Reasons You Should Never Scrimp On Your Photo Shoot

This is a great article on one of my favorite blogs, www.musicthink.com

Promotional photos are a huge component of a musician’s marketing and branding. It’s necessary to have just the right images to effectively market your music and its message.

However, as an image consultant for recording artists, I see a lot of mistakes made by independent artists when securing promotional photos. This includes:

  • Not budgeting for all the things required for a photo shoot (i.e. wardrobe, stylist, etc.).
  • Waiting until the last minute to try to book the photographer and stylists (allow at least two weeks notice and another two weeks for retouching).
  • Not using the best photographers and team you can get for your money.

Read the entire article

5 things that can delay or degrade your CD/DVD project

1. Lack of quality photos for cover/insert

Frequently I am sent low resolution or poor quality photos for the insert and even for the cover. I usually recommend reshooting them, but of course it’s too late by the time people get to the design phase. So we “make do” and I have to try to work my Photoshop magic on substandard photos. If your music looks unprofessional, people will interpret your music accordingly.

Think ahead by hiring a photographer early on, and schedule several sessions with them. Don’t forget to get photos during your recording or filming sessions. A recording studio are a particularly difficult place to get good shots because of the lighting and tight space. Flash is not very flattering, especially in a tight space, so without a good fast lens, photos are often dark, blurry and full of noise (grain).

Quality photos can be used for more than your CD/DVD insert – you need good photos for your website, posters, promotions, newspapers articles, and of course for posterity when you need to publish your memoirs.

As a graphic designer who is also a photographer and a musician, I have a unique perspective on how I take photos. I take extra shots of backgrounds, details of instruments and with an eye toward what will work on a cover or interior spread. Other important features even many professional photographers don’t take into consideration are the proportions of how the image will be used – a CD cover is SQUARE (as are thumbnails on websites), DVD covers are tall while film is wide – and the key parts of the image (heads, feet, hands, instruments) should be well within the margins because the printed piece often cuts off a small amount of the outside of the photo (bleed). Leaving room for writing for a cover is also helpful.

Bonus tips:

  • Be sure to get a full release for all photos for indefinite and unrestricted use.
  • You cannot pull sharp, high resolution photos from video, even HD. Video is usually shot at a frame rate which results in about 1/250 of a second shutter speed, so any motion will be slightly blurred – by design – motion blur is actually what makes video look smooth and pleasing to watch, but does not make for a quality sharp still photo. That is why film productions always have a still photographer on set.
  • Proof potential cover images at about 1 inch to see how it looks when it gets used as a thumbnail on a website or catalog.

Further Reading:

Check out my full photo portfolio at www.photos.dianathornton.com

2. Packaging files not designed and formatted to correct specs

Designing CD/DVD inserts and packaging is unlike any other design, especially web design. Many designers are very talented with a wonderful creative eye. But when asked to layout and design a CD/DVD, they are not qualified. When I began designing CDs and DVDs I had been doing general graphic design for nearly 10 years, but when I designed my first CD, I felt like I was learning it all over again. CDs and DVDs have particularly tight specs, and every printer uses different templates. They also include required elements such as copyright, publishing and contact information that are often overlooked, even by seasoned musicians.

When someone calls me to get a quote on a project and they tell me they are doing their own graphic design, I grill them regarding who their designer is and what program they are using. This is because, more often than not, I receive files that are not printable – they are not in my templates, don’t have bleed, in the wrong format, and even low resolution. Then I have to explain what is wrong with their files, and we all wait for them to be fixed. I even had to start offering “finishing services” because I was getting so many unprintable files from clients and designers.

As an experienced CD/DVD designer, I recommend people use me or a designer familiar with CD/DVD design. I know budgets are tight, but your music is worth an extra 44 cents each to look professional and stay on schedule.

Bonus tips:

  • Start your design well before your master is finished. By having your files ready to go to print the moment you finalize your times and tracks, you can keep things moving along.
  • Digipaks can add as much as a week to your production schedule.

Further Reading:

 

 

Check out my design portfolio

3. Licensing not obtained early enough

Another delay is often caused by researching and getting your licenses at the last minute. The factory will not reproduce your CD/DVD without proof of licensing. Many projects can be held up because the licenses are not on Harry Fox or are held by an overseas publisher. This is particularly tricky when the publishing is held by multiple parties, and you have to track down and contact someone for 25% of a song. And sync licenses for film are a whole other level of complexity.

Once you know what tracks you’re including on your album, start doing your research. Find out who the publishers are and how you can obtain licenses for each (Harry Fox, etc.).

  • Bonus Tip: You don’t have to go through Harry Fox to get a mechanical license. If you know the writer/publisher, especially if they are local, you can get a written license directly from them. Here is an example of a license you can use.

