Getting your favorite band into your photo studio might sound like a dream come true – but could quickly turn into a disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing! Not all bands know how to pose or position themselves for photographs, and it’s your job as a photographer to direct them. So before you find yourself having a crisis – unsure of how to properly get bands set up for their epic promotional shoot – check out your guide to posing bands in photography!
How is band photography different from other group photography?
I hear this question a lot in my line of work. How does band photography differ from, say, a group portrait at a sports game or a family reunion? Well, the short answer is – the intent is different. Though all types of photographs tell a story, band photography has to sell both the image and idea of the band. The poses, styling, arrangement, lighting, and everything in between is akin to the marketing of the music group itself. To make this even more complex, the audience members have to develop the right preconceived idea of what the music will sound like based on the picture! This is the same principle that is applied to album artwork.
As well as this, the connection between all of the members in the band is different than that of family members or a sports team. Bands can be a complex series of relationships, some akin to kinship, others to sibling rivalry, and some can even be likened to business partners. Whichever is true for the band you are photographing, that unique relationship will come out in the photographs.
Does the genre of music affect the pose?
In short, yes and no. The genre of music can impact every facet of the image, but not necessarily. Doubling back to the idea that a photograph of a band needs to sell their music, the genre portrayal can be a fundamental part of that goal. For example, metal music has a much darker, harder, and tougher edge to it than, say, a girl pop band.
Much of how I figure out how to pose bands has to do with three key factors:
- What is the stereotypical image for that genre? (This being said, the image does not have to be stereotypical – but there are some specific poses to include if you want to really push on the fact that the band plays a specific type of music).
- What image does the music evoke? (I find that closing my eyes and listening to some of the key songs pointed out by the band can provide a lot of inspiration. Music and imagery tie together, and whatever image is evoked by the sound is one that you should likely follow).
- What is the story the band wants to convey with their presence?
Here is an example of how these three questions can drive a photo shoot.
Say that a five-piece, all-female symphonic metal band approaches you, with a melancholy and dark sound, whose story revolves around pagan rituals. With this in mind, the posing will likely be more rigid with the band members standing in a crescent formation due to the ritualistic nature. Their chins will likely be a bit lower down with a very slight hunch and legs tightly placed together, and eyes are looking directly towards the camera (whilst the face is slightly lower down).
Likewise, say an all-male pop duo approaches you with a very light-hearted, summer, beach feel to their music, with a tagline revolving around living every day in the moment. The posing will be very loose, fun, and expressive – likely a popular choice would be to place the two lads back to back with them looking over their shoulders at one another laughing and the arms placed in very relaxed positions.
As a photographer, much of our jobs revolve around bringing a static visual image to an ever-moving description.
To express why genre doesn’t necessarily have to affect the pose, not all bands fall perfectly within a box.
That’s a good thing. Art shouldn’t always be easily categorized.
As such, some acts defy traditional rules and do not follow convention. Their images won’t follow convention either, and the posing may change drastically from the usual.
Common posing qualms
Of course, posing groups of people isn’t without its troubles.
Here are some of the most common posing “uh-ohs” you might encounter (with solutions, of course):
Not all of the band members are a similar height – someone might be very short or extremely tall
This is a very common situation you’ll encounter. Luckily, there are some clever solutions!
Firstly, if your band promotional image doesn’t include full body shots, simply place the member(s) on boxes (often called ‘apples’ in studios) that even-out their height.
If the band does want full body shots, play with perspective. Place the taller members further in the back and the shorter members closer to the front. A reverse V or U shape is an excellent idea!
Thirdly, get creative with levels and props. My go-to – which tends to receive favorable reviews – is to place one member sitting on a chair and pose the rest of the band around the chair. The taller members can crouch on the ground at the corners of the chair while the shorter members can stand around the chair. The frontman or frontwoman sits in the chair.
You can achieve a similar effect by posing on stairs, walls, rocks, or anything that allows one person to sit while the rest are crouched or standing.
Everyone is wearing the same color clothing
I photograph primarily heavy metal and rock music, so this is something I deal with daily. Everyone wants to wear black in a black studio, against a black wall. The result, when done right, is super cool. However, when done wrong, the image suffers from “floating head” syndrome.
