How to Hire a Photographer and Get Great Press/Live Photos

How important are good photos? Think about it:

1) On your press kit or website, your photos will be the first thing that a promoter, media, fans, etc. will see.

2) Your press photos help define who you are as an artist. Poor quality, generic, or uninteresting photos generally get the same type of preconceptions with the music (quality, marketability, etc.)

3) Local media love featuring artists but won’t include photographs unless they are captivating or creates interest.

I go through at least 30 artist submissions per day (200+ per week) for my booking/management agency. Many promoters, sponsors, venues, magazines, and radio stations go through more. It would be nice to say that it’s all about the music but the first impression drawn is almost always from the photos (they come up on any website and I end up staring at the photos until the music starts up). Like anything else you do with your career, you want something that stand out. You want it to reflect yourself. You want good quality. So why are so many artists settling for less?

Rather than hiring someone of quality and talent, they just rely on their friend’s point and shoot. There’s a mentality out there that anyone with a decent camera can get you pretty good press shots. Why do people settle for less on such an important part of the press kit? Why are people willing to pay for high-priced, overproduced music studios but not on the photos? I believe it’s for one of two reasons: musicians are cheap or they just don’t know better. Let’s deal with the two and talk about how you can get the most for your money.

Are Good Photos Expensive?

Think about it like this. If your crappy photos are costing you gigs and opportunities, you’d probably be better off spending that few hundred dollars and hiring someone who can get you a better first impression. The cost of having a poor business plan or cheap demo is always more expensive than the investment of time, money, and finances to make sure that you have the best possible product. Most musicians understand this when it comes to their own art (such as buying better quality gear even though most in the crowd can’t tell a huge difference) but few invest in other arts (such as in photos where many people can tell a difference right away).

How many bands are sick of making only a few bucks after a long night of hard work (loading in gear, playing, selling for a few hours, driving, etc.)? Yet why are they satisfied with paying another artist hardly anything for their time? A photographer has to scout locations, position, shoot, edit (which takes A LOT of time), process, etc. Besides, working with high-profile artists can lead to better opportunities just by association (like hiring a good video director or producer).

How to Find a Good Band Photographer

Try some of these tips:

  • Find someone who specializes in working with artists. Not weddings, not corporate portraits. You want someone with an “eye” that understands how to make artists look good and stand out.  They should have a large portfolio of other artists they’ve shot. Those photos should look good.
  • Someone who will scout for a good location, something that is unique and stands out. If I see one more band in front of a brick wall, I think I’ll puke.
  • Hire someone who understands your image, something appropriate to your genre of music and target audience. Last time I checked, Metallica press photos never screamed “country” and people generally don’t think of Taylor Swift as punk rock.
  • Check out artists you admire or friends who have good press photos and find out who they are working with.
  • Look in your local publications. Even live shots of national acts are usually shot by a local photographer. Check out the photo credits and look them up.
  • Have an agreed timeline for payment, delivery, and follow up.

How to Make Money with Your Photos*:

  • Merchandise: You can sell 8×10 B&W styled press photos that you are already using for your press kit.
  • Print posters. Go through a local printing company and see if they’ll sponsor you even. They might just do so because your new press kit looks so snazzy.
  • In addition to your press kit/website, you can use the pictures for other merchandise like t-shirts, stickers, or album artwork to get more gigs or sell more merchandise

* Even though you are hiring the photographer, they still own 100% of the rights to those photos (just like a local promoter who hires you to perform doesn’t own your music) so be sure that you have a clear agreement with them on what you have permission to use the photos for. Also, anytime the pictures are used in press, be sure that they get appropriate photo credit and send them a copy. It’s the right thing to do.

Some band photographers I recommend:
http://www.rosnaps.com (Portland, OR)
http://www.ellenote.com (Tokyo, Japan)

8 Comments

  1. Apryl says:

    Hey! I reached out to ellenote via facebook just the other day – to do some work for a band here (in Tokyo)! She has some fantastic examples in her portfolio.

    I would toss in some of my own commentary…As you say, no more brick walls! If the band really is on a shoe-string budget, and is relying on a friends point and shoot – at LEAST look for an interesting shooting location, etc. Even the “free friend” – and the band – should spend time looking at well done band promo pics and make an actual attempt for quality.

    Second, styling and clothing! For me, I’m tired of seeing a band promo pic where all the members look like they just stumbled out of bed and randomly showed up at said brick wall. For some casual “band sound check” pics, I expect casual clothes, some dirt.

    But if this is to be a promo pic; showing your personality and the bands personality and perhaps a sale-able item…can we see some care with the hair and outfit choice? I’m not suggesting full on model shoot…but a little coordination and grooming please!

  2. Lisa Harden says:

    I love what you had to say about the photography aspect of band press kits. I am a freelance band photographer in the NYC and Long Island area. I’ve been shooting musicians and bands for the past 7 years on the west and east coast. I love every minute of it. I want to help bands look as great as they sound on a reasonable budget. Check out my work and if you like it, any buzz would be great. http://www.lisahardenphotography.com

    Thanks a lot and have a rockin’ day.

    Cheers,
    Lisa Harden

  3. Derrick says:

    Have you ever considered writing an e-book or
    guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based on
    the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my audience would appreciate your work.
    If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e-mail.

  4. James Vickers says:

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this
    onto a friend who was doing a little homework on this.
    And he in fact bought me breakfast due to the fact that I found it for him.
    .. lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks for the meal!
    ! But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss
    this issue here on your site.

  5. Great post! As a fellow music photographer, I love how you’ve so artfully presented the fact that a collaboration with a good photographer who can further your artistic vision IS worth money! I love seeing artists supporting other artists and recognizing that just because everyone in this day in age has a camera, a guitar, or sings doesn’t mean that experience and talent doesn’t count for anything.

  6. SenecaCreekPhotography says:

    Great post! As a fellow music photographer, I love how you’ve so artfully presented the fact that a collaboration with a good photographer who can further your artistic vision IS worth money! I love seeing artists supporting other artists and recognizing that just because everyone in this day in age has a camera, a guitar, or sings doesn’t mean that experience and talent doesn’t count for anything.

  1. […] A Good Press Photo: These days, it seems that everyone with a decent camera thinks that they are a professional photographer. You wouldn’t want someone who knows barely knows how to plug a mic in to do your sound, you’d want someone skilled. Same goes for photography: This is your primary image for press, for your websites, and your image…why would you want to skimp here? Learn how to hire a good photographer. […]

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