Best. Band. Photos. Ever.
July 20, 2007 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Tips on taking good band photos? Best band photos ever?

Hi, I'm a member of a startlingly unphotogenic indie/punk/weirdo rock band. Not that any of us are unattractive per se, it's that some of us just don't photograph well, individually or as a group. Additionally, we hail from the (thankfully) fashion unconscious city of Houston, TX, so we don't have the hipster wardrobe one is accustomed to seeing in band press photos. When the four of us try to take pictures, we end up looking like four kinda slobby dudes just...sort of...standing around.

It's pretty important that we get some good photos asap. I'm looking for advice, suggestions, inspiration, examples, whatever. Especially interested in hearing from photographers and musicians, obv. But also happy to look at anyone's I've-always-loved-this-photo photos. Thanks!
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
dont do jumping photos - or i'll jump over there and kick your ass : )
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:25 AM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take some concert shots in a venue with good stage spot lighting. Have the photographer sit in the front row (ideally shooting up at about 10-15 degrees) with the flash disabled, and pay the light operator to really do the hell out of his job that evening.

This simple formula has earned my stepsister two album covers and a permanent backstage pass with 10 bands. Oh, she uses a $50 point and shoot.
posted by felix at 8:35 AM on July 20, 2007

second sgt.serenity on jumping. it's rather easy to fall into stereotypes if you're doing non-playing band photos. For that kind of thing, I'd say something moderately creative will do - ala Ted Leo, and again (choosing him because him and his band are, to be honest, a little odd looking and not into the whole fashion thing.) Just do an interesting background which you fit into or a blank background in which you don't look like fools.

For playing shots, think about a 50mm lens, ISO 800+, and just don't freak out about it that much. And, yeah, about the distance away as the front row. Also, the key is lots of photos. Like, maybe 200 or more. Multiple photographers. For instance, for this show, I filled up 2.5 gigs of flash in about 20 minutes.
posted by tmcw at 8:43 AM on July 20, 2007

You don't mention whether you want posed photos or otherwise, but I'd suggest having someone get some pictures of you while you're playing. The coloured stage lights most venues have can make for interesting photos while obscuring details like clothes, and most people look good when they're in their element (which is, presumably for you guys, playing a show). I've taken photos for my husband's band and despite being pretty much a novice I've managed to get some pretty good shots of them. Find someone with a decent eye, a good flash and a fast lens to come to one of your shows and you're almost guaranteed to have at least a few good photos afterwards.

If you want press kit-style posed photos, try poking around on the websites of the labels you're after and look at the photo credits. See if you can book one of those photographers or ask them for a recommendation to someone in your area. If you do a professional shoot, the photographer will have ideas for what you should wear, how to pose you, and where to take the photos. The downside is that it will cost more than getting a friend to follow you to a show.

One more thing to try: in a lot of scenes, there's usually one or two kids who go to every show and take pictures. Sometimes they're actually really good. It might be worth it to seek them out and see if they'd do a shoot for you.
posted by AV at 8:44 AM on July 20, 2007

By the way, you might want to just favorite posts instead of marking them as best answers until the topic goes down the FP a bit.
posted by tmcw at 8:45 AM on July 20, 2007

I can offer some thoughts from two perspectives.

As a member of a particularly ugly band, I say just don't worry about it. Our drummer's boyfriend is a semi-pro photographer (I think) and when he took pictures of us, they turned out pretty gross, not from any lack of skill, I'm sure.

We were holed up in a basement for a week or so recording an album last month, and we brought a couple $5 P&S cameras from the drug store, just for the sake of screwin' around. Those are probably the best pictures of us that exist.

As a very amateur photographer myself (more of a camera enthusiast, really) I find it easier to take good live photos if I've seen the band a couple times. Once you get a feel for their stage presence and have some idea of how they're going to perform, you know what to look for and what you can expect to get.

Lighting is very important, but wherever I shoot, it almost always sucks. Pushing a roll of already fast film (I usually shoot 1600 color film rated at 6400 or sometimes even 12800) will give you that grainy, contrasty rock-and-roll look some folks (like me) like.

