How to Organize and Photograph Events Like a Pro

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The Main Event: How to organize and shoot events like a pro.

EVENTS MAIN

The Footy Show and image courtesy of Nine Network Australia © Gina Milicia 2015

If you own a camera and are known in your circle of friends as an enthusiast or a pro, there’s a really good chance you’ve been asked to photograph an event.

An event is basically any time a group of three or more people gather together to celebrate a milestone. This could be your best friend’s wedding, Uncle Dave’s 50th birthday, your next-door neighbor’s bar mitzvah, your cousin Maria’s engagement, a product or corporate event, or an awards ceremony. They’re all defined as events.

Event Montage

© Gina Milicia 2015

I’ve been shooting events for the last 25 years. In that time, I’ve been the official event photographer for the Australian Grand Prix, the Melbourne Cup, the Dalai Lama, Bvlgari, WWE Wrestling, the Logies (Australia’s Emmys), press conferences with rock stars, product launches for big brands, Uncle Dave’s 50th (great party!) and my cousin’s engagement.

The protocol I use to photograph events is the same for Uncle Dave’s 50th as it is for an A-list function. I’m going to share all the pre-event and event protocols, tips and techniques I’ve developed over the last 25 years – so you can photograph events like a pro too.

The “no more tears” gear check list

Rechargeable Batteries

© Gina Milicia 2015

Always ensure you have fresh batteries for your event. If you are shooting a lot of events and working with flash on-camera you may want to consider investing in rechargeable AA and AAA batteries for your flashes and other devices. They are a bit of an investment at the start, but eventually pay for themselves and are far more environmentally friendly.

“To be prepared is half the victory.” – Miguel de Cervantes

I always organize my gear the day before I shoot a big event. This is an extensive list based on all the items I’ve managed to forget over the years – and yes, there have sometimes been tears and yes, they did cause me stress.

Melb Cup

© Gina Milicia 2015

In one of my early Melbourne Cup shoots, I was sent to the finish line to cover the presentation of the Melbourne Cup for its sponsor, Emirates. It had been a long day and I was still a bit green to this event caper. I completely overestimated my flash and camera’s battery lives and had to endure a stressful 30 minutes waiting to photograph “the money shot” with my camera blinking, “I’m about to die! Now feed me!”

My spare battery and charger were safely tucked away in my camera bag about 20-minute walk away. (Doh!) I managed to squeeze out five frames by turning the camera on and off. I got the shot, but it wasn’t fun.

  • Clean your lenses. Always check for dust, mould, scratches and smears. There’s nothing worse than having to retouch 300 shots because of gunk in the corner of the frame, or worse still, a large gooby that completely ruins a shot.
  • Fully charge your laptop, phone, and booster for remote locations.
  • Ensure you have all your cables, accessories and chargers for laptops, etc.
  • Pack two card readers and spare cables.
  • Carry extra memory cards and spare cards.
Cables

© Gina Milicia 2015

I once shot a wedding at a very remote Australian location. It was at the end of a long, hard week and I realized when I arrived that I had forgotten the USB cable for my card reader. I knew it was going to be a big wedding — the magazine wanted full coverage, from start to finish — and I only had enough memory cards to cover about half of it.

I sent my assistant out to the tiny country town’s shopping district in search of a cable or a card reader while I continued the pre-wedding shots. She rang every camera store within 20km (12.5 miles), but no luck. I ended up having to shoot with the limited number of memory cards I had, and treat it as if I was shooting with film.

I got there in the end, but that little oversight could’ve been very costly. Now I carry two memory card readers and put spare cables in my glove box camera bag, handbag and laptop bag.

Events 003

Nutella comes in a handy travel size. © Gina Milicia 2015

  • Put together a survival kit (water, tissues, deodorant, mints, snacks, protein bars, nuts, umbrella, blankets, spare warm clothes, and comfy shoes for the drive home). Events can go on for hours and often run over meal times. There’s nothing worse than being cold, tired, hungry or stinky at an event. Always pack an emergency kit to keep you going between meals and showers.
  • Read the run sheet, look up all shoot locations and work out the best travel routes. I always work out the best way to get to my gig the night before. Events can be stressful enough without having to worry about getting lost on the way.
  • Wash your car and fill the tank. Again, it’s all about minimizing stress. Events are usually dressy affairs, so it’s nice to turn up in a clean car. It feels better, too.
  • Pre-pack and recheck all lighting, tripods, stands, and accessories.
  • Ensure your gear is portable, lightweight and quickly and easily accessible. Here’s my personal event location kit: Roller bag, laptop, monopod or tripod, two camera bodies, 24mm-105mm f/4 lens, 70mm-200mm f/2.8 lens, 85mm lens, two speedlights, rechargeable AA batteries.
  • Have a safe spot to store the memory cards you use at the event. Mark them clearly so you don’t accidentally overwrite them.
  • Bring a hard drive for backup. If you have time and a safe place to do it, download your memory cards onto your computer and back them up at the same time. I have an in/out system that I use. Check out: Photography Workflow Tips – From Memory Card to Computer and Beyond for more info.
  • Keep drunken guests away from your table. Food and drinks don’t mix with and laptops. One spilled drink and it’s all over.
  • Don’t forget a pen and notebook to jot down important information.

