This is the first in a series of blogs I'll be doing that offer tips for my fellow photographers and specific clients they work with. Before we make our way down the list of peeves and problems of a picture taking princess, let me preface with a little life advice I remind myself to take often: “there are no problems, just opportunities to grow”. Such is the world of photography, well, really any pursuit, be it creative, professional, or otherwise! Look at me handing out life lessons in my blog…
For our first installment, I decided to go with the process of photographing a band or musical artist.
This one is a little tricky for me personally. During my off hours, I am very involved in the local music scene here in Boise. I not only shoot bands on a regular basis, but I’m in the Boise based band, The Vacationist. In addition to photography, I am a partner at The Wormhole Studio, an audio/video/photography studio. I am often on both sides of the lens and stage lights as it relates to all things music. I've had enough experience to advise on the common mistakes a lot of new bands make.
The biggest obstacle with band shoots is lack of experience.
To musicians: Yes, you have spent a maniacal number of hours honing your craft. You’ve written songs, sweated it out in a van across Nebraska, played to 5 people, and hopefully to 5000. What you didn’t do was go to modeling school. Of course you’re going to be uncomfortable in front of the camera. Most musicians want to think that the music is all that matters and I have to agree, HOWEVER, if your music isn’t dictating an image to go along with it, how inspiring and unique can it be?
Look at a few photos of iconic artists. Have you ever seen a picture of John Lennon laughing at a male anatomy joke Paul McCartney just told him? No. Did you ever see a photo of the late Curt Cobain with Dave Grohl grabbing his hindquarters? Nope. Do you think Thom Yorke shows up to a photoshoot in an Affliction/Tapout t-shirt? Not a chance.
"A good artist makes good music. A great artist makes great music that can’t help but radiate through his entire being."
They’re icons for a reason.
Now that the rant is over, what’s to be done?
First, have a plan. Think about the music you make. The lyrical style, the mood, the energy, and the genre. What does that dictate? If it dictates an Abercrombie and Fitch advert across your chest, don’t quit your day job. There are millions of hungry people that need pizza made and delivered.
Seriously though, take some time with what you’re going to wear to the shoot. Set aside 10 minutes after band practice with your bandmates to discuss the overall vibe of the band and set some basic guidelines. When in doubt, all black with a few accents may seem like a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. It works. It works because it leaves focus and light on the faces of you and your bandmates. A hard and fast rule, unless you’re Blink 182 circa 1999, do not wear overtly branded logo clothing (i.e. the aforementioned affliction/tapout/obey etc). This type of clothing doesn’t come off as relatable, it makes you look un-imaginative. Remember, an artist is interesting because he/she/they give the listener a new perspective of the world.
The next thing you’re going to encounter is posing in front of the camera. You will feel uncomfortable and try to alleviate this with your buddies by cracking crass “your mom” jokes or something of the like. Don’t do it. It will distract from a potentially great shot. Be quiet, think about your musical icons, imagine your face on the cover of your favorite magazine, and take direction from the person that’s taking your picture. Heaven knows those first few band shoots are most likely done by your closest friend with a decent camera that’s doing it because they love and believe in you (i.e. for free).
For a photographer shooting a band: Do your best to keep the band at ease. As you're setting up, talk to them about music. Find common ground with artists you both enjoy. Ask them questions about what inspires their music. LISTEN to their music in advance and ask questions about what inspires them to create and share it. As you listen to their music, open yourself up to ideas and think about the image their sound is painting.
To get your subjects on the same page, you'll want to have a conversation ahead of time about the points I discussed above. Or send a link to this particular blog (I've done half your work for you). Chances are it will be enough to get them to pause and be manageable on the day of the shoot.
The Problem: Shooting a small and inexperienced herd of cats (a band).
Photogs - Take time to get to know the band/artist's music. Address the common mistakes most bands make by sharing them with your subjects ahead of time. This will not only make for a good shoot, but will empower them to “take it to the next level” (whatever that means) by skipping certain mistakes green artists make.
Artists: Take direction, don’t wear logos, and do your best to refrain from being goofballs during the shoot. Keep in mind what you are doing is important. You're making music, which in my opinion is the pulse of being human. Nietzsche said it best when he stated, "without music, life would be a mistake".