part of their act, or maybe they didn’t like how their lines looked, but I think it looks beautiful. I think there’s a balance of being aware of what circus artists strive for, and then what they would actually want captured and shared.
  • For live performances, be prepared and stay in the moment! Sometimes there’s only like three chances for the best shot. You really have to be ready to go. There have definitely been so many opportunities where I think, oh man I totally missed that shot, and that was the last performance.
  • Value your time and your work. That idea of exposure and art for art? No! People need to eat and pay their bills. I charge because I know how important it is for other photographers — that I don’t just give away art for free — because unfortunately, the way that the art economy is structured, it just does everyone else harm.
Photo by Dani Pierce for Street Light Circus, (c) 2018.

Further Inspiration & Education

From Dani Pierce:

  • Acey Harper is a fine art photographer based out of Paris. He focuses heavily on the human figure, with many of his shoots involving acrobats and aerialists. See how he set up a stunning portrait of aerialist Morgaine Rosenthal hanging by her teeth from the back of a 1957 Chevy in this video. The portrait appears in the book [private acts] The Acrobat Sublime, photographed by Acey Harper and written by Harriet Heyman. “Both acrobats and photographers are used to working hard and in hardship for our respective art, and for [this book], we shared the difficulties of bringing our visions to life,” Harper said in an interview with Loenke Magazine. Read the full interview here.
  • Gregory Crewsdon is a New York City-based photographer who stages extraordinary suburban scenes that resemble cinema in their exacting consideration of lighting, sets and cast. He cites Diane Arbus and Edward Hopper as inspirations. His work often takes on a surreal quality through the staging of humans, nature and architecture.

From Shamal Halmat:

  • Taylor Jackson is a Canadian photographer who specializes in wedding photography and videography. He maintains a blog with multiple courses for aspiring multimedia creators. Many of the courses focus on weddings, but class titles also include ‘Creating Profitable YouTube Videos’ and ‘Make Money With Your Photos.’ His YouTube channel is full of knowledge about everything from event portraiture to landscape photography, based on his many years of experience shooting photos and film across the globe.
  • Larry Cohen takes poignant urban photos in Baltimore (where he is based) and other cities. His current focus is the social justice movement. He has also worked extensively with burner communities in Richmond, Baltimore, D.C. and Philadelphia. You can see his latest work at I Shot Baltimore, a diary of his photographic interests.
  • Doug Sanford is a studio and event photographer who lives and works in Washington, D.C. He takes lively and colorful portraits of artists and other subjects, including his starkly beautiful series Playing with Fire.
  • Aaron Kirn is a North Carolina-based photographer who takes masterfully lit, charismatic photos of fire artists and other variety performers. Check out his instagram to see his amazing work, and view his online portfolio here.

Special thanks to Dani Pierce and Shamal Halmat, who generously provided many of the photos you see on the header of the Circus District blog.