Getting a Good “Promo Shot”
People love rock ‘n roll. Not only do people love the music but they are often captivated the mystique, the intrigue, and the desire to be part of something reckless and wild. As any fan of music can tell you, we are drawn to our rock ‘n rollers not only because of the sounds that they make but because we want to be part of, or at least hover very close to the world they seem to inhabit. So what world do you, the artist, inhabit and how can you portray yourself in order to entice people into your universe? How you present yourself in photos, posters, web sites etc. all tell the story of your artistry and your own take on the rock ‘n roll aesthetic. The best rock ‘n roll images, the ones that stick with us the longest, are the most genuine. The fabricated, glossy boy-band, air-brushed images fade like so many pages of a 1985 tiger beat magazine. So how do you capture a good image that begins to tell the story of your particular, genuine and impassioned take on the rock ‘n roll genre? Today in my “Advice from Sasha” column we’ll talk about how to get a good “promo shot.”
Over the years I have been involved in a number of photo shoots including simple jaunts along the East River with a friend to professional studio shots with fancy lights, outfit changes, and a make-up artist on staff. The band portraits on the back panel of the first full length record I made were taken in the photo booth at the Lakeside Lounge on avenue B in the East Village (if anyone remembers that spot). There are as many approaches to capturing an image as there are bands in the biz. This weekend, When Particles Collide will be back in New York and working with Ashly Covington Photography on some new images for the band. Not surprisingly we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to present ourselves and how to tell the story, with photos, of who we are and what the band is all about.
Here are some general guidelines for being part of a band photo-shoot:
- First and foremost, any good photo shoot will involve the taking of a large number of photos. The more images you have to choose from, the more likely it is that your photographer will have captured that moment when everyone’s personality comes through and you feel like you can almost hear the music the band makes.
- Thoroughly check your photographer’s portfolio and let him or her know what shots you really like and what shots of theirs don’t speak to what you’re looking for.
- Listening to music while shooting can help alleviate some of the anxiety of a photoshoot. You can listen to your own music, or music that you all love. Either way will work well.
- Some photos will be spontaneous and some will be very posed. Listen carefully to your photographer when it comes to the more posed shots, small changes in the angle and tilt of your face or placement of hands can make a big difference. I also think it is very important to be aware of your own body and face. You should know how to look your best. You need to know if the way you’re holding your face gives you a double chin, or what happens if you hold your arm a certain way and what that will look like on film. I don’t mean to imply that you should be vain, but I think self-awareness is very important in the process of taking photos. Also, a healthy dose of vanity certainly doesn’t hurt and makes the photographer’s job easier!
- Check your make-up, hair and clothing frequently. Your photographer might not notice all the little details, and you don’t want a tag sticking out or an unruly cowlick ruining a perfectly good shot.
- One thing we were asked to do for this most recent photo shoot is gather inspirational images. These are images, whether other photographs, fine art, or color schematics etc. that seem to jive with our own aesthetic. I chose a lof of fashion photography from the late eighties and band photos from the late 70’s. I like photos that look like they are windows to the behind the scenes events and highly biographic. I like shots where the action that is about to happen is implied in the scene. Knowing what kind of images you want will be incredibly helpful.
- Finding inspirational images is both fun and rewarding. The more you think about the images that resonate most with you, the more expertly you can create the kind of images that will best represent your band.
- I think it is important to update your photos frequently. We just finished working with Dylan Verner from Portland, we’re working with Ahsly C. this weekend and this coming spring we’ll be working with J. Renshaw of Studio 36. In the past we’ve worked with BEL Portraits and Michael Weston. Working with a variety of photographers as well as continually creating new images means that your content is fresh and you have multiple images at your disposal.
- Try to be genuine. Wear clothing that you would wear to a show. Act like yourself during the shoot. Have fun, or get worked up about something, whatever puts you in touch with your creative self. Let go of what you think you should do.
- One thing that’s difficult is the need to rely on the cultural associations people have
with certain kinds of images and certain genres of music and at the time time be original and unique in your presentation. A soft focused, outdoor scene with a girl and an acoustic guitar, maybe with an old fashioned bicycle somewhere in the shot is going to immediately tell you something about the artist. You want to use this kind of shot to let people know what you’re about, but you also want to somehow make it unique. Four of five guys dressed in black with waist length leather jackets, at least one of them with a shaved head and goatee, all standing together looking mean with a camera perspective from below literally screams METAL. Three guys and one girl
dressed in subdued colors, at least two of whom are wearing sweaters all sitting on a couch means you’re getting some very intelligent indie-rock. My advice would be to start with these cultural associations and then play with them. Figure out how to make it yours.
- You’re also going to want to have a discussion with your photographer about how much and what kind of processing and “touching up” you want done. I have neglected to do this in the past and it can get a little awkward…..
- Bring multiple outfits. Seriously. You might spill something on your outfit, you might decide it doesn’t look so good after all. It’s also great to have multiple “looks” during a photo shoot. Remember the more images you have to choose from the more likely you’ll wind up with something you like!
- Most importantly try to be yourself and try to both engage with the other members of your band as well as with the photographer.
Have fun and rock on!