I started modeling when I was in my young teens. It was kind of fun and I made decent money, so I continued until I hit the ripe old age of 20, when the modeling jobs turn into denture ads and adult diapers (I’m actually not kidding, I was asked to do an adult diaper ad after I turned 20).
During my days as a model, I learned a great deal about photography, lighting, and posing. I wouldn’t call myself an expert at photography, but I definitely know enough about posing and photo elements to give pointers on press pictures. I see a lot of talented bands and artists create an awesome album and then the cover and PR photos look like absolute garbage. No more! Let’s talk about some ways to get the best photos that represent you and your music.
Get Great Band Pictures
Some of these tips might seem obvious, but just in case they’re not for everyone, I’ll include them. Photos are important because they’re the first visual impression people will have of you and your music. Like it or not, people do judge books by their covers. I’m also going to include my own fails here, so you can see that it’s a learning process along the way.
BEFORE THE SHOOT
1). Hire a Good Photographer
I’m so serious on this one, you guys. An iPhone selfie is fine for social media posts, but for press photos you want awesome shots. A good photographer will bring ideas, skills and techniques you won’t have. If you’re looking to save money, you could try a photography school. However, like everything else, you get what you pay for. It’s totally worth investing in photos that make you look great and make people want to hear your music. With a professional photographer, you should also ask for a contract and review their policies prior to the shoot (if they don’t have these things, you might want to keep looking). Contracts and policies protect both sides. They also let you know important things up front, like how many proofs (unedited photos) you’ll receive and how many will be edited, if any.
You might also want to hire a good hair and makeup artist unless you’re confident you can do it yourself.
2). Discuss How You Will Receive the Photos
Photographers differ in their method of delivering photos. Some give you unedited photos and it’s your job to correct them. Some give a certain number of edited, finished photos. It varies, but please work this out with your photographer before the shoot. You want to know what to expect and, equally importantly, when you can expect them. I could write a whole blog post on how to hire a photographer (and in fact, I might) so let’s just leave it at this: hire a professional who is serious about their work and has great references and samples to show you!
3). Do Your Photo Research Before the Shoot
Before your shoot, research your favorite bands, or artists you’ve been told you sound like. Find some great shots you love and bring them to your shoot. Photographers LOVE when clients come to the set with ideas. You don’t necessarily have to have them, but if you know what you want, it will make it a lot easier to get the best shot. Search headshots as well, because whether you’re a solo artist or a band, you’ll want some close-ups.
4). Analyze Your Face
Do you know your best angle? Do you know where the light needs to be placed to make you look good? If not, these are things you can learn simply by standing in front of the mirror and fake posing. I know mine from modeling. If the camera is looking down at me, I have giant eye bags. If the camera is looking down and pointed at the left side of my face, I have eye bags and Bassett Hound jowls. It’s just the design of my face. So, I know to angle my face appropriately based on where the camera is located. This is important for you as well and will save you a lot of time and editing. There’s nothing worse than getting 300 photo proofs back and hating every single one. This step will ensure that you at least get a couple of great face shots.
If you’re a band, have your entire band work on finding their best facial angle, then pose accordingly. You’ll get a great shot of all of you, and no one will feel left out. Let me know when you’re doing this, because I’d love to know!Hey Mella, we're working on our poses for our photoshoot! Click To Tweet
You’ll also want to get a full-length mirror and practice your poses (don’t act like you haven’t done this before, or at the VERY least, haven’t wanted to! Here’s your permission – go do it!) It might feel dumb, but wouldn’t you rather know not to do the hand-on-the-hip pose before you spend money and see the photo?
5). Fully Prepare Your Outfits
Notice I said “outfits” plural. You never know what will happen the day of the shoot. You might spill something on one shirt, you might realize you hate a certain dress on camera, you might not fit into those jeans like you thought you did. Even if every outfit looks great, it’s nice to have a variety to choose from. You’ll want to go through and plan the following items:
- Jewelry (rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, any other piercings)
- Anything else in your genre
For the last one, let’s consider country music. There are obvious pieces of attire that come to mind (hats, boots), and you’ll want to at least consider bringing them.