Good luck!
posted by Plug Dub In at 8:52 AM on July 20, 2007

Avoid standing in front of a brick wall. Its been done to death.
posted by chillmost at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: sgt.serenity: HA!

AV: "You don't mention whether you want posed photos or otherwise..."

Good point. Posed is most crucial, although we could use some more live shots. These are the photos we're going to be sending to media outlets, hopefully to be published along with our record reviews and tour press.

The biggest problem we face, outside of the aforementioned lack of a rock'n'roll wardrobe maybe, is that we're terrible at "looking natural" while standing in very close proximity to each other and having a lens pointed at us. I know that this can be a pretty universal problem for photography subjects, so (in addition to everything else I've already mentioned), tips for solving that issue are very welcome as well.

On preview: already done, tmcw. But damn, sgt.serenity's answer made me LOL.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 8:54 AM on July 20, 2007

Sometimes are clichés are overdone because they work.

Thus maybe you should get some photos of the band jumping in front of a brick wall.
posted by IvyMike at 9:11 AM on July 20, 2007

Hire DaShiv?
posted by purephase at 9:13 AM on July 20, 2007

1. Go to
2. Click on a band photo and read caption.
3. Click next.
4. Repeat for the next two hours.
5. Piss your pants laughing.

As long as none of your photos resemble those, you'll be great!
posted by platinum at 9:16 AM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The biggest problem we face, outside of the aforementioned lack of a rock'n'roll wardrobe maybe, is that we're terrible at "looking natural" while standing in very close proximity to each other and having a lens pointed at us. I know that this can be a pretty universal problem for photography subjects, so (in addition to everything else I've already mentioned), tips for solving that issue are very welcome as well.

I think the best thing to do is to not POSE while taking these kind of shots and don't worry about everyone looking directly at the camera. Maybe the band is passing around some funny photos (which would hopefully reveal some natural responses and not frozen faces) or tasting food or *anything* really. Then, the photographer should just go to town, snapping repeatedly and hopefully, in the 70,000 shots, there will be one in which no one is making a dorky face.

for what not to do: Rock and Roll Confidential's Hall of Douchebags
posted by stefnet at 9:16 AM on July 20, 2007

douchebag jinx!
posted by stefnet at 9:17 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: Y'know, I was going to put, "Have seen plenty of lists of BAD band photos, so don't bother linking to Hall of Douchebags," somewhere in my original question. :)
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 9:19 AM on July 20, 2007

I've done some band photography and I think it's one of the hardest things on earth... to get 5+ people to look good, in the same shot, no talking, but without looking frozen.

I've had the best luck with settings where it'd be "normal" to find people sitting or standing quietly: resting by a lake, sitting around a table in a café, riding an escalator/elevator. Then ideally the photographer takes several photos (using a tripod) from the same position, so he/she can swap out faces if someone blinks.

Alternatively, try to grab some imagery from a song lyric or title and create something totally set up, so the photo situation is so interesting that it becomes acceptable that the band is in frozen poses or has their faces covered by Russian newspapers or are laying on airport tarmac or what-have-you.

There are also some setups you might be able to think of that involve each person being photographed separately and then combined digitally... for example, if everyone kite-flying in a field. Or a photo-booth style (the final photo is a strip of separate portraits).
posted by xo at 9:40 AM on July 20, 2007

Stefnet's advice is pretty much exactly what I'd recommend. Go walk around the city or hang out somewhere and have a someone (with a digital camera, preferably) take a bajillion photos. If the camera's always going, you'll ignore it eventually and get some good, genuine pictures that don't look staged or silly. Maybe play with the contrast/grain/etc. in Photoshop afterwards if you want to give the photos some rock'n'roll grit.

If you're planning on hiring a photographer for this, the term you're looking for is "photojournalism."
posted by AV at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2007

Here is something I learned from my band while taking press photos: Do not attempt a human pyramid.

If you're weird like me and my friend Dan, you could have your photo done at Wal-Mart.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 9:52 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: (photojournalism tag added)</small)
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 10:12 AM on July 20, 2007

Response by poster: (closing tags hard)
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 10:15 AM on July 20, 2007

Coming from the other side of this, I've worked as a critic and gotten assloads of these shots. On some level, they're a waste of money, as all they do is convince someone to laugh at you instead of listening to your band. But then, when press time rolls around, you've gotta have some for any kinda layout.