Dress code

Your next clients may be among the guests at the event you’re shooting. You only have one chance to make a good impression, so make sure it’s a good one.

Events 4

© Gina Milicia 2015

I’d love to wear my favorite torn jeans and boots to every shoot I do, but I know that wouldn’t make a very good impression. I don’t want to embarrass clients by turning up in inappropriate attire, so I always check the dress code first.

I believe a good photographer should blend in with the guests. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you turn up dressed like Paris Hilton. Rock out your own style, but maybe tone down the diamond tiara, nine-inch gold-plated heels and leopard skin jumpsuit.

Here are a few suggestions you may want to take on board:

  • Buy a great pair of really comfortable dress shoes. There’s nothing worse than wearing uncomfortable shoes on a long shoot.
  • The best color to blend in at an event is black.
  • Always carry a lint roller, safety pins, shoe polish and a sewing kit in your bag for those just in case moments. I once tore my pants just before an event.

Etiquette

Events 5

© Gina Milicia 2015

  • Never be seen eating or drinking at the event.
  • Food and drink should always be consumed away from guests (eat before you go).
  • Ask for the best place to store your gear (I often call the venue in advance to ask to have a space set up for me).
  • Don’t annoy guests and corner them and bang on with boring stories.
  • Only give out your card if somebody specifically asks for it.
  • Keep notes on a pad or your Smartphone so you can remember the names of key people.
  • Always ask guests if they mind you taking their photo. If people are deep in conversation, try and wait for a break before cutting in. This is tricky, especially for new photographers. Try, “Hello. Sorry for interrupting. Do you mind if I take a photo?” Tone is really important. Never be pushy and always have a huge smile on your face. Compliment guests on their hat, bag, shoes, or eyes, but do it sincerely.
  • If you’re working with other photographers, try and help them set up shots and work together. This is a small industry; chances are you will work together again and it’s always great to develop friendships with other photographers. This can be a lonely industry sometimes.
  • Never stand around looking bored. If you’ve run out of guests, shoot the food, band or signage.
  • Email shots of the band, flowers and food to the suppliers. This is a great way to value add for your client, a nice thing to do for the suppliers, and a great way to meet potential new clients.

Day of the event

Try and arrive 30 minutes, to an hour before the event. This will give you plenty of time to unpack your gear and compose yourself before the event starts. There’s nothing worse than arriving late and having to set up under pressure.

Do a quick reconnaissance of the location, take note of the lighting and try to pre-plan good locations for group shots and portraits. Set up your gear. Test and retest everything to make sure it’s working. Check that your memory cards are in your camera, the ISO is set to the correct setting, and your flashes are firing properly.

Read the shot list and check and double check you’re getting all your key shots. Continually refer back to this on the day. Cover every detail possible on the day: signage, food, gift bags, drinks, flowers, and table settings. This is a great opportunity to introduce your skills to other businesses, so make sure you forward these images to caterers, florists and designers.

Try and keep group shots to a maximum of five people. I often shoot people in groups of two, three and five. Take three to five frames when shooting groups of people because someone will always blink or pull a funny face. Tell the group you’ll take a few shots so they don’t look, or walk away, after the first frame. Keep talking while you’re photographing the group so you command their attention. Otherwise they’ll look the wrong way, start talking or eating, and ruin your shot.

Events 8

Using a long lens makes it really easy to capture candid images at events. © Gina Milicia 2015

People shots

Don’t be afraid to tidy people up (fix their jackets, ask them to stand in a more flattering way). Not every shot needs to be posed. Try and get a mix of candid images of people talking, laughing and enjoying the day. I find these shots are best done using a long lens when people don’t know you’re taking them. It’s very difficult to look discreet when you’re five inches away using a 28mm lens.

Try and shoot speeches with a long lens, no flash. This means you can be in a discreet position and take several shots of the speaker without annoying them with your flashes. I like to wait until the speaker looks up from their notes or smiles to acknowledge applause.