Here’s a tip that will save you some time: Plan all of your outfits around one or two colors. This will reduce what you need to bring and help you make decisions easier. Avoid black or white when possible as these can be harder to shoot. If you’re a band, plan your colors out ahead of time.
6). Dress For Your Genre
This is a fail of mine. Here is my album cover for Zebra Stone:
Looking at it, you might think I’m a jazz singer, right? You’d be wrong. This was a decision made by my team at the time, and I wasn’t involved but I also didn’t really object very hard. I should have. There is a huge disconnect between my image and the songs on the album, and you want to avoid that with your photos.
Going back to the country example, you may be so tired of seeing the same style in every photo. That’s understandable, but think about it from the perspective of someone who has never heard your music. They need a first impression of who you are and what you do. Yes, they may seem stereotypical, but your potential fans are looking for a clue that they might like your music.
Also, there are creative ways you could work with this. Let’s say you’re tired of the same old country stereotypes and don’t want to wear the hat or boots. Fine, why not take some photos of yourself throwing them? Or walking away from them? Just having them in the photo will help people make the connection of what you’re about.
Even if you feel you don’t fit into a genre, you’re going to want to do some type of work in figuring out how you want to style yourself. If you have the budget, you could hire a stylist to do it. You could also go shopping with a fashion-forward friend (or even write me (link), I’d be happy to listen to your work and give you some ideas!)
DURING THE SHOOT:
1). Bring Props to Your Shoot
It can be surprisingly difficult to stand and pose without anything to hold onto. If you’re new to photoshoots, it can even be intimidating. Bring your instruments, a microphone setup, or something you can hold. It will give you something to do with your hands, make you less nervous, and if it doesn’t look good, it can always be removed or cropped out later. Even a good luck charm or a piece of jewelry will give you something to play with.
2). Ask for Feedback
Your photographer should be able to tell you if you’re giving off the right energy. They should also direct you into the best poses, but some photographers might assume you don’t want to be told what to do. If you’re not sure if a pose looks good, ask them. If you’re not sure what to do with your hands, ask them! Hopefully you’ve hired a professional who has done this enough times to guide you into a great shot.
3). Bring Items You Might Need
On photoshoot days, my car is FULL of stuff. It looks like I’m moving. I have all of my complete outfit changes, snacks, drinks, magazines, hairspray, makeup (I bring my own just in case), nail polish, an emergency kit (accidents can and do happen on set) and anything else I think I might need. On a good day, I’ll use less than half of everything I brought. I don’t want to ever assume I won’t need something, because of course that will be the day I need it. You can also bring music to the shoot, either something that inspires you or your own work (which hopefully also inspires you).
AFTER THE SHOOT
Alright, so you got your photos back from the photographer. Congrats, you’re almost there! Just a few things to wrap up:
1). Have Your Photos Professionally Edited
If your photographer doesn’t do this, it’s worth it to get it done. You can hire someone online to do color correction, balance out tones, and generally make your photo look great. If you’re not experienced with photo correction, I recommend you don’t do it yourself, because it’s easy to miss things or overdo edits that other people will notice right away. If you are doing it yourself, see my next point:
2). Don’t Go Crazy with Editing
My current headshot on my homepage needs to be changed, because I have long hair in it and this is what I look like currently:
However, I haven’t had a new, professional photo yet, so I don’t want to just put up this crappy selfie because it doesn’t look professional. My hair changes all the time, which brings me to my next point:
3). Keep Your Photos Updated
I know, I’m breaking my own rule. However, this is really important if you plan on performing live often (which I don’t, so I’m kind of okay with leaving my picture until I get something new). I once had a show with a singer and her photo was gorgeous. She looked like a Victoria’s Secret supermodel. When she arrived on set, she looked literally nothing like her photo. She had a totally different hair color and length, and…I’m not trying to be rude here, but her weight and face looked very different. She was pretty in person, but unrecognizable from her photo. We didn’t even know she was the singer until she told us. You don’t want to do this, because people come to your shows expecting to see what’s in the photo. If something drastic happens (new piercings, major life changes, etc) you’ll want to update your photos to match.
Do you have a press photo you’re proud of? Please show it off! Post a link in the comments or send me a tweet. I love seeing awesome band and artist photos!