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I think you will agree with me that having quality pictures is a vital element of your branding and visibility. In this blog I share my best tips on how to organise a photoshoot for your music business and get quality (press) pictures for album art, social media, your website,  flyers etc.

Besides regularly having pictures taken while I’m recording, performing or otherwise working on my music business, I try to do a professional photoshoot every two years. It’s actually one of my fav things about being an artist. I really enjoy the process of making something beautiful with a team of like minded, creative souls. 

Thankfully I’ve been given the opportunity to experience quite a few shoots through the years. My photoshoot debut was an album cover shoot for my debut album Closer, which got released in 2010. That shoot was organised by the record label I was signed to at the time. All I had to do was show up, look pretty and do my thing!

My first photoshoot

But the majority of the shoots I’ve done, I organised myself, without a record label. The first photoshoot I invested in by myself was in 2013. I went all out and booked a fashion photographer and her team consisting of a stylist and hair/make-up artist. Including studio rent it cost me a couple thousand euros. We ended up having 4 completely different looks and the images lasted me a couple of years. I have used them for social media, an album cover, event flyers, my radio show artwork, website etc.

While I loved that photoshoot and the images were amazing, I also realised it wouldn’t be feasible for me to keep investing that much in photoshoots if I want to have new pics done every two years. So I had to become more creative. Since then I have organised multiple photoshoots, and I definitely made some mistakes along the way. But those hold some valuable lessons which I will share with you in this podcast. 

Coming up with a concept

Before you start reaching out to photographers, stylists etc, it helps to have at least a general idea of what you are looking for and create a moodboard based on your ideas.

For a more general shoot I recommend going for something that is in line with the culture of the musical genre you identify yourself with. For a more specific shoot, for example cover art for an album, you can go for something directly related to that album. 

Taylor Swift’s is a great example. She is most known for being a country music and pop artist. In 2020 however, she decided to record an indie folk album called Folklore. So this album is really different from her previous albums, and you can tell just from looking at the album art.

And not just that. I also noticed that, even without hearing the music, just from looking at the album art you can tell what kind of music is on it. Also, all the press images and music videos have that same look and feel to them. Of course Tayler has a whole creative team to her disposal, but I do think this is an example we can all take inspiration from.

When you create a concept for the shoot you may also want to keep in mind what you’ll be using the images for. For example if I’m doing a shoot for an album cover I prefer images with a strong composition and something that will still be visible when it’s depicted in small size, for example on iTunes and Spotify.

Now, you don’t have to have a concept figured out in detail before reaching out to photographers. But having thought these things through beforehand will help you find someone who can deliver the look and feel you are going for. And then you can work out the concept with them.

Assembling your creative team!

So now you are ready to assemble your creative team! Even if you’re on a budget there’s some great options for you.

  • Ask around your network. In my case it so happened that a classmate from elementary school who had become a photographer was interested in doing a shoot with me. 
  • Work with students from art, fashion and/or photography schools. They are often looking for ways to gain experience, grow their network and build their portfolio. I did that for my anniversary concert Susana|15. I worked with multiple Media & Entertainment Management students who helped me organise the event as well as a young talented photographer who just got accepted into a photography academy. This shoot actually turned out to be one of my favourites! 
  • Or do it yourself! The newest smartphones have amazing cameras. There are some really affordable lights on the market. With multi-coloured LED lights you can create really cool effects. And if that’s not an option, natural light does wonders as well. Just see it as an experiment. Use your creativity and play around. For the finishing touch you can use one of the many budget friendly photo editing apps such as Lightroom, Snapseed and Facetune. 

Some things to keep in mind

Ideally you want to hire a photographer, make-up artist and stylist that fit your style and brand, and that can deliver the look and feel you are going for. I always ask to see their portfolio. Even students in most cases will be able to show you some of their work. 

Another thing to note is that the copyright of the pictures belongs to the photographer, even if you are the one paying for the photoshoot. Legally speaking this means you can’t just print those images on a t-shirt and sell them. Some photographers are really flexible in this respect and will give you permission to use their work in whichever way you like, for example in exchange for credits. Others let you buy the copyright from them, but those fees can be pretty high.

