Harold Heath looks at what’s been happening in the world of DJ promotional photos in the last few years – with no filter

In the marketing arsenal of the DJ, the promo photo is, much like the DJ themselves, a necessary weapon. Also, ‘Necessary Weapon’ is a decent EP name, you can have that for free. Over the years, the DJ promo shot has gone through various changes, but a few aspects have remained constant. First off, DJing is a serious business so no smiling in your promo shots. Second, you can do some photos looking into the camera if you want, but looking away into the distance is super important. Facial expressions are vital too; you need to look serious, it’s all about creating an air of gravitas. You want to project the calm authority of Morgan Freeman, the quiet intelligence of David Attenborough or the dignified restraint of DJ Carnage.

To get the right look, try imagining that you’re staring wistfully at a young fawn as it scampers through dew-speckled ferns or alternatively, attempt to work out your Spotify royalties in your head. Other suitable expressions include the ‘goat that’s been asked to do a sudoku’ and the ‘a bit angry about the rain forest yeh?’ Exposure, Zoom Lens and Shutter Speed might sound like a festival lineup, but are actually important photography words; trying dropping them at random during your photo session to look like you know what you’re on about.

The last few years have seen a growth in faux-artistic black and white goth-esque shots with stark shadows, Emo-DM photos if you will, taken from a weird angle and where the DJ inevitably looks very sad. Still, as the DJ role has in recent years somewhat pivoted from party facilitator/children’s entertainer to perpetual validation-seeker, audio-visual-pyrotechnic entertainment-hub and surveillance-capitalism slave, it’s not surprising they often look sad eh. 

It makes you miss the Props era, a brief but super fun period when DJs held DJ-related props such as headphones, records or sometimes even mixers or decks to signify they were DJs. It always made you wonder if they carried their mixer around when they went to the shops or down the pub. Simpler times. Bit of a rarity now that decks, mixers and headphones are pretty much redundant and all that DJs need to bring to gigs are some heart hands and a casual disdain for their audience. Still, I say bring props back, except now DJs could pose with their pyrotechnics rig, ghost-writer and social media manager. 

There was a time when record boxes in DJ photos were as ubiquitous as Sade ‘I Couldn’t Love you More’ re-edits in deep house DJ sets. Sadly though, record boxes are like the MySpace of DJ props and many of them find themselves abandoned, gathering dust, left isolated and alone. Your support could help provide a better life for these record boxes as well as contributing towards community engagement sessions to educate people to better care for them. If you want to use a prop in your DJ photo try something more contemporary: crypto’s really big at the moment, so spread a load of crypto around the background of your photo. Also, NFTs are pretty hot right now too, so eat as many as you can before your shoot.

Make sure you get some shots taken in disused industrial spaces – because Berlin yeh?

Remember when a DJ had to have at least one promo shot taken in front of a graffiti wall? Well as you probably have noticed, according to new government guidelines DJs can now be photographed in front of a shop with the metal shutters down instead. If the shutters have some graffiti on them, even better. Other places you can have your DJ promo shot taken include in a big char or on some stairs. Also, get some shots taken in disused industrial spaces – because Berlin yeh? No matter what clothes you wear in your photos, people like me will mock them from behind the safety of our computer screens, while no doubt dressed way worse. Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Nice trainers by the way, they look like Day-Glo cowpats.

No discussion of DJ promo photos would be complete without mentioning Instagram. The fact that Instagram – a site based around images – became the main promotional platform for DJs – a craft based around sound – makes about as much sense as BBC Radio becoming the main promotional platform for still-life paintings, but this is where we find ourselves. At least ‘The ‘Gram’, as psychopaths and monsters call it, allows you to upload videos with sound, thus birthing countless dodgy-audio, wobbly footage of crowds going off when the beat comes back in after a break. And while there’s a more serious discussion to be had about the effect of ‘Insta-moments’ on club culture, today we’re keeping it light; ‘Insta-light’, with a touch of that warm and natural Clarendon over-saturation; nice. 

Newbies to Instagram, (called ‘Insta-lambs’) soon find that with a bit of cropping, a fiddle with the contrast and some judicious ‘The ‘Gram’ filtering, their photos can look slightly less shit than they did before. Obviously you have to be careful not to over-post or ’Insta-spam’, and if you’re lucky one of your posts will capture the public attention which is called an ‘Insta-clam’ or be a massive online hit, called an ‘Insta-Van-Damme’, or even achieve life-changing status which is called an ‘Insta-cardiogram’. (And no, I didn’t simply Google ‘words that rhyme with gram’ and then write an article based on the results, and people who accuse me of that sort of thing are just Insta-hams committing an Insta-slam). Anyway, any decent photographer will tell you that the secret of truly great photography is the filters on the ‘The ‘Gram’. 

But what of the future? Lockdown saw the birth of the DJ-set-filmed-by-drone, leading to fascinating shots of the top of DJs heads, a woefully underrepresented body part in traditional DJ photography. Personally, I’d like to see more DJ action shots. Not of them DJing, that’s well boring, I want to see Jamie Jones using a Nutri-Bullet, Maya Jane Coles playing rounders, show me an action shot of DJ Spen sketching a horse, right? Ultimately, I want DJ promo shots to be like the best DJ sets: I want them to take me on a journey, preferably to where the streets are filled with graffiti walls and shuttered shops. 

Harold Heath is on Twitter & The ‘Gram

28th September, 2021

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