Photographing Senior Musicians and Artists with Melanie Anderson

Photographing Senior Musicians and Artists with Melanie Anderson

Photographing Senior Musicians and Artists with Melanie Anderson

This week, I’m in Nashville filming and teaching. As I was deciding on my topic for this month’s article, I couldn’t help but think about the musicians and that this town is just flowing with creatives. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to photograph many musicians and artists. This month, I dive into marketing and selling, locations and lighting.


My studio is located in the Arts and Entertainment District of Hagerstown, Maryland. I am surrounded by brick walls, alleyways and stairwells. My studio is directly across from the Maryland Theatre and a performing arts high school. Due to the location, we photograph with an urban flare. When not traveling, you will see me around town all day long photographing. Due to my relationship with the Maryland Theatre, we are able to photograph inside pretty much anytime. Many of the seniors I photograph are musicians who love being photographed onstage. You will also see that I use the theater as a background occasionally, most recently for prom pictures.

Lighting and Equipment

I use a Nikon D4 with either an 85 1.4 or 24–70 2.8 lens. When photographing outside, I typically use a reflector along with the ambient light. When I photograph on the stage of the theater, I use an AlienBees strobe and softbox with a 24–70 or wider lens. The theater is very dark, and I need the power of the strobe to give the effect I am looking for. I like photographing them with the theater seats and lights in the background, with me onstage in the far back to give an artistic feel, instead of them onstage in front of the theater curtain. You can view a few behind-the-scenes videos of the making of the portraits on our YouTube channel.

Sales and Marketing

We are known in our community for our extreme sports images, and we use a similar setup when we shoot the high school band. It’s pretty much the same options, but instead of sporting equipment, they are photographed with their instruments. I have a wall in my studio with about a dozen samples of extreme montages and collages. We sell these as 16×24 and typically on metal. The metal finish gives the artwork an added effect that is like none other.

Before I begin the senior session, I take the senior and parents to this wall and discuss the fees that are involved. I want to know if this creation is within their budget before I shoot. We review all the options and make a plan from there. If the extreme piece is not within their budget, I show them images of seniors photographed along the brick walls, in the alcoves and on stairways. Whatever their budget is, I want to spend it wisely. I do not want to spend time photographing and creating an epic piece only to find they are unable to or not interested in buying. Educate and sell before the photographing starts. It’s vital to your in-person sales. Be sure to print samples for your business; remember, you sell what you show and you show what you want to sell.

Not only do we photograph athletes and musicians, but creatives too. Two years ago, we photographed a senior girl who wanted to become a makeup artist. She was heavily into The Walking Dead, and asked if we would create an extreme piece for her. I photographed her yearbook and casual photos one day, and then a few days later, we took her and her friends to a vacant warehouse. I had her prepare all of them ahead of time so that our time together was seamless. I photographed them individually and as a group. You can find our behind-the-scenes of this on our YouTube page.


When photographing musicians and artists, think about the unique angles, ways that you can add sunrays and bokeh effects. Including quotes, verses and music lines is another way to personalize their creation. We don’t create just a standard senior with an instrument shot; we still photograph in an urban, artsy or musical setting. We often sell these in metal, but wrapped canvas can add a classy feel for classical instruments and metal for guitar, drums, etc.

The performing arts high school across from me showcases a new production every year. Last year, they asked us to create headshots of all their students, approximately 80. We created tight black-and-white headshots for the playbill and posted them on social media for all to enjoy. I used three ringlights with a background and my 24–70 lens set at F4, 1/160 and 200 ISO. We moved through these headshots very quickly. You can find a live video from this day showing the setup on our Facebook page.


Within our volume business, we photograph the high school band for group and senior banners. We line them up either before or after the fall sports teams, and create a unique product for them to showcase at games and events, both at home and away. The seniors get to keep their individual banner at the end of the year as a thank-you for their time and talent. We are able to donate these as a result of sponsors that offset our expenses. These banners are a huge part of the word-of-mouth at my studio. Whenever I ask how a new client heard about us, the number-one response is, “You are everywhere” These banners play a huge part in that.

Action Plans:

  • Find a theater and offer to take their headshots.
  • Post a call to action for musicians and create something epic.
  • Educate your clients on pricing and creation.
  • Contact the band director at a high school and offer to take their extreme pictures.
  • Print samples to showcase.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the September 2016 magazine.

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