Author: Campbell, Bruce

Take Your Best Shot

OK, so you’ve got yourself a bluegrass band. You’ve got good pickers and singers, and you’ve been practicing. You’ve played some bars, and some coffee houses, and everyone loved you. You recorded a demo and everybody says it sounds great. There’s only one thing standing between you and epic bluegrass stardom, and it may be the thing that derails the whole process: The Band Photo.

Nothing in the universe sounds so simple and yet I so hard, as the Band Photo. There are a number of reasons for this, and different kinds of band photos present different problems. Let’s go into a few of them.

One problem that is universal across any kind of band photo that features actual photos of the band members is, a LOT of folks think they look differently than they really do. They have a mental picture of how they look, and when they see the band photos, they hate how they look in them. “I look fat in this!”, they cry, or variations of that theme. I have terrible news for you. If you look fat in a photo, you probably are at least a little fat.
The funny part of it is, unless perfect strangers shriek and cover their eyes when they meet you, you look OK. You’re the only one freaking out about it.

Here another interesting thing: Take 5 pictures of almost anybody, and 3 of them will look a bit goofy. Try taking 5 pictures of a group of 5 people, and the odds at least one person in each shot NOT looking goofy plummet to close to zero. So, any band shot, without digital improvements, is going to leave someone unhappy.

The next issue is what kind of picture do you want? How about a live shot of the band – those always look cool, don’t they? Unfortunately, live photos taken at a bar or a party in someone’s backyard look like someone playing at a bar or in someone’s backyard. The angle will be head-high instead of the low angle shot that makes performers look really cool. And the background won’t be a uniform black or white. It’ll be full of lawn furniture or dudes playing darts. Even if you get a chance to play a festival or concert on a proper stage with good lighting, the chances of all of the band members being unobscured by microphones, headstocks, fiddle bows or monitors is pretty slim.

So, maybe you skip the live stage shot. It’s a pain and never looks as cool as you’d like. How about a nice posed shot? We’ve all seen those. You pose all the band members in some rural spot, like in front of a barn, or maybe a tractor. Train tracks or train stations are good, although I was involved in a train track photoshoot that ended with yours truly running down the tracks with a dog house bass in hand, trying to get to a spot where I could get off the tracks before being run down by a locomotive. So here’s an important tip: Get your photo taken in front of the tracks, not ON the tracks.

The posed shot has a higher degree of success, but the “goofy look ratio” rule will be in effect. And, of course, you have to decide how the band is going to dress. This often causes a lot of anxiety, but what everyone feels they look best in may vary wildly, and a band shot with some members in cargo shorts and a tee shirt and some in three-piece suits is going to look weird. Here’s another helpful hint: unless everyone in the band has a very similar build, do not go with the “matching shirts” look. The design you pick for the whole band will look great on some members and ridiculous on some others. And Photoshop can’t fix that!

What about facial expressions? Do you go with smiles all around, grim country cool expressions, or a mixture? What about instruments? Does everybody hold one? Or maybe just one guitar, or maybe just mandolin or fiddle?

All in all, you’ll discover why so many album covers do NOT feature a band photo. It’s easier to pull off a rip-roarin’ recording of “Rawhide” than to get a really good Band Photo!

Posted:  4/6/2011

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