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5 Tips For Better Band Portraits & Promos

Band portraits. One photographer and at least one person – or five or six – who makes music. Lights, camera, action.

Whether you’re shooting editorial portraits on tour or producing material for a promotional campaign, here are five easy tips for shooting band portraits and promos.

These Here are five simple but important tips for shooting band portraits and promotional photos:

  1. Confidence
  2. Fluidity
  3. Names
  4. Positioning
  5. Positive Feedback

Before the technical details and lighting setups, these are five indispensable aspects of working for bands in my book. Let’s drill-down.

1) Confidence

Bands are like wild animals: they can smell fear.

If the golden rule of sales is “Always Be Closing,” then for any type of portrait shoot, I propose “Always Be Confident.” In my experience, confidence is contagious, and there’s no better place for it to begin than with the photographer.

Confidence on the part of the photographer produces confidence in one’s subjects, which always translates into better images. When you project professionalism and confidence, subjects are more willing to trust, experiment, and invest themselves in the shoot.

For editorial portraits on assignment that may take place under extreme time frames, this approach is especially critical. In these quick types of shoots, you’re in control of the shoot until the moment you show your subjects that you’re not.

2) Fluidity

Going off the first tip of confidence, one thing I always strive for in my portrait sessions is a sense of fluidity in the shoot itself. Smooth transitions in positioning, looks, and lighting. Quick and seamless changes in all these areas not only save time, but they set a good working tempo and help establish your control.

This sense of fluidity also translates into multitasking as well. For example, if an assistant is moving a light, I take that opportunity to give direction and feedback, ensuring there’s a minimum of downtime.

Whether it’s a time-tight editorial shoot or a commercial shoot with handlers and art directors standing by, efficiency is never wasted.

Forever The Sickest Kids, who taught me that when in doubt (and when photographing six band members), get in close

3) Names

I’ll tell you guys a secret: I’m horrible with names. And yet, this doesn’t stop me from calling out individuals for a six-piece group when I need to pose them minutes after meeting them.

The trick is simply to memorize the names and faces of everyone in the band ahead of time. Before any shoot with a band who I don’t personally know, I make it a point to memorize the roster, which I consider essential for building rapport and confident direction.

On my first portrait session with Forever The Sickest Kids, their guitarist Caleb noted, “You’re the first photographer to actually learn our names before a shoot!” It’s a small thing, but knowing the names of each and every band member is essential in my book.

Accurately and confidently calling out a band member’s name is not only the most efficient mode for direction (it sure beats pointing and saying “Hey, can you…), it shows a band a simple but important level of investment into the shoot. I find that this level of connection always puts the band more at ease, which translates into more compelling images.

If for some reason you can’t memorize ahead of time or you simply forget, kindly asking for a reminder is a simple act of consideration that will not go unappreciated.

4) Positioning

Together with light and subject, composition is a core pillar in the dynamics of photography, and band portraits are no exception. Very rarely does the Red Rover look of a line of people straight across the most successful arrangement for a compelling portrait.

In my portraits with musicians, I always strive to break up the group and position the members in a natural way. As a general starting point, I tend to position core or senior band members up front in the stagger, but I constantly shuffle members around during the shoot. If nothing else, rearrangement from time to time helps keep everyone fresh and breaks the tedium.

The Dillinger Escape Plan photographed in late 2009 on their headlining tour for "Option Paralysis"

5) Positive Feedback

Positive feedback is an essential tool for any portrait shoot, and band portraits are no exception. I always strive to give my subjects a stream of communication letting them know how the shoot is going, whether it’s positive feedback on an adjustment to posture or the lighting.

In addition to verbal encouragement, one thing I generally try to do is show the band (and any of their representatives on-site) how the lighting looks on the camera’s LCD.

This act serves two purposes. First, it keys the band into the very specific look we’re working with and involves them in the visual process. Second, this establishes the authority and expertise of the photographer. After involving everyone in the specific look we’re creating, I always find that people relax, excitement builds, and the best images are made.

UK punk band TAT photographed on Warped Tour 2009

End Notes:

Whether shooting editorial portraits on location or a commercial in the studio, these five simple tips I always keep in mind for my own work. Better yet, these are tips that anyone can implement – they have nothing to do with your camera gear, lighting setup, or the level of band you’re shooting.

Have fun, guys.

The New Heathers, photographed for the release of their 2009 EP, "The Fuel, The Fire, The Spark"

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There are 52 comments

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  1. Charlotte

    You have some seriously amazing photos Todd, and thanks for these tips :D
    One little thing though, when you were talking about learning the bands names, for Forever The Sickest Kids you put their drummer ‘Caleb’. Caleb’s their guitarist, Kyle is their drummer XD!

    • Todd

      Hey Charlotte,

      Consider me thoroughly embarrassed. Thanks for the edit. Guitarist, not drummer! It was Caleb, though. One thing I have yet to do is memorize everyone’s instruments. ;)

      Will change that right now. Thanks for the kind words, hope these simple tips help.

  2. Tampa Band Photos

    This is a great set of tips, and I wholeheartedly agree with you on all points. However, most of the challenges you discuss can be largely overcome through careful planning. I always make a concerted effort to immerse myself in each client’s music and brand well in advance of the shoot, as I find that the resulting photos much more accurately reflect their unique vision and style. In addition, I spend a great deal of time pre-planning the individual shots and lighting configurations in an effort to keep things flowing as smoothly as possible, and this by itself increases my confidence level. Because, like you said, being assertive and in control will definitely pay dividends when it comes to keeping things moving along at a steady but comfortable pace. All of this having been said, it’s of course not always possible to do a great deal of preproduction (if any) prior to some shoots, so this list of tips would be a great thing to keep in one’s back pocket. Thanks for sharing! -Russ

  3. Billy

    I have a quick question for you. Do you ever blend layers together to keep the lighting on all the band members constant

  4. robert

    Hey Todd,

    Could you maybe talk more specifically about your lighting setups? Where and how many do you set up? Do you use strobes? I’m interested to know more of the technical aspects of these portrait shoots.

    Thanks so much!

    • Todd

      Thanks for the comments, guys. At some point I would love to post lighting diagrams, though for this post I really wanted to focus on tips that really anyone can implement for their shooting, as opposed to technical aspects that require specific lighting modifiers, lights, etc.

  5. Chris

    hey Todd,

    great photos, thanks for the information. i was wondering if there was any other information i need to know as I’m doing an assignment on the role band photography plays in the success and appearance of the band.

    Very well done and kind regards
    Chris


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