The Event Photography Survival Guide

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Ah! Event photography. Many photographers have either been asked to photograph an event or tried their hand at it, with mixed results. Few can successfully pull it off because there are so many things to consider. We’re going to change all that with this handy guide.

Before we go any further, let’s strictly define what an event is: It can be anything that involves a gathering of just a few people who are celebrating something special, like a wedding, to anything that’s a huge, media-attended spectacle, or even a rock show. An event doesn’t need to be glitzy or glamorous to qualify as an event proper.

The Equipment You’ll Need

Start off by ensuring you have the basics: fresh batteries. Depending on the length of the event and the frequency of your shoots, you may even go with rechargeable ones. Of course you should always bring a few spare batteries for your camera as well. You should pack a flash as well, in addition to radio slaves and sync cables.

Your camera of choice should be a DSLR or a high-end mirrorless camera. The reason? It’s simple: those cameras let you take shots in both manual and aperture modes, giving you the flexibility you want during the event. You shouldn’t neglect your lenses either. Good lenses make all the difference. It’s advisable to choose lenses that feature a constant aperture – like a 70-200mm f2.8. This lets you zoom in and out as you please without compensating by adjusting your settings.

Pre-event Preparations

Okay, so you’ve got your gear together, but that’s still insufficient. You need to prepare like a highly organized person to have a successful event shoot. Again, it goes back to the basics.

Be sure to clean your lenses, so your shots aren’t ruined by specs of dust or dirt. Make sure your laptop, phone, booster and anything else electronic that you need have enough juice for the event’s entirety. Bring along extra memory cards, especially when the event will last a long time. It’s even a smart idea to carry a hard drive to the event, so you have backup capabilities – if needed of course.

Finally, take along a personal care kit for your own benefit, just in case the event drags on for what seems forever. A good kit like this will include snacks, water, a change of clothes and, yes, even deodorant. You won’t be able to do your best when you’re hungry, thirsty or uncomfortable in any way, shape or form.

Shooting Methods

Event photography lends itself to some techniques better than others. The first you should employ is getting in on people’s faces to shoot their emotions. After all, events are celebrations, and this is a ripe opportunity for people acting in all sorts of colorful ways.

Another thing to consider is the usually challenging lighting at events, particularly if the event is held indoors and—gasp!—at night, no less. This means you’ll have to make a judgment call between aperture or manual shooting. Aperture lets you take quicker pictures, but manual allows you to take better-quality pictures since you can take your time to shoot. This means less time having to clean up your images with editing software after the event. Your choice entirely!

Quite a few photographers also swear by shooting in RAW for event photography. That’s because many events usually feature so-called “party lighting,” which is basically a multitude of various colors being flashed repeatedly. In this confusing scene, RAW will be easiest.

How Photographers Should Behave

There are also basic etiquette and behaviour rules to talk about when you’re photographing events, especially if the event is more formal or attended by important people.

You should dress professionally, not casually, because some of the attendees could very well become your next clients . You want to make a good impression to one and all, so we recommend that you go no more casual than business casual. Also invest in a good, comfortable pair of dress shoes, as you’ll be on your feet for much of the time. Dress in black, as nothing says professional more than this go-to color.

As for the etiquette, it basically revolves around your role as an event photographer. Namely, you’re there in a professional capacity because you’re (hopefully) being paid good money to capture the event for posterity. That means, for starters, absolutely no one (especially not your clients!) should see you eating or drinking with the guests. If you have to eat or drink, be sure to do it away from the guests. In fact, here’s a foolproof idea: Eat or drink before the event.

Be polite. You always want to first ask before snapping people’s guests. Just because they’re at an event doesn’t necessarily mean that all guests want their picture taken. At the same time, the event shouldn’t be used as an opportunity for self-marketing. Even if someone asks you for your business card, resist the temptation to hand it out!

Edit Smartly

Now that you’ve shot everything and are poring over all of your images, be liberal in what you throw away. A good rule of thumb is that you can discard as much as 50% of what you’ve shot. While this may seem a tad high, consider this: Event photography for most produces hundreds and hundreds of images. Even if you discard approximately half, you’re still going to be left with a sizeable collection.

The point is that you want to weed down this massive collection of pictures, so that you can give your clients the best of the best shots.

Clients also value speed – we’re such an instant-gratification culture! – so run your images through a trusty editor like Photoshop and then deliver them to your clients in a timely manner.

Takes Time to Master

Event photography is a process, which makes it different from a pure art form. When you’re just taking pictures for fun, you can concentrate more on the artsy side of things. During an event, though, various factors pressure you to run a tight ship. There’s the length of the event, the difficult indoor lighting, the etiquette, the attitudes of the guests, etc.

It goes on and on. Thanks to our guide, you’ll hopefully be more than prepped the next time an event-photography opportunity comes knocking.