Further Reading:

4. Missing ISRC codes

ISRC codes are not required for CDs, but they have become standard. I recommend purchasing your own code which is good for all future releases as well. You then assign each track a number and your mastering engineer will encode your master with them before creating your PMCD or DDP. Have these ready for your engineer before the mastering session.

Further Reading:

5. Master not finished/reviewed

Before you send your CD/DVD to the factory, you will need to have it mastered/authored and then review a COPY made from that master to be sure all is exactly right. When I started Crescent Music Services back in 1997, I was fortunate to have as my business partner mastering engineer Parker Dinkins. I learned a great deal from him. One lesson was that the production master (PMCD) should not be touched by anyone but the engineer and the factory (he sealed it in a ziplock). Instead, he made a REFERENCE COPY directly from that master for review. If the reference copy is OK, then you know the master it was copied from is OK. Many things can happen during the burning process, so without this final and careful review, you can inadvertently send the factory a master with errors, missing tracks, pops, clicks and cut off songs. They do minimal error checking, so it’s up to you and your engineer to provide them with an error free master. Just because the mix sounded great on the last CD you were given doesn’t mean your production master burned correctly.

I can’t stress this enough. Do not wait until the day you are sending the master to the factory to get it from your engineer.

Bonus Tips:

  • Always get TWO productions masters (PMCD) from your engineer – one to send to the factory and one for you to keep somewhere safe. That way if your master gets damaged or lost on the way to the factory you have another to send quickly. Remember to get a review copy from EACH master.
  • Even if your engineer uploads your music to the factory as a DDP (image file), request a PMCD and review copy for your own records.
  • Don’t send your PMCD to the factory via the post office. Use a trackable carrier/method such as Fedex. I’ve seen too many masters get lost on the way with the post office (even their trackable service). Package it in a jewelbox and in a solid outer box (don’t use bubble mailers).
  • Have more than one person review the reference copy.

Further Reading:

 

I hope these tips help your next project go smoothly and on schedule. Give me a call to discuss your design, photography, and manufacturing.

Please download my free ebook “CD Project Planner” for even more information.

Stock Photo Sites

Green Disk mus073a Blue hills Eagle Nebula

Stock photo sites are especially good for finding backgrounds and enhancements to complement your own photos for your CD/DVD insert.

Here are some sites you can search to see if anything jumps out at you. BE SURE TO CHECK IF THEY ARE TRULY COPYRIGHT/ROYALTY FREE and always check how the credit (if any) should read.

What’s the Difference Between Free and Royalty-Free Images?

“Royalty-Free” may not mean FREE. It usually means that when you PURCHASE the right to use an image, you can use it as many times as you like without any additional payments.  A royalty payment is a payment that must be made each time an item is used or sold. So royalty-free images for sale, means you pay a one-time fee for the use of the graphic.

These are my favorite sites:

http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtml (free) – Photos only – some require permission.

www.stockvault.net (free)

http://www.stockexpert.com ($5 or $10 each for the sizes I would need) – Photos only SEND ME THE IMAGE NUMBER AND I’LL DOWNLOAD

http://www.dreamstime.com ($4-$6 each for the size I need) – Photos and illustrations SEND ME THE IMAGE NUMBER AND I’LL DOWNLOAD

http://cgtextures.com/ FREE. Be sure to download the Largest size. Limits you to 15 MB downloads per day unless you pay for a membership.

http://www.deviantart.com

 

Here are a few others you can try:

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ royalty free photos and illustrations. Every image is free, with an option to buy high resolution versions for use in print or graphic design.

www.morguefile.com – not the best quality images (more like people’s snapshots) but you might find something here (especially for backgrounds, etc.)

http://graphicleftovers.com/ $1-20

http://www.pdclipart.org/ Clipart, public domain. Free. Most are very small though and probably unusable for print.

http://publicdomainpictures.net/ Many free. Some $1.50 each.

http://graphicriver.net/category/all Be sure to check resolution and format.

http://www.imageafter.com Photos. Free. You’ll need to download and email to me – they don’t seem to have numbers.

http://www.mediabakery.com. Medium resolution should be fine for a cd cover. Those run $5-$40.  Try using couponcode BAKER25 for 25% off.

www.lcweb2.loc.gov/detroit/dethome.html – US Libray of Congress – Old/Historic Photos – most copyright free, but must credit. Check collection copyright restrictions first. If you download a photo, get the wording of how they want it credited (in your liner notes).