Avoid taking shots of people eating. I’ve yet to see someone who looks glamorous with a mouth full of food.

After the event

Events 6

© Gina Milicia 2015

  • Carefully back up ALL your files (Then back them up again when you get back to your office/base).
  • Do a final double check for random gear you might have left behind (I’ve lost two monopods).
  • Rehydrate and eat something before you process your files.
  • Send off any extra shots to caterers, florists or guests who may have approached you during the event.

Do you have any pre-event rituals that you use to help your day run smoothly? Is there anything I may have missed? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Gina Milicia has been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. She has photographed some of the world’s most high-profile people including royalty, billionaires and A-list celebrities. Often travelling the world, Gina also runs photography workshops and private mentoring sessions. You can sign up for her free ebook on "Portrait and Post Production Essentials" and see more of her work here. Check out her podcast “So you want to be a photographer” on iTunes.

  • Andy DelGiudice

    Great list Gina, and I can’t believe you have only lost 2 monopods in all the years shooting events! I think I’ve lost 2 monopods this quarter..

  • Anubis

    Such a great and detailed article, as ever from you Gina, and I still want to be your second shooter/assistant regardless of my name change. Hehe

    Your work btw, is truly inspiring, but one question if you don’t mind answering, do you find shooting at events easier being a woman? I ask that in the sense of do you think people react to you differently because you are a woman? As I always worry rhead because I’m a big muscular 6 foot 2 inch man, that however polite I am, I’ll always come across as imposing regardless of my posture, smile, ease of words etc

  • I did an event shoot at the last minute as favor for a friend whose photographer has backed out unexpectedly. Talk about stress. There was no time to check out the venue ahead of time, my friend was too busy running the event to give me a heads up on who to photograph, the lighting in the room was terrible forcing the use of flash for every shot. Basically everything you wrote in this article could not be done.

  • Dennis D

    Check the settings on all digital cameras or reset them prior to the shoot. I got halfway thru one and realized I had set the ISO to its max and overexposed many shots.

  • Thank you very much Gina for sharing this. I shot FOSSASIA 2015, https://www.flickr.com/photos/comprock/sets/72157649011537593/, this past weekend in Singapore and had a great time mostly because I’d followed a similar routine to yours. Though I’ve no long lenses with me this trip, I was able to get by. Even when I found out I was the only person shooting the conference group photo. Agh… that was extremely stressful and had me worrying about being good enough.

    I’m getting into open source event photography with a small team and I’m sharing this and other of your articles to help them come along in their confidence and skills. We all appreciate the hard work you’re doing here.

    Ciao from Kaohsiung!

    Michael

  • Oh boy, do I know this one.

    It’s really tough to be constantly changing ISO when you’re shooting multiple locales in a conference because you’re inside dark or light and outside bright or cloudy. As I know I sometimes botch a first shot, I’ll preview, and I can’t count the number of over or under exposed shots as I go from outside and inside shooting. It’s getting fewer though, but still, it’s a headache at times.

    I need to create a mental meme for pre-shooting to mentally check ISO, aperture, shutter speed, shot mode, focus mode, etc.

  • Gina Milicia

    My pleasure Michael, I’m glad you are finding my blogs useful and thanks for sharing them 🙂
    I agree about shooting large groups, it can be really stressful. I find the following tips helpful;
    1. Always shoot 8-15 frames to guarantee a good group shot
    2. Keep talking while you shoot. ( hard at first but you get more confident with practice) and tell the group how many frames you are doing so they don’t wander off mid shoot
    3. Take your time. Don’t be afraid to make people wIt the extra 10 secs to nail a great shot.

  • Gina Milicia

    OMG that sounds like a nightmare. I feel for you. I think we all have a few horror stories like that. I hope that doesn’t put you off shooting events.

  • Gina Milicia

    I know a male photographer who is 6ft 6 and a very large frame who is the sweetest guy I’ve ever met. I also now a 5ft tall female photographer with a petite frame who is one of the most intimidating women I have ever met.
    The way photographers are perceived is all about the energy or vibe they put out.
    I’m sure there are some advantages to being a female photographer in these social situations but Ive also found it to be a disadvantage in some situations.
    I think it all comes down to learning to read the room, always being respectful and kind and matching your tone of voice and energy to the people you are dealing with.
    I hope this helps and it’s not too out there haha.

