You don’t need professional experience or equipment to take photos your fans will love. This musician’s guide to Instagram gives you tips to get you started on the popular platform.
Instagram is an incredibly useful platform for musicians and bands. That said, I know the photography-heavy content intimidates many musicians. Just taking a quick browse through Instagram’s “Explore” page will present thousands of photographs that were no doubt shot by professionals.
But you don’t need professional experience or equipment to take photos your fans will love. In fact, if you have a phone, you have everything you need.
What is the purpose of your Instagram page?
Before you start taking pictures, I want you to ask yourself what the purpose your Instagram page will serve. Is Instagram a place you know a lot of your fans hang out? Is there a strong community for your genre of music on the platform? Like any social media channel, Instagram takes dedication, and if you’re not going to benefit from forming a community there, don’t waste your time.
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about theming your content. In other words, what kind of images and videos will you post? This will have a lot to do with both your career goals and your fan base. Let’s start with your career goals.
What do you want to be known for? What kind of image do you want to portray? What are you good at? What elements of your career are most important to you?
If you’re a tech-heavy band that goes all out with the pedal boards, you might post some photos of your gear from time to time. Use your caption to explain the settings and tone and ask fans about their favorite pedal.
From the other angle, what kind of content do your fans enjoy? Do they like seeing videos of you teaching? Live videos? Backstage or studio videos? Gear photos? Gear reviews? Live show photos?
It may be difficult to tell at first, so use it as an opportunity to experiment. Use your Instagram analytics to determine which posts were most popular and do more of them. Eventually you’ll get a firm handle on what resonates with your audience.
Use natural lighting whenever possible
The easiest hack to getting great quality photos (even if you have absolutely zero photography skills) is to use natural lighting. Seriously. All the filters and editing in the world won’t be able to make a dark photo look good.
The best lighting is a soft or indirect light – think outside on a slightly overcast day, or near a window the sun isn’t coming directly through. If you’re in light that’s too harsh you can get photo-killing shadows.
Avoid using your phone’s flash. Nine times out of ten it will overexpose your photo. That means instead of photographing the lyric sheet you’re working on in your dark home studio devoid of windows, bring it out to your living room with your headphones and a pencil and set up a little flat lay by the window.
Instead of filming your guitarist playing a cool riff in the dark and cramped rehearsal room, grab an acoustic guitar, set up a stool, and get the shot in a bright room in one of your homes.
Of course, you can get some really creative shots in low-light or extreme hard-light situations. Experiment. Take a ton of photos and see what you come up with. Remember, like music, photography is something you will improve at with practice, so don’t be afraid to take shots (after all, you don’t have to post everything you take).
Use filters in moderation
Filters can be a good tool to achieve a uniform look to your feed, but they can be WAY overdone. Make the filter too strong and it will take away from the actual shot. Everyone goes through that filter-obsession phase when they first get on Instagram, so let’s try to get through it as quickly as possible.
If you’re using natural lighting, you may not even need a filter at all. Simply make small adjustments to the brightness and temperature of your photos. If you do want to use a filter, try to roll it back a little. Most editing apps will allow you to bring the strength of the filter down a few notches so you still get the effect without it being distracting.
Once you find a filter you like, you can add it to all your photos to make them look uniform and branded, so fans will be able to instantly recognize it as your photo. Some great editing apps are VSCO Cam, Afterlight 2, and Snapseed.
Focus on one thing per photo
Think about your photos like songs. Just like a song, they need to have one subject or idea and everything in the photo contributes to that idea.
That means if you’re taking a photo of you wearing your new merch, you shouldn’t have a cluttered desk space, a few instruments, and your bass player’s arm in the shot. Those things aren’t supporting the merch or the message you’re trying to share. Instead, let the shirt be the focus. Put yourself in front of a plain or colored wall to make the shirt really pop and draw the eye.
You can use the grid feature of your camera to get the “subject” of your photo perfectly centered. If you want to make things a little more artsy, try moving the subject off-center right on the third grid lines or cropping the shot in interesting ways.
Get inspiration from other musicians
While you’ll learn a lot from just playing around and snapping shots for yourself, it can also help to take a look at what other musicians are doing on Instagram.
Check out some of your favorite bands and musicians on the platform. What are they doing from a photography standpoint? What photos really draw your eye? What is it about those photos that you love? What can you learn from them?
If you want more social media tips and ideas of what you can post to your social channels, check out this free eBook. Inside you’ll find three social media checklists that will help you come up with easy ways to promote your music so you can get spend more time playing and writing.
Dave Kusek is the founder of New Artist Model and Berklee Online. Over the years he’s worked with tens of thousands of musicians around the world across every genre imaginable and in many different markets. New Artist Model is an online music business school designed especially for indie musicians. Learn how to turn your music into a career, understand the business, and start thinking like a musical entrepreneur.
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