[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Angela Mastrogiacomo.]
Your press photos are important. They’re your calling card to the world and they need to be, at a bare minimum, professional looking. Beyond that, you want these photos to tell your story. In one glance you want the viewer to instantly get a feel for who you are, what you’re all about, and what style of music you play.
This is your first impression for so many of the people you’ll meet in the industry, so taking the time to really hone in on these is important. The good news?
It should also be fun! There’s so much room for play here—it’s an opportunity to show who you are and start to connect with those that naturally vibe with what you’re putting out into the world.
So get rid of those nerves and grab your notebook, because we’re about to dive into how you can start putting together the perfect promo photos
1. Hire a band photographer
The first thing you want to do is hire someone who knows what they’re doing.
Now, if you’re just starting out, and you’re just looking to get something use-able but you’re not ready to start sending out to press or using in any really professional way just yet, you can skip the fancy camera and professional photographer, as noted in this article.
However, if you’ve been at this for a while and you’re a few releases in and looking to approach press, festivals, maybe even labels—you need to hire someone who knows what they’re doing.
Find a photographer who has shot band promo photos before, make sure you like their work, and then if it’s a fit, hire them. Trust me, this is going to make a big difference. It’s not enough that someone knows how to use a camera or takes great photos—they have to know how to take great photos of bands. To capture the right mood, to work with a group of people, to know what works in the press and for fans, etc. This one is important.
2. Scout locations
Next, you want to do is scout locations. It’s ok (even preferable) to have a few in mind, but they should all have something in common. More on that in a minute.
The second thing you want to think about is what these photos are for. If they’re for a new album cycle then think about the overall mood of the album when deciding on a location. If it’s a happy folk album, a field of flowers might be appropriate. If it’s a brooding death metal album, maybe you want to check out the abandoned train tracks in the next town over. Whatever you do, make sure all your shots are cohesive. The branding should be seamless—if your album cover is reds and pinks, then those same tones should be in your promo photos.
Take a look at what Shadow of Whales did as an example. Their 2018 single “Words” (which just won the “Vox Pop” category at the Independent Music Awards), has a lot of pink tones and nostalgia feels. The song’s vibe matches this. So for their photo shoot, they played off those same colors and the same feeling of nostalgia that’s represented in the song and the single art.
Photo: Fox & Florals Media
Even their header on social media matches that same vibe:
When done well, everything should have a natural feel to it. Same tones, same colors, same message. It’s ok to change this up with every single or album cycle, but for the duration of those things, it really should be the same feel.
3. Choose your outfits
Just as important as the location is choosing the outfits that tell your story. As mentioned above, if you’re playing to a certain album cycle then your location and outfits should reflect that. Moonray does this perfectly in their promo shots for their single ‘Hand of Queens.’ The funky, romantic, breezy vibe of the photo plays perfectly to their brand and style of music, while the clothing choice of black and white pinstripes and the red jacket is an obvious call to the title and feel of the single .
Photo: Alejandro Osma
4. Discuss different poses and moods
Always have a few poses in your back pocket. It can be tempting to do the same 3 poses over and over, especially when you’re nervous or uncomfortable in front of the camera (guilty), so be mindful of this going into the photo shoot by practicing and discussing different poses ahead of time. It’ll help if you can get to the location before the shoot to practice making use of the space (including any potential props).
If you really can’t get out of your head, bring someone there who steadies you. When I do my own promo shots, I’m lucky that my partner is the one behind the camera because he can make silly voices or share inside jokes that make me laugh and capture me truly in the moment. Bring someone along who makes you feel authentically you and if that’s not possible, try to think back to the moments that make you feel the way you’re trying to portray in your photos.
5. Show your personality
Last but certainly not least, don’t be afraid to show your fans who you are! Your fans and the people seeing these photos want to get to know you, and that means everything you are.
If you’re silly, show it!
(The Inoculated Canaries. Photo: IrisView Photography)
Do you love to party? Let me see how you do it!
(Forts Like Vana. Photo Jacob Baez)
And if you’re introspective, I want to see that.
(Jon Pattie. Photo: Mario Devon)
Just show me who you are. Your fans want to get to know you—you just have to be willing to let them.