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In this guide to event photography, we’re going to cover all there is to know about capturing essential occasions and providing professional services.
In my experience, photographing events is hard work. There’s a lot at stake, and you won’t get the chance to go back in time and fix your mistakes.
Importantly, you’re not taking shots for your enjoyment, but for the satisfaction of a client – that’s the stressful bit.
With a little help from our tips for great event photography, you can plan, prepare and reap the benefits of your success.
1. Get the Necessary Gear
Having the correct gear is essential to both ensuring your success and gaining the kind of image quality that your client demands. Having the right camera, appropriate lens, flash kit, and other bits and pieces makes all the difference to your process.
I also cannot stress enough the need to know your gear inside and out. There’s nothing worse than being in a high-pressure situation, and you get bogged down trying to work out the settings on your camera.
An essential piece of kit is your camera. Without the right camera body, you’ll struggle to keep up with the action in any event.
When selecting a camera for event photography, there are a few things to have high on your priority list.
Ensure that your camera can manage low-light situations better than most. A lot of events happen indoors and at night, so your camera needs to have excellent ISO management.
Your camera also needs an image sensor that captures a significant amount of detail – this is one of the essential camera parts you don’t want to skimp on – a full frame sensor will help you out in low light, and a higher mega-pixel account will allow you to crop more in post-production.
Finally, you want a camera that’s ergonomically comfortable enough to carry for an extended period. As an event photographer, you’ll find that you rarely lower your camera for a break.
Now that you have the right camera, your next step is to select suitable lenses.
Lens quality is an essential consideration as lenses form a critical part of the image quality equation. There’s no point having the best camera in the world if you have a terrible lens.
I prefer to shoot with a prime lens (single focal length) as they tend to have sharper image quality and wider aperture. Aperture is the width at which you can open the lens aperture diaphragm to allow light in.
The wider the aperture, the better, as it allows more light to hit the camera sensor. A lens with an aperture of f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.8 is perfect for event photography.
But what about the focal length?
If you’re shooting with a prime, then I recommend a wide lens so you can capture more of the event context. Wider lenses are also ideal for group shots and capturing the scale of the event.
You could start with a wider lens with a focal length of around 24mm or 35mm.
If you’re shooting tighter compositions such as couple portraits (often the case if you’re a wedding photographer), I’d also suggest a prime. A lens that’s between 50mm and 85mm is ideal for this kind of image.
If zooms are your thing, then you want a lens with a wide aperture and a focal range between 24mm – 70mm. See the prime vs zoom lens guide for a deeper dive. Longer lenses are obviously useful for shooting subjects that are further away, such as with fashion photography, where the stage may restrict you from approaching the models.
It’s essential to remember that in photography, light is your compadre!
But if you’re working in a dark event space or outside at night, there’s very little light. To deal with this, you’re going to want a quality on-camera flash.
A flash unit or Speedlight will pulse a burst of light when you take a photo. These add lighting to your composition so that the camera sensor can pick up on the detail.
But be warned, the worst event photos feature washed out guests and terrible shadows due to poor flash use.
Use a flash diffuser and where possible point the flash at the ceiling to bounce the light down.
You have the essential triad of camera gear ready for your event – but there are a few other bits you’re going to need.
It would help if you had a quality bag that suits the environment you’re working in. Showing up to a wedding with a giant hiking backpack is not ok. Go for a slimline sling bag that won’t get in the way or bang into guests.
Working without a bag is even better. There’s a great range of camera straps to support your camera comfortably over your shoulder or neck.
Shooting over several hours is going to eat up your batteries. Carrying as many spares as you have, a battery bank or even fitting a battery grip to your camera will save the day.
The same goes for memory cards – make sure you have plenty.
2. Master Your Camera Settings
The next bit is significant to understand but not nearly as important as taking that knowledge and practising it over and over. No point showing up to an event if you don’t know your camera settings.
It’s also essential to understand that one camera setting does not do it all. It’s a concerted effort from all of your settings to work in unison.
Your shutter speed dictates how long the camera shutter is open to allow light to hit the sensor.
If the shutter is too fast, not enough light gets in, but you’ll get sharp images. If the shutter is too slow, you’ll get better light, but you’ll capture motion blur. Remember though, that slow shutter speed photography can be used as a creative effect.
For event photography, you want to capture groups, individuals and activities as they unfold. But you have to be quick as often guests will be in the middle of something when you stop by to take a shot.
I recommend starting at 1/125 and going up to 1/250 – that way you’ll be allowing light in but also freezing the movement.
Aperture adjusts the opening of the lens diaphragm.
A wide aperture, such as f/1.4 or f/2, allows more light in but results in a shallow depth of field, or a ‘bokeh background‘. A narrow aperture such as f/8 or f/11 restricts the amount of light but results in more in-focus content.
If you’ll be shooting events in darker settings, you’ll want to use a wide aperture – as wide as your lens allows. Just watch out for lenses that deliver a super thin depth of field.
A wide aperture is excellent for couples shots, groups of people, or for standing back to capture a broader scene.
When you need a more significant amount of in-focus content, set your aperture to f/4 or f/5.6.
ISO is the camera function that manages the sensitivity of light hitting the camera sensor. It can be a great aid in allowing more light into your camera and compensating for having to use a narrower aperture or faster shutter speed.
Be warned that too high an ISO can result in ‘noise’ appearing in your images. Too much noise can ruin a perfectly good photo.
I suggest starting at 1600 ISO and then dialling up or down from there. If you get caught out, refer to our guide to noise reduction software to fix things in post.
A handy function for event photographers is continuous shooting (also known as burst mode).
In this mode, your camera will fire off several images with a single press of the shutter button. You’ll capture multiple shots as the action unfolds and later will select the best of them.
You do have to be careful as continuous modes fill up memory cards fast and deplete batteries even faster.
For professional work like events photography, you should always shoot in RAW mode over JPEG. RAW image files retain almost every bit of detail that the camera sensor captures. JPEGs store far less information.
The best thing about RAW files is that you have far more scope to pull details out of dark areas and soften highlights in editing software. This is certainly handy for event photographers when their pictures turn out underexposed but need to be salvaged for clients.
3. Work on Client Communication
Regardless of whether you’re photographing an birthday party for a friend or a corporate event for a client, communication is critical.
Well before the event, you must establish rapport with the client and ensure you have a complete understanding of their needs. Show them examples of your past work and get a feel for what they do and don’t like.
To make this process easier, here’s a checklist of questions to ask:
What is the purpose of the event and what is the mood likely to be?
What is the goal of the photos?
Where and when will the event take place, and how do I gain early access to scout the location?
What and when are the crucial moments (e.g. speeches, meals, cake, dances)?
What style of photographs are you after (candid, portraits, groups)?
Who are the key people you want me to capture?
Who or what should I not photograph?
What sort of compositions do you like and not like?
At the event, make yourself available to any client requests that may pop up from time to time. Maintaining a strong line of communication ensures success and client satisfaction.
Come back next week for more photography tips and tricks on Lets Go Big Tunes blog page