Promo Kit Photos

Your official publicity photo is an important and basic item of the promo kit because it is probably the most striking and effective part of it. Your publicity photo has a significant psychological impact on how your music is perceived. Just like the cover of your CD conveys an image of your music, so too does the photo you put in your kit. Initially, photos will be sent to publicity contacts in the print media. These people will judge you by your visual image, as will fans and prospective fans when they see the photo in magazines and newspapers. In a business that hinges on image, photography represents image in its most immediate form. Take great care in selecting a professional photographer and in selecting the right photo from the shoot. Remember to choose a photo that will look good reduced down to the size of photos you see in the print media.

Finding a Photographer

The best way to find a photographer is the local grapevine or word-of-mouth. Ask around and contact other bands or their management, entertainment editors, radio station promotion directors, people at record labels or PR firms, and club managers. Make sure the photographer you pick has experience in the music business. Most professional photographers tend to specialize, so hold out for a person accustomed to working with musicians.

Once you've found possible photographers, ask to look at their portfolios. Most portfolios will include widely differing subjects, compositions, and styles, so concentrate on the entertainment work - concert shots, album covers, studio portraits, and shots of parties and other functions. Also, talk to the photographers about their experience. Do they seem to have a feel for your music and appear enthusiastic about the project? Don't be timid about references and previous clients. Contact a few of them and ask how the sessions went.

Location vs. Studio Shots

Location Shots

For outdoor or location shots, the possibilities are virtually endless. Regardless of your musical style make sure you have at least a rough idea of an effective shot before going in. Often, you can use locations to help portray your (the band's) identity (i.e. an abandoned prison, a funky old billboard or storefront, bizarre architecture, a sunny beach, etc.). Always remember however that the photograph you are taking is about you, and not the abandoned prison, or funky billboard etc. A great location may distract you from your main purpose, which is to get a great photograph for your press kit.

Do not go for something so arty or weird that you as individuals aren't recognizable; this will just defeat your purpose. Also, think about getting written permission from property owners for location shots (normally this is quite easy, but if you run into trouble, go elsewhere). With abandoned buildings, this may not even be necessary.

When you shoot your photo at a venue/show, think about the following:

  • Make certain there's no alcohol or tobacco evident in your publicity photos. Many newspapers and magazines won't touch them otherwise.
  • Showing banners, placards, and other promotional items are okay, but have the photographer watch out for empty beer cans, overflowing ashtrays, and the like.
Studio Shots

The advantage of a studio shoot is that the photographer has total control over the environment; virtually unlimited lighting resources along with control over backdrops, props, special effects. Shooting time in a studio is expensive, so calculate your budget carefully.

Here are some basic tenets you should follow for a studio shoot:

  • Make sure that everyone arrives a little early or at least on time.
  • If you have to cancel a session, call the studio as soon as possible; if you simply blow off the appointment, you'll be billed for all the time that was booked.
  • Bring different outfits to the session; this will save you time and money.
  • See that all cans, bottles, and other garbage are put in trash cans. If you leave the studio in a mess, you can bet you'll be billed for cleanup.

Generally, you'll want to order two rolls of black & white and one roll of color photos. Don't order color photos if all you want and need are a couple of photos for the press kit.


You'll choose your black & white photos from proof sheets. Proof sheets are 8"x10" photo sheets that show all the shots that were taken at the photo shoot in their actual film size, either 35mm, 2 1/4", or 4"x5". You choose from these numbered smaller images to order the final enlargements. Generally you'll pick three to five photos and blow them up to 8"x10". Your official photo should always be a black and white, 8 X10 glossy photograph.

Publicity Shots

A publicity shot is not the same as an official publicity photograph. Publicity shots are photos taken at parties, or backstage with luminaries of some kind. Publicity photos should capture your (the band's) personality and image and should say something about you. You don't have much, if any, choice in photographers for publicity shots, but you should at least ask for approval of the photos that are suggested for use by the print media. Let me point out- once more - you are often judged by your photos - so, consider the image you want to convey. Finally, any photos chosen for your press kit should be printed so that they are not be too dark or too light. A professional photographer can usually be trusted to print your photos correctly.


The Film Roll

The question of who owns and keeps the film has been a big bone of contention. Here's the rule: Under normal circumstances, the photographer keeps the black & white film, unless otherwise negotiated. The photographer will deliver one master print per ordered frame unless more prints are specified per frame.

The Photos

A photographer's work is covered by the same copyright law that protects musical works. In practice, this means that the photographer retains all rights to the photographs except for the rights that you specifically purchase.

When you pay normal photo rates, you're actually leasing the photographic work for specific uses; you are not free to use the photo any way that you wish. Publicity shots are a good example: If you pay a publicity-photo rate, then that's all they can be used for. If you later decide to use the same print for a billboard, album cover, or as part of an advertising campaign, additional fees are paid to the photographer.

It's possible to purchase all rights to a piece of film, but the applied rates are going to be much more expensive (because the photographer is giving up all rights to his artistic work). In the world of music PR, it's usually inadvisable to buy all rights to a black & white film; it's too expensive and the odds are slim that you'll re-use any of the prints.


For black & white photos, send the master print to a mass-duplication house. A mass-photo house can also print your band logo, the contact info and the credits on the prints. The number of prints you order will vary widely depending on your goals.

Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.

Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.

He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".

Christopher Knab