3 Steps to Becoming an Amazing Band Photographer
There's certainly no shortage of people looking to break into the music photography business. Just do a quick search on the subject and you'll find countless other people trying to figure out how to use their camera as a passport to the land of rock stardom.
However, I'm gonna make it really easy for you-- the key to success in this business is simply knowing how to differentiate yourself, and I'll show you how to do that in three simple steps. So let's get right to it, shall we?
step 1 - Become an amazing all-around photographer
Before you say to yourself, "Well, obviously!!", just hear me out for a second. Before you can become an amazing band photographer, you need to develop a mastery of a few other (seemingly unrelated) genres of photography first. For instance:
- You need to become adept at shooting fashion & glamour, because you will need to know how to pose and light a wide variety of subjects in the most flattering way, regardless of their body type/shape.
- Then you'll also need to master the principles of family photography, because knowing how to pose groups of people while maintaining a sense of connectedness and visual harmony between each person is an absolute must.
- Also on the list of prerequisites is a mastery of general portrait photography (e.g. headshots) , which will give you the ability to see and understand the subtleties of light, learn how to control it, and do all of this while simultaneously engaging and interacting with a live subject (or group of subjects).
- Lastly, becoming proficient in a genre such as landscape photography or fine art photography will give you a thorough understanding of foundational concepts like composition and perspective, as well as the ability to adapt and think creatively in any type of environment (i.e. being able to take whatever you're given and make it work somehow).
But aside from all the purely photographic stuff you need to know like the back of your hand, you also need to become an absolute wizard with Photoshop. Some will argue this point, saying that if the photography is good enough, then Photoshop is unnecessary. I beg to differ.
In today's music industry, where everyone and their brother is creating and publishing music from their living rooms, blasting out their latest mixes on SoundCloud, and uploading tons of videos to YouTube trying to become the next Justin Bieber (well, not exactly like him, but you get my drift), today's artists have no choice but to do absolutely everything they can to stand out in the crowd.
Putting a bunch of boring snapshots out there and calling them "promo images" just ain't gonna cut it. In order to help your clients succeed, you need to know how to make images "sing" (pun intended), and the best way to do that is with Photoshop.
step 2 - Specialize
Once you've paid your dues and established yourself as an amazing all-around photographer, then it's time to specialize. Simply put, in order to become an amazing band photographer, you need to be able to market yourself as such, and that means completely turning your back on things like family photography, weddings, and baby portrait sessions. You absolutely don't want a potential client to come to your website and see a jack-of-all-trades photographer, because there are already umpteen billion of them out there to choose from. You want to show them that you are supremely focused on making bands & musicians look amazing. Period.
However, another more important reason to specialize has to do with the overall quality of service you'll be able to provide each artist. Music photography is a unique and challenging genre that's constantly changing, just like the music industry itself. In order to create the most epic promo images you possibly can and make your clients look their best, you need to have a laser-like focus on the unique marketing needs of the modern artist.
Here's the thing-- to be successful, bands and musicians need a variety of very specific types of images, each with different characteristics (see this post for further clarification). It can get complicated very quickly and will require lots of planning and face-time with your client to keep everything straight. So don't make things more difficult on yourself (and dilute your marketing message) by getting distracted with other photography genres unrelated to music.
step 3 -learn to Shoot for the artist, not your portfolio
Yes, you read that right. When you decide to become a music photographer, it's not just about you anymore. Get over it. Each artist is hiring you specifically to make THEM look good (according to their definition of what looks good), so the issue of whether or not the resulting images will enhance your portfolio isn't even part of the equation.
Obviously, this isn't to say that your own artistic perspective shouldn't have a huge influence on things. In fact, if you're truly an amazing band photographer, clients will be hiring you specifically because of your artistic eye, and they will be expecting you to use your creativity to bring their music to life visually. So your perspective as an artist is an absolutely essential piece of the puzzle, and you should feel completely confident in what you recommend to the client.
However, what I'm getting at here is the fact that at the end of the day, your job is to deliver images that they will proudly put out there to represent their music and brand. In their eyes, the images need to be an accurate reflection of who they are as an individual artist. But sometimes this will differ from who you think they are, so you need to be ready and perfectly willing to embrace this situation when it happens (and it will).
This might mean that you'll need to make a series of adjustments to an image to "fix" things that you don't even believe are an issue. In rare cases this might mean that you'll need to completely trash a fully retouched image and start from scratch. The point is, the image isn't done until the client says it's done. No exceptions.
Admittedly, this was a hard truth for me to swallow when I transitioned from a jack-of-all-trades photographer to a music photographer a couple of years ago. I had grown very accustomed to approaching each and every shoot as an opportunity to add something new to my portfolio.
However, with music photography I've found that by focusing more on what the client sees in their mind's eye rather than my own, I've been able to challenge myself creatively in order to produce something that we can both be proud of. The really interesting thing is, many times the end product is something completely different than anything I might have imagined. In many cases it's better. So my advice is to keep an open mind and let your creativity be a complement to theirs, as opposed to trying to bulldoze your way through everything.
So hopefully at this point you know exactly how to become an amazing band photographer. However, if there's anything you'd like more clarification on, please leave me a comment below. I'm always more than happy to share my own experiences for the betterment of the photography community, and I want to be here as a resource to help you succeed. Seriously....try me.