How To Choose a Band Photographer
Whether you're a musician, singer, DJ, band member, performer, or have some other significant connection to the music industry, chances are pretty good that at some point you'll find yourself in need of a few professional-looking promo shots. But the question is, how do you go about finding a good band photographer? Do you go ask your friend who just bought a fancy-schmancy new camera from Best Buy? Do you just hit Google and click on the first studio that pops up?My primary goal with this article is to get you thinking about all the important things you'll need to consider when choosing a band photographer, and ultimately to help you make the best decision possible for your unique situation. I cannot stress to you how hugely important your promo images are to your success in the music industry, so finding the right photographer is key. If you take nothing else from this article, remember this: People will hear your music with their EYES first.
With that said, let's move on to the first step...
1) Determine what your specific needs are
This may seem like a silly and obvious first step, but hear me out for a second. Are you looking for a splashy image to become the new header for your website? Do you need something to use for an album/CD cover? How about press kit photos? Do you plan to have t-shirts, stickers, and hats on your merch table for upcoming shows? All of the above?
My point is this: the qualities that make for a great CD cover are usually quite different from those of a great website header. And the same can be said about press kit photos and merch table items. Each of these situations requires photos that are governed by certain style rules and conventions, such as: orientation (portrait vs. landscape), dimensions, color scheme, lighting style, mood, tonality, etc. In other words, there are some very specific creative decisions that will need to be made by you and your photographer to ensure that you end up with images that are appropriate for your particular needs.
So an effective marketing strategy is one that includes the right shot for the right situation. Naturally, if you just keep using the same shot(s) over and over again ad nauseum and expect to be taken seriously, you're likely setting yourself up for major disappointment.
Your photographer should be a strong resource for you when it comes to making these key creative decisions, but that's only going to happen if you choose someone who's very experienced in this genre and who thoroughly understands the unique business & marketing needs of musicians-- not someone who just casually shoots bands & musicians right alongside weddings, sporting events, or whatever else comes along.
So the question is, how do you go about finding someone who's supremely qualified to shoot your promos?
2) Begin your search
Even if you already have a good photographer in mind, I highly recommend that you check out the competition and get acquainted with all of the different possibilities available to you. Each photographer will bring a different set of skills and strengths to the table, along with different stylistic tendencies.
Understandably, it's very easy to get overwhelmed during this stage, so let me give you a few specific things to focus on to help narrow things down:
A) Does the photographer specialize in band portraiture, or is it just one of many different genres he/she offers? This is important, because you want someone who is capable of giving you the specialized service you need and deserve. A jack-of-all-trades photographer who's spreading him/herself too thin might not be be able to provide the most laser-focused, customized experience and deliver images you can use to market yourself effectively.
For example, how would you feel if you found out that your photo session was scheduled right in between, say, a newborn baby shoot, a modeling shoot, and a wedding? What's the likelihood that the photographer would be able to "switch gears" in that situation and deliver the most amazing, jaw-dropping promo shots to you?
The bottom line is, take note of how many different types of services each photographer is advertising, and judge accordingly.
B) Most people's attention span when looking through photo galleries is only a few seconds per shot (at most). So with that in mind, it's important that your promotional images are as bold and attention-grabbing as possible. As you look through each photographer's portfolio, pay specific attention to the initial gut reaction you get when you first lay eyes on each shot. Chances are, this is the exact same reaction that your fans would have if it were YOU in the photo. Be on the lookout for truly impactful imagery that makes a strong first impression.
C) Give yourself permission to be extremely selective while looking through photographers' portfolios. Don't dwell too long on any particular shot-- if it doesn't reach out and smack you upside the head, it's not good enough. If it doesn't give you a strong, visceral reaction that you can feel in your gut, just move on. The best band photographers know how to make images seem like they jump off the page at you, and their work will speak for itself. Don't settle for anything less than the absolute best you can find.
D) Look for quality and consistency throughout each portfolio you view. Nearly all photographers will have at least one or two good shots they can show you, but what about the rest of their work?
Here's a little insider tip for you: almost all photographers begin and end their portfolios with their strongest 2 shots. They do this because it maximizes the emotional impact on the viewer right from the get-go, and then it also leaves a positive impression at the end. Being aware of this tactic will give you lots of interesting insights that you wouldn't ordinarily have, such as: (1) What does the photographer feel is his/her best work? (2) Are the beginning and ending shots representative of his/her entire body of work, or are they the exceptions? (3) Do you agree with the photographer's choices, and if not, what might that say about potential artistic/creative differences that might pop up later? Just a little something to chew on....
3) Make contact
Once you find a great photographer with a kick-butt portfolio, reach out to them via email and see how long it takes for them to get back to you. If a phone number is provided, go ahead and call.
The important thing here is that you wanna make sure there aren't any obvious personality conflicts that could come back to bite you later on. After all, you'll likely be spending several hours with this person if you end up deciding to hire them, so you basically wanna make sure they're not a total dweeb. 🙂
With that said, here are a few important things to consider asking the photographer sometime during your first couple of conversations:
A) How does pricing work? Is there a charge for the photo shoot itself (also known as a "session fee")? How much do the images cost, and how many will I get?
B) How does licensing work? Are there any additional royalties that must be paid if the images are used for commercial purposes (CD cover, merch table items, etc.)?
C) Will there be any watermarks/logos on the images? Are there any other restrictions I need to be aware of?
D) Will the shoot take place in a studio or on location (or both)? Can you describe what a typical shoot entails?
E) Once the shoot is over, what's the process for me to view and select the images I want?
F) Approximately how long will it take to edit the images and deliver the final versions to me?
4) Meet the photographer in person
As stated above, it's vitally important for you to feel comfortable with your photographer. You should be able to speak freely about what you like and don't like without any hesitation or awkwardness.
This will be especially crucial during the photo shoot, because lots of creative decisions will need to be made on the spot. If you don't feel like you can speak freely, chances are pretty good that you will end up with promo shots that fall well short of your expectations.
The best way to break the ice and establish a solid rapport with your photographer is to meet in person prior to your shoot. Not only will you get introductions out of the way, but you can also use this time to brainstorm ideas and plan the creative direction for your shoot. All of this preparation will pay HUGE dividends once the lights start flashing and the shutters start clicking. Believe me, I speak from experience (I always meet with my clients in person at least once prior to each shoot). So take the time to meet your photographer-- you'll be glad you did.
5) Book the shoot
Assuming that everything checks out up to this point, and you're confident in the photographer's ability to deliver some stunning promotional images, go ahead and find a date that works for all parties involved. As far as what time of day to choose, it will largely depend on the type of shoot.
For instance, if everything will take place outdoors, then environmental factors like weather and available light will play a critical role in the decision. Studio shoots, on the other hand, can typically be done at any time. Also be sure to take into account any external factors that could affect the band's mood and/or energy level during the shoot. For instance, you don't want to schedule an early morning shoot following a late-night live gig. Or if you're a big-time partier, you might wanna avoid morning shoots altogether. 🙂
In the days/weeks leading up to your shoot, be prepared to collaborate extensively with the photographer when it comes to establishing and refining the overall creative direction. The more you take ownership in this process and let your voice be heard, the better your photos will ultimately reflect your unique artistic style.
For example, I always encourage my clients to search Google Images for examples of promo shots from other artists that they really like. It might be the lighting, the pose, the colors, or just an overall "vibe", but the important thing is to get the conversation and exchange of ideas flowing as soon as possible. You ultimately want to help the photographer see exactly what you see in your mind's eye, and translate your vision into terms that they can understand. After all, the best way to communicate with a visual artist is through visual examples.
6) Do the shoot
Once you've got a solid game plan in hand, it's time to actually do the shoot. Chances are, you'll have some specific ideas mapped out that you'll want to tackle first, but you should also be prepared for some unexpected twists and turns. Once the creative juices get flowing, it's very common for completely new concepts to emerge out of the blue, and before you know it you're well off track from where you started.
However, this is perfectly okay! Some of the best shots in my portfolio were completely spur-of-the-moment, and just happened organically. So just be sure to keep an open mind during your shoot, and let things happen as they may. It's quite possible that you may end up scrapping your original game plan and going in a different direction entirely, but as long as you're happy with the result, that's all that really matters. So go ahead...experiment!
Anyway, there you have it-- the definitive guide to choosing a band photographer, written by an actual band photographer. Hopefully you found this article to be quite helpful and informative, and the next time you're searching for someone to shoot your promos, I hope the process will be much more efficient and painless for you.
Of course, I'd be honored if you'd consider me for the task, but even if you don't, what I'm really trying to do here is raise the collective bar for all band photographers and improve the quality of work that's being put out there. The more educated you are as a consumer, the more discerning you'll be, which in turn challenges us photographers to create a better and better product.
Either way, you come away a winner-- and honestly, that's really the whole point of this article. So with that, I wish you all the best in your musical pursuits moving forward. Thanks for reading!