It was a freezing cold day. Sometimes Texas in November is kind, and you’ll get a beautiful 65 degrees with not a cloud in the sky! But this was not one of those days. It was overcast, drizzling off and on, and was easily in the low-30s.
But this was the day that we had booked the photographer, so out into the cold I ventured to take the promotional shots for my next album.
Getting in front of a photographer is a part of being a musician that I don’t really enjoy. I’m definitely not a model. I get self conscious, start to clam up, I worry the entire time how the pictures are going to turn out, and I spend half the shoot wondering if my hair looks super weird.
This time though, I promised myself I wasn’t going to worry. I was going to be prepared, and do some concrete things to make sure the photos turned out great. And they did!
I know that many musicians also struggle with taking great photos, so I’ve put together the tips that got me through my last photo shoot so that you can also take some amazing band photos.
Step 1 – Be Prepared
The best thing you can do to get great photos is know what you want. Do some digging, and find photos you really like. These might be photos of other bands, landscapes, album covers, or portraits.
Try to find about 10 pictures that you really love. Then try and pick out one or two things about each photo that you like. Colors, the “vibe” of the picture, the location, how people are posed in the photo, and the lighting are all things that you should look for. When you’ve defined why you like your 10 photos, you’re ready to start looking for a photographer. The photos you picked out will help you find a photographer with a style that works for your music and your brand, and will also help you to communicate what you want when you hire a photographer.
Step 2 – Choose Wisely
Photographers are artists. If you wanted to listen to thrash metal live, you probably wouldn’t go to a coffeehouse open mic. If you want photos that are a particular style, you need to find a photographer that works within that style.
I’m not saying that a photographer shouldn’t be flexible and try to get the shots that you want. But you should do your research, and find a photographer in your area whose current portfolio is similar to the look you’re going for. If all of their photos look a certain way, and you want something completely different, you should probably choose a different photographer.
When you’re communicating with a potential photographer, try sending them a link to your music. Listening to your music can help them to get a feel for what kinds of photos they will need to take, and if their style will mesh well with your band.
You also need to make sure you have permission from your photographer to use the images for commercial purposes. Remember, they own the copyright to the photos they take. Most professional photographers will have a protocol already in place for granting a commercial licenses for their photos.
When choosing a photographer, style is key. But you also have to look at price. Different Photographer price things differently, so chances are you’ll be able to find something in your price range. If you absolutely love a particular photographer’s style, but they are a little too expensive, it never hurts to shoot them an email to explain your needs and your budget. They may be able to work out a reduced rate or a shorter shoot time to accommodate you. Some photographers will also give discounts for a type of photo they don’t usually shoot. If a family photographer really wants to start shooting bands and live shows, they may offer a lower rate for the experience.
If you have practically no budget for photography, a good place to look is local art schools, colleges, and universities. If they have a graphic design or photography program, chances are their students are looking for models. A lower level student might shoot you for free, and an upper level student may have rates far below an established photographer because they need to build their portfolio.
Step 3 – Be Prepared…Again
Now that you know the style you’re after, and who you’ll be working with, begin to plan the actual photo shoot. Talk to your photographer about scouting locations for your photos. They might have some locations where they love to shoot, or you may discover the perfect location yourself. Be open to ideas from your photographer, and from your bandmates.
Once you’ve decided on a location (or two!) you need to decide what you’re going to wear, and if you need hair and makeup help. Remember, you are paying someone good money to record what you look like at a specific moment in time. Don’t waste that money by not taking a few minutes to focus on how you look. A good idea for your appearance is to take cues from what you would normally wear on stage. If you are a grunge band that only wears cut-offs and tank tops to perform in, don’t go to your photo shoot wearing a formal tuxedo (unless perhaps the name of the album you’re taking promo pictures for is “Irony”).
If you didn’t have a face to face meeting when you hired your photographer, make sure to have one before the day of the shoot. If you’re shooting with your full band, maybe invite the photographer to your next practice. That way they can meet everyone who will be in the pictures. Your pictures will come out better if everyone is comfortable around each other, and meeting face to face can help eliminate some of the initial awkwardness.
Step 4 – Create a Shot List
Musicians have very specific needs for photos, and if your photographer isn’t used to shooting bands, they may not be familiar with them. Do you feature individual bios of your band members on your website? Then you should probably take close up individual shots of everyone in your band.
You may also need several shots that are pulled very far back from the band. You can use these for posters, or online graphics that you’ll need to put text over. This way, the text is more readable, and you’re not covering up the faces of your members with the time of your next show. You may even need a few shots of only the background, especially if you’re shooting outdoors. These can be used for the inside of your album packaging, an album cover, or for promos and graphics. These are the types of shots that a photographer unaccustomed to shooting bands may not realize they need to get, but are vital for musicians.
You look great I promise. The more relaxed you are, the better the photos will turn out. And let’s be real. Most photographers will take somewhere around 500-1000 pictures in one shoot. And you are probably only going to use 10 of those pictures. There’s no pressure to make every shot look fantastic. Be yourself, and don’t freak out.
This doesn’t mean don’t be aware. You need to make sure the shots on your must-take list are getting done, and you probably don’t want your drummer goofing off in every shot. But being aware doesn’t mean you have to be stressed. Relax, have fun, and good pictures will follow.
What do you do to prepare for a photoshoot? Have any great tips on taking the best promo picture ever? Let us know in the comments!
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