Event photography is a complex and stressful genre for a novice photographer. It doesn’t matter whether it is a concert, birthday or wedding banquet.
Any event is unique in some way and cannot be replicated. That is why a great responsibility falls on a photographer to capture a memory, the exceptional moments, to convey the atmosphere of the event, and to show a crowd full of emotions.
Event photographer’s essential checklist
I have prepared a checklist that will help you to prepare for an event photoshoot. How to properly organize your duties during the shoot, and I will highlight important things in post-production.
Essential things to have in your photo bag
One memory card may not be enough, especially if you shoot a wedding that lasts all day. Even if the memory card has enough space, it is better to be safe, so put in a bag at least a few more. I use Nikon D750, raw files have decent size on this one, so I have 2 32 GB cards in my camera, and 2 16GB cards in a bag, just in case.
Ideally, you’d want to use smaller storage cards, but not too small. It depends, how big are RAW files that your camera produces. Change a memory card 2-4 times during an all-day shoot. Because if something happens with one card, then you’ll have the rest of the shoot on other cards, at the very least.
To quickly capture the desired moment, you need a high-speed card. You don’t want to find yourself shooting in Ch-mode (Continuous high) and waiting for the camera to process it for a long time. It is the time when you can’t shoot anymore, the camera won’t allow it until it processes everything it has in its buffer.
Choosing A Card
Choose a card with a maximum recording speed of 90 megabytes per second and more. It is UHS-I Class 10 cards if you use SD cards. If your camera is capable of UHS-II cards – it is the best choice, but the price is steep on these ones. The same goes for CF cards which can be pricey, but it is essential to have them.
Some guide advises you to shoot in Raw-format and JPEGs simultaneously. Don’t do that until you already feel like you are a pro at this genre. At the start, you need to learn and experience all types of lighting during different kinds of events. Process at least a hundred photoshoots and only then try to have jpegs alongside RAW files. Only then you’ll have expertise and knowledge whether you need to work that way or not.
After hundreds of photoshoots I still don’t use JPEGs, other professionals I know use both formats. It’s everybody’s personal professional choice. One might say it is good to post on social media the same day. It is a lack of experience in my view because you can choose the one to post from RAW files and edit it very fast. In my humble opinion, this is how professionals work
Use one external flash on camera’s mount for parties like birthdays or anniversaries. If you can afford an assistant to hold a flash, you can get the best light for portraits because you can ask the assistant to flash from the “right” angle (which is usually 15-30 degrees from your POV).
Make sure that your flash has a diffuser on. Without it, your model will have extremely bright spots on the forehead, cheeks, and nose that will require you to do extensive retouch. Some photographers attach a folded sheet of white paper to the flash. This way, you’ll get a soft reflected light that minimizes harsh shadows on a person or a group of people.
A wedding banquet is an example of a place where you can use from two to four flashlights on tripods to provide you magnificent lighting. Flashes on tripods are usually placed around the perimeter of the banquet hall. Flashes are triggered simultaneously with the help of a synchronizer that you put on camera’s hot shoe and will illuminate the entire space. You can capture exceptional pictures with a backlight using this scheme.
If you work on concerts, theatrical performances, or with people performing on stage, then, as a rule, flashes cannot be used, so you would not distract and blind the artists.
The lack of additional light can be compensated by fast lenses (the ones with a wide-open aperture with a value of f2.8 or less). It will allow you to shoot in low light conditions without losing quality, and you will have no excessive luminance noise in your pictures.
Fast zoom lenses are very (very!) expensive, but you can manage with a set of prime lenses. For example, 24mm for establishing shots, 50mm for medium shots, and 85mm for portraits of artists on stage.
Shooting with primes is a great exercise to develop a sense of composition. The main question here is whether you’re ready to constantly change lenses. If you’re not yet confident in picking up the vibe of the surroundings, and you’re constantly afraid that you will miss a good shot, because you were changing lenses at an unfortunate time, well, it is better to start with a good zoom lens and gain experience with it first. Especially, if it is your first-ever event photoshoot! Such experience may be too extreme for beginners.
Take a pair of additional batteries. Be sure to charge them before the shoot, even if the battery isn’t depleted completely. If you take a flash, make sure that it also has several sets of additional batteries. Flash batteries tend to wear out much faster than camera’s battery.
Find out what exactly is expected of you
Some clients want emotional shots from a wedding banquet with an emphasis on capturing as many pictures with relatives as possible. if it is a conference, your client expects to get photos of all speakers. Other clients might ask you to work in a photo zone and capture all arriving guests and stars because event organizers need to report to the sponsors after the show.
