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How to Pose Bands: The Ultimate Guide

Learn how to pose bands (photography guide)

Getting the opportunity to photograph your favorite band might sound like a dream come true – but it could quickly turn into a disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing! Not all bands know how to pose or position themselves for photographs, and it’s your job as a photographer to direct them.

So before you have a crisis (or a failed photoshoot), give this guide a read. I explain how you can successfully set up a promotional band shoot, and I explain the ins and outs of posing bands and solo musicians in a variety of scenarios.

Let’s dive right in!

How is band photography different from other group photography?

I hear this question a lot in my line of work. How does band photography differ from, say, a group portrait at a sports game or a family reunion?

The short answer is that the intent is different. Though all types of photographs tell a story, band photography has to sell both the image and the idea of the band. The poses, styling, arrangement, lighting, and everything in between are akin to marketing the music group itself. To make this even more complex, the audience has to develop the right preconceived idea of what the music will sound like based on the picture! (This is the same principle that’s applied to album artwork.)

How to pose bands and musicians
Aimee Saturne

Additionally, the connection between the band members is different than that of family members or a sports team. Bands can have complex relationships; some bands have something akin to kinship, others to sibling rivalry, and some can even be likened to business partners. Whatever the dynamics, it’s certainly something to consider because that unique relationship will come out in your photographs.

Does the genre of music affect the pose?

How to pose bands and musicians

Yes – and no. The genre of music can impact every facet of the image, but it doesn’t have to. Going back to the idea that a photograph of a band needs to sell its music, genre portrayal can be a fundamental part of that goal. For example, metal music has a much darker, harder, and tougher edge to it than, say, a girl pop band.

Much of how I figure out how to pose bands has to do with three key questions:

  • What is the stereotypical image for that genre? (The image you capture does not have to be stereotypical. However, there are some specific poses to include if you want to really emphasize that the band plays a specific type of music).
  • What image does the music evoke? (I find that closing my eyes and listening to some of the key songs pointed out by the band can provide a lot of inspiration. Music and imagery tie together, and whatever image is evoked by the sound is one that you can definitely follow.)
  • What is the story the band wants to convey with their presence?
How to pose bands and musicians
Aimee Saturne

Let me make things a little more concrete with a couple of contrasting examples:

Say a five-piece, all-female symphonic metal band approaches you. They have a melancholy and dark sound, and their story revolves around pagan rituals. With this in mind, the posing will likely be more rigid, with the band members standing in a crescent formation due to the ritualistic nature of their story. Their chins will likely be a bit lower with a very slight hunch, legs placed tightly together, and eyes looking directly towards the camera (while the face is slightly lower).

Likewise, say an all-male pop duo approaches you with a very light-hearted, summer beach feel to their music, with a tagline revolving around living in the moment. The posing will be very loose, fun, and expressive. A popular choice would be to place the two men back to back, laughing, looking over their shoulders at one another with arms placed in very relaxed positions.

As photographers, much of our job revolves around bringing a static visual image to an ever-moving description.

How to pose bands and musicians
Chasing Desolation

Now, at the start of this section, I mentioned that genre doesn’t necessarily have to affect the pose. And that’s because not all bands fall perfectly within a box!

That’s a good thing. Art shouldn’t always be easily categorized.

As such, some acts defy traditional rules and do not follow convention. The photos you capture of this type of band shouldn’t follow convention, either, and the posing may change drastically from the usual!

Common problems when posing bands

Of course, posing groups of people isn’t without its troubles. Here are some of the most common posing “uh-ohs” you might encounter (with solutions, of course!):

1. Not all band members are of similar height

This is a very common situation. Luckily, there are some clever solutions!

Firstly, if your band promotional image doesn’t include full-body shots, simply place the shorter member(s) on boxes (often called “apples” in studios) to even out their height.

If the band wants full-body shots, play with perspective. Place the taller members further back and the shorter members closer to the front. A reverse V or U shape is an excellent idea!

Thirdly, get creative with levels and props. My go-to approach – which tends to receive favorable reviews – is to place one member sitting on a chair and pose the rest of the band around it. The taller members can crouch on the ground at the corners of the chair while the shorter members stand. The frontman or frontwoman sits in the chair.

You can achieve a similar effect by posing on stairs, walls, rocks, or anything that allows one person to sit while the rest are crouched or standing.

How to pose bands and musicians
Killin’ Candace

2. Everyone is wearing the same color

I photograph primarily heavy metal and rock music, so this is something I deal with daily. Everyone wants to wear black in a black studio against a black wall. The result, when done right, is super cool. However, when done wrong, images suffer from “floating head” syndrome.

The real key here is to ensure that every article of clothing has a different texture. Everyone can wear the same color, but textural variation is key.

For example, a shiny top with matte pants works great. If a band member has both a matte top and matte pants, throw in a textured scarf or a tie to break it up. Jewelry is also a great idea. The point is that the colors can be the same, but the way the clothing appears in photographs must be different. This can affect pose positioning as well, as you don’t want the same texture to cross one another and look flat in an image.

You can also use lighting to help separate the subject from the background. For example, shoot your studio lighting behind the band to create a rim light, which pushes the subjects off the studio wall.

How to pose bands and musicians
Our Dying World

3. Someone overdresses or underdresses

Sometimes one band member may overdress and/or others may underdress. If you can’t swap out wardrobes or add accessories, then get extremely creative with posing.

When I was pursuing my visual communications degree, I had a wonderful professor drill into my head that the key to an effective image is having the viewer’s eye move around the entire frame rather than settle on one central point.

A great way to get the viewer to take in the entire image rather than settle on one point is to place the more elaborately dressed band members around the less elaborately dressed members on opposite ends.

Another solution is to use the flashy wardrobe to create lines that the viewer can follow throughout the image. A good way to create a line is to have the overdressed band member stretch an arm out to the other band members to encourage the eye to travel.

How to pose bands and musicians
Bullet Height

4. You are shooting a large band in a small space

If you do backstage photography, you’ll run head-on into this issue.

(Especially in Los Angeles. Unless the band is in a major theater like The Hollywood Bowl, your backstage experience will be cramped. Trust me on this one!)

The most efficient way to utilize small spaces is to pose the band in levels. Have some crouching, some standing, some leaning on walls, and some stretched on the floor! Think of keeping everyone in a square image ratio format. You’ll be able to pose even 11-piece bands in a small space (I’ve done it!).

How to pose bands and musicians
Trash Deity

How does the lighting affect the pose?

The lighting you use will make a difference in how you pose the band. If you’re shooting outdoors and are at the mercy of natural lighting (and you don’t have a reflector), you will need to adjust head, hand, arm, and leg positions to make the best of the conditions.

For example, if you end up shooting at high noon, keep the chins up to avoid unflattering shadows on the neck. Likewise, make sure hands aren’t hidden in shadows so they do not appear too dark.

How to pose bands and musicians
Jyrki 69

If you are in the studio with more controlled light, this becomes a bit easier, assuming you have enough lights. Work with what you have, and find creative ways to pose the musicians to illuminate them in the most flattering way. If you don’t have enough lighting units to capture certain poses, avoid them altogether (unless you are a whiz at post-processing!).

How to pose bands and musicians
Karim Ortega

(Psst: Reflectors are your best friend, both indoors and outdoors. In outdoor situations, they help control the light. In indoor situations, if you don’t have enough budget for additional studio lights, you can use reflectors to bounce light and help it stretch further. Reflectors are budget-friendly and can even be made at home if you are DIY-savvy).

Do bands have hierarchies?

How to pose bands and musicians

Some bands do indeed have hierarchies, and as the photographer, you’ll need to incorporate this into your poses. Generally, you want the frontman or frontwoman as the center of attention with the rest of the band members posed around.

Some bands have more than one vocalist, and often the vocalists tend to be the central figures. (Note: This is not to be confused with importance. All members are important. A band does not function without all its contributing talents.)

Guitarists and bassists tend to find themselves beside the singers naturally, with other instruments such as percussion and keys even further off to the sides.

How to pose bands and musicians
Bullet Height

Most of the bands that step into the studio are live performers; that is, they have experience playing on a stage together. As such, the first thing I do is have them stand in my studio the way they would arrange themselves on stage. I use that as the basis of where I pose everyone in the lineup. Many bands organically step into the spots they are meant to stand in.

How to pose a solo musician

How to pose bands and musicians
Brandon Rage

Posing a solo musician offers massive possibilities. Very little is out of your control here.

However, remember that because you are photographing one person, you should try to give the image as much interest and life as possible. Images are static; we have to make them move. The more dynamic the pose, the better, and the benefit of music photography is that you can get super-quirky with it!

How to pose bands and musicians
Grant Webb

Remember that traditional posing rules also apply here. Use flattering angles and poses, and try to avoid harsh shadows on parts of the face or body that may make someone appear different than they are.

How to pose bands and musicians
Aimee Saturne

Mess around with props, as well. Props are great ways to give a client something to do with their hands or legs. They can also make an uncomfortable or nervous client much more comfortable by giving them something to focus on.

Don’t assume that because a client is a musician, they love getting photographed – this isn’t always the case. It’s your job to give them the best experience possible and make them love being in front of the camera with you.

How to pose bands and musicians
Aaron Lee

My technique is to shoot with a high shutter speed and have the musician constantly move and change poses, encouraging even the weirdest of ideas to come through. More often than not, the weirder it seems, the better it looks. Also, making the client move continuously keeps them from pausing and overthinking.

How to pose bands and musicians
Alexx Calise

Including an instrument is a common request from musicians, especially solo artists. Band photography often steps into the realm of endorsement photography for the various instrument companies that may be sponsoring the project. With solo artists, it’s fairly easy to get them posed with their instruments as you don’t have to consider spacing with other band members.

How to pose bands and musicians
Alex Crescioni

The key with an instrument, however, is to ensure that it doesn’t cover any important parts of the musician’s body, such as their face! The instrument should fit in very organically and not feel forced or uncomfortable. It’s okay to have the band member pose with, say, a guitar hanging just a bit lower than they play it – as long as everything looks natural.

How to pose bands and musicians
Ace Von Johnson

I often have the musician play the instrument to feel more comfortable with the lens being there. Those candid moments frequently look amazing.

How to pose bands and musicians
Arielle Silver

How to pose an odd number of people

Posing an odd number of people in a band is arguably the easiest (excluding solo musicians). This is because you can adhere to many of the traditional (and very effective) band poses, such as the “U” formation, the “V” formation, and anything else that pushes the lead member to the front.

The lead member standing in front of the rest is a great baseline to use to pose the remaining band members. As a result, you tend to keep your composition more even on either side.

How to pose bands and musicians

However, don’t let this fact make you lazy. Just because you can do a traditional “crowding around the lead” shot doesn’t mean you should make it boring! After all, you’re photographing bands; play with various facets of music photography and keep it interesting.

Some bands will want to include their instruments in the shots. While the addition of instruments might seem daunting, this is a brilliant opportunity to use the lines of the instruments to have your viewer’s eyes move around the frame. This also allows you to use the instruments to direct attention to the lead of the band.

How to pose an even number of people

How to pose bands and musicians

The most common even-numbered band is two. I love posing two-person bands, as there is such a dynamic range of posing you can do. The connection between each member in a two-person band is also really cool and unique. There is lots to play off here, and I recommend you get as quirky with this as possible!

How to pose bands and musicians

An added benefit to two-person bands is that they don’t take up much space. Whether you’re in a studio or an outdoor location, two people take up less space than three or more. You can create a lot of wickedly cool shots in smaller spots.

How to pose bands and musicians

The main thing to remember is that both members need an even amount of attention in the images. Don’t try to have one overpower the other. It won’t look right in the photos.

How to pose bands and musicians
Our Dying World

Now, the difficult even-numbered bands to pose are those with four, six, or eight members. The primary difficulty is that you can no longer arrange them in “V” formations or have one member in front of the other because there isn’t an odd number of people.

Try staircase poses or diagonal lines. You don’t want either side of the frame to feel too empty or too busy; you have to even it all out.

The addition of a prop is an excellent idea to even out the composition. I like to pose even-numbered bands in a more square ratio (and this isn’t just because of the rise of Instagram). This gives you more options for dynamic posing and is a good baseline to help pose even-numbered bands.

Use the addition of instruments to comply with a square posing ratio even further. If you pose everyone straight, make sure that you have enough room for the guitar and bass necks. You can play with levels here, too, like in the example image below.

How to pose bands and musicians
Our Dying World

A few bonus tips for posing bands successfully

Before I sign off, I’d like to share a few more band posing tips that I’ve learned over the years:

  • Straight backs! Pay attention to your client’s back and shoulders. If they are arching, straighten them out unless you’re going for a more vogue and odd look. In that case, over-exaggerate the arch.
How to pose bands and musicians
Alex Crescioni
  • Empty pockets. Make sure there is nothing in anyone’s pockets. You will thank me for this one in the editing room.
  • Avoid blocking. Don’t allow someone’s pose to block out a key part of another person’s body.
How to pose bands and musicians
Brandon Rage
  • Cheat the “stretching arms towards the camera” pose. Have the band member cheat and keep the arm lower. It may feel counterintuitive, but if they stretch out towards you organically, their face will be blocked.
  • Mind the shadows. Pay attention to how poses cast shadows on the person posing as well as the people posing around them.

Go rock your next band photoshoot!

All great posing arrangements start with a deep understanding of what your client wants and needs. Don’t be afraid to have some fun with it, but keep everything cool, flattering, and most of all, epic. This is the music industry, after all!

Now over to you:

Do you have any other tips to add to this guide for posing bands in photography? If so, please share with us in the comments below (and your band photos)!

Your guide to posing bands in photography

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Anabel DFlux
Anabel DFlux

is a published photographer in Los Angeles, California. Having started her photography business at the age of 15, Anabel has dedicated her life to her photographic passion. From canine sports to exotic animals, to some of the biggest musicians in the world – Anabel’s work doesn’t fall into any specific niche. She believes there are no limits to what you can create, and to photograph everything that gives you that spark of inspiration.

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