Five Tips for Special Event Photography

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Often times shooting special events is not the most glamorous gig in photography, but when a client calls you up looking for a photographer to shoot an event, you take the job.  Sometime’s you end up somewhere great like the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, other times you’re in a small, dark, dull event space with only 20 people making the best of the situation.  Regardless of the size or location of the event, your job is to make some great images.  There are a lot of little things that can make diving into special event photography much easier or much harder on yourself, below are a few ideas of how to prepare and execute the photography at your next event.

Event photography tips 01

#1 Dress Like You Belong There

As a photographer, there are plenty of times when you can go to work in jeans and a t-shirt, after all clients aren’t watching you do post production.  When photographing a special event however, you should dress like you belong there and blend in with the crowd.  This doesn’t necessarily mean a suit and tie every time for men, or that a blazer is necessary for women, but slacks/dressy pants, comfortable, low key, black shoes and a nice shirt/blouse usually are a must.  If it is a higher end event you men should be sure to wear a suit coat and tie while women should wear a blazer if they feel it is necessary.  If you’re unsure of the appropriate attire, always err on the side of safety if you’re over dressed you can always take the coat off and stick the tie in your pocket.

Event photography tips 02

#2 Take Pre-event Shots

While it may be an afterthought for your client at the event, the event planner responsible for dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s will love that you captured shots of the room prior to the guests arrival. Not only will it be something they can use to sell their services in the future, it will also allow them to catalog the set-up in case they have a very similar type of event in the space again. This will prove invaluable to the client and should be the way you start any event.

#3 Don’t over shoot (but don’t under shoot either)

The divide on over vs under shooting seems like it would be quite blurry, it really isn’t. If you are photographing a special event, you have to remember that even though great photos are key, the attendees having a good time is the top priority. While it is completely acceptable to photograph the attendees, both candidly and posed, be sure to make mental notes of who you have photographed so that you aren’t going to the same groups of people over and over again. Along with posed shots, if the lighting allows for it, bump up your ISO and shoot candids with ambient light. Once you move past a cocktail hour and into a reception, keep your focus to the stage. Candid audience or crowd shots are nice here and there, but a good rule of thumb is that once plates go down and people are eating, keep the camera pointed away from the tables and onto the stage and shoot conservatively.

Event photography tips 03

#4 Be Quick

Whether it’s a panel discussion or candids at a cocktail hour, no one is at the event to be with you. Accept it. While shooting candids, be ready to go, take a step back, click off three frames and move on, any more than that (unless it’s a VIP or there is a glaring, non-camera related, issue) and you might be intruding on the attendee’s time. When shooting a panel discussion, or anything on a stage, shoot a lot with a long lens. While close, intimate shots from a wide lens look awesome, the people who are paying, or are invited to the event aren’t there to look at the back of their head. If you do have the opportunity to shoot from up close, be quick, quiet and stay as low as possible.

Event photography tips 04

#5 Edit Hard and Deliver Quickly

I find that no matter how hard I try to not over shoot an event, I still end up trashing about half of what was shot. It usually isn’t because the shots aren’t good, but because there is something very similar and slightly better in the edit. If you shoot three frames each of every group you photograph at an event(which is pretty typical) and have hundreds files, there’s no reason you can’t cut at least one of the frames for each group, if not two. Your client only needs the cream of the crop since there is only be a limited amount of use for event photos. If there are any VIP’s you might want to leave an extra frame or two in if they are also good, but for the general attendees the top frame of three works best every time. The same rule applies to shots of speakers or the panel at a discussion, edit hard and give the client the cream of the crop.

Once you get your edit down to the best images, bring your files into your editing software (I am still a diehard Photoshop guy) and crank out the images. The best thing about corporate events is that for the most part everything should be consistent and can be batch processed out in no time. From here, deliver your files, unless a disc is requested, we deliver everything via our PhotoShelter page online.