So, here are some hints— The couple best photos I can remember offhand were taken at a local diner, with the band just kinda screwing around. All the faces were visible (and they remembered to tell you who was who in a caption, something that a lot of bands forget), and they looked like they were having fun. It wasn't posed, so far as I could tell, and it looked Robert Frank-ish. They weren't super grainy, and there was a decent composition to them— which is what's missing in the vast majority of douchebag shots.

Other fun things that I've seen are aping famous album covers (posing all as Kraftwerk from Man Machine does make you douchebags, but you're douchebags with a sense of humor, which will get you further than just being boring), or news photos. Usually, it helps if you look like you're having fun— serious photos just make people look pretentious, in my experience.

As folks have mentioned upthread, the best idea is usually to buy a handful of black and white disposable cameras and just spend some time hanging out as a band. Don't go for the tortured family photo aesthetic, but rather look for the shots that imply something just happened or is about to.
posted by klangklangston at 10:35 AM on July 20, 2007

we're terrible at "looking natural"

What works best for me is to set up the subjects (you) in a particular position where the lighting works well and there's some dynamic to the composition. Then I make them stand there for a while. Not "posing," just standing around waiting. I might have them adjust slightly, like "put your arm over there," or "put your feet together," but usually I just give them a mark to stand on and wait, my camera on a tripod and a cable release in my hand. I'll take maybe a dozen or two shots like that, and then I shuffle them around again. It's only five, maybe ten minutes per pose, though -- nothing too ridiculous. And of course there's lots of little in-between things.

But it's the waiting, mostly. A good dose of restless boredom will knock the I'm-having-my-picture-taken-ness right out of you.

Of course, you could always go the opposite way and do something so completely unnatural that it distracts from how unnatural you look, but, yeah, no jumping. Please, seriously, no jumping.
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:06 PM on July 20, 2007

Take a look at kathryn yu's gig photos [flickr]. She's fantastic and a fellow mefite to boot.
posted by yeti at 1:10 PM on July 20, 2007

Isn't this problem exactly why bands get hot lead singers?
posted by Caviar at 2:22 PM on July 20, 2007

I'll second taking some live photos. It's more important to look like you're kicking ass than getting ass.

Here are some of my own photos of live bands. Obviously I like close ups.

Not all of these musicians are attractive. However, they look great when shot from the back or side or when an instrument is obscuring them in some way. I also like to use blurs or lights lights/reflections. Might work for you as well.
posted by dobbs at 5:39 PM on July 20, 2007

Caviar: yes, this is why.

I dabble in live band photography (I help out at a venue, so i've got a lot of time to play around), and here's what i've found out about live shots:
-standard stage lighting (that doesn't involve spots) SUCKS FOR PHOTOGRAPHY. It's too dark, too strangely colored, and just not very good in general. You can't see faces. The best fix i've found for this is as follows: Moderate ISO (200 or 400, any higher and the black is far too grainy), fast aperture (between 2 and 5), and a moderately slow shutter speed with a slow-sync flash, with a piece of white computer paper taped over it (to diffuse and lessen the intensity of the flash).
- Take 10 times as many pictures as you think you need.
- Don't review while you're taking pictures, and don't use the viewfinder. Point your lens in the vicinity, take a bunch of pictures.
-Move around if you can. Get above, below, and at eye level. Different angles. If you can manage, get wide-angle shots (15-25mm) in addition to the standard 50mm shots. Get close, move farther away.
(I do this with a fixed-lens prosumer Sony Cybershot)

As for "Promo" shots, if you look weird standing around, don't stand. Do something. Props, locations, anything a band wouldn't normally do in a press situation (I took a series of "Promo" style photos that I love of a local Punk band golfing. I'll try and find them, but I'm afraid they're on the external, and I'm not home right now.)

Here are some relavant links:
Martin Philbey makes a living taking these pictures.
Inspiration abounds.

Here's an interview with Philbey about his techniques.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 6:30 PM on July 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

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