    Thanks for the assisting/2nd shooter offer. Send me an email with your details and I’ll add you to my list.
    Thanks for your comments 🙂

  • Gina Milicia

    Lol! I thought 2 was impressive. Perhaps you need to tie yours to your wrist Andy? 🙂

  • I’ve learned that talking while shooting and keeping my second eye open to monitor things definitely helps in being aware. The telling about number of frames idea is great, I’ve done similar in the past, but not consistently. I’ll try this out on future events.

    It’s great you’re responsive to people here. Thank you.

  • David Thompson

    Gina, I love your posts! You are always thoughtful, generous, and have great ideas. You are one of my favorites here and I so appreciate the way you share your experience.

    I have my share of horror shoot stories too. I suppose we all do. My worst was the time I blew getting the film properly attached to the take-up spool. I lost an entire roll and didn’t realize it until after the film came back from the processor. Fortunately I had a lot of other frames so it wasn’t a total loss. 🙂

    I would definitely work assistant/second for you, but I doubt you’ll be in northern Nevada anytime soon! 🙂

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks David, that’s so kind of you to say. I really enjoy writing these posts and chatting with photographers from all over the world.

    I totally felt your pain in your story. I’m guilty of the poorly loaded film disaster once or twice too.

    I would love to see more of The USA and will definitely love to work with you if I get a gig in Nevada. It sounds like you could teach me a thing or two!

  • David Thompson

    You’re welcome and very kind. You should spend some time in the American Southwest if you enjoy landscape work at all. There are all of the iconic landscapes, of course. But there are also many treasures that are discovered simply by wandering around.

    When people think of Nevada, they always think Las Vegas. I live six hours from Las Vegas and have only been there when passing through on my way to other places.

    On a tips note, I suggest creating a “punch list” of things to check in one’s kit that is created long before the shoot. I stage my gear near the front door of my house before departing and check it twice before loading the SUV and heading out.

    Valerie Millett — http://www.valeriemillett.com/ — recently posted her kit list for hiking to remote places and it’s a gem, as is she. If you haven’t seen her work and her writing, you’re in for a treat.

    Best…

  • Allen Cook

    As always, Gina, conveyed in very informative, down-to-earth manner. Thank you. Second camera body, telephoto zoom, good quantity of rechargeable batteries…yea, I need to fill in those gaps. Thanks again.

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks Allen, the second camera body and zoom can always be a rental or second hand purchase. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Gina Milicia

    Great tip David, thank you and fingers crossed I make it to Nevada. It’s on my list!

  • Allen Cook

    Yea, second hand is indeed the plan! In fact, all current gear is second hand except the 50mm 1.8, which was a gift from my father-in-law. Oh yea, I bought speedlights (2) new. That’s it. Thanks again. Be well!

  • Gina Milicia

    Great stuff Allen, you have a really good kit there. Happy shooting 🙂

  • henriette

    Thanks .
    i shoot a party for about 500 people nexed month. and i m a non professional. Like to buy a telelens but ist way to exepensive for my budget. So i think i wil buy a good external flash. Love your advice read it all. I m a bit nervous. But i think i shoot best with my own gear. I conciderx to rent a lens…. i have a nikon d60 and lens 18/270 tamron

  • Prabden.S

    Some event managers do not allow the photographer to share the images with anyone else.Is it a common practice ?

  • Richard Leonard

    On Saturday I shot my daughter’s friend’s 18th birthday and right at the end my shutter release mechanism died. On Sunday I tried to fix it but not having the correct screwdrivers, couldn’t open it up. So I did what I was trying to avoid and bought a new camera. I did this mainly because I wanted to get shots at my son’s graduation on Tuesday night despite having little time to get familiar with new gear. Long story short I missed crucial photos because AF decided to hunt when during all my test shots on preceding graduates, it had no incling of doing so. All because I didn’t have time to find the back button focus setting! Should have used manual, I know…

  • Gina Milicia

    Don’t be too hard on yourself Richard we’ve all made the same mistakes. Remember when you first learnt to drive a car or ride a bike? At first it seems so overwhelming trying to remember everything you need to do but after a while it all becomes second nature.
    Even 10 mins a day with your camera will make a huge difference to your image quality.
    Thanks for sharing and enjoy the new camera.

  • Gina Milicia

    I guess it depends on the client/ event manager and what kind of contract they have in place. It’s always a good idea to ask first. I’ve never had a problem doing this for any of my clients. I’d be interested to hear about your experiences.

  • Gina Milicia

    That’s awesome Henriette. Great gear choice. Good luck on the shoot. Let me know if you have any specific questions.