Either way you always want to discuss the usage terms of the images with the photographer beforehand. 

I actually learned this the hard way with the first photo shoot I organised. First of all I wasn’t aware of the fact that the copyright belongs to the photographer. And I guess the photographer neglected to double check with me what I wanted to use the images for. So when, after the photoshoot, I mentioned to her that I was thinking of also using them for an album cover, she had to explain to me that this wasn’t part of the deal. She thought I only needed them for social media and my website. 

Thankfully she was very flexible and we agreed that I could use the images for social media as well as digital album artwork, just not for physical products. And that if at one point I’d like to use the images for a physical product I will contact her to discuss additional terms.

That’s how I learned to always discuss this beforehand to avoid misunderstandings and disappointments. 

Another thing I learned the hard way is to clearly communicate to a stylist what you have in mind and to double check that they’ve understood and are bringing you outfits in line with your vision. For one shoot I did a couple years ago I wanted bright coloured modern outfits. I created a vision board and sent it to the stylist. 

However, on the day of the shoot none of the outfits she brought fit the description and moodboard I had given her and it was too late to find alternatives. The clothes she brought didn’t suit me or the vibe I was going for at all and I ended up only using a few of the images. 

Since then I have done my own styling. But if I do end up working with a stylist again, I will make sure to double check a couple days beforehand if I like the outfits he or she has gathered.

And while you’re at it

It really helps to have an assistant present at the shoot with an eye for detail. Especially if you are doing the shoot by yourself or without a stylist. This person (a friend or family member) can make sure your hair is in the right place at all times, that your outfit remains in place, assist with lighting, and things like that. It’s such a bummer when you have a great pic and then notice your necklace is on backwards 😉

Never miss an opportunity to create content! Bring someone to make behind the scenes footage of the shoot, which you can use as content for your Stories, newsletter, social media etc. People love to see those kinds of posts! 

During a shoot I also make sure to regularly check in with the photographer and ask to see how it’s looking on camera. This way I can make sure we’re heading in the right direction. 

This, again, is something I learned the hard way. Years ago there was a video shoot where I put too much faith in the director. It was only after the shoot, when they sent the first draft of the video, that I noticed I looked like a junkie because of the way they had positioned the lights. Which had created dark circles under my eyes. 

Another example was a shoot where I had curls in my hair and a large necklace. Thankfully by then I had learned my lesson. Because when I asked to see how it looked on camera, I realised that the combination of my hair and the necklace made me look 10 years older than I was. We decided to straighten my hair and exchange the necklace, which looked way better!

So please don’t feel shy to check in with the photographer or videographer during the shoot. If you don’t you may regret it later and by then it will be too late to change it. 

One important thing I’d like to add: be careful not to micromanage the crap out of the people you work with. Even though, generally speaking, I have a strong idea of what I want, I always keep in the back of my mind that when I am hiring professionals I do this for a reason. Because they have skills that I don’t. 

So I always try to find a balance between making sure my vision is coming to life, and being open to their ideas and input as well. My best advice would be to approach it as an equal collaboration, you are all there with the same goal: to create something beautiful. And when in doubt, always follow your gut!

Last but not least, after the shoot is done it is time to pick your favourite images. The photographer isn’t going to edit all of them, so a selection has to be made. You can leave this up to the photographer, but I like to be involved in the process. At the end of the day it is you who is in the picture and you have to feel happy with the way you look. 

I still regret not putting my foot down when we had to select a cover image for my 2nd album Brave. The designer of the cover art preferred a picture that I didn’t like. I allowed myself to be convinced by the rest of the team that this image was the strongest one, but whenever I see that cover art now all I can think of is how much I dislike it.

Definitely a lesson learned!

Hopefully, by me sharing what I’ve learned on this blog, you can avoid making those same mistakes 🙂

Thank you for reading! Leave a comment below to share your experiences. I’d love to read them!

And if you’re interested in learning how you can increase your visibility online and build a loyal fanbase of die hard fans (your amazing photoshoot images will really help with this) then I invite you to sign up for my free 40mins online Fanbase Boost Blueprint training here!

Much love,

Susana

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