Event photography tips 05

Special Event Photography may not be the most fulfilling form of photography in the world, but when it comes time to pay the bills, you will be glad that you learned how to execute the photography aspect of them.  There are always events going on and opportunities to find work, just remember to dress the part, get photos before the event as well as during it, not over shoot, be in and out of groups and to edit hard with a quick turnaround to keep clients happy.

Event photography tips 06

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Patrick Nugent is a corporate photographer. Based in New York City Patrick work with Camera One, one of the leading studios specializing in corporate photography and special event photography. When he isn't shooting special events and corporate portraits, Patrick can be found working away on the files in Adobe Photoshop CC.

  • Keith Starkey

    Thanks much!

  • Adnane Ben Driss

    very informative thanks a lot

  • ccting

    thanks..

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    great tips, thanks!

  • Barry E Warren

    Great Tips and thanks for sharing, I haven’t done any Corp. events , but I’m up to it if it confronts me.

  • Nate Cochrane

    Can someone at DPS please edit Patrick’s writing? There’s some good tips cruelled by sloppy sub-editing.

  • Thanks, I did. What are you saying I missed? I go through every single article that is published on dPS. What do you feel needs editing?

  • photomediareview.com

    Good timing with the tips, Patrick. I’m doing a large event at the end of April and appreciate your reminders. I shot the same event last year and the client was very happy with the results. This time I want to step up my game and your article is most helpful in that regard.

  • William Burnett

    #3 is an interesting point and I think I would have rephrased it to simply say if people are eating then do not take pictures of them with food in their mouth. Or simply just do not take pictures of people eating. Unless they are a model and on a posed shoot then it is not attractive.

    However, if food is not involved I find that audience photos are my bread and butter at events. I will generally take 10 – 20 photos of the presenter and then I very quietly make my way through the audience and look for reactions to the talks. I look for people taking notes, leaning in to hear, etc. I look for diversity in the audience. I speak with the even organizer prior to the event and ask them what they want from their photos. They might say that their group is a 50/50 mic of women and men and they want the photos to reflect that. They might say that they are trying to recruit people from a certain part of the world and that they would like photos of people that look like they may be from that part of the world, etc. More often than not these photos are used as recruitment tools, at least for my clients. These photos can are are used for much more than just documenting what happened at the meeting.
    When I have arrived at the back of the hall, I take long shots of the speaker and the audience.

    You mentioned that if you were lucky enough to get up front or something to that effect. Generally prior to the event I arrange for a dedicated spot up front. I then talk to the speaker and explain to them that I will take a few photos a couple of minutes into the presentation and essentially make a deal with them that when they see me taking photos they will be in the key light, I tell them I will get my photos quick and then proceed to get a few audience shots. If needed I show them prior conferences I have shot and I always promise to make publicity shots available to them at no charge. This always takes the edge off and I have never had a single person complain about me being too intrusive. I invest the speaker in the photograph and let them know that the photo is mutually beneficial for them and me. Most people are nice and most people want to look good on camera. It is a win-win.

  • Michael Hope in Toronto

    These are great comments. My add would be to learn how to add light with on-camera flash to keep some background ambient and—–if you’re a pro (taking money for the job)—–gel your flash for the ambient so you’re backgrounds match your strobe. Time and time again I see balanced foregrounds and yellow backgrounds (like most of what is above). This is easy to fix and sets you apart from the crowd. You can’t always do this if you have a mix of daylight in the windows, tungsten in candelabras and fluorescent or otherwise in the ceilings, but your shots will look better than a “weekend warrior” and you’ll get plenty of repeat business.

  • Michael Hope in Toronto

    I did not mean to direct my comment at William (per se)—I clicked the “reply” button instead of the join the discussion!

  • The Boy’s Mom

    This information is very helpful. I dibble and dabble every now and then in photography and I really appreciate these tips. Feeling like picking up my camera now and snapping a few shots!!!

  • Guest

    Well, since Nate hasn’t responded, I will throw in a couple of things. When I first glanced over the article, I noticed a couple of errors.

    #1 err instead of air
    #4 whether instead of wether
    If I’m not mistaken, it’s overshoot not over shoot.

