How to take good promo shots for your theatre.

Taking good promo shots for your theatre

Really good promo shots have a huge impact on your online marketing but there are a few rules you need to follow to avoid the naff and kitsch [I found a great site dedicated to the worst of theatre promo images. I look through it occasionally for a laugh and to remind myself how easy it is to make those same mistakes. Check it out here.

Going Pro

Get a good photographer – if you can afford a professional photographer and a studio, definitely go that direction as it’s money well spent.  If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, think outside the box and negotiate a deal with a photographer to swap advertising for their services. You could offer things like:

  • Their logo on your website for the year with a reciprocal link back to their website.
  • An acknowledgement and/or their logo in your show programme.
  • Their print advertisement in your programme.
  • Write a thank you on your facebook page including their website URL in the text and tagging their page.
  • Space in your foyer to display their retractable banner.
  • Two tickets to opening night.
  • Their print flyer placed in all programmes.
  • A promotion of their business in your email newsletter.
  • A media story in your local paper about local business and community theatre working together to promote the arts in your region.
  • Acknowledgement of the photographer on all the images you use from the shoot.

Going DIY

If you decide to take your own images, here’s how to work on a budget of zilch [nearly]:

Backdrop – use a black, non reflective backdrop. Stage travellers/curtains are brilliant because they are made of fabric which will absorb light, giving you more control. Black automatically looks classy.

Lighting – you’ll need at least two light sources for images, one from the back and one from the front. The cheapest option is height adjustable LED work lights from your local hardware [dirt cheap]. Watch for shadows on faces and move your lights accordingly.

Photography equipment


Stage your images – Don’t go into the shoot without a selection of sample images you can show your photographer and the cast. You won’t be able to describe what’s in your head so show them what you’re looking for with a photo. It just needs to be a placement, style or idea. It doesn’t even need to be from the show you’re doing.

If you’re using costumes, make sure they are pressed and looking fantastic. Women should wear full makeup but don’t bother putting any on the guys; it just ends up looking silly in the close-ups. Getting rid of shine would be the most I would bother with.

Unless you have the services of a talented graphic designer, don’t superimpose your images onto another image background. Nothing looks more naff than this. It’s like word art text.  Keep things simple.

Don’t feel the need to recreate a scene from the show. This is really difficult to do and you usually just end up with a group of people standing around, as these samples show:

Poor theatre image samples

You want something that will attract the attention of the media and your fans on social media – something they will want to share with their friends, as this promo for Les Misérables does.

Good promo image sample

The content of this image is simple but effective.

Take 10 – 15 different shots if you can because when you see them on your computer afterwards, you’ll only be able to use half of them. This isn’t because the photographer isn’t any good [well, it could mean that] but rather what we see in the moment isn’t what is really happening. You’ll miss a hand in the wrong place, someone has their eyes closed or the image just doesn’t work.

Have one decision maker. Nothing stuffs up your shoot faster than a whole lot of people putting their two cents worth in during the shoot. One person with the vision, working closely with the photographer will achieve a more focussed approach.

Be discerning.  Don’t use a photo if it is less than brilliant as it will only make you look amateurish. Three excellent shots used over and over are better than six rubbish shots.

When posting them to social media, set your images up for promotion as this article about using describes.

You’ll gradually learn what works and what doesn’t through experience and remember not to reinvent the wheel. Explore what others do well and be inspired.

Cheers, Sher.