How to Do Event Photography – Tips for Business, Conference, and Family Events
Event Photography is a lesson in extremes – you might be capturing one day a gala with gorgeous lighting, beautiful clothing, and lots of energy. Then the next day you could photograph a 10-hour industry event in a dimly lit conference room, waiting patiently for someone to make a joke to get that rare smiling photograph.
Despite the environment, you have to come back with good photographs. You need to be prepared for terrible lighting, awkward people, and long, sleepy speeches.
Here are some tips that I have picked up over the years for being prepared for every situation.
1. Being professional and preparing for the job
The more prepared, the easier the day will go. And most importantly, this begins with good communication.
Quick responses are key, to getting the job and to building a level of trust that will foster a long-term relationship. Anyone who is looking for an event photographer is most likely contacting a few people, so if you are the first to respond, that immediately gives you a leg up.
It’s imperative to make sure you understand all the details and what will be required. You also need to explain everything that you will provide for the client.
The more effective the communication, the fewer surprises that will occur and the less you will be taken advantage of.
Create a PDF quote on branded letterhead for a professional approach and make sure to use a contract. This can be a stressful aspect if you are getting started, but it will become second nature, and you can purchase standard contracts on the internet to use. It will eventually become just a part of the process.
Strategize your pricing. This is a skill that you will get better at over time. Consider all the variables such as time shooting, travel time, expenses, what you’re shooting, as well as editing and turnaround time.
Research local event photographers to help value your services. In addition, consider your marketing, your overhead, and personal expenses. There are many event photographers that charge too low to make it in the long run.
If you charge too little, you will get more jobs, but you will spend so much of your time working for little money and will eventually not make enough or be too burned out. Value your work.
Backup equipment is vital for the event and for your peace of mind. Bring an extra of everything that you need.
Next, dress well. This tip is part of the next topic about making people comfortable. People are watching you as an event photographer. Cameras stick out, and as much as you might want to be a fly on the wall, you will be a focus.
The better you dress, the more respect you will get and the more they will believe you are doing a good job. And honestly, photography is #1 doing a good job, and #2 your client believing you are doing a good job.
2. Creating a comfortable environment
Your job is to capture comfortable and happy people. That’s how the clients want their event to seem, and the first step is making yourself look comfortable. The more jovial and pleasant you seem, the more relaxed everyone will feel around you. And don’t worry, this is a skill that will build over time.
I make sure to smile and give a quick hello or nod to some of the guests, but if people look like they want to avoid me, I’m happy to let them.
This will help you out as the event progresses because once they are comfortable with you, they will forget about you.
So many events are in places with awful lighting, so good equipment is vital. You need a fast lens (that goes to f/2.8 or even faster), a flash, and a camera that with exceptional ISO capabilities up to 3200.
My main event lenses are the Canon 24-70 f2.8 and the Canon 70-200 f2.8. This covers everything from the overall shots, walk-around cocktail photographs, group shots, to conference speaker photographs from afar.
If on a budget, a 50mm f1.8 is a great, affordable lens for event photography. But the prime focal length will cause some constraints, so it’s usually good to have it on one camera with a zoom on another.
For darker environments, I usually shoot at ISO 1600 to 3200 (and 6400 if needed). This allows me to be able to shoot with f2.8 lenses instead of faster ones. And a shallower depth of field than F2.8 can be tricky because so little of the photo will be in focus.
On this note, having the ability to shoot at f/2.8 does not mean that I always do this. For instance, shooting group photographs, I always try to be at least at F4 when possible to make sure both the center and sides of the group are sharp enough.
You will need a good flash unit and a backup. This is necessary for dark events and to overcome harsh conference lighting. You will be able to make your subjects stand out from the background with a pleasing light source.
However, for presentations, I try to stay away from using a flash and instead stick to high ISOs as to not annoy a room full of people trying to concentrate. There’s only so much you can do in these situations.
For indoor cocktail events and such, I always use flash.
4. Balance the light
Whenever I need flash, I first create my settings to capture the background light in the room correctly, so the room is well exposed. And then I add in the flash. I believe the best event photographs show the natural lighting of the room while giving a pop of flash, so people look as good as possible.
You also will need to make sure that your shutter does not go too slow to cause motion blur, from subjects moving or from camera shake.
I use the TTL (through the lens) setting in the flash to expose the scene correctly. TTL lets the camera read the light and estimate the right amount of power for the flash. It is usually accurate.
5. Use a diffuser and bounce off the ceiling
Using a flash the wrong way will create harsh lighting – and by this I mean, facing it directly at your subjects.
Instead, I will aim my flash up and slightly back so the light bounce off the ceiling and back on the subject. This works best on shorter ceilings. On very tall ceilings, you will have no choice but to aim the flash right at people.
I use a small cap diffuser on the flash, which creates more pleasing lighting. But don’t use a huge diffuser as that will give off a lot of light and blind people in dark event rooms. This will be disruptive for an event.
6. Anticipate and wait
Anticipation is key to event photography. If you walk around always looking for something, you’re often going to miss a lot of moments. It’s hard to both walk and be in the right position at the same time.
So find some good locations to wait and just watch everything happen around you. This will allow you to be ready when people laugh or smile or something interesting happens.
In these situations, I try to be candid because if a group of people know you’re waiting to photograph them in a moment, they may stiffen up. So I’ll stand there and act like I’m looking around, while really I am focusing on them.
For speeches and conferences, you need to wait for someone to make a joke, and this can be tiring. You have to sit and watch and anticipate the jokes because this is often the only way people will smile.
The good thing is that most people begin their speeches with jokes or lighthearted conversation. So I will shoot a bunch early on in a speech and once I have the right amount of photographs, I’ll take a break and pay a little less attention.
7. Edit efficiently
I think one of the biggest differences between an experience event photographer and a beginner is editing efficiency. When I started it would take me a week to do what I can now do in a day.
Returning with 800 or many more photos is daunting, and having an efficient workflow is the only way to go.
My turnaround time is a week, and I charge extra if they want faster, but I can hit that if they will pay for it. These timeframes are sometimes hard to hit, but it makes me stand out, and really it’s necessary these days in the social media world. And often, I’ll send a small selection of the best photos that evening or the next day.
Cutting down the amount of photographs is by far the more important step. I will use Lightroom’s star system to immediate go through, giving the selects to send to the client 5-stars, 3-stars to photos I’m unsure about but probably won’t send, and 0-stars to the rejects. Then I widdle down some of the 5-star photos and knock some down to 4-stars to have a tight, final group to edit. Once you do this, the act of editing the event is so much less daunting.
Next, I will edit and crop the photographs. I like to use Lightroom’s copy and paste to make similar changes to photographs captured in the same lighting. This saves so much time. Often after copying and pasting settings, you will need to make small tweaks, but it still saves a lot of time.
Event photography can be overwhelming as you never quite know what you are getting into. Some events will be delightful and fun, energetic, fascinating, inspiring, while others will push you and test your patience. And you often won’t know which it’ll be until you show up.
However, over time, even the tough jobs will become routine, as long as you treat everything professionally and keep growing and improving.