…weird, I know. I could be writing about songwriting, or production, or live performance, or guitar tuning, or ANYTHING other than photography, but think about it. When do you usually first see an artist you like? The album art? The MySpace photo? Maybe a magazine, or a newspaper, or even a poster glued to a telephone pole?
I argue that the vast majority of the first ‘sightings’ we make as fans of an artist or musician are still photos, whether digital or physical, and that we can’t help but make a first impression based off of these pictures.
A photograph tells you so much: genre, style, unique qualities, the qualities they are copying from other similar musicians (before the hipsters go off on goths or some such, I have one word: beards) and something else…how seriously they’re taking their art.
Perhaps they don’t want to take things seriously, and perhaps that’s what you like. I personally love when a musician doesn’t take themselves too seriously, but if I see a picture of a guitarist holding an iPhone up to a bathroom mirror and smiling off into the distance…this is what they want you to see! What else are they half assing?
Should an artist spend thousands on photography? God, I hope not. Should they hire a photographer even if they charge more than your buddy who has an Olympus they bought at Best Buy last month? If you can afford a professional photographer, sure, why not? You wouldn’t hire a dentist to be your sound engineer…why would you pay your buddy to take pictures?
Anyone can take pictures. If you snap off five hundred shots you’re bound to find three or four amazing pics to use. The reason you hire a photographer is because they can take a hundred shots and give you dozens and dozens of awesome snaps. Because they know what they’re doing. That’s why you pay them.
ARE YOU INDEPENDENT? Get your friends to shoot a hundred shots. (See below for some rules about what NOT to do) Maybe find a friend who has photoshop and fiddle with the nicer pics until they look nice. By fiddle, I mean play with contrast, with saturation, until you get a good look. Or have an artist friend correct any problems the picture might have. Easy!
ARE YOU WANTING TO BE THE NEXT GAGA? Well, you’re gonna have to spend money. A photo shoot requires more than a camera and a cameraman:
- A Stylist: they bring makeup to make you pretty (or hide your blemishes), clothes to try on, accessories to wear, and know how to make you look good in everything.
- Hair: You may need someone to do hair for you…I know if I ever do a shoot, I’m getting a hair person…because my hair is like troll hair, those things you get from vending machines…it’s bright pink, and goes wherever you pull it, so it always looks weird.
- Lighting: The photographer will likely bring lighting, because…yah…you can’t just turn on a lamp.
Is this photo for an album cover or insert, or otherwise for imagery associated with a single or a song that you’re putting online digitally? Then you may want a little help from a graphic designer as well. They’ll be able to coordinate everyone so that the overall look, the overal feel of your photos suit the design of your posters, album art, website, etc.
Everything in the industry…hell, in LIFE…can be done the easy way, the hard way, or one of many right ways. Snapping personal pics and knowing a graphic designer to colour correct and use them is a right way if you can get a professional result. Paying a designer $10,000 to coordinate a shoot with a stylist and then spend half a month designing an insert is probably a right way too…with a good designer…it could also be the wrong way if they do a crappy job.
The main thing to remember is that the photograph is probably a fan’s first impression, and it should tell a lot about you and your music. Don’t half-ass it, and don’t pay someone if they’re going to tell the wrong story. You should be consistent, you should be interesting, and you should have fun with the process.
…one more thing…for the love of GOD do not take pictures like these: