It seems like there's never a shortage of photographers looking to break into the music business. The thought of using a camera as a "passport" to the land of rock stardom is just too tempting to ignore. And I totally get it-- being a band photographer is one of the coolest gigs around.
But it seems like a lot of people are going about it the wrong way. They act like there's some kind of magic "shortcut" that will help them reach their goals much faster than normal. So they run around trying to figure out how to go from zero to hero overnight.
Unfortunately, in my experience there is no such thing as an overnight success. But if you're willing to put in a ton of hard work, there IS somewhat of a "secret" 3-step formula that I can share with you. It's the exact blueprint that I've used over the past 8 years to become the most successful band portrait photographer in my area.
Step 1: Broaden Your Horizons
Let me say this right up front: you will never achieve your full potential as a band photographer if you allow yourself to simply ignore other (seemingly unrelated) photographic genres.
Yeah, I know what you're probably thinking.....what the heck does shooting baby portraits, landscapes, or even fine art have to do with band photography?
But it turns out that the answer is actually "quite a lot". You see, the skills that you can learn by shooting other photographic genres will help you tremendously when it comes to finding success as a band photographer. Let me give you a few examples:
- To learn how to pose and light a wide variety of subjects in the most flattering way, regardless of their body type/shape, try shooting: high school seniors, quinceañeras, maternity portraits, engagements, weddings
- To gain an appreciation for the subtleties of light, and learn how to simultaneously address a wide variety of technical challenges while engaging and interacting with a live subject, try shooting: corporate headshots, fashion/glamour
- To gain a more thorough understanding of foundational concepts such as composition and perspective, try shooting: landscapes, fine art
- To become adept at posing groups of people and maintaining control over situations that can quickly become chaotic, try shooting: family portraits
- To improve your creativity with shooting angles, lighting, and composition, and learn how to transform an ordinary, everyday photo into a genuine work of art that conveys real emotion, try shooting: newborn portraits
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and experiment with different styles of photography. Not only will it help you develop and refine your skill set, but you will learn some extremely valuable lessons that will come in really handy down the road.
Step 2: Specialize
Once you've paid your dues by spending some quality time studying a few other photographic genres, it's time to move things in the opposite direction. Now you need to narrow your focus. You need to specialize.
The reason is simple-- you absolutely do NOT want potential clients coming to your website and seeing a mixture of baby photos, landscapes, high school seniors, maternity portraits, and then maybe a few bands thrown in for good measure.
If you project yourself as a jack-of-all-trades photographer, then potential clients are never going to fully respect you as a legitimate band photographer. They're going to think to themselves that you're someone who will take basically any job that comes your way. You'll be sending a mixed message, and many musicians will scoff at the idea of working with someone who seems to lack passion and overall direction.
One of the greatest secrets to my success (and the one thing that almost all of my clients have commented about) is the fact that when they first came to my website, it was 100% clear where my heart and focus was. My passion for working with musicians was undeniable, and it showed in my images. They thought to themselves, "this guy truly gets it....and that's exactly the type of person I want to work with."
But there's actually another (more important) reason to specialize-- it'll have a tremendous impact on the overall quality of service that 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.
Things can get complicated very quickly, and you'll need lots of planning and face-time with your clients to keep everything straight. So don't make things even more difficult on yourself by getting distracted with other photographic genres.
Now of course, with all of that said, let me back up for a second and point out that if you absolutely have to shoot families, high school seniors, weddings, or whatever else comes your way in order to put food on the table and keep the lights on, then by all means do it. Obviously, those things come first.
But if at all possible, keep those images completely separate from your band photos. Having a second website would be ideal, but at the very least, make sure that when potential musician clients come to your site, the only thing they see are band photos. Preferably face-melting ones. 😛
Step 3: 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. Each and every artist that you have an opportunity to work with is trusting YOU to make them look good (according to their definition of what looks good). And if you fail to create images that enhance their brand and artistic vision, then the potential negative impact on their career(s) can be devastating.
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.
But what I'm getting at here is the fact that at the end of the day, your job is to deliver images that they'll be able to proudly put out there to represent their music. If you allow yourself to be more concerned about your portfolio than their needs as artists, then you're essentially doing them a huge disservice. Over time, it will come back to bite you.
Believe me, you don't wanna be that guy/gal. I've seen lots of photographers fail in this business because they were much more concerned about creating a solid portfolio than they were about creating genuine value for their clients.
Remember, word of mouth is always the best form of advertising. If you make it a priority to deliver images to your clients that perfectly encapsulate who they are as artists, and get them super-stoked to share those images with their fans, then you're definitely on the right track.
So I'll say it again-- always put the needs of your clients first. If you happen to end up with an amazing shot that elevates your portfolio to a new level, awesome. But that should never come at the expense of serving your customer.
So that's basically my "secret" 3-step system for becoming a successful band photographer. Probably not what you expected, but then again I'm not here to blow smoke or simply regurgitate what others might say. I'm here to give you actionable info that you can apply in your business right away and get real results.
So tell me, do you agree/disagree with what I've shared? Anything to add? Please sound off in a comment below.