Picture Yourself: Tips of the Trade from a Music Photographer

Posted by Eric Shea on Aug 9, 2012 07:38 AM
Eric Shea
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It isn’t just the music that can make or break a band. Now more than ever, promoters are looking for artists who have the whole package. And one of the best ways for you to sell that package is having awesome photos.

Photo by Deneka Peniston

Music photographer Deneka Peniston photographs both up-and-coming musicians as well as high profile acts in both live and studio settings. Peniston has always loved photography, but it wasn’t her original career choice. After five years at a real estate law firm, Peniston realized her true calling was photography. Since she made her career switch a year and a half ago, she’s been going nonstop. We got a chance to talk to Peniston about her craft and why it’s important for aspiring musicians to focus on their image in addition to their music.

Sonicbids: You have a lot of great photos especially live performance shots! What’s your favorite thing about shooting bands?
Deneka Peniston: Thanks! It takes an incredible amount of courage just to be onstage in front of people who may or may not know you and the musicians that I find the most compelling are the ones that show their vulnerability and let their craft and art flow freely and unfiltered to their audience. Whether the band is experiencing their music internally or externally, being in the presence of individuals who are unafraid and committed to their music is mesmerizing and capturing those moments is like crack.

SB: Let’s face it – great photos of a band complete the package (and help when it’s time for press). How does a band go about finding a photographer to work with?
DP: The most important thing to consider is the fact that there really are two different types of photographers that you should have in your rolodex. Live music photographers approach photography very differently than a portrait photographer. One of the best places to find a live music photographer is through word of mouth.  If you have seen another photographer’s work on the page/ website of another band, ask them who that person is. Try asking a photographer! Photographers are really the best reference resource. The same can be said if you are looking for a photographer to do promo/ CD cover work.

SB: What should a band look for in a photographer? What do you as a photographer look for in a band when you’re deciding to work with them?
DP: Definitely look at the body of work the photographer has to offer.  We all have different styles but if you want a good document of the show and it’s vibe the portfolio should have a variety of different types of images. If the photographer has 20-30 impeccable and emotionally driven images showing all aspects of an event, then you know they will take the same time and care to document your show with the same reverence. The same can be said for the promo/portrait photographer’s portfolio.  Be sure to take extra care to determine that the style of your band matches the style of the photographer.  I generally don’t turn anything down unless it’s really clear that the band and I will not be able to collaborate effectively, aesthetically or personally.  To determine that, I like to ask bands three questions before we meet:

(1)   How do you perceive yourself and your music?
(2)   How do you want yourself to be perceived?
(3)   What is your target audience?

These questions are imperative in accessing how to visually represent the music.  If a band can’t effectively answer these questions, it will be an uphill battle trying to please them.

SB: How many professional photos should a band have? What kinds of variety should they look for (live shots, black and white, full band, etc)?
DP: In my opinion there should be photo albums for the following:
LIVE: (preferably in a very well respected venue) In all reality, showing no more that 25 photos in a live shot performance album without repetition works best.  A good rule that I go by for live shooting is to get at least 1-3 shots of the following:
-          Individual band members in the zone;
-          Band members interacting with one another or groupings of two or more band members;
-          All of the band members on stage rocking out;
-          Band members interacting with the crowd;
-          The crowd on their own experiencing the music;
-          The venue marquee if applicable and other minutiae showing the vibe of the event;
-          Close-ups of any instruments or other details. This can be used for Timeline cover photos, etc.

I would suggest no more than 5 of the full band and maybe 1 of each band member. And again, these photos should be a visual representation of the bands music and brand.  So if you are a shoe-gazing indie rock band and you have highly saturated and vibrant pictures of you jumping exuberantly, you’ve just confused your audience.

It’s important to see the music process so I’d say no more than 25 photos of your recording session. I personally dig shooting these sessions in black and white whether it is a metal band or a hip-hop band.  It just gives it a little more gravitas.

As a fan of music, I love to see where the band toured and happened on their journey. It gives us a little more info about who you are as people.  On the other hand if your M-O is to remain mysterious, you may want to forgo this album altogether.

SB: How often should a band get new professional photos taken?
DP: Just to confirm that I was on the right track concerning this question, I consulted Holly Garman, a music publicist.  We both agree that new promo and live photos should be taken when:
-          You have new content (album, single, EP, etc.)
-          You have updated your look, brand or music aesthetic;
-          There’s a new band member or the lineup has changed in any way: and
-          If you’ve just played an impressive, higher-profile venue, you should definitely have great photos documenting that.

Who is your favorite photographer? What do you look for in a great band photograph? Tell us in the comments below.

Topics: Interviews, Features, Marketing & Promotion


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