I love being able to connect with people who have a passion for visuals because it’s intriguing to hear what they see through their lens. Visual content has become a vital piece of our lives and being able to provide your following with a story through every photo is a great talent. Amanda Barona, also known as ThatDancer, is by far one of the most requested photographers in Florida. She has photographed some of music’s top acts such as Gucci Mane, DJ Khaled, Travis Scott, Tyler, the Creator, Post Malone and the list goes on. Although her lens has shot pretty much everyone you can think of, Amanda has become famously known for shooting and traveling with music duo Rae Sremmurd.
I had the chance to chop it up with Amanda and we talked about her come up in the Miami scene, her first-ever photo shoot, how she managed to connect with Fab and Rae Sremmurd, the things that keep her motivated and more.
1 – How did you get into photography?
It began when I started going to concerts around 8th grade. Until this day I have boxes of Kodak Disposable cameras that I never got developed from concerts I went to. I was probably in Section 432, Row 13, Seat trashcan and was still taking pics of what looked like ants onstage lol. When MySpace popped off, I really got into it and my best friend gave me her Digi Cam on my 17th bday and I took it seriously from there.
2 – What was your main source of inspiration that got you into photography?
My siblings. I’m the oldest of 3. My sister is the baby, I purposely f*ck up in life so I can tell her “Yea don’t do that it was a failure” lol. My brother is a leukemia survivor, however, the cancer paralyzed him at 13/14? and sh*t was never the same. He’s now 26. His life changed and he no longer was able to be my partner in crime. So it’s like I started to live on the edge and run everywhere in order to show him the world he may never see. I have a habit of sometimes even recording full shows because I know he’d wanna see it, but he always thinks he’s a burden being in a wheelchair. I use my eyes to work a lens so he can have eyes, basically.
3 – What was the first ever shoot you’ve done?
It was probably my friends or fellow dancers. I was a hip-hop dancer in ’07. So I use to shoot myself, make my own comp cards and headshots. I told people all the time I took my own photos but they didn’t believe me. Power of the self-timer and running lol. I was also working in a portrait studio so I shot family portraits for like 4 years outta high school. It’s a blur lol.
But my first “Major shoot”? HA. It’s a tie between T-Pain or Yung Berg. I was an assistant to T-Pain so he opened the door for me way back in 2008. Pain was always letting me shoot when he was in town. Yung Berg contacted me to shoot his artist on his label and it was the worst business EVER. The story of Berg is the one I warn shooters about. He showed me that not all business is GOOD BIZ. No matter who the client is; famous or not. Long story short, I was still fairly new at shooting but he hired me to shoot an ALBUM cover for him and never got paid. I was jobless at the time so the money was important. I learned quickly the importance of contracts since we didn’t sign one. He pretended to be cool and was playing games about payment for months. Then when I’d ask about it he began to be unprofessional and go as far as disrespecting me. I told him off and never looked back. He’ll always have an ugly soul to me. The only thing I got from that was experience and to never ever let someone disrespect me and my art.
4 – Miami has grown a lot as far as emerging creatives. What did you during your come to get your work noticed?
I think what helped me get noticed was being supportive. I was just hitting these concerts and always being front row to the point where these artists would legit recognize me when they came to town. Sometimes I had my camera sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I paid $300 to get a good seat, sometimes I bought a crappy seat and pretend like I was looking for my mom lol. But they saw the dedication I had for the music. Once I learned how to finesse and made some plugs, it was natural for me to get where I needed with my camera. Until this day I freak out when sneaking my camera in despite how long I’ve been doing it lol. But I tell everyone it’s not about the comp shows cause until this day I still buy concert tickets, I’m still flying myself out to catch festivals when people would assume I’m getting paid for it. Nope! It’s all a work in progress to be a household name.
5 – At what point did you realize your visuals were getting solid recognition?
When I was getting escorted to Big Sean’s photo pit some fans were yelling my name, complimenting my work, asking for photos and advice all while the show was on lol. Also recently, I went to a Waffle House incognito and the cook came out and legit said: “you’re thatdancer?” I died Lol. But, it was awesome to see my own city was starting to notice me. When I go to introduce myself to other artists and they say my name before I can introduce myself, that’s the best shit ever too.
6 – When did your first big break come to do your first established photoshoot or shoot an event?
Hmm trying to remember cause I go to way too many shows. 😩 I can’t even recall, unfortunately. I was always tryna find a way to make bread off shoots. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t had my break yet. I have so much more to prove. Someone who caught me off guard was probably Fab. I was already attending his show but a Ciroc rep asked me to shadow him and help. So I did. That same night Fab posted 36 images of mine on Instagram, that blew my mind that someone truly liked and saw my vision. That was one of the happiest days I had honestly. I kept screaming like Khaled “Another One?!?”
7- You’ve established yourself as a legit photographer in the state of Florida and it seems like you’re the go-to for a lot of different acts. How did you manage to build your connection with people like Rae Sremmurd and Fabolous?
