How to Suck at Music Photography


So you've been asked to shoot some band photos, or maybe help put together a press kit. You've got some general portraiture experience under your belt, but nothing specifically in the area of music photography.  So what do you do?

Well, follow every item on the list below and I guarantee you'll have CRAZY, face-melting success as a band photographer.  I mean, everybody's gonna know your name.  Seriously.

No sarcasm or satire here at all.

Nope, not one bit. 

Carry on.

1) Stick with the "tried and true" formula.

You've seen it a million times before-- the stereotypical band portrait.  A group of four, maybe five guys are standing on a railroad track.  Each of them has a blank stare on their face, and they look absolutely bored out of their minds.  One guy is smoking a cigarette; another is holding a bottle of Jack Daniels. 

And then there's one guy looking off in a different direction than everyone else (you know, for that "artsy" feel).  The camera angle is extremely low, making everyone appear to be 8 feet tall.  Overall, you just get the feeling that these dudes are WAY too cool for school.

Then you see a different shot of the same band, but this time they're standing in front of a brick wall.  Their poses and expressions haven't really changed, but a few of the band members have switched positions.  Everyone still basically looks like they're waiting for a train.

Sound familiar? It should.  There's a reason that band portraits have followed this same general formula like eleventy billion times.  It just works.  So why mess with a good thing?

2) Treat your musician clients just like any other.

Modern technology has gotten so sophisticated that even a monkey can take a well-exposed photograph with hardly any effort.  It's literally a matter of pressing a button, and the camera does everything else. 

So now that all the guesswork has been taken out of the equation, the barrier to entry in the photography field is lower than ever, and everyone and their brother is now a "professional photographer" by virtue of their shiny new $600 Best Buy DSLR.

So what's my point, you ask?  Well, in order for your budding music photography business to survive, you need to be willing to accept pretty much any type of job that comes your way.  This means that if you come across a young mother who needs newborn portraits, you do it.  If a happy young couple asks you to shoot their wedding, you book the date.  And when a band or musician approaches you about needing some updated promos, you squeeze them into the first available spot right alongside the other shoots.

But most importantly, approach each of these situations exactly the same way.  After all, photography is photography-- it's just a matter of putting human beings in front of your camera and pressing a button.  So don't over-complicate things.  The same exact set of rules always applies, and you shouldn't approach your music shoots any differently than you do all the others.

3) Don't waste your money on fancy-schmancy equipment.

Hey, no disrespect to the $600 Best Buy DSLR folks mentioned in the previous tip.  After all, they're just leveraging the miracles of modern technology to support their frugality. 

Besides, do you think your clients will really be able to tell the difference between an image shot with a professional-grade DSLR and one shot with a point-n-shoot?  Of course not.  Especially considering that you can always cover up any incongruencies by just throwing an Instagram filter on your images, or maybe converting them to black & white and adding a film grain effect (again, for that "artsy" feel).  Which brings us to the next tip...

4) Compensate for your lack of Photoshop knowledge by applying copious amounts of plugins and filters to every image.

Let's be honest-- who really has the time to learn that beast of a program known as Adobe Photoshop?  Especially when there's no real return on investment, right?  I mean, let's face it-- getting out and actually shooting is what truly brings the money in (and being a professional photographer is ALL about the money).  The reality is, all you need to learn are a few key concepts like adjustment layers, masks, and yada yada yada, and the rest is a piece of cake.

So here's all you gotta do-- just pour on heaps of actions, plugins, and filters.  Not only do these little gems completely transform your images in two seconds flat, but they really make you look like you know what you're doing.  People will shower you with glowing comments like "wow, you're such an uh-MAZ-ing artist!" and "omigod, ur so gud at photography!". 

Pretty soon you'll be the coolest music photographer on the block.  Bank on it.

5) Give your work away for next to nothing.

Everyone knows that the vast majority if musicians are starving artists, so why make their lives any tougher than they have to be by charging a premium for your services?  After all, you're already saving yourself tons of retouching work by following Tip #4 above, so you can't honestly claim that your workflow is all that time-intensive.  A little HDR plugin here, a little high pass filter there, and voila!-- an image that virtually jumps right off the page.

But beyond that, there's really no reason to charge a fortune at this point, because you an always decide to raise your prices later.  And when you DO get around to actually doing that, your clients will totally understand that you're transitioning from a "budget" photographer to a true professional.  They will happily pay your higher rates and most definitely stick with you for the long haul.  Never in a million years would they run back to Craigslist looking for someone who's in the "portfolio building" stage, because they already know they can get stellar images from you, right?

So that's it-- the five keys to sucking at music photography.  Follow the above advice, and you'll be shooting covers for Rolling Stone in no time.  Bank on it.  🙂

All kidding aside, if you're looking for tips & advice on what you should do to become a successful band photographer, check this out

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