Press photos are probably the greatest weakness of most artists’ marketing. Everywhere you look, there are screens. Big screens, small screens, tall screens, short screens, attached screens, detached screens. Before my inner Dr. Seuss takes all the way over… I want to be clear that high-quality photos are often the difference between one artist filling all of that digital real estate over another.
Your headshots and press photos should be updated frequently—at least once a year, if not more. For those who don’t have the time to prioritize photos, they should understand they also aren’t prioritizing placement opportunities.
Whether you hire a professional photographer or use the amazing camera on your phone, here are the key components of good press photos:
Disclaimer: None of the example photos below are bad photos. They can be great photos for social media, websites, and other formats. In the context of press photos, there are better options.
1. High Resolution
This means that your photo has at least one side greater than 1000 pixels and a print resolution of at least 300 DPI. The higher the number, the higher the resolution. When in doubt, just ask a photographer; they will know. And be careful with some email apps that automatically resize attachments before mailing them.
Though this image shows Ned Luberecki’s personality, the resolution is not high enough, leaving us with a blurry photo.
This alternative option is much clearer and much better suited for a press photo.
2. Shows Your Face
There is too much data supporting the idea that a visible face increases your chances for engagement. You want your audience to inspect further, comment, play the song, or add you to the playlist. Logos, fonts, colors, and other trends may change, but your face is the only consistent brand you own. Use this to your advantage. Both you and your fans will have a better experience if people know what you look like. Otherwise, it’s just a stranger performing a familiar song. Of course, you can still post artsy silhouettes and the like on Instagram Just make sure people know what you look like.
This photo of Candace Coker served as a great cover photo for one of her singles, but it does not show enough of her face to be a proper press photo.
This photo shows Candace’s face and was even selected as the cover at Spotify’s New Music Friday Christian playlist in February 2023.
3. Simple Background
Keep the background of photos simple. I’m not talking about a JC Penney photo shoot, single-color backdrop. Just make sure the focal point of the photograph is you and not whatever is going on in the background.
This photo of Steven and Josh Shook from Woodlands Worship captures their eclectic vibe and is perfect for their Instagram. However, the sun glare in the background can make it hard to focus on the people in the photo.
This photo offers a distraction-free option for a press photo. The background is not completely plain, but is simple enough to not draw your attention away from the musicians.
4. Unique & Unused
Press photos should be updated regularly. When any form of media asks for photos, they’re hoping for a visual no one else has seen before. In other words, not your cover art or a photo that you’ve been using for the last 10 years. For every photo shoot you do, hold back a few photos that you like for potential playlist covers. This way you’re always ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way.
The above photo is the cover art for Crystal Lewis’s “A Seasonal Thing: Summer” EP released in the Summer of 2023.
Using the same photo without the graphics is not a proper press photo as this photo is not unique and has been seen/used before.
A better option is to use a photo that is different from the cover art. It can be from the same photoshoot to offer a collective brand for the release, but the photo itself should be something exclusive and unused.
The most common use of photos will be for playlist covers and social media posts. It’s always a cool opportunity when someone is willing to feature you. The best way to make sure you aren’t sent scrambling—or miss out all together—is to plan ahead. Make sure your photographer understands that you need some shots where all of the band members can be seen once the photo is cropped into a square.
This image in it’s entirety is a great shot of bluegrass band, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, but because of the dimensions of the photo, some band members are unable to be seen.
In this image where the band is standing closer together, they all fit in the square with room to spare.
6. No Logos, Text, or Design
Media seeking press photos wants only a photo. They do not want any text, logos, or other graphic design elements. You may have a logo, but that isn’t what this opportunity is for—it’s for people. If you have a moment, go take a look at playlists featuring artists on the cover. Some of these artists may have a logo that is more famous than their faces.
The above photo of East Nash Grass includes their logo.
This very similar image serves as a better press photo for the band because it does not include any logos, design, or text. This photo was featured as the cover of Spotify’s New Grass playlist in August of 2023.
7. On Brand
A photo is a great way to show your brand or personality. When Dolly Parton’s team started rolling out her record in early 2023, all of her social media and images shifted from her normal girly, rhinestone persona to a darker, more rock-like image. She still kept key components of her overall brand by keeping rhinestones, big hair, and heavy makeup. Twenty years from now, we’ll be able to look at those pictures and recognize the release they belong to. Match the photos to the music, mood, and personal brand.
Both of the above photos of Kevin Max serve as great potential press photos for Kevin Max, but they are entirely different from one another. Each one represents a mood or brand associated with the music he was releasing at the time.
The most important thing about photos is that they showcase who you are. Show your face, and represent your personality and the story that your music tells. Don’t lose opportunities simply because you weren’t ready with professional photos.