As a photographer, burlesque producer, and magazine editor, I have a lot of experience with photographs. Here are a few tips and tricks for building a quality portfolio that will get you noticed! I have divided the information into two volumes. This article focuses on burlesque entertainers, while Vol. II, which will be published in the February Issue, focuses on portfolio building for pin-up models.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Publicity Images for Burlesque Entertainers
1. Do send real high resolution images- Size Matters! I cannot tell you how important this is. In the digital age, it is very easy to tag & snag images from sites like Facebook, or live shots from online media sources. This is not the same as having a high resolution image. A high resolution image is at least 300 dpi/ppi, AND either 1000 pixels (or 8 inches) in at least one direction. It must meet both of these criteria to be high res.
You cannot artificially make a low res image into a high res image simply by changing the numbers in a photo editing program. The print quality still sucks, because even though your numbers are correct, you have taken that small amount of digital information and spread it over a larger area, making the image grainy or pixilated. The original source file must be large enough to qualify as high res. in order to have good print quality – period.
Do Not Shrink Them to Email!- The bigger the better! If sending them one at a time is still too much- try zipping them, or use an external free program such as Dropbox or You Send It.
2. Do invest in at least one professional photo shoot. If you are taking your burlesque seriously, you should take your image and likeness seriously as well. You are creating a persona that will be your calling card- represent it well. Just as you want to be paid for your time, quality, and professionalism; photographers deserved to be paid for theirs as well. Remember, you get what you pay for.
If you can only afford one photo shoot start, that’s ok- make it count!
A: Do: Shoot indoors, with a professional studio lighting setup. These images will be used on flyers, and hopefully in the press. For flyers, a uniformity is always good- rather than looking like a high school scrapbook- a well designed flyer is crisp, clean, and professional looking- a cornerstone of that is having quality images to work from.
Do Not: Outdoor shoots (backgrounds of grass, fences, streets, or brink walls), live shots (odd lighting, blurred body parts, motion in hair), and girl with car images are too distracting and busy for most flyers. Also stay away from themed or conceptual shoot as your only images. (More on that later) Also, images not properly lit will be incredibly unflattering, or very underexposed leading to a grainy & pixilated quality.
B. Do: Seek a clean, crisp, background. You want to shoot a clean shot (free of props, busy backgrounds, crazy sets, etc.) If the designer who will create the flyer/poster/ad etc. keeps the backgrounds of the images- s/he can use the solid background and easily change color etc., by contrast if the design idea is to create a visual montage or cut the background out and put on something else, a clean solid color background works best. It’s a win/win.
C. Do: Instruct the photographer you need headshots, ¾, and full
length shots. Each producer formats their flyers differently, and you want to be prepared.
D. Do: Shoot in your very best costume. If possible, pay for additional costume changes, if you only have one shoot- make it count! If you have a signature number- make sure to shoot in that costume.
Do not: Bra and panty, nude, and pastie shots are fine for extras, but are rarely usable as images on flyers, posters, or in the press.
E. Do: Show your personality in your shoot. If you are an extremely versatile performer- include all sides of you. IE. Have a general showgirl shot, a dramatic shot, and a laughing cutesy shot. It’s all about having the most bang for your buck in versatility.
3. Do not: Over Photoshop or send Soft Images. Crispness and clarity! While its fine to go after stretch marks, pimples, scars, etc with your healing tool, you do not want an over-photoshopped image for many reasons. One, is that you can only Photoshop so much before your image is either completely fake looking, or has no tack sharp clarity. Soft images are one without a defined point of focus (a tack sharp section of the image). I want to be able to count your eyelashes when I blow you up to poster size to promote an event or put you on the cover of a magazine.
The second reason is simple, you want producers, fans, etc to be impressed when the see you in person, not let down because you look nothing like your incredibly over-photoshopped images. Who wants to disappoint at first meeting? If you are 40, look 35 in an image, not 25. If you are a size 12, don’t try and make the photographer take you down to a 2.
4. Do not: invest in a themed or conceptual shoot, unless you have the basics down. It’s all about versatility. Your showgirl image on a white background will do so much more for you than a “Santa Baby”, “cowgirl”, “naughty nurse”, “blood and horror”, type of themed image ever will. Once you have the basic press kit together, it’s fun to add to your book with themed shoots, such as holiday themed shoots- which are great as there’s usually several holiday shows every year, or cowgirl or valentine images. You’ll certainly get use out of them at some point, and they are good to have, but if the only professionally shot image of you that you have is a Halloween image- you can’t take that very far.
5. Do: Update the images in your press kit at least every six months. This is where those live shots, trade offers (I will shoot you for free in exchange for this), and themed and conceptual shoots come in handy. Once you have the basics down, you can work on building either based on certain shows you want to be in (IE, so and so does a fabulous circus themed show- so I want circus themed shots, etc.), holidays, or companies you want clothing/costumes/props from. Fans and producers should always find something fresh in your portfolio, both on Facebook, and your personal website. I know Facebook and blogs are often easier to update then your website- but it is important that your website remains fresh and accurate as it is the “official” representation of you and your work.
Avoid your portfolio becoming outdated by removing images that are old, or of retired numbers. As a general rule, if the image is three years old- toss it! This may mean sometimes parting with your favorites, and it’s very hard, but is worth it to appear fresh, organized, and on top of your game. If there’s an image you simply can’t dump- create an archives section on your website, so the image is still reachable, but not something you include in a press kit anymore.
6. Do: Be careful who you shoot with. Outside of the obvious safety concerns- there is the obvious truth that your image matters in this business! Shooting with sub-par photographers and hobbyists can hurt you. (Now there are plenty of talented photographers who choose to make photography their hobby as opposed to full time work. I respect that- those guys & gals are not who my comment is directed at.) In a digital age where anything and everything can be found with a few clicks, you do not want sub-par images of you floating around. Poorly lit, unflattering, or “cheap looking”, photos can hurt the professionalism you are trying to convey. You’ve seen ‘em- you know what I’m talking about. Does this mean you can’t seek out free photo shoots? No, it just means a lot of research on your part to make sure the project is one you want to be a part of and the photographer is worth working with.
7. Do: Have permission. Make sure your photographer knows you want the images for promotional purposes and that you will be sending/posting them everywhere. You can run into serious legal trouble using images without permission. Do not assume that because you paid for the shoot that you own the images- because you don’t. For more on the laws regarding photography, usage, and copyright; check out our Copyright Law: Myths vs. Facts article.