Here at GeniiOnline I work with promotional photographs of magicians every day, and can say with absolute authority that huge swathes of them are absolutely terrible (as are the websites I find them on). YouTube magician Chris Ramsay has also noticed this, and lists several of the most obvious issues with sub par promo shots in the video above. In a perfect world, it’d be mandatory viewing for every magician with an internet connection. 

Money isn’t the issue. Photography studios can cost a pretty penny, yes, but professional photographers are like rats: You’re never more than six feet away from one and they mostly eat garbage. You can definitely find a photographer who can put out professional grade work on a budget if you look hard enough. Note: A tight budget isn’t an excuse to try and squeeze free, or insultingly cheap, work out of professional (or student) photographers. Please do not be that guy. 

“If you’re going to do a professional photo shoot, put the time in, put the money in, put the effort in,” Ramsay says in the beginning of the video, “because that’s your image and it’s staying online as long as you choose.”  

He’s actually slightly off there. The image isn’t staying online, “as long as you choose.” It’s staying online forever. Long after you’ve departed this mortal coil and your bones have turned to dust, that horrible photo of you with frosted-tips and sunglasses clutching a cle will still be lurking inside some ancient Google server, ready to slither out into the sunlight whenever someone searches for your name. Any promotional material you put online is nigh-permanently attached to you and your brand, so think before you upload.    

While we’re on the subject, here’s a few tips and tricks for promotional photos straight from your friends at Genii Online:

  • You need at least two good closeups or medium shots that feature minimal branding. One of these shots should be landscape (wide) and the other should be portrait (long). 
  • That shot of you shaking hands with Penn & Teller does not count as your landscape shot. Every time I  have to crop Penn Jillette out of a photograph I will spell your name wrong in the article out of spite.
  • Just say no to special effects. Unless you can actually shoot lasers out of your eyes during your act, don’t put it in your promo shot. Also, Photoshop’s smoke filter looks really bad, don’t use it. 
  • Make sure your photos are a decent resolution. We’re talking at least 1080 pixels wide. Making a large image smaller makes it look sharper. Making a small image larger makes it look like it’s Onion-Appreciation Day on Planet Teargas. Blurry, in other words. 
  • For extra credit, keep extra-high-resolution (4000 pixel wide plus) photographs around for higher-end monitors and most phones. Journalists will love you for this. 
  • No rabbits. No linked rings. You might have the best rabbit out of a hat trick in the world, but obvious “prop” shots always look cheap. 

If you do end up with bad promo shots, it’s not the end of your career. Get famous enough and even the worst photographs end up being kind of endearing. 

Children don’t dream of running away to join the circus anymore, but for some, the glamorous fiction of the ring and the sawdust-strewn reality of the backlot are as fascinating as ever.    

Photographer Peter Cawthorn Lavery is best known for his work in advertising, where his eye for mood and texture brings a sense of dignity and credibility to magazine ads for scents, jeans, luxury cars and the like. But for fifty years, Lavery has been taking regular breaks from the lucrative, but numbing, field of photography that made him famous to follow and photograph traveling circuses across the world. Circus Work, released last week to coincide with the 250th anniversary of the British Circus, collects nearly 300 photos taken of circus performers over the past fifty years.

The son of  Yorkshire miner, Lavery’s fascination with the classic traveling circus (and only that particular type, he has no interest in more exotic outfits like Cirque Du Soleil) stems from a chance encounter he had while on a summer break from Leeds Art college in the 70’s. As he explained to the Independent back in 1997:

On a visit home to Wakefield in 1970 I dropped in on a small indoor circus at the Queen’s Hall in Leeds and had a wander around behind the scenes before the performance began. I was immediately struck by the disparity between the outward exoticism – the finery, the sequined costumes, the plumes, the elaborate display – and the backstage ordinariness. At once, I was enthralled by the sounds and smell, but I had no idea the subject would capture and hold my imagination for the best part of three decades.  

The time Lavery spent following circus caravans couldn’t be more removed from the life of luxury his advertising work depicts. He followed them for months, sleeping rough if he had to. He started out using an old-fashioned black-and-white plate camera, staging shots to give them a sense of artifice that, like the unique people he was shooting, clashed with the mundanity of their surroundings.

 “What I have been trying to do, and am still trying to do all these years later,” he told The Guardian, “is to put the same kind of magic into my images that they put into what they do. And of course you see far more than just the exoticism of the ring if you bring in the backstage world.” 

And it’s contrast that kept Lavery coming back, not just in his work, but in the lifestyle they demanded.

“I have spent the rest of my career going around the world with my camera doing various advertising assignments and, if you accept that life, then you are just doing a job for someone else, to solve their problem,” he said. “So after a long advertising shoot I would need to just go off to find a circus to take some pictures. And I started to enjoy the contrast.” 

Circus Work is available for pre-order now for £45 plus shipping. The recommended retail price is £60. A selection of photographs from Circus Work is being shown in as 50 Years of Circus Portraits in the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol until June 3rd. 

Kardify is a great resource for anyone keeping tabs on playing cards, from the latest Kickstarter projects to interviews with burgeoning designers. One of my favorite features on the site is the monthly Card Gear column, which looks at all the tech, tools, and toys that a person from the industry uses for their daily work.

The January installment highlights Adam Borderline, a UK photographer whose smashing shots of playing cards are already an Instagram hit. (Seriously, go dig on the #fluidcards images.) His gear collection should be of particular interest to those of you working to film and capture your own work. Borderline keeps things steady with a Joby Tripod, and carries a bunch of lens options. He uses a Variable ND filter for long exposures, a Canon 85mm 1.2L USM Lens for portraiture, and a Canon 35mm 2.8 Macro Lens for the card photography. Finally, he’s got two decks on hand at all times: Black edition Cherries by Pure Imagination and Gold Monarchs from Theory 11.

Last month, the article’s subject was Vivek Singhi of Magic Encarta.