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The band promo photo is about you as people – and it's up to you what emotion you put into it. | Photo: Isaac MacDonald on Unsplash
The band promo photo is about you as people – and it's up to you what emotion you put into it. | Photo: Isaac MacDonald on Unsplash
Tereza Karásková -

TOP 5 Hacks to Take Awesome Band Photos

A while back, in our article TOP 8 Greatest Clichés in Band Photography, we mostly covered what band photos shouldn't look like. Today, let's take a look at how to feed your website or Instagram with good-looking images, ideally without forcing the drummer to sell his kick drum and the bass player to get rid of his van to be able to pay for an army of photographers. And also where the genre of band photography or band visuals can take us.

At the outset, though, it's worth pointing out that quality comes at a cost, and in the case of photography, it's worthwhile to invest something in professional photos. I have a lot of respect for the work of photographers: many of them are freelancers and they definitely won't rip you off. If only because shooting bands is quite a welcome diversion from other, commercial work for a lot of them, and they'll be happy to start continuing cooperation. And for you, it is crucial that the resulting images will accompany you throughout your media existence (sometimes even far beyond the band's lifetime), and you'll certainly be happy to look back on them with a good feeling even after a few years.

1. National Geographic

Have you ever wondered why nature photographers spend so much time in the bushland hiding behind a bush when they could much more easily take a picture of that lion at the nearest zoo? The answer is simple – lions look best in the savannah, in their natural habitat. Even the band look best where they belong: on stage. So if you don't know what to do, start by taking pictures at your concert. It has many advantages – you don't have to worry about how to look or what to wear. The place is set. The lights too. You can be yourself, fully immersed in your music... and the bonus is that the photos will be great.

Of course, there are a few conditions to meet. In this case, it's important to call in a photographer familiar with shooting concerts. If not a professional, at least a passionate and experienced enthusiast with good equipment. Otherwise, you will only get colour smears and not very sharp figures. A rock concert is not the "dream job" of most photographers – it is dark, with a lot of smoke, movement, harsh lights and high contrast. And for a friend with a mobile phone – even a good and expensive one – this is a big challenge. Of course, it's good to choose a club for a shoot with coloured lights and smoke, and where you like the stage area. Also, remember to invite an audience, it looks good in the photos and they will help you give a maximum performance, which will also show visually. The following photos from the same gig illustrate the difference between professional photography (left) and a mobile phone snapshot (right).

These photos from the concert illustrate the difference between professional photography (left) and a mobile phone snapshot (right). | Photo: Radim Krumpolc, Nikola Ramešová

Let's also mention one disadvantage of concert photos. If you are a solo artist, this does not apply to you and you can safely use photos from a live performance as your promo. However, in a three or more-piece band, you're bound to find that it's almost impossible to find a concert photo that shows all of the band members (not to mention their expressions), even if the photographer is a pro. Therefore, concert photos are ideal for posters, concert invitations, as a header on Spotify or a cover of a single. They will serve less as a single promo photo to be offered to journalists or festival organizers.

2. Being your paparazzi

Bands also have other "natural environments" than the stage, and they're usually places that average fans and concertgoers won't have access to. Rehearsal rooms, club backstage, keyboardist's cottage, recording studio, popular pub... But it's all the more interesting for your fans – they enjoy peeking behind the scenes and seeing the other, personal side of the band.

Here, on the other hand, your phone will serve you well because it's all about capturing the moment. The moments together, the relationships in the band, the joy and excitement and even the fatigue after the recording. Not everyone likes to take pictures and, of course, in these moments you often don't want to bother yourself or your bandmates. But sometimes it happens that after a while you find that these are the photos you like best. Even though their technical quality may be questionable, they have a kind of special charm. And even if your fans don't know the story or the circumstances of the picture, that magic will work on them, too.

Don't be afraid to use different filters or mobile photo editing apps. They work great for snapshots like this. They're perfect for Instagram and other social networks, and you may find that you like some of the photos so much that they make it all the way to the album cover.

It's about capturing the moment – the moments together, the relationships in the band, the joy and enthusiasm, or even the fatigue after recording. | Photo: Redferns, Getty Images

3. White album, white T-shirt

You need photos during the life of the band. It's just that sending the same set of pictures from your first promotional shoot to the media or clubs doesn't seem enough after a few years. Not to mention that Instagram is also always hungry. This is where you can take inspiration from established bands and, if you're releasing a record for example, use it to its full potential. If you're going to go to the trouble of doing the cover art or merch, the launch invitation and so on, try to think whether the album visuals could be translated into photos or even your image.

For example, Twenty One Pilots, who played the whole "Scaled and Icy" tour with pink hair, or St. Vincent, who came even for interviews to promote the album and concerts with perfect styling as the artwork of the current album commands. Of course, this doesn't suit everyone. But it's a very interesting way to connect the visual presentation of the band on all fronts, and in this age of interconnected social media, it works great. Not to mention it can be quite fun, too.

If your new record also brings some artistic or visual message, support it by changing the image. | Photo: Twenty One Pilots, Twitter

4. Hide and seek game

Don't like having your picture taken, but have an artistic flair or a skilled cartoonist or animator around? There are some bands that have built their image on the fact that no one really knows their true look, and have various avatars perform for them in music videos. While typical and possibly slightly conservative media probably won't be very impressed by promo photos where you put Donald Duck or manga characters instead of yourself, on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube you can do it with success – just like on T-shirts, album covers and posters. If this is something close to your heart, don't be afraid to step out of the line.

Of course, you can send a cartoon version of yourself out into the world, even if you also have classic promo photos. This is a way to bring something new back to your visual presentation. And as we know, some bands have gone so far as to send their virtual doubles to concerts.

Sending cartoon doppelgangers into the world instead of yourself can be a way to bring something new to your visual presentation. | Artwork: Arnold Sakuishi, Joe Garber

5. This is us

I'm leaving the band promo photos, which were largely the focus of the last article on this topic, to the end. It's just one of the many ways to deal with the visual presentation of your band – and as a matter of fact, one of the more problematic ones. The whole genre of "band promo photo" is riddled with many clichés, and few people really manage to get it right. In any case, it's a good idea to follow the motto "less is more", or, on the contrary, the "in for a penny, in for a pound" approach. The most awkward is a kind of middle ground between composed photography, stylisation and chance.

If you're not sure, go back to your roots: a promo photo is about you as people, as a band. You're supposed to be the centre of it, better in detail than somewhere far away in the middle of a meadow. You want to say to the viewer: this is us. Play with the light and emotions you want to get into the photo. And invite someone who has a flair for taking portraits.

If you have a thing for styling, go all out. When hair metal, everybody needs really big hair. If punk, make the photo look like you found it in your uncle's garage under an old tyre. If grunge – flannel. Country? Hats and leather vests, everybody. But beware of walking the fine line between things funny and ridiculous. It's always better not to take yourself too seriously and add a little hyperbole.

The promo photo is about you as people, about the band. | Photo: Mark Seliger, You Tube

Do you have a photo of your band that you think is really good? Or any other hacks for taking cool photos? Share them with us in the comments or on Facebook!

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Tereza Karásková
The singer of the band Taste The Lemon, solo guitarist, songwriter and architect. For me, music is a space of absolute freedom and joy that I don't like leaving. It started with peaceful piano lessons a…