How To Suck At Music Photography
So you've been asked to shoot some band photos, or maybe help put together a press kit. Perhaps you've got some general portraiture experience under your belt, but nothing specifically in the genre of music photography. So what do you do? Well, here's a list of things you might wanna avoid if you ever hope to have success as a band photographer.
1) Stick with the "tried and true" formula.
You've seen it a million times before-- the stereotypical band portrait. A group of four, maybe five guys are standing on a railroad track. Each of them has a blank stare on their face, and they look absolutely bored out of their minds. Two or three of them are smoking a cigarette, and one guy is looking off in a different direction than everyone else (you know, for that "artsy" feel). The camera angle is extremely low, making everyone appear to be 8 feet tall. Overall, you just get the feeling that these dudes are WAY too cool for school.
Then you see a different shot of the same band, but this time they're standing in front of a brick wall. Their poses and expressions haven't really changed, but a few of the band members have switched positions. Everyone still looks like they're waiting for a train.
Sound familiar? It should. There's a reason that band portraits have followed this general formula like eleventy billion times. It just works. So why mess with a good thing? Apply the above methodology to ALL of your band & musician promos.
2) Treat your music clients just like any other.
Modern technology has gotten so sophisticated that even a monkey can take a well-exposed photograph with hardly any effort. It's literally a matter of pressing a button, and the camera does everything else. So now that all the guesswork has been taken out of the equation, the barrier to entry in the photography field is lower than ever, and everyone and their brother is now a "professional photographer" by virtue of their shiny new $600 Best Buy DSLR.
So what's my point, you ask? Well, in order to maximize your business opportunities, you need to accept pretty much any type of job that comes your way. This means that if you come across a young mother who needs newborn portraits, you do it. If a happy couple asks you to shoot their wedding, you book the date. And when a band or musician approaches you about needing some updated promos, you squeeze them into the first available spot right alongside the other shoots. Don't over-complicate things. Photography is photography. It's all a matter of putting human beings in front of your camera and pressing a button. So the same set of rules always applies, and you shouldn't approach your music shoots any differently than you do all the others.
3) Don't waste your money on fancy-schmancy equipment.
Hey, I didn't mean to sound like I was dissing the $600 Best Buy DSLR folks in the previous tip. After all, they're just leveraging the miracles of modern technology to support their frugality. Besides, do you think the average person would really be able to tell the difference between an image shot with a $2000 Canon L-series lens mounted on a 5D Mark III and one shot with a Nikon Coolpix? I didn't think so. Especially considering that you can always cover up any incongruencies by just throwing on some artsy film grain effect or maybe a Photoshop action or two. Which brings us to the next tip...
4) Compensate for your lack of Photoshop knowledge by applying copious amounts of plugins and filters to every image.
Let's be honest-- who really has the time to learn that beast of a program known as Adobe Photoshop? Especially when there's no real return on investment, right? I mean, let's face it-- getting out and actually shooting is what truly brings the money in (and being a professional photographer is ALL about the money, right?). The reality is, all you need to learn are a few key concepts like adjustment layers, masks, and yada yada yada, and the rest is a piece of cake.
The solution? Just pour on heaps of actions, plugins, and filters. Not only do these little gems completely transform your image in two seconds flat, but they really make you look like you know what you're doing. People will shower you with glowing comments like "wow, you're such an amazing artist!" and "omigod, ur so gud at photography!". Pretty soon you'll be the coolest music photographer on the block. Bank on it.
5) Give your work away for next to nothing.
Everyone knows that the vast majority if musicians are starving artists, so why make their lives any tougher than they have to be by charging a premium for your services? After all, you're already saving yourself tons of retouching work by following Tip #4 above, so you can't honestly claim that your workflow is all that time-intensive. A little HDR plugin here, a little high pass filter there, and voila!-- an image that virtually jumps right off the page.
But beyond that, there's really no reason to charge a fortune at this point, because you an always decide to raise your prices later. And when you get around to actually doing that, your clients will totally understand that you're transitioning from a "budget" photographer to a true professional. They will happily pay your higher rates and most definitely stick with you for the long haul. Never in a million years would they run back to Craigslist looking for someone who's in the "portfolio building" stage, because they already know they can get stellar images from you, right?
So that's it-- the five keys to sucking at band photography. Follow the above advice, and you'll be shooting covers for Rolling Stone in no time flat. Bank on it.