The real key here is to ensure that every article of clothing is a different texture from one another. Everyone can wear the same color, but try to encourage the band to wear different textures.
For example, a shiny top with matte pants works great. If a band member has both a matte top and matte pants, throw in a textured scarf or a tie to break it up. Jewelry is also a great idea. The point is, the colors can all be the same, but the way the clothing photographs must be different from one another. This can affect pose positioning as well, as you don’t want the same texture to cross one another and look flat in an image.
You can also use lighting to help separate the subject from the background. For example, shoot your studio lighting behind the band so that it creates a rim light, which pushes them off of the studio wall.
Someone is dressed elaborately and someone is not
Sometimes, a band member overdresses while others underdress. If you can’t swap out wardrobes or add accessories, then get extremely creative with posing.
When I was pursuing my visual communications degree, I had a wonderful professor drill into my head that the key to an effective image is having the viewer’s eye move around the entire frame rather than settle on one central point.
A great way to get the viewer to take in the entire image rather than settle on one point is to place the elaborately dressed band members around the less-elaborately dressed members on opposite ends.
Another solution is to use the flashy wardrobe to create lines that the viewer can follow throughout the image. A good way to create a line is to have the overdressed band member stretch an arm out to the other band members to encourage the eye to travel.
You are shooting a large piece band in a small, constricted space
If you do backstage photography, you’ll run head-on into this issue (especially in Los Angeles. Unless the band is in a major theater like The Hollywood Bowl, your backstage experience will be cramped. Trust me on this one). The most efficient way to utilize small spaces is posing the band in levels. Have some crouching and some standing, some leaning on walls and some stretched on the floor! Think of keeping everyone in a square image ratio format. You’ll be able to pose even 11-piece bands in a small space (I’ve done it!).
How does the lighting affect the pose?
The lighting you are using will make a difference in how you pose the band. If you’re shooting outdoors and are at the mercy of natural lighting (but don’t have a reflector), you will need to adjust head, hand, arm, and leg positions in order to make the best of the conditions you are working with.
For example, if you ended up shooting at high noon, keep chins up to avoid unflattering shadows on the neck. Likewise, make sure hands aren’t hidden in shadows so that they do not appear too dark.
If you are in the studio with more controlled light, this becomes a bit easier – assuming you have enough lights! Work with what you have, and find creative ways to pose the musicians in order to illuminate them in the most flattering way. If you don’t have enough lighting units to capture certain poses, avoid them altogether (unless you are a whiz at post-processing!).
(Pssst: reflectors are your best friend! Both indoors and outdoors. In outdoor situations, these help control the light. In indoor situations, if you don’t have enough budget for additional studio lights, you can use reflectors to bounce light and help it stretch further. Reflectors are budget-friendly solutions, and can even be made at home if you are DIY-savvy).
Is hierarchy in a band a real thing?
With some bands, it definitely is! Generally, you want the frontman or frontwoman as the center of attention with the rest of the band members posed around. Some bands have more than one vocalist, and often the vocalists tend to be the central figures (not to be confused with importance. All members are important. A band does not function without all of its contributing talents). Guitarists and bassists tend to find themselves beside the singers naturally, and other instruments such as percussion and keys even further off to the sides.
Most of the bands that step into the studio are live performers; that is, they have experience playing on a stage together. As such, the first thing I do is have them stand in my studio the way that they would arrange themselves on stage. I use that as the basis of where I pose everyone in the lineup. Many bands organically step into the spots that they are meant to stand in.
Posing a solo musician
Posing a solo musician opens up a door of massive possibility. Very little is out of your control here. However, remember, because you are photographing only one person, try to give the image as much interest and life as possible. Images are static; we have to make them move. The more dynamic the pose, the better, and the benefit of music photography is that you can get super-quirky with it!
Remember that traditional posing rules also apply here. Flattering angles and flattering poses. Try to avoid harsh shadows on parts of the face or body that may make someone appear different than they are.
Mess around with props as well. Props are great ways to give a client something to do with their hands or legs. They can also make an uncomfortable or nervous client much more comfortable as they have something to which to focus. Don’t assume that because a client is a musician that they love getting photographed – not everyone does. It’s your job to give them the best experience possible and make them love being in front of the camera with you.
My technique is to shoot with a high shutter speed and have the musician constantly move and change poses, encouraging even the weirdest of ideas to come through. More often than not, the weirder it seems, the better it looks. Also, making the client move continuously keeps them from pausing and overthinking.
… with instruments
Including their instrument is a common request from musicians, especially solo artists. Band photography often steps into the realm of endorsement photography for the various instrument companies that may be sponsoring the project. With solo artists, it’s fairly easy to get them posed with their instruments as you don’t have to consider the spacing with other band members.
The key with instruments, however, is to ensure that the instrument does not cover any important parts of the musician’s body such as their face! The instrument should fit in very organically and not feel forced or uncomfortable. It’s okay to have the band member pose with, say, a guitar hanging just a bit lower than they play it – as long as everything looks natural.
Commonly, I have the musician play the instrument to feel more comfortable with the lens being there. Often, those candid moments look amazing.
Posing an odd number of persons
Posing an odd number of people in a band is arguably the easiest (outside of a solo musician). This is because you can adhere to many of the traditional (and very effective) band poses, such as the “U” formation, the “V” formation, and anything else that pushes the lead member to the front. The lead member that stands in front of the rest is a great baseline to use to pose the remaining band members. Moreover, you tend to keep your composition more even on either side as a result.
However, don’t let this fact make you lazy. Just because you can do a traditional “crowding around the lead” shot, doesn’t mean you should make it boring! After all, you’re photographing bands – play with various facets of music photography and keep it interesting.
… with instruments
The addition of instruments might seem daunting, but this is a brilliant opportunity to use the lines of the instruments to have your viewer’s eyes move around the frame. As well as that, this allows you to use the instruments as a way to direct the attention to the lead of the band.
Posing an even number of persons
The most common even-number band is two. I love posing two-person bands. There is such a dynamic range of posing you can do. The connection between each member in a two-person band is also really cool and unique. There are lots to play off here. Honestly, get as quirky with this as possible!
An added benefit to two-people bands is that they don’t take up much space. Whether you’re in a studio or an outdoor location, two people take up less space than three or more. You can fit in a lot of wickedly cool shots in smaller spots.
The main things to remember are that both members need an even amount of attention in the images. Don’t try to have one overpower the other. It doesn’t look right in an image.
Now, the difficult even-number bands are those of four, six, or eight members. The primary difficulty is that you can no longer arrange them in “V” formations or have one member in front of the other because there isn’t an odd number! As such, try staircase poses or diagonal lines. You don’t want either side of the frame to feel too empty or too busy; you have to even it all out.
The addition of a prop is an excellent idea to even out the composition. I like to pose even-number bands in a more square-ratio (and this isn’t just because of the rise of Instagram). This gives you more options for dynamic posing and is a good baseline to help pose even-numbered bands.
… with instruments
Much like with just the band members themselves, use the addition of instruments to comply with a square posing ratio even further. If you pose everyone straight, make sure that you have enough room for the guitar and bass necks. You can play with levels here too, like in the example image below.
- Straight backs! Pay attention to your client’s back and shoulders. If they are arching, straighten them out unless you’re going way more vogue and odd. In that case, over-exaggerate the arch.
- Make sure there is nothing in anyone’s pockets. You will thank me for this one in the editing room.
- Don’t allow someone’s pose to block out a key part of another person’s body.
- For the “stretching arms towards camera” pose, have the band member cheat and keep the arm lower. It may feel counterintuitive, but if they stretch out towards you organically, their face will be blocked.
- Pay attention to how poses cast shadows on oneself and the people around them.
In conclusion, all great posing arrangements start with a deep understanding of what your client is wanting and needing. Don’t be afraid to have some fun with it, but keep everything cool, flattering, and most of all – epic. This is the music industry after all!
Do you have any other tips to add to this guide for posing bands in photography? If so, please share with us in the comments below (and your band photos)!