  • Joe Dusel

    Thanks for the great tips Gina. I am an amatuer and I mostly shoot political events. I will be shooting a big political fundraising dinner this month, so this information will come in handy. Do you use a monopod or tripod with your big 70-200mm lens, or do you just hand hold it? Thanks!

  • Randgolf

    Glad to hear that others go through their gear and batteries many times before a shoot, to make sure you are as prepared as possible! I cover Golf Tournaments on weekends and glad to have many AA and AAA batteries charged up for the day, since i am not near a power source too often. Yes I agree that indoor shots can kill batteries much faster than expected, you can never have enough! I use a bridge camera with 30 x optical and powered by 4 AA batteries, boy i can go through 30+ batteries ez on a 6 hour shoot. I will need a better back up camera for safety, i got stuck using my cell phone once!

  • Claudina Di Martino

    Great post! Great advices! I’m a starter in photography and I just have one question: on the most regular situation, how many photos do you take? Is there like a “suitable” number for this? Because with digital I find myself shooting tones of photos and I end up with so many that they are hard to back up and work with it. Thank you in advance Gina!

  • simon

    Hi Gina. Great stuff. One question. When you send extra photos to florist etc do you keep watermarks on? Thank you.

  • Richard Leonard

    Thanks for your encouragement, Gina!

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks Simon, I generally don’t watermark my images instead I ask that any supplier who wishes to reuse my images credit ( web and print) me as a condition of usage. Hope that helps!

  • Gina Milicia

    Thanks Claudina, glad you enjoyed my post.
    The are rage corporate event/function is approximately 3 hours long. In that time I will shoot an verge of 300 frames
    I will then edit down to the best 20-40 images
    At first I overshot everything because I didn’t have enough self confidence to know when I nailed the shot but bit by bit this gets better and the more you shoot the more streamlined you become.
    Good luck!

  • Claudina Di Martino

    Thank you, Gina! This is really helpful <3

  • Dennis

    That was a great write up Gina.
    I have gone to a few events in these last few months and find I get into a similar checklist pattern. A lot by experience. Every time I finish one and start to process I see what I did and didn’t do or would like to do and adapt to my next event.
    I really enjoyed this. Was a great read.
    Cheers
    Dennis

  • Gina Milicia

    Hi Dennis, I think your habit of reviewing each shoot via checklist is a great idea. Even after 25 years of shooting I’m constantly look for ways to improve and develop my shooting process. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for your comments.

  • Gina Milicia

    Hi Joe, I like to use a monopod for events. It’s much easier to move around with than a tripod and less of a tripping hazard in crowds. Good luck on your fundraiser!

  • Gina Milicia

    Wow that’s a lot of batteries. Lucky you invested in rechargeable ones!
    Re cell phone shots, I’ve started printing my iPhone images as 8″x8″ and the quality is very impressive 🙂

  • Joe Dusel

    Thanks for the reply Gina. I have never used a monopod. I shot this same event last year using a tripod, and it was a bit cumbersome. The pix I attached are from last year, and my focus was a bit soft. I will get looking for a monopod today. Last year I used a cheaper camera with a cheaper and slower lens, so I am hoping to really improved the pictures I take this year. It’s a challenging room for me since it is mostly dark. I do get to walk all around the room and take pictures from every angle. And, since I am doing this as a volunteer, I also get to have fun.

  • Edi Bereczki

    A very great and helpful article. Helped me a lot

  • Stan Mah

    What do you do if someone who says they will credit your photo but don’t. I sent them a watermarked picture and they cropped it out.

  • That’s the question. If someone wants to do something wrong, they’re going to do it anyway. It doesn’t matter if you watermark your picture or even make a contract. You’ve got to decide if you want something distracting (even if subtle) in your pictures or no, because everything depends on the honesty of the supplier.

  • Wow, such an insightful article. I am also progressing myself from a hobbyist to pro and slowly learning the tricks of the trade.

    Your article, Gina, goes a long way in helping me understand some of lying pains of shooting events.

    I recently shot a surprise birthday party of a friend. Ended up taking around 500 photos and after edits down to ~200 useful – lots of multiple shots of the same image. I think shooting doesn’t take that long for events, it is the editing process that takes away huge amount of time.

    How do you go about when there are two or more photographers shooting the same event?

    Thank you again for such a detailed insightful article.

  • They specialize in newborns photography, family portrait, wedding photography and old photo restoration. Photographers portrayed beautiful pictures whatever your event or occasion is.

  • Frink is one of the most frequently published underwater photographers in the world and he regularly contributes photographs to Scuba Diving magazine and other publications.

  • Alden

    Love it. Very helpful. I just found myself wondering how you go about getting paid?

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