Space – http://images.jsc.nasa.gov/ Public domain, just credit NASA. Also http://grin.hq.nasa.gov/ (may have same images)

“Our Earth as Art” Satellite images – public domain – just include credit. http://earthasart.gsfc.nasa.gov. Be sure to download the hires version. Great for backgrounds.

http://www.clipart.com I do not have a subscription to this, but it’s not too expensive if there’s something you really like. Illustrations, photos, fonts.

http://www.bigfoto.com Free. bigfoto.com must be credited with the image. May not be high enough resolution, but I can probably use.

http://www.123rf.com – $50 for use on resale items. $3-4 for items not for sale (personal use).

http://us.fotolia.com/ $4-5 each for personal use, $10 for resale.

http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php large for $15

http://www.bigstockphoto.com/ large images cost $5 to $15. Try code HW2333 for a free image (got this from an ad)

http://www.microstockphoto.com $2 each. EITHER DOWNLOAD THE HIGH RES IMAGE or give me the image number and I’ll pull down the high res version to use. If you have me download, I will pass on any costs associated with obtaining the image(s) you want.

http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ royalty free photos and illustrations. Every image is free, with an option to buy high resolution versions for use in print or graphic design.

Photography techniques & tips

  • Try radically different concepts – including something that does not show your face on the cover. Get crazy with your poses. Let your personality come out. Have fun.
  • Have some funny phrases handy to use just before you take the photo for a natural smile.
  • Pay attention to what you’re WEARING. Avoid tiny prints. Check with each other so you don’t clash. Do you blend into the background?
  • Use makeup! Airbrushing is expensive.
  • Double chin? Turn your head to the left or right about 30 degrees.
  • Take many many many pictures, back to back. Like at a football game. Click click click. This is particularly helpful with group shots to get the best look on everyone’s faces and everyone’s eyes open.
  • Don’t rely on reviewing your pics on a tiny LCD screen.
  • Unless your album is a concert recording, avoid live concert pics, especially for the cover.
  • Avoid banners, placards, and other promotional items.
  • Look around for things to eliminate or tidy up in your scene. Pick up stray papers, arrange curtains, dust the piano, pick up your underwear. Outside, watch for trash and other things in your scene that you might not notice until you’re looking at proofs.
  • Try different angles off frontal – some slightly off, some drastically off.
  • LIGHTING: Avoid using flash – natural lighting is better, even if it is an extra light brought into the room. Pay attention to time of day and angle of sun. How does it interact with objects in the scene, the background or reflections on people’s glasses, car windows, mirrors.
  • To produce a dramatic effect, light from the side.
  • Try bouncing your flash or a light off a ceiling or wall.
  • Using something white (poster board, for example) will reflect light onto the darkened side of the face.
  • Overcast days can complement skin tones and help keep eyes wide open.
  • Need a basic background? Stretch an ironed sheet and illuminate with a cheap shop light. Shine the light from the front for bright crisp feel. From the back for a dramatic glow.
  • Angle your instruments slightly away from the camera to avoid reflections.
  • Avoid posing people within 5 feet of a wall because of the shadows that will result (unless you want those shadows for effect). Try angling about 5-10 degrees off perpendicular instead of straight on the wall.
  • Be aware of your background. Avoid mirrors. If you cannot avoid reflective objects in the frame, position yourself with at least a 30 degree angle to avoid the reflection.
  • Avoid alcohol or tobacco in your photos. Some newspapers and magazines may not print them.
  • Without getting into technical photo stuff like f-stops, if you have an SLR, try different aperture settings for different depth of fields, which will bring your background in or out of focus for a different feel.
  • Stock photos: If you need an image you simply can’t create you can check online stock photo sites. Click here for some of my favorite stock photo sites….

Scanning

Clean your scanner glass and photograph with a soft cloth before placing each item.

Do not scan at a lower resolution and then enlarge it later! This actually lowers the resolution and can turn it into garbage. For example, a 2.5″ x 2.5″ image scanned at 300 PPI that is later doubled 5″ x 5″ becomes 150 PPI. Photoshop cannot invent pixels that were never present in the image to begin with. So you need to scan something that will be used at twice the size of the original picture at twice the resolution (600 PPI at 100%). I’d rather you scan too high.

Black & white and grayscale are NOT the same type of file! A 1-bit black & white scan contains only black or white pixels; there are no shades of gray at all.

The bigger and cleaner the original artwork (such as a logo), the better it will scan.

Convert your color scans to CMYK color mode to get a sense of how they will look when printed – some colors, such as blues, greens and oranges, can change dramatically.
Grayscale images should be saved in grayscale (8-bit) mode. Avoid RGB or CMYK – it tends to add a magenta tinge to them.

Save your scans as TIF. If you use EPS files, save the image with an 8-bit TIF preview.

Do not open and resave a JPG mutliple times – every time you do, it degrades the image. If you plan to tweak the image and resave, save as a TIF first and use that file to edit.

MOIRE Crisscross patterns or checkerboarding in a scanned image. This occurs when an image was previously printed using the offset process (i.e. a picture from a book or magazine or newspaper) which converts the image into little dots. This may not show up on inkjet or even laser printouts at home. Moire problems do not occur with scans of actual photographs. One common occurrence is scanning an old CD insert you want to reprint. I do have a fix for this, but be aware that the fix includes slight blurring, so you should always scan from real photographs if possible.