    However, the content of the article is great. I’ve photographed a couple of events recently. I did some things right without fully realizing it, and this article boosted my confidence a bit on that. There were other things I will keep in mind for next time. I liked doing the events. It’s not quite as fun as sports in my humble opinion, but it’s similar enough that I had fun and would like to do it again. Oh, and if I have any errors in what I wrote, I’m chalking it up to sleep deprivation and brain fog. I have been editing photos for what seems like two weeks straight. =)

  • JPatrick

    Spot on suggestions, especially about dressing properly for the event. When possible, I have one of the organisers walk with me for a few minutes, to point out the key players in the room, and those who they “want to be sure to get a picture of”.

    Looking at a hall of 200 suits, everyone appears the same, so it’s good to know who’s who. Jotting down some names and a few notes goes a long way to making the evening run more efficiently.

  • I’m sure there is a wide range, but what does an event photographer charge? Similar to a wedding?

  • John

    Pfff

  • Nate Cochrane

    Mixed singular and plural in the first sentence.
    Sometimes not Sometime’s in the second sentence.
    Such as instead of like in the third sentence (I presume he’s writing that shooting on the trading floor is a thrill).
    Your not you’re in the fourth sentence.
    Semi-colon not a comma in the fifth sentence.
    I read through another dozen or so sentences and just about every one had a literal (and the ones ‘Guest’, below, mentioned are still unfixed).
    I know this is “just a blog” and the writers aren’t paid. Everyone is here for the photos and so on. But sloppy writing and editing gets in the way on DPS too often and just makes it a hard slog. Plus, it does the writers no favours to have their poor expression held up for all to read.

  • First sentence: Often times shooting special events is not the most glamorous gig in photography, but when a client calls you up looking for a photographer to shoot an event, you take the job.
    – You lost me? How would you reword it and how is that incorrect?

    Sometime’s – I missed that, now fixed.

    “such as” vs “like” – judgement call I thought it sounded fine. In this case “like” means similar to.

    you’re 4th sentence – sorry missed that too. Sometimes when I’m reading the content I miss an apostrophe or comma in the wrong place. I’m more focused on is the information in the article good and does it have value.

    5th sentence – semi-colon, sure I’ll change it for you. Does it really make the article read better one way or the other?

    I’m not sure what you mean by “had a literal” on the next point. As for things mentioned going unfixed – I do my best to get to things brought to my attention but I do not get notice on every comment on the site nor so I have time to read all of them. 2 articles a day, some have 40-100 comments. I take your comment very seriously and personally. I do the best I can editing the articles but you are right – most of the writers aren’t paid (some are and I am) but none of us are “writers” per say we are photographers.

    I get pitched guest articles by writers all the time and I turn them down. Why? Because although I’m sure their writing would be impeccable – they know nothing about photography. I’d make a guess that if I published such an article I’d get way more unhappy readers and comments about that than the few grammar mistakes now and then.

    So I thank you for your correction suggestions. I’m doing the very best I can to provide high quality content on dPS in every way.

  • #1 – fixed
    #4 (what happened to 2 and 3?) fixed
    last one – not sure on that “overshoot” really means going over where you’ve aimed so not sure that term really applies to photography. “over shoot” means to shoot to much. If anything I think “under shoot” should also be two words.

  • Nate Cochrane

    Simple: Shooting an event is not the most glamorous gig …

    Good luck with the copy editing.

  • It’s not but 4400+ people found this article valuable enough to share on social media. So it must have helped someone, that’s the goal so I’m happy with that.

  • RealPhotog

    Really no actual tips here at all! Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think how incomplete and general it is… Sad, really. I think most people would be looking for real times like flash setups, interesting techniques, suggested gear and accessories, preferred lenses, etc.
    I felt rather depressed after reading this!

