Many of us have reached that point when our album is ready to be unleashed on the world, and we realise that we need to address that elephant in the room. Photography. What should we do for our promotional photography? Sit in the park? Dress like insects? Stand against a brick wall frowning? Invite cousin Ed over with his camera and offer him a six pack? What about concert photography? How do you prepare?
Professional photographer Ryan Donnelly of Ryan Donnelly Images is here to shed some light on the dilemma. Ryan is a conceptual portrait, landscape, urban, and music photographer from Calgary, Alberta. Ryan has worked with critically acclaimed acts such as The Tea Party, The Reason, Kobra and the Lotus as well as many Calgary-based acts such as Every Hour Kills. He’s also teamed up with award-winning music video director Doug Cook to shoot music video photography.
Let’s begin the dissection.
James: There are a lot of things that either attract me or repel me when it comes to music photography. Any advice on what makes a great image or how to achieve one?
Ryan Donnelly: Yeah, hire a professional (laughs). In all seriousness though I think is of paramount importance to do your research and connect with a photographer that has some vision and the skill to pull it off.
James: So you wouldn’t suggest an amateur armed with an Iphone or tablet to get the job done?
Ryan Donnelly: That is a definite no from me. This is not to say that a smartphone or tablet is incapable of capturing an image worth looking at, but this is no different than trying to capture the audio of you live show on one, it can be done, but should it?
James: Good point. So what should be done?
Ryan Donnelly: Research your photographer. One thing we photographers love to do is show our work to the public, we have to really. We always have a website, a Flickr account, or a 500PX account, most of us have all three and more, so it is easy to see what a photographer is capable of. Let the work speak for the photographer, not the other way around.
James: You have photographed some prolific artists such as The Tea Party, The Reason and many more, how long have you been shooting live music?
Ryan Donnelly: I have shot live music for almost as long as I have been shooting, must be over seven years now actually.
James: How do you view live photography and the importance it plays for a bands image?
Ryan Donnelly: I think live photography is very important to a band, and it is a shame to see how many bands leave this aspect in the hands of amateurs. Your live show is your band at its truest form, and those images are both your publicity and your musical legacy, why would you let just anyone with any level of skill and gear to cover it?
James: Many independent bands do not have the funds to pay a different photographer to cover every show during the tour or even during their weekly gigs, so inevitably there is going to be images surfacing of the Iphone quality.
Ryan Donnelly: Of course you are very right. The problem isn’t that bands have amateurs shooting their shows, the problem is that they have amateurs shooting all their shows. So my suggestion, do your research, hire a professional that has both the gear capable of producing high grade images and the skill to pull it off. Pay that artist out of both respect and a guarantee for the work that photographer provides, and don’t sign any forms that release the images of the band to the photographer, the point of these images is for you to promote yourself with, and since you paid, well then you own them. It is the music business right?
James: That’s live music photography covered. Any thoughts on band promotional photography?
Ryan Donnelly: Same as my thoughts on live photography really. Do your research and hire a professional with a style that compliments yours. I actually think it is important that the photographer at the very least likes your style of music, and that they get the image you are trying to create. In my opinion, all photography needs to come from a place of honesty in order to manifest into an image worth looking at.
James: It’s a bit of touchy subject, but how much input should a band or artist give the photographer?
Ryan Donnelly: When it comes to collaborative efforts with fellow artists it is more than expected and appropriate to receive creative input from the band. The basis for the idea should be somewhat crystallized between both parties, or else you end up with an image that misses its mark completely, and both parties end up unhappy. Of course if you find the right photographer for the job then you don’t have to worry about this at all, but if they mention a photo where there is a brick wall involved, that’s not your photographer (laughs).
James: How important is an artist’s image and do you have advice for musicians in regards to their image?
Ryan Donnelly: I can’t for the life of me recall more than one single promotional image from U2 or Nickleback, but when it comes to creative juggernauts like Behemoth, Bjork, Ghost, David Bowie and Daft Punk I can recall so many memorable images. I think that anything unique that can give you an edge over the status quo is worth pursuing. Attempt to fit in at your own peril.