As you see, this is a big responsibility for a photographer. It is necessary to talk directly to a person who is responsible for your endeavors and payment. Find out as much as possible about your goals for the shoot. In some cases, I’d advise you to record the agreement in writing, just in case.
Ask for an event’s timetable
For example, you work at a conference. To make sure that the event is covered completely, find out when the speakers change each other. Another example – a wedding, ask the host when’s the bride’s bouquet throwing is planned to happen. And final example – a kid’s birthday party, make sure to ask when the cake is taken out so that you’d capture how the child blows out the candles. As you see, knowing when stuff is happening beforehand helps you to be in the right place at the right time, and choose the best angle for the key moment of the event.
Make a route
If you are photographing an event with many zones scattered around a large area, plan your route. Evaluate where and when the performance starts, so you won’t waste any time running chaotically in different directions.
It’s a simple one, but oh boy, sometimes a good break with a ready-made sandwich can save a life. Save your life – make a sandwich.
Tricks and rules of event photography
Come in advance
This will help you look around, evaluate the light, choose points of view. I assure you, that you will feel more confident by doing that. In addition, you will make a good impression on your client.
Watch the shutter speed
Yes, the longer the shutter speed, the brighter the frame is, but in events where people move fast, you must have shutter speed of at least 1/160 to 1/320 (for a faster movement like a dance). Otherwise, you can get blurry movement in your pictures. You want crispy lines and detailed action in your pictures unless your client gave you a free pass to experiment.
Turn on the burst shooting mode
Cl-mode for three shots in a row or Ch-mode for non-stop continuous shooting. Your camera will take a lot of shots quickly. When you’ll cull pictures, there will be a good amount of choice and a higher chance to get the result you want. If in a group portrait someone blinked – it does not matter. It will be possible to replace the section of the photo with a piece from another one.
Take different shots
The alternation of establishing, medium and close-up shots makes the series of your pictures look professional and sets a desired tone of the shoot. You convey emotions with the help of close-up portraits and reactions of people. Show the atmosphere of an event with the details of the surrounding. Therefore, do not forget to include shots of interior, décor, and various items. Classic examples are rings of newlyweds, close-ups of a birthday cake.
Shoot people on the move
Shots with static elements or people are always welcome, but the action in the picture creates a dynamic! It makes your photos lively and engaging.
Keep an eye on the background
There may be an unwanted object that carries no value and distracts viewer’s attention. To avoid this, it is enough to change the angle or the focal length.
Do not photograph a person if he refuses
Some people don’t like to be photographed. Handle the situation with care and be sensitive, even if the picture you got was amazing. It can break a photographer’s heart sometimes, but it is better for your karma and reputation if there’s no conflict. Usually, it can happen at closed events like weddings. If it is vital for the host of the event to get a shot with a person who refused to be photographed, then you should inform the host, so that he or she could talk to this guest.
Record the shoot on two memory cards simultaneously
If your camera allows this, do not hesitate to do it. This is necessary for safety if one card suddenly fails. CF cards tend to be the more secure type of memory card. In my practice, this happened a lot with cheap SD cards. If there is no such feature available for you, change the memory cards more often
Sometimes it is difficult to choose the best one from two similar pictures. But you have to. The client will be bored to look at dozens of identical pictures in the series. Get rid of bad shots first like objects out of focus, blurred people, distorted faces shot at an unfortunate moment, closed eyes, overexposed or underexposed frames that cannot be “saved” in the editing application.
Build a report from beginning to end
The bride will be horrified if she opens the folder with photos and immediately sees the finale of the celebration. What if you forgot to send everything else? Arrange pictures in order, chronologically. You may deviate from this order a bit if it really makes sense in a series.
Find out which kind of editing the client needs
As a rule, people want either natural or warm and saturated colors. The whole series should be the same in terms of white balance and exposure. If you’re free to experiment, then you might try something different, for example, there is a great range of profiles from VSCO that can provide an atmospheric feel to a photoshoot.
You shouldn’t spend a day without a camera. One of my teachers back in the day said: “If you go to bed, put your camera under your pillow.” Sometimes you just have to go to a grocery store to find an interesting story.
If you take a camera from time to time, it’s not a job. In addition, now it is extremely difficult to capture something new. If you do this job every day, unusual situations and amazing emotions of the people will appear in your pictures more frequently. If it’s constantly in your work, no one can beat you.