  • Amy

    best advice for shooting a run/walk event for a non profit?
    Amy

  • Bill Jaynes

    Tip #1 is one with which I am grappling. I am the editor and only employee of the only newspaper in the Federated States of Micronesia. I’ve been an aloha shirt, shorts and zorries (“flip flops” in the US, “thongs” in Australia) kind of guy forever, even during Presidential interviews and visits to the Congress chambers. It’s sort of expected from me here, and there has never been a problem with it. I know better when I’m off island and wear a suit where that is appropriate. However, recently I was hired as a photographer to do corporate event shoots for Japanese companies celebrating achievements here in Pohnpei. I found that it wasn’t the people at the events who had a problem with my dress (which, I must clarify, is generally “island casual” and accepted here for the most part). I was the one who had a problem with it. The clients were perfectly happy with my shots and they went well, but I’m thinking that if I had dressed up for the events, I might have been more confident. More confidence means better shots? Does it, or doesn’t it? If there’s a chance that my corporate event photos will be better because I dressed for the part then it’s definitely something to think about. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Dave Banen

    a few other tips I’d suggest having done a few corporate events and festivals now.. take the wide angle lens and get some whole of room shots. I either hold the camera above my head to get some high shots, or, I stick it on the top of a monopod and use a wireless shutter release. Organisers want to be able to see the crowds and this is a great way to get some “whole of event” shots. It’s the sort of shot I dedicate a short period of time to once the event is in full swing, and then put the monopod away. Second, being a musician in theatre shows on the side, a pet hate of mine is that photographers NEVER get photos of anyone other than what’s happening on stage. So, in the subject of event photography, get action photos of the support staff as well.. waiters, bar staff, crew etc. Finally, get photos of signage.. especially if there’s sponsors.

  • Nauman

    I am a beginner and this is a very helpful article for me. I am working in a hotel and got some opportunities for photography in the townhall events but every time i take picture i have to use high iso because of low light. Do you have any advise for me.

  • Anon22385

    In the first paragraph you get hit with “location of the event, you’re job is to make”
    wow…. way to start it off!

  • corrected – again I’ll say that content over typos is our priority and if I miss a few I’m just human. Tell me and I’ll fix them. There is no need to attack the writer or myself or use sarcasm. Just tell us. Thank you.

  • Anon22385

    Not meant to be an attack on the writer or yourself. I was a bit surprised that it was still there after other mistakes were fixed and it seems like it’s been a year… I’m just going to be honest. If there are glaring grammatical mistakes like that in the first paragraph of an article, it affects my ability to ‘trust’ the information in the article. It’s distracting from the content. It’s true anywhere I read…… nothing personal on you, or this site. May I suggest a peer review of the article or edit as a quick once-over before they’re posted?

  • Hi Anon (you know my name, why can’t we know yours?)

    I totally understand that. I cannot plan where things fall between the cracks. Thanks for the suggestion but sending every article to someone else to review after I do isn’t feasible. We put out two articles every single day. I put in about 25-30 hours a week just doing that, answering emails and moderating comments here. Do you know anyone willing to edit for free putting in that many hours? Not in the budget, and time is an issue for making sure we stay on schedule. All we can do is our best. We’re really sorry if you lose trust in us because of a grammar or spelling mistake. We hope we put out valuable photography information – not perfect English articles with nothing useful in them.

  • Sarah

    I’m really shocked by all the negativity about this article in the comments! DPS provides so much great information (((FOR FREE!!!))) people! This article provides a great starting place for event photography – it’s not an in-depth course on the subject, it’s an article about it! Darlene, thank you for all the editing and monitoring you do! Your work is providing crucial help to photographers everywhere! <3

  • Suvayu Dutta

    Well said. This is not about grammer or perfect English its all about photography. And a lovely article for the beginners.

  • valsstar

    Thanks for the info http://www.valphotography.at/

  • Alex Webster

    As a event photographer with 10 years under my belt, you learn fairly quickly that gear is easy to learn and all pro photographers should be able to manage their equipment. It’s the way you conduct yourself, “how” you shoot the event, and “what” you shoot that really matters in the end. Accessories? Seriously?

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