That’s my goal lol. My sis once said “Whenever an artist lands in Miami it’s a NO FLY ZONE for all shooters” lol. I was always a Rae Sremmurd fan. I saw them perform at Revolt Music Conference in like 2014. I snuck my camera in and was front row for their show. The energy they presented was another level. The boys and Mike Will were reposting my images but I didn’t get credit. I ended up seeing them at a club a week later, ran up to their section, opened their IG and yelled: “I took this photo!!” Jxmmi immediately grabbed my phone, took a snap, and I was like “we’re best friends now” lol Well it was like I spoke it into fruition cause I continued hitting up their shows. One event they had I had DM’d Jxm and he actually noticed it. He thought my IG was a fake celeb photo Page lol. When he spotted me in the crowd, he handed me the blunt and let me know he knew who I was. We later found out when I was on tour with them that he was tryna link with me for work but didn’t know how. We both clicked and it’s super hard to find that genuine chemistry while working nowadays. So it was gods plan really lol. He saw my hustle. I never asked for his contact I would just show up to their events ready to work.
My story wit Fab goes back to the previous question. I was always just at these shows. I like to call myself a candid shooter. I hate the posing stuff. He loves candids and genuine moments. I feel like I’m able to capture it without them feeling the pressure of my shutter. I’m quiet too. I just like to do my job and go. I use to be super intimidated by Fab. Cause he’s a legend to me. Never would I have thought I’d know him. Sometimes I don’t pay attention cause I’m like “oh you were talking to me?” Lmao. It took maybe a year to really connect. Learning how he moves, how he likes to be shot, etc.. But it took time and work. He taught me ALOT about shooting and business. A lot.
8 – Aside from Fab and Rae Sremmurd, what other acts have you been able to connect with and shoot on a regular basis?
T-Pain hired me as his personal assistant in 2011? He was the first person to help me get out my moms house and experience life outside of Florida. The day he hired me my first gig was South Africa on Christmas. Epic. He was there before everyone and is still around. I have a great relationship with Justin Combs, Mack Wilds, Dave East. Hell… a lot of New Yorkers love me lmao. Um… Zoey Dollaz for sure and a ton of artists team members.
9 – What do you prefer as a photographer – photoshoots or event shooting? Why?
I guess event shooting, I love colorful lights, the screaming fans, mosh pits, energy, the rush, the work behind putting a show on, and not knowing what your gonna exactly get. I love candids so I’m able to be as candid as possible compared to telling someone how to pose. Just thinking of that reminds me of Napoleon Dynamites’ Uncle Rico 😂
10 – What were some of your struggles coming up in this industry? What are some things that you’re currently struggling with although you’ve already positioned yourself as a legit creative?
It’s sad to say but I still battle with the issue that I am a female in a male-dominated game. Some people think it’s a joke when this is literally how I’m able to pay bills. I don’t care too much about being in the “know” – I just wanna be able to shoot freely and spread the art. But men get intimidated easily when I’m around. I struggle daily with DOUBT. Doubting myself or feeling like I’m not good enough. Sounds terrible but I’m very hard on myself.
11 – At this current moment, what keeps you motivated to keep shooting?
The hopes of being able to travel the world.
And these grey hairs I got on my head lol
12 – You’ve done so many different shoots and have shot so many different concerts and events. What would you say was the best photography experience for you? Why? What did you learn from it?
Hands down the European Tour I did with Rae Sremmurd. I learned from one of the best tour managers (shout out to Tony) how to move and survive the fast bus life lol. We had an incredible team 360 all around. From Security (Zeekeyy + Cor) to the all the boys who I consider family now (G-Lo, Shane, JaySremm, Max, Swae and Jxm, of course Migo!) The shows were during the day, night, in and outdoors, all different light settings. I had to move quickly and adjust with barely any sleep, all the while keeping up with the boys. It’s not as easy as you think lol. I also learned to never put my camera down and to be ready for every moment. Jxm’s 100k chain was taken during a crowdsurf and due to my trigger finger, I caught frame by frame the moment and was able to help. Alongside Max’s visuals. If I wasn’t on point that could have been a huge problem. But that’s the sremmlife way lol.
13 – As a photographer, what was the biggest piece of advice anyone has given you?
To be honest, I don’t have a piece of advice that sticks out. I remember thinking the other day I wanted to ask Fab that to see what he says but I just remember certain comments and go by my story to keep pushing. I literally speak a lot of stuff into existence. Remain true and you’re never too good to practice or learn.
14 – If you could choose one person or event to shoot, who or what would that be?
Corny as it may be, it’d be a dream to shoot or meet Justin Timberlake. I’d say Childish Gambino but I know I’m a make it happen this year. A lot of people I wanted to shoot I made happen. It’s more so about traveling now. Who I meet or work with along the way is just the cherry on top.
15 – What can your fans expect from you in the second quarter of 2018?
Hopefully a tour! I’m praying and working. If not, I’m hoping to really kick off a shooters club to help other photographers out.
But I def plan on trying to get out more and shoot more than ever. I wanna be able to say I traveled the world before its too late.