The Anatomy of a Band Shoot : working on my own weaknesses
Most people that are aware of my photography are so because of my photos of sweaty people shouting in bands. Which is great. I love doing that. But, another key aspect of music photography is editorial and promotional photography. I suck at that. Pretty hard.
But the later half of 2017 has seen me develop an interest in the ideas of art direction and branding. So in 2018 I’ve decided to challenge myself by doing more projects that require me to get into that creative headspace. My first effort: the new Banshee promotional shoot for their new 2018 single campaign.
Going into this my aim was to make the band look stylish, current and, obviously, like a band. The guiding principle was that they should seem like strong characters and part of a distinctive, stylised group. I wanted this to seem more like a boutique fashion editorial than a selection of greebos against the brick wall in the alley beside their rehearsal space.
Of course, the key issue with that ambition is I quite clearly know very little about fashion or editorial style shoots. I’m a documentary photographer, I shoot what I see. I find it incredibly difficult to build what I want to see. Potentially, my lack of knowledge could allow me to break limiting conventions. Conversely, it could mean I don’t capture even the basic premise of the original idea.
Regardless of my own misgivings, I persevered wrapped in a warm armour of hubris which convinced me I’d probably figure it out as I went.
As mentioned earlier, editorial style shooting is far from my strong suit. I find coming up with locations, themes and all the good ideas you need to have to pull off this kinda thing incredibly difficult. So our first location was inside a flat because...we were inside a flat. Creative right?
What I do like about this image is the natural light being blown out through the huge windows, the mixture of seating and the distinction between the various genders in the band by sitting and standing. My stubborn refusal to accept the use of flash meant I was relying entirely on natural light, and that made exposing this image pretty difficult. I also didn't manage to compose it well enough not to lose a tiny bit of the feet. A real rookie mistake.
I wouldn't call this a total misfire, but it isn't exactly bang on target either.
However, I did take the chance to take some individual portraits, you never know when you'll need a solo image in any campaign, and I really like those. The natural light from the windows was defused by the old glass in the windows in a wonderful way.
I tried these in black and white as well, usually an immediate winner for portraits, but that early afternoon light just did something that made the colour versions better. Besides, when your subjects have elements about them as vibrant and colourful as Erin's hair for example, it'd be a crime to resort to black and white.
Speaking of black and white, I did try another of those group shots in black and white. Again, not a total misfire but it certainly isn't the right kind of thing. Especially if you're editing style is all about crushing those blacks and pushing that contrast to the max. You can't change who you are.
So onto the second location: Glasgow's beautiful Botanic Gardens. I can't pretend the idea was mine, one of the band suggested it, but I immediately jumped on the idea. This location perfectly fulfiled my ambition to not have this look like another unimaginative band shoot in the street or in a photo studio backdrop.
This first image I really like in terms of posing and styling. The separation between Erin and the rest of the band is enhanced by her pose and twisting of her body, and the huge glass ceiling provided a lot of wonderful diffused, dull light to bring the colours of the background to life. I also like that my obsession with shooting at wide apeture's allows for a bit of odd pull in foucs, keeping Erin in focus with Gavin in the forground slightly out. I'm a big fan of using bokeh to draw your eyes to focal points of the image and like it or lump it, singers are the focal point of bands.
This one is a bit more traditional in terms of band shoots. Again, I like that having the band staggered pulls some of the members out of focus a bit and I think my direction to have at least one member look away from the camera paid off too. But I ebb and flow a bit on that. The colours in this place are second to none. I'll need to go back there and shoot again.
I'm not 100% on my colour grade of this photo, but it's much closer to the desired result than the previosu image. Obviosuly black and white was a no go in surroundings filled with such wonderful colour so I never even attempted a black and white grade of any of these.
As well as the tighter shots of the band, I wanted to try and get a wider image that gave the sense of scale of the Botanic Gardens themselves. Of those ones I tried this is the best, and I like how the wide 28mm angle adds to the depth of the picture but from a compositional perspective I lost the feet. Again.
Around this point I really started to find the colour grade style I was after, but there's something a bit disconcerting about two of the band staring off into similar parts of the distance with the other two members looking at the camera. It's an interesting image, but I feel as if it doesn't quite sit right.
Here's where I clearly let my love of F2.8 go too far. I do like this image, but how useful is a promotional image of a band where most of the band are really out of focus? Not very. Regardless, the bokeh I get off my 35mm Sigma Art Lens is beautiful. It's a shame I don't get to step it all the way down to F1.4 very often.
I also decided to grab some time for individual portraits again while we were at the Botanic Gardens. And these I really, really like. A wonderful location with great light is half the battle. The band are all quite striking visually as well, so that doesn't hurt either.
And then finally, we return to the lead image for the campaign. You might recognise it from other places such as the thumbnail to this blog and the top of this blog. Or the band's socials if you've seen any of the activity on there.
I really like this image. I like the composition and the amount of empty space around the band as they populate the bottom right corner. I like the high contrast, strong blacks and desaturation of the grade. The band on three planes really works for me as well, it also helps to make Liam's almost unreasonable height less of an issue.
The bokeh again helps to add some depth to the image and there are odd bits of old industrialisation like the water pipes for the gardens that add some intrigue to the image and stop the plant life being overwhelming.
This certainly does the job as a band image, but it also doesn't look like a typical band image. To that extent, this exercise was a success and has given me a lot to think about regarding my next shoot like this.
On the other hand, I still clearly know next to nothing about art direction or editorial photography. But I gave it a try, and that's the only way to ever really push your creativity: just give it a go. What's the worst that could happen?