Musician photo shoot tips from a pro photographer

Good photos are a key part of your promotional toolkit as a musician.

Whether you’re using these photos for social media, album artwork, your Spotify profile, or getting press, your next band photo shoot should yield a variety of images that are:

  • High-quality
  • Visually compelling
  • Reflective of your current style

Most importantly, your musician photos should feel like YOU!

To help you prepare for your next musician photo shoot, I spoke with celebrity photographer Josh Telles. I’ve had the pleasure of being on set for countless shoots with Josh (in addition to being in front of his camera myself) and can tell you he has a way of putting artists at ease and capturing the most authentic portraits.

You can see his artist portraits of Nicole Kidman, Vance Joy, Mary J. Blige, George Clooney, and Ziggy Marley on his website.

8 things to do BEFORE your band’s photo shoot:

1. Know in advance what your photos should express

Ultimately, you are in charge of your visual brand. What do you want your photos to SAY about your music? Do your homework!

Match your music and visual vibes. What approach feels true?

  • B&W or color?
  • Gritty or clean?
  • Friendly or aggressive?
  • Intimate (looking at the camera) or aloof (looking away)?

Remember, you won’t be able to convey the full breadth of your artistry or personality with one photo, so decide on one or two essential elements of your musical identity that can be captured visually.

When you have a clear idea of what you’re going for ahead of time, you’ll be more comfortable in front of the camera during the shoot.

2. Scout your location(s) for the photo shoot

Your band photo shoot should happen in a setting that enhances the mood of your music. Check out a few locations ahead of time, and don’t be afraid to ask permission to shoot at a local museum, monument, park, etc. Just get permits if they’re required!

Do you want to be photographed with an exotic outdoor background? Do you want to appear front-and-center in a controlled studio environment with a flat background and lots of lighting? Either approach can be effective, depending on your aesthetic.

3. Choose what you’ll wear during your band photo shoot

“Wardrobe can make or break it,” says Josh. “Think about the voice and story you are trying to tell; if you’re a band trying to have a cool vibe, don’t show up like you’re going to take the SATs.

I photographed this band the other day – they came with a trunk full of clothing and that’s great.

Wear stuff you love and feel comfortable in. What’s the most natural wardrobe for you? Your clothes are part of the voice you use to tell your story. Know what you want to convey; you have to look the part.

On the tech side if you’re going to shoot in studio, patterns are not the best, but it still depends mostly on voice. That said, no wrinkles (steam your clothes!); if it’s distressed and hole-y, cool, but wrinkles look unprofessional.

Personally, I love neutral colors, and clothes that blend in with the environment.”

Still not sure what to wear? Wear what you’d wear to a gig. Avoid crazy costumes unless they’re integral to your brand or concerts. Costumes can be distracting from what’s most important: your face.

4. Make a photo shoot mood board

Gather some images you like from favorite album covers, band websites, magazines, or blogs. What do they have in common? This exercise will be helpful when you discuss the photo shoot with your photographer. It’ll also help you clarify your goals if you’re shooting your own artist photos.

5. Discuss what to expect during your musician photo shoot

What is your photographer’s process? Will they shoot a thousand photos in rapid-fire? Will they take their time to set up only a handful of shots?

After the photo shoot, will they let you look at EVERY picture they took, or only send you their favorites?

There’s no correct method, but you want to know what to expect.

As mentioned above, you should arrive with a clear idea of your objective. But you should also be open to the photographer’s suggestions.

Music is YOUR realm. Photography is THEIR realm — and as many photographers point out, taking a good portrait is a two-way conversation; make sure you’re listening.

6. List all the different musician photos you’ll need to capture during your photo shoot

A single quality photo won’t be enough.

There might be multiple uses for your artist photos, including:

  • Social headers
  • Social profile pics
  • Blogs, podcasts, and other digital media
  • Print media such as magazines and newspapers
  • Album artwork
  • Concert posters

“Always take into consideration what you’re going to use it for,” Josh advises. “For instance, if it’s for the cover of a magazine, and there will need to be text on top, you need enough blank space so you can put the magazine brand on there; it’s always good to have that safety.

With digital you can always crop it in, so have the photographer shoot a little bit wider. Use your judgment. Orientation is based on the scenario. Where are you going to use it? What are you going to use it for? Make sure you have enough space.”

The more options you have, the more mileage you’ll get — especially if you’re pitching for a feature story that’d require multiple photos.

If possible, you’ll want to capture the following photo options:

  • Close-ups and “headshots”
  • Photos that show your full body
  • Individual photos of band members
  • The entire group
  • With instruments and without
  • Color AND black and white
  • Landscape AND portrait options
  • An image where you are off to one side (for banners, digital ads, etc.)
  • An image that can be cropped without killing the overall composition
  • An image that looks great when reduced to a thumbnail

7. Use your musician photo shoot to create a consistent vibe across multiple properties

Your musician photos will appear on streaming platforms, digital ads, your social profiles, and more. Stay consistent!

That doesn’t mean your photos are all from the same location with the same wardrobe. But the artist photos you use across your various web properties, cover art, and PR campaigns during a particular creative season should feel related in some way.

Make sure all your photos speak to one another so the viewer can sense a larger story.

8. Above all, act “natural” during your musician photo shoot

“When I photographed Thom Yorke, he looked uninterested and super cool,” says Josh. “He doesn’t look cool because he cared; he looked cool because he is just being himself.

Authenticity is key; if you don’t believe in yourself, in what you’re promoting, it’s going to feel fake. Be yourself. As photographers we’re here to capture you; we’re not trying to do anything else.

Your music — it’s an expression of who you are. Carry the same energy into your photos. if you’re making a progressive rock song, then go and bring that energy to the shoot! Be honest.”

That might be easier said than done; but it’s part of the photographer’s job to help you feel comfortable being yourself in front of the camera.

Can you shoot your own musician photos?

With a new smartphone camera, apps such as PS Express, and free browser-based design tools like Canva, you can achieve a lot on your own. Some people might also feel MORE natural without a stranger around.

But again, the photographer should make you feel comfortable during your photo shoot, as well as provide their expert perspective and skills. Hiring a photographer can be an investment, but it’s often an expense that pays off with better-quality visuals for your music.

Before you hire any photographer though, vet them! Check out the photos they’ve chosen to highlight on their website. Ask other artists they’ve worked with for testimonials.

Lastly, discuss with your photographer all the key points above. That’ll ensure you’re both prepared to make the most of your musician photo shoot.


Got any artist photo tips to add? What are some of your favorite iconic musician photos?

Let us know in the comments below.

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