The 5 Keys to Great Band Photographs


When we have true artists on both sides of the lens, amazing things can happen – just recall all those legendary photographs of rock icons that are still admired, printed and framed just like a few decades ago!

If done properly, band promotional photo shoots should represent artistic collaborations between photographers and musicians, based on shared concepts and aesthetic values.

The similar approach is true for live band photography as well, only in this case a photographer has to have a real knack for choosing the right moment to hit the shutter button. This is not easy at all – there are so many things going on simultaneously on stage!

However, in both cases (promotional and live shoots), the following 5 tips and tricks can help you use your photo gear and visualize your ideas in the most effective manner.

1. Develop A Concept

So make sure you have a concept you can translate into photographic compositions

The worst thing that can happen to a band photographer is not knowing what to do with a group of impatient musicians who expect rainbows and unicorns.

In order to avoid this painful scenario, it’s helpful to have at least 5 well-prepared creative concepts that include different positioning of people and props in space. Sometimes, drawing a sketch of your concept can save you a lot of time.

While it’s not necessary to follow any traditional rule of composition when shooting a band, these rules can still bring a certain visual quality. For example, if you have no idea where to position your subjects within a certain frame, why not start with the rule of thirds and customize it later on.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that musicians are rarely thrilled by clichés and it’s good to offer them something more daring than taking them to an abandoned railway and asking them to look cool.

It can be much more interesting to organize a shoot in the midst of a busy downtown, in some unconventional modern museum, or perhaps on a mountaintop or by the river.

Photo by Jasenka Grujin

2. Use Colors Wisely

Never underestimate the power of colors and their direct as well as subliminal visual language.

When shooting bands, it is of crucial importance that various colors (of clothing, backdrops, walls, studio lights, gel filters, etc) complement the genre of music and the overall atmosphere of a certain group of performers.

For instance, psychedelic rock performers would cherish some unusual or vibrant color patterns to go in line with trippy sound effects in their music. On the other hand, a group of jazz musicians would probably opt for calm, subdued colors and classy atmosphere with a bit of a golden haze or maybe everything in black and white.

When in doubt, ask your clients to show you a couple of famous band photographs that match their expectations.

Photo by Jasenka Grujin

3. Look For The Magic Moments

This is especially true when shooting bands on stage.

The only way to make your photographs better than average concert images is to become a keen observer of human emotions and body language.

Musicians, especially frontmen, are usually very expressive when it comes to their stage persona so it might take some time to get accustomed to the whole array of facial expressions of a certain performer and frame the most alluring of these emotions.

Another thing to look for when shooting on stage is the interaction between the band members themselves or between the band and their audience. Be aware of things like sudden bursts of emotions, tears, secret hugs, performers getting off the stage to greet the crowd and so on.

It’s important that your work captures a certain level of emotional intimacy in addition to depicting the concert craze.

Photo by Jasenka Grujin

4. Aim To Capture A Variety Of Scenes

When it comes to band photography, there are countless options in terms of gear and camera settings, just like in regular portraiture.

It’s fun to alternate between prime lenses (like 35mm and 85mm) and mid-range zoom lenses (such as 24-70mm or 18-105mm) because they can offer versatile interpretations of foreground and background and you surely want some variety in your work.

Prime lenses are typically sharper, faster and work well in low light, while zoom lenses offer the ability to quickly change perspective, which can be important in concert photography. Also, it’s advisable that your band photographs include different field sizes, such as long shots, full shots, medium shots and close-ups, as well as more creative camera angles – bird’s eye shot, low-angle shot or tilt shot.

The variety of compositions can greatly contribute to narrative qualities of your work.

Photo by Jasenka Grujin

5. Be Mindful Of Post-Processing

Ensure you know the difference between adequate and excessive post-processing

It’s easy to fall into the trap of shooting mediocre band photos in high hopes that they can be dramatically improved in Lightroom and Photoshop.

The best approach is to learn what are the main advantages and drawbacks of your photo gear and then shoot accordingly. For instance, if you’re shooting a concert at night and you know your camera produces overly grainy images at a high ISO, you might want to use prime lenses at their widest aperture in order to avoid raising ISO too much and reducing noise in post-processing.

Yet, skillful editing can make a great photo stand out even more and this is true especially in the case of promotional band photographs.

While concert pictures are closer to documentary genre and look better when edited lightly, off-stage portraits of musicians allow for much more creativity in editing.

This can be achieved by using more than basic color and tonal corrections; for instance, blending layers and creating multiple exposure effects can produce truly powerful band images.

Photo by Jasenka Grujin

In a nutshell, all band photography has a very straightforward function – to make performers and their work equally appealing musically and visually.

In order to achieve this, a photographer should collaborate with musicians both on and off-stage and create a well-rounded portfolio that can tell a complete story about a certain band.

In the best case scenario, the visual identity of a band should become inseparable from their music, which is an ambitious yet appealing task for any photographer.

About Author

Jasenka is a photographer with a background in web design. You can find out more about her on her website, see some of her newest images at 500px or get to know her better here.

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