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Tips for Getting Started Doing Event Photography

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall? To see the behind-the-scenes of amazing events and activities? To meet influential or interesting people? If so, candid event photography may be the thing for you!

While wedding photography is technically event photography, that is not our focus here. There’s just something different about wedding photography. It’s more pressure, higher stakes, more intensity. In this article we are going to focus more on other types of events – social, corporate, family, religious, and others, that can broaden your experience (and line your pocketbook!).

Getting Started

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Unless you are an event planner or have an “in” already, sometimes it can be a little hard to break into event photography. You are probably going to have to volunteer for a few events to get started.

Are you or any of your immediate family members part of an organization or club? This can be absolutely anything – PTA for your child/grandchild’s school, a community fraternal organization, a slow-pitch softball team, your place of worship. Do they have any big events that they feature regularly or annually? Ask if they would like some free event photography. The good thing about doing free photography is that it lets you practice and hone your skills without feeling like you’re wasting someone’s money if your photos aren’t perfect.

Communication is Key

Before the event, work with the event coordinator in advance. A phone call, or thorough email, is usually sufficient, but you may also want to meet in person. You’ll want to ask some key questions, if they don’t have the information readily available such as:

  • “Is there an itinerary for the program? Can I receive a copy in advance?” If you’re anything like me, you’re a planner. You want to know in advance exactly what is going to happen, and ideally, where. That way, you can make sure that you’re lined up to catch the keynote speaker or the moment when an honoree receives their award. This isn’t just a matter of convenience for you, it helps you make sure that you are able to provide the shots that will help the group remember their event (or, if appropriate, to market it for the future!).

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Who to photograph

  • “Who are the key people I should photograph?” Unless you’re a seasoned veteran of the event you’re photographing, you might not know who the big players are. I recently photographed a big charity gala for the biggest hospital in the area . Some of the attendees were CEOs of companies, coaches of Big 12 sports teams, mayors, and councilpersons. By receiving the names of the key attendees in advance, you can do a Google Image search for them (yeah, I know it sounds super-creepy) so that you can recognize them on-site.
  • “Who or what should I avoid photographing, if anything?” Nobody really wants to get into a situation where the person being photographed becomes belligerent or aggressive. You also don’t want to photograph a moment that is supremely personal if that is not desired. There are many events where you don’t need to ask this question, but keep it on the list for more personal events (such as family or religious ones). Don’t be paparazzi!

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What to photograph

  • “How many/what kind of pictures would you ideally like?” I try to provide as many photos as possible to my clients because everyone’s tastes vary so widely. However, this can be really overwhelming for some people who are under time constraints, or who really only want photos of a certain portion of the event. Figure out their ideal amount and try to stick to it.
  • “Is it okay if I use any of these photos in my business advertisements or on my web page in the future?” It can essentially be free advertising if you can use these photos to demonstrate your abilities.
  • “When are you setting up for the event? May I stop by early for some test photographs?” Unless you want to take every flash, diffuser, and lens you own, you want to get a feel for the venue in advance. It’s ideal if you can get some test shots using the same lighting (whether it’s natural or artificial) and see how they come out. This will not only help you decide what gear to bring, but it also saves you time on the day of the event. Having to readjust your camera settings to accommodate the environment, get your ISO correct, decide on a lens, etc., all take time. This will make you look more professional and prepared.

Work the Crowd – Tastefully

This next bit may not be appropriate for more solemn and serious occasions. For most, however, your foot is officially in the door. Be friendly and professional, make appropriate jokes or comments to appear personable and fun. Keep the attention off of you, but interact kindly with everyone you meet.

Having a camera in your hand instantly makes people more prone to smile around you, so use that goodwill to make them laugh. This will also allow you to get natural, fun shots that will please both the client and the subject of the photo. This will often lead to people either asking for your business card or asking the event organizer for your information. Make sure to keep a stack of business cards on hand, and give a few to the event organizer if they are comfortable with that.

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After the event, don’t hesitate to ask the organizer if you can use them a a reference, or if they might be wiling to write you a review. You’re doing them a service, potentially for free. It’s not uncommon or inappropriate to ask for an honest review of your services.

Details, Details, Details

Whether you’re photographing a political dinner, a church bazaar, a birthday party, or an awards event, someone put a great deal of thought and time into making that event unique and special. Someone spent hours thinking aboutcenterpiecess and the dessert table, about the table layout, registration table, the serving stations and other details. In many instances, the people who planned the event are also in charge of hiring the photographers now and in the future, so it doesn’t hurt to get on their good side!

To do so, get good quality shots of the small things that went into the event to make it special. Programs, food, signage, the little things. These shots are good for remembering all of the wonderful details that were so special to them on that day, and they can also make good marketing (for a company, religious entity, charity organization, or similar) in the future. Getting them these shots gives them lots of options – this makes you more helpful and versatile, as they’re getting more bang for their buck. This ultimately makes you more marketable!

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While You’re At It…

For some events, they want to get the feel of the event from the attendee’s eyes. These can be tricky to do, you may have to photograph tactfully over someone’s shoulder, or through an open door. These types of photos, however, can be used to promote events in the future, especially if they do not actually feature the faces of anyone. It’s always important to get shots of the attendees for the event, but you can also get some of these shots that are not related to a specific date and time. This gives the organization (if applicable) options if the attendees do not want their faces being used as advertisements.

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Make It Artsy… But Not TOO Artsy

One of the biggest mistakes that I see in some candid event photography is that there is little artistic focus or composition to the photos. Yes, there will be times you’re ultimately just getting crowd shots, and those ARE important. In those instances, make sure you’re using the appropriate aperture and focal length to get everyone in focus who needs to be.

Try and catch an interesting moment, or a moment when the crowd is focused on something , when someone is the center of the crowd’s attention. This composes your photo more and draws the viewer’s eye. For shots of smaller groups, couples, or solo shots, use a wider aperture and an appropriate focal length to get more artistic portraits. Attendees like to see more personal, beautiful photos of themselves. People are predisposed to stopping and smiling for the camera, so you will end up with some staged shots. But also get images of people in mid-conversation, or engaging in activities.

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You can also use a wider aperture to up your artistic factor. Is there a beautiful centrepiece that is blocking your shot of a crowd on the other side of the room? Focus on it with an f/2.8 or f/4 aperture so that your crowd in the background is slightly blurred. This will make for some interesting variety in your shots.

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Not Too Flashy

Just imagine that you are in the crowd at a movie night sponsored by the PTA. The lights have been dimmed, your eyes adjusted for the screen, and then someone’s camera flash pops right in your eyes. This exact same situation can occur at almost any event. A flash can distract from the event and disrupt not only the audience, but a potential performer or speaker. While it is usually absolutely appropriate to use a flash for group and/or staged photos to get proper lighting, it is often ideal to simply adjust your camera settings to make the available lighting work for candid photos.

The photos below were taken at a PTA movie night just like the one I described. It was in the cafeteria of a local elementary school, with no artificial lighting other than the projector screen, and some natural light coming in through a skylight. I adjusted my ISO to 800 to accommodate for the limited light, and opened my aperture to f/2.8. Even at that, I had a shutter speed around 1/25 or 1/15 pretty consistently. If I needed to capture action (which was very limited in this sort of event), I bumped my ISO up to 1600 to accommodate it. These adjustments allowed the families to watch the film without disruption as I photographed.

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Picking the Best Shots

The first time I photographed an event was at my church, and I realized during editing how much people yawn and pick their noses when they think nobody’s looking!

For a multiple-hour event, you will likely get an abundance of photos. On your first pass through, obviously weed out any photos that are fuzzy or have poor technical skills. Since these photos will represent your abilities, you want to make sure to highlight the best of them.

I always take a second and third pass through, however. Hopefully the event organizer gave you a rough idea of how many photos he or she wanted. So go through and remove any photos that are boring, or that paints the subjects in a bad light (such as picking their nose). If you still have a surplus, narrow it down on the next pass through to weed out ones with weak composition, or ones that don’t tell the story of the event well. I will then edit the remaining photos (rather than editing hundreds that I will just throw away), and export them. I usually give them another look at that time to make sure there isn’t anything I missed in my editing software.

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I personally use Lightroom for editing event photography. Unless it is a statement photograph or a photo to be used for advertisement, I try to do very spare editing. These photos are not likely to be hung on someone’s wall in a large size, so you usually do not need to worry about editing out stray hairs or specks of lint. Basic adjustments for exposure and contrast, white balance, and occasionally a conversion to black and white are often sufficient.

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Ready to Roll

You’re now ready to deliver your photos to your client. Be sure to provide your contact information and business cards for the future. If they indicated that you could share the photos on your website or business pages, make sure to feature them to show your amazing prowess as an event photographer.

Do you do events? If you have any other tips please share them in the comments below.

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Angie DeWaard
Angie DeWaard

is a part-time photographer in Ames, Iowa where she owns Singular Focus Photography. She got her first DSLR a few years ago to photograph her children and rediscovered a passion she’d had for photography since being yearbook editor in high school. She specializes in event and lifestyle photography but enjoys every opportunity she gets to meet people wherever her camera takes her. You can also find her on Facebook.

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