The Art of the Musician Portrait


I grew up in a musical family. At any point in the day, you could focus your ears and hear 4-6 instruments sounding throughout the house. It overwhelmed a lot of people, but when you live in it, you learn how to tune out the noise. Growing up in a family of musicians though really gave me a fascination and love for the musician culture. To this day, musicians are among my absolute favorite groups of individuals to hang out with, jam with, and of course – as a photographer – take portraits of.


Taking portraits of musicians and bands is an experience unlike any other. Conventional rules of photography need not apply. Creativity is a given – and pushing the limits of innovation is required. Storytelling quality is paramount. Don’t expect that a flattering likeness will be enough for the expectant client – oftentimes the image with a strong theme will win out amongst others that are simply good likenesses.

If your just starting out with musician and band portraits, start with a friend. Push your creativity and plan, plan, plan. Think through some of the following considerations before setting out on your shoot:


1. Theme

First of all, don’t walk into a shoot for this kind of client with a preconceived idea of what you want and how you are going to capture it. Hear your clients ideas first, and then go forward with how you could develop it within your specific skills and artistic abilities.

2. Location

Once again, listen to your client on this one. What they want to achieve within the shoot will enable you both to determine the best location to capture that. And of course, the client may have ideas already determined. Work with that. Don’t discount indoor locations either, though they can pose more a challenge for starting photographers.


3. Number of individuals

As likely as it is that your clients will be fairly expressive in their own style of posing, you will want to create a few options for group poses for them to work from as well. Remember, push the limits of “typical” posing.


4. Lighting

There is flat out no better way to convey emotion than creative lighting. You may have to experiment, but come up with some lighting ideas that are simple, different, and capture a different look. Every musician is incredibly unique and you want to create portraits that will convey that uniqueness.

5. Style of Music

The beauty within musician and band portraits is that you also must factor the style of music that the client plays. I will create very different shot styles for classical musicians than I would for a hip hop group or a rock band. If the musician has more flowing music, you may use softer light and color. If your client has music that is gritty and dark, you may use contrasting light and strong blacks. Find inspiration in the music.


6. Major on expression

Music is an art. Photography is an art. The two in combination can create some of the most powerful art that we’ve ever seen. Do your best to combine elements of location, props, motion, color, lighting – all in cooperation together to create the most expressive portraits you can.

7. Creative Directing

Don’t’ rule out using motion. Static portraits may capture the look and feel that the client wants to go for, but remember to offer motion as an option.


If your interesting in musician portraits – experiment! If nothing else, it will be an incredible opportunity to express your creativity and have a really great time!

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Céline August 4, 2012 08:59 pm

    Completely agree that when combining two forms of art you end up with something very powerful, if well blended together.

    Very useful tips, thank you.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer June 26, 2012 06:12 am

    One of my best photo shoots was for a guitarist at sunset on a beach:

    He was actually playing and I just photographed him while he played.

  • MikeC366 June 26, 2012 03:00 am

    I tried this back a couple of months ago. My first attempts at portraits. Just happen to be musical related :-)


  • Steve June 26, 2012 02:22 am

    Just a busker looking away:

  • Mridula June 26, 2012 02:17 am

    There are so many ways to look at photography, I mean that flower shot, and music! Great combination.

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