Top photography tips for music groups

At the risk of making you click away from this page in horror, we do need to start by citing that old cliché about a picture being worth a thousand words. Sorry, but it’s true: no amount of cheerful prose will convince visitors to your group’s website that you are a joyous and inspiring lot if they are greeted by a boring and gloomy portrait.

Eye-catching and powerful images on your website and social media could help you attract audiences, new members and maybe even hirings and other engagements. So let’s look at some tips to help you produce and share those great photos.

  1. Start with some research. Look at images from other vocal or instrument groups. How do they make their photos interesting? What do you like and what do you want to avoid? Have a look at some of the images on our Flickr channel for inspiration.
  2. Seek guidance and suggestions. Speak to the Music Director and other members of the group. Do they have specific ideas for shots? What is the personality of the group and how do you communicate that through images? 
  3. Choose a right time and place. The last rehearsal before an important performance might not be the best time to worry about photos. Arrange for a date and time when all the group’s members can be relaxed. Also, make sure the location is well lit and you have space to manoeuvre around the group.
  4. (Almost) any camera will do. To produce a great photo, you don’t always need an expensive camera body or an impressive collections of lenses. Just ask anyone that uses a £40 plastic camera to produce masterpieces! You can capture impressive images with an entry-level digital camera, or even a smartphone (see some tips for mobile photography), as long as you are very mindful of settings and lighting.
  5. Take control of the lighting. Remember that photography is about capturing the light that bounces off your subject. Before you even think of pressing the shutter, spend a couple of minutes understanding where the light is coming from (the sun, a cloudy sky, a reflection from a wall, a street lamp, a light bulb, a camera flash) and the effect it has on your subject.

If you’re shooting outdoors, are you shooting against the sun? Is part of your subject in the light and another in the shadows? If you are indoors, is every face in the group nicely lit? Don’t be afraid to ask your group to move to a better-lit position, to open a window or to move a lamp. Even with advanced editing software like Adobe Photoshop there is very little you can do if you didn’t think through the lighting of a photograph.

  1. Understand the key camera settings. How much light is captured by a camera depends on three things – besides the actual lighting of the scene or subject:
  1. The sensitivity of the sensor. The higher the ISO setting, the more grain there will be in the image – and unlike analogue photography grain, digital photography grain is not nice!
  2. The shutter speed. Set this higher for moving subjects and lower for static ones; but don’t go too low (let’s say 1/125 handheld) or your subjects will have movement blur either from their movement or your hands holding the camera.
  3. The aperture of the diaphragm. Set this as low or open as possible for low light and shallow depth of field (that very attractive blur in the background and foreground of some images).
  1. Understand colour balance. You might want to leave everything in auto, as most cameras nowadays are quite smart. But if you go manual, remember to avoid intense yellow or blue shades on your images (see photo below).

  1. Aim for an interesting composition. Forget for a second about the people in the picture and just think geometric shapes. Look for lines or other eye-pleasing figures. And keep in mind the rule of thirds or golden ratio. Divide the frame in thirds horizontally and vertically and ensure that your subjects are aligned with the intersections (see photo below).

1.2 trillion images will be shared online in 2017. If you want people to pay attention to your pictures, you will need to give them a reason! A way of doing this is having a very clear focus of attention in each photograph. Always have one thing that stands out. If in doubt, ask yourself how someone would describe your picture.

  1. Watch your background! Make sure nothing distracts from your subjects. Is there a rubbish bin behind your group, or some people you do not want in the picture? Is a tree growing out of someone’s head? Want to blur the background to make it less distracting? Zoom in and remember to use a wide aperture.
  2. Ensure crisp and clear focus. Focus lets us understand what is the most relevant part of a photograph. And if there are humans in your image, especially in a portrait, we tend to want to focus on the eyes. You can leave elements in the background or foreground out of fous, as a frame for your main subject (see photo below).

  1. Action shots or group portraits? You might want to take both, but consider that in an action shot you will rarely manage to fit a whole orchestra or choir in the frame while keeping the picture interesting. Also, a group portrait can quickly get boring. So be as creative as possible!
  2. Cover all angles. The best photographers are seldom static. They run all over the place, looking for interesting angles to capture. Get wide shots, then go very close and get detail shots. Try shooting from above or from the floor.
  3. Be patient and tenacious. When you’ve found an angle that you like, spend some time there to make sure you get the best shot. Take several shots of the same angle, to ensure you have options if someone closes their eyes or has an awkward expression. Don’t move on to another angle until you’ve got at least one shot that you are very happy with.
  4. This is no time to be shy! You need to direct your subjects to ensure they are placed right, they are all well-lit, no one is hiding in the back, and they all look like they want to be there. A little bossiness might be necessary to ensure a great photo.
  5. Better more than less. Take as many photos as you can. It doesn’t mean you will publish them all, though. Don’t be surprised if, out of 100 photos that you take, you only end up sharing the top 10!
  6. Learn the basics of digital image post-processing. You can pay for a subscription to professional software like Adobe Photoshop (see photo below); use free software that is almost as powerful; or use free online photo editors. Most of these options will allow you to crop, resize and adjust image settings like colour temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, saturation and many others!

  1. Optimise images for online use. Make sure each image has enough pixels in it to display nicely. For example, the header of a Facebook page is 820 pixels wide (as of June 2017). If you upload an image that is only 500 pixels wide, it will seem blurry and low-quality. You could always upload an original photo straight from your camera, but if the file is too big that risks making your website slower, and some websites and browsers are not great at resizing images.

It is good practice to resize each image to the exact amount of pixels required. Also, it is best to use JPG format for large photos and PNG for smaller images, especially those with a solid background.

  1. Save and backup your images. Create a folder for all your images, and keep it organised by photo-shoot. Save the original files and make sure to not overwrite them when you are doing crops or re-sizing for online use. Ensure you keep an updated backup on another computer or hard drive.

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.