Forget about whether you feel awkward in front of a camera or not, it is time to think seriously about the imagery you use to help promote and sell your music. Ultimately your music is the key ingredient but I’m going to share with you some insights into why I think you should consider paying a professional Photographer to help you. I am a music fan and player before a Photographer, so to me the highest value always rests with the music and Musicians, but I do think strong imagery has a role to play in boosting your presence.
We are visual creatures
We’ve all learnt by now that images sell. We are constantly bombarded by them, our eyes scanning hundreds every day. Occasionally you come across an image that captures a moment or message in a single photograph. These are the images that work. The ones that take the viewer to a point of reflection and holds their attention. This is what your band photos need to do. They need to stand out. A strong Photograph aims to communicate your music in still form and engage the viewer enough to make them read or ‘click’ further. So, where do you start?
Thinking about the use of the image.
First you need to work out what you need the photographs for? Do you need shots for street press, posters, CD Artwork, social media? Each vary in their intent and thus each hold the potential for different approaches to getting the image. Some will come with certain specifications regarding image size, orientation and vacant space for text. Having a rough idea of what you will need the images for will help work out what images you need captured.
I would encourage you to think broadly about what sort of imagery your fans will engage with. Is it studio shots you are after or moody photos working with natural light? You may want to mix it up a bit from more ‘posed’ band shots with live photographs, or maybe even more candid shots. Maybe it’s just because I love shooting candid moments/behind the scenes, but I do see great benefits in arming yourself with a variety of strong images that help tell the story of your music and you as a band. These can be used regularly to build your ‘brand’ and personalise your messages and interactions with your fans online. People love photographs, it is a way to gain personal insight into a moment they would otherwise not have been a part of. Don’t be afraid to share your journey as musicians and be real in the imagery you share.
Finding a Photographer
Look around for a Photographer, there are plenty of us!! Ask for recommendations from others. I think it’s important to not just look at their photos of musicians, see what else they photograph as it will show you if they are good at working in various environments and conditions. Check out their work online, ring them up for a chat and see if you are both on the same wavelength to get the final product you are after.
Professionals are there because they’ve done the hard slogs, they’ve learnt the skills and techniques to get you the photos you want. This especially counts for live photographs. To really capture the essence of a band you should know their music, almost anticipating when the shot is about to happen and being able to react quickly! A top image should make the viewer almost feel what it was like at the gig…a teaser to what your music sounds like.
There is an abundance of music blogs these days and subsequently Photographers shooting shows. The skill level, professionalism and creativity of these Photographers varies greatly. If we are talking about live music shots, if you don’t book someone privately you have no say in who you get and the images that will be shared of your show. A bad photo can make your gig look worse than it was. Conversely, a great photo can make even a small gig look impressive. Secondly if you book a Photographer privately you get them for the gig that you want them. This may mean a launch or a gig you know to expect a decent crowd to. They should be able to adjust to any lighting conditions, inside and out, light or dark. As a Photographer we all get gigs that have shithouse lighting to work with. But if you’re good, you’ll still get some shots. A big upside of paying someone professionally means they can liaise with whoever is on lights and together ensure efficient and effective lighting. You get the best from the scenario and have control over what images are shared.
How do you afford a Professional Photographer when you’re still starting out?
Negotiate but be respectful. Photographers are creatives too and like musicians often get the whole ‘but you love what you do and I can offer you exposure and drinks as payment.’ Just like music gear, camera gear costs big bucks, and so does the time we put into knowing and experimenting with our craft. Even if we love what we do it takes time away spent with loved ones, for some of us it means organising people to watch children or paying to do so.
Each person has to make their own call on if they will do a ‘freebie’ or trade some photos for payment in vinyl (I admit I am a sucker for a new record), entry to a gig etc. Ultimately though payment in $$ is needed. Too many jobs for free is frequently what leads to the downfall of many creative professionals starting out. It pushes them back into unstimulating day jobs that win simply because it guarantees a pay check each week. So feel free to negotiate and be honest about your budget but also be prepared to plan to save a few $$ and invest in a Professional Photographer.
If you choose to pay a Professional, a lot of what you are paying for is unseen. You pay for the discussion, the planning, the ideas, the professionalism, the quality of the gear and back up systems. You pay for the hours of editing afterwards, all the metadata and tagging that will help your images have a stronger presence online in search engines. On a smaller level you benefit from them sharing their work and subsequently your music to their followers. If they are a Photographer who is into their music hopefully they are pretty connected to the scene so you never know who they may help expose you too. In terms of their final product they should provide you high resolution images ready for use in any large print media and to designer specifications if required. Again, a lot of the cost and service is in the detail away from taking the photos.
What should you expect?
Openness, ideas, professionalism, trust and feeling comfortable. Your Photographer should be happy to discuss ideas and concepts for your photos. I also like to think they should know your music and give it a good listen if they haven’t already. They should be professional when holding the camera and in how they treat the files afterwards. Ask them what systems they have in place to protect your images, how long do they store them for?
Consistency in your imagery in terms of the quality and feel.
Chat to them about opportunities to shoot in various locations and an outfit change. A costume and location change will give you more longevity from your images as you can simply use a new image once a previous shot is getting a little street press tired rather than having to do another shoot. We all know most musicians are working other jobs, organising everyone to be free at the same time even to rehearse can be tricky so let’s make getting photos done as easy as possible ;)
Ultimately the decision is up to you whether you book a Professional Photographer, take the photos yourself or rope in a mate. The purpose of sharing my thoughts is simply to encourage you to think over your options and what outcomes you will get.
Lauren Murphy is a friend of the Half Brothers Booking family and a highly recommended portfolio and live band photographer. Let her know that Half Brothers sent you!