How Music Photographers Improve Your Image

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Our panel of music photographers offers tips to musicians on how to get the most out of photo shoots and concert coverage.

It’s the music that matters most, obviously, but the way an act comes across visually is a crucial part of the package, especially in the image-saturated music business. And that’s reason enough not only to seek out a photographer who can capture you at your coolest, but to do all you can to facilitate the process. After all, it’s your recognition factor that’s on the line. To that end, we’ve assembled a panel of veteran photogs to explain their role as they see it and offer some practical advice for achieving picture-perfect results.

Making your music visually memorable

Ebru Yildiz

It was love of music that initially drew Turkish-born photographer Ebru Yildiz to photography while earning a master’s in design in New York. While catching every possible show at house parties, small bars and large clubs, she began documenting the city’s DIY music scene and exhibiting her work in galleries. Her work has appeared in publications such as NME, Rolling Stone, and Spin.

The most important thing is always the music. It can't be any other way. But I am a strong believer that photography is a very crucial part of music industry and it always has been and always will be. If not for photography and video, how are we going to see the expression on Jimi Hendrix's face when he was burning his guitar at a festival in 1967 or Johnny Cash flipping the bird at San Quentin prison in 1969?

Though, she is quick to add, capturing that magic requires more than merely being present with a camera.

With advancing technology, photography became accessible to everyone who has a mere interest in it. But good photography will always stand out and be appreciated and valued.

Kyle Dean Reinford

Nashville-based photographer Kyle Dean Reinford is a specialist in music portraiture, documentary and live photos, who spent years learning his trade in New York. He feels image plays an integral role—especially on the business side.

Yeah, the music is obviously the main product, but in the age of the internet, image means a lot. If I see a terrible photo of a band, I'm less inclined to listen—even more so if they have a bad name. It's hard for me to get past those things on a personal music-loving level and I expect it's the same for others. We don't just hear music on the radio the way we used to.

I'd also say that having good photography is key for getting signed. Labels don't develop bands the way they used to. They want to see a band that looks cool and marketable and has everything worked out.

Vincent Dwyer

And speaking of marketability, Arizona-based photographer Vincent Dwyer (who spends most his time these days touring with The Word Alive), says let’s not forget the importance of photos in fan outreach.

Photographers can play a role in creating a relationship with a band’s fan base. The band can have something to share consistently, whether it’s behind-the-scenes stuff or a live moment. Fans also get to see photos from shows, and who doesn't want to relive their favorite concert? They can then share those photos and help more people get connected with the band.

Taking your best shot at photo sessions

Once you’ve decided a good photographer is a must, it’s important to think about how to make the most of the opportunity to work with one. For example, how to go about preparing for photo shoots and documenting live performances.

Jason Sirotin

When it comes to formal photo shoots, arriving on time is always a good idea, according to Jason Sirotin, a digital media entrepreneur. His Atlanta-based ECG Productions creates indie films and TV shows as well as music videos. Sirotin says the the real key is remembering your role as an artist.

Get in the mindset that you are creating art. It needs to mean something. Your job as the artist is to project emotion into the world. Don’t hold back. Sometimes it’s good to go over the top because on camera it looks awesome. And don’t be afraid to try something on whim.

Dwyer echoes that sentiment, saying he dreads photo sessions where band members aren’t taking it seriously.

The number one problem in many photo shoots is people not getting into it. It’s hard sometimes to get people to give you a certain look or attitude for a photo. And if they're goofing off and joking around it takes twice as long. Don't get me wrong I am all for making things fun. But, most of the shoots I do while on the road are on a time crunch so I need everyone to concentrate.

Seeing live shows in the right light

Of course, when most people picture great music photography, images from live concerts are what they have in mind. And there are certain things artists can do to help photogs get the spectacular shots everyone is looking for. Like making sure your stage lights are photo-friendly. And it also helps to remember you’re there to put on a show, said Kyle Dean Reinford.

Light is one of the biggest factors when it comes to making great live music photography. I get that playing in a dark red light might feel cool, but it'll make the photos look awful. Interacting with each other on stage also makes for more compelling photographs. Don't just stand at your mic and look at your guitar. Use the whole stage and play off of the energy of your band mates!

Reinford also points out, on the subject of stage space, that it’s not a bad idea to leave some room for photographers to maneuver.

I realize this sometimes can't be controlled by the artist, but it makes a huge difference to the photographer. A stage setup with a photo pit and/or side stage access can give the photographer many more chances to get cool shots from different angles.

Jason A. Miller

Performers who do have an uncontrollable desire to flood the stage with red and blue lights are urged to wait until after the first three songs, at least, by Jason A. Miller, a tech blogger/social media expert by day and rock photographer by night.

Since we usually only get the first three songs, don’t open up your set with reds or blues. It kills our creativity because we almost always have to turn them to black and white.

Also, I notice a lot of times that bands act like we are not even there. It’s so much better when an artist interacts with the photographers—and it makes for much more interesting photos. That’s definitely the case with Kiss. They LOVE photographers and literally pose for us and look right into the cameras. There’s really nothing quite like having Gene Simmons pointing at your camera with his tongue fully stretched out, or having Paul Stanley gaze directly into your lens for an epic pose. These guys never disappoint.

Representing a somewhat dissenting view, Ebru Yildiz admits accessible lighting makes her job easier, but doesn’t consider that a priority.

For live shows, music photographers are there to capture the world the musicians create on stage. I would not want to change one thing about how they present themselves. Obviously good lights are appreciated, but if a band wants to play in complete darkness, then we as photographers need to find a way to document that.

But if I were asked this question by a band looking for advice, I’d say get your stage lights set up in a way that would allow photographers to dictate when they want to make a photograph instead of the light deciding it for them.

Quality demands patience

So, the shoot was inspired, the concert was a smash, the pics have been snapped and you’re slavering to see them—how long will it take to receive the final results? The wait time varies, it seems, from the next morning to a couple of weeks. Though in general, patience is advised if your goal is high quality.

Kyle Dean Reinford says turnaround time varies from photographer to photographer depending on how busy they are at the moment.

Generally, I'm so excited to edit portraits that the band gets an initial edit within a day or two. Then, once the band has chosen their selects, it'll be another day or two, depending on how much retouching those images need. I've had bands’ final images within two to three days of shooting, but generally I'd say a week or two is expected.

Right now is when most bands want their photos, says Dwyer, but that’s not always realistic—or wise.

Some photos take longer to edit than others, and depending on the day, I may have over a 1,000 photos to go through. I think the big thing here is just to be patient. I want to give you the best looking photo. Once I think it's ready I'll send it your way.

On the other hand, now, or close to it, sometimes suits Yildiz just fine. If it’s a live show, that is, not a portrait shoot.

For live shows, my turnaround time is usually the next morning since that’s what’s required with most of the publications I work with. I’ve even had a couple of situations where I had to work on the photos right on the spot as the musician was still on the stage—and they were up online before their set was over.

But for portraits, if the band is not in a time crunch, I love shooting on film. And shooting film will require a little longer time: one week, maybe even 10 days. I guess for digital, that makes it five to seven days.

Bands are usually eager to see the photos right away, but if they’re not on a tight deadline, I suggest not rushing their photographers too much. Give your photographers the time and space to work on your photographs!

The jury’s still out on whether or not a tree makes a sound if no one’s there to hear it fall, but it’s a sure thing that no one outside of the audience will see your finest moments on stage unless a photographer is standing by. One with the talent and experience to capture the magic in a split second.

Musician’s Friend offers a huge selection of stage lighting and effects gear that can help your photographer capture killer performance shots.

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