Event Photography Tips That Will Delight Your Audience

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been asked to photograph an event or place for a magazine. How are you going to tackle the task to ensure you tell the viewer as much of the story as possible? In this article, we discuss key event photography tips for creating beautiful photo stories.

What Story Are You Trying to Tell?

Before you start you need to know what you are aiming to accomplish through your photos. You may have been commissioned to document an event, or you may be working on a personal project. The strategies aren’t so different, either way.

Here’s an example to give you some ideas and inspiration…

The Society of Recorder Players held its National Festival in April this year, celebrating the eightieth anniversary of the Society. Event photography principles I used here can be applied to any type of event.

Photo by Helen Hooker

Identify the Key Moments You Need to Photograph

If you’re telling the story of an event, be it a festival, a performance of some kind or even a conference, you need to establish the most important moments or places to photograph. By planning ahead you’ll gain confidence, knowing you’ll capture all the key moments and details. This then frees you up to be more creative and look for other, spur of the moment shots you didn’t anticipate.

A photo of cutting the cake. Capturing key moments is important in event photography
I made sