Looking like a giant dork in your band photos is not ideal. And it's avoidable.
So you started a band.
And you got some shows under your belt. Maybe you’ve even made a name for yourself in the music scene. Now, publications are asking for your promo photos. Blogs, magazines, and newspapers all want images of your group to pair with reviews of your music or write-ups about your shows. Your Spotify profile needs images, your Bandcamp needs images, and your website needs images. Venues are asking for promo photos to use to promote your upcoming gigs.
What do you do? If your answer is to take photos of your band in an unrecognizable urban alley, on some railroad tracks, or standing randomly in the woods – honey – let me help you.
Step 1: Start Thinking of Your Band as a Brand
No, not an identfying mark burned into the flesh of cattle. Though if you band wants to get that kind of brand, I’m not going to judge you.
Your band’s brand is what you want people to think when they think about your band. It’s your reputation, your style, how you speak to and interact with your audience. Your brand is the story of your band – past, present, and future.
When someone looks at your band’s promo photos, they should get a message about your brand. Photos can communicate what your music sounds like, what your sense of humor is like, and how serious you take yourselves.
What message do you want to send to your audience with your photos?
“We are four dudes who like hanging out in alleys” is not an option. Don’t book any photographer that is just going to copy the tried and true band photography tropes. Run far away.
I’ve got some tips for how to define your personal brand, and most of that can easily be applied to defining a band’s brand.
Step 2: Put in Some Effort to Look Cool
Looking cool doesn’t come naturally to anyone.
Do a Google search for your favorite band or artist. Chances are, you’ll find at least one awkward photo where they look like a total dingus. It’s happened to even the best bands and musicians.
Photographers are miracle workers, sure, but even miracles need some preparation. So talk amongst the band and with the photographer before your session about what the images will look like.
What’s the vibe?
What are you going to wear?
Instruments or no instruments?
Funny or serious?
Epic or nonchalant?
These kinds of questions will help you send the right message with your photos. And you’ll look cooler than a bunch of jerks standing in a field for no reason.
Step 3: Stop Trying So Hard to Look Cool
I know. That kinda contradicts Step 2. Get over it.
The difference between “some effort” and “too much effort” is the difference between a cool band photo and looking that a try-hard ultra-dork desperate to be seen as “cool.”
Not a good look.
What does trying too hard look like?
- Looking like a stereotype of your genre.
- Wearing clothes that you would never wear on stage.
- Just standing there and refusing to do anything risky or out of your comfort zone because you’re afraid it’ll make you look silly.
- Staring into the camera like a tough guy when we all know you are a big goofball.
Your band promo photos are a chance to let your personality actually exist in the image. Not every image needs to be funny or wacky, but don’t be afraid to be funny or wacky. It could make a great outtake! If nothing else, it’ll loosen you up so that you can enjoy the experience and not look like a scared rabbit in your final images.
Step 5: Practice Poses, Arrangements, Faces, and Gestures
Yes, you will feel like an absolute goober doing this.
Do it anyway. You’ll feel less awkward on the day of the shoot if you have already gotten all the awkwardness out during practice.
Set yourself up in front of a full length mirror, or set your cameraphone up on a timer. Do weird stuff. Get WILD. Make faces and contort your body.
This WILL make you self-concious. It will also make you more self-confident. You’ll get to stretch what you’re comfortable doing by getting out of your regular routine.
Look up modeling poses, actor expression prompts, and mimic images you find online. Trust me, this will help!
On the day of your session, I function as more of a director than a photographer. Generally, I’ll be guiding you through a variety of prompts and suggestions to get you to emote, pose, and behave in a certain way to get the images we’re after. But you’ll be able to trust me more if you’ve already practiced and seen what your body and facial expressions look like.
Step 6: Coordinate Your Outfits
What you wear to a photo session makes all the difference in the world. I always recommend bringing a change of clothes or items of clothing than can be layered/removed such as jackets, hats, and sunglasses. Then, you’ll have more variety and flexibility in your look.
Some bands will find this step easier than others. If your band has a flamboyant, theatrical, or monochromatic (hello, black metal bands) style then you probably already know what you want to wear for your photos. But you still want to be sure that everyone’s outfits work together as a group.
If what you wear on stage is pretty similar to what you wear in everyday life, there’s no real reason to get clothing that doesn’t fit your style just for a photoshoot (unless you’re going for something really different and eye-catching.) Even still, coordinating your everyday clothes will help the photos look more intentional. If one person is wearing fluorescent yellow pants and everyone else is wearing jeans, it’s going to look kinda wonky.
Now remember: “coordinate” doesn’t mean “match.” You don’t all have to wear the same outfit, unless you’re a 90’s grunge band in which case, bring all of the flannel and ripped denim you have. What you’re looking for is a group of outfits that blend well together without any one element taking all of the attention – or where one element is intentionally included to draw more attention. An example would be having the vocalist wear a brighter color and the rest of the band wear darker colors.
Step 7: Band Promo Photos are a Collaboration
I can’t tell you how many times a band has approached me for photos and said something to the effect of:
“Just make us look cool.”
I can absolutely do that! But my opinion of what looks cool and your opinion of what looks cool is not necessarily a Venn diagram. Your photos will be much more effective if you have some input on what they look like.
This partly relates to all of the other steps above: basically, have an idea of of your band’s brand image. When you have that, you will have an easier time telling your photographer “We want something like makes people feel X” or “Our photos need to give off a vibe of X.”
My job is to bring your vision to life, not to impose my opinion of what your SHOULD look like onto you. I’m just a dork who mostly listens to pop punk and alt country music and hasn’t watched a music video is like 5 years. My idea of what is cool is pretty limited.
That’s why I’ll pick your brain before our session to pull out what you like and what you aspire to be. Then I’ll make that happen in the camera!
I’ve worked with a lot of bands over the years to create promo photos to show their fans what they’re all about. Check out more of my work here!
Hey, I’m a photographer in Southwest Florida specializing in commercial and personal branding. Everything I say is delightful so be sure to follow my social media pages for more tips on improving your brand image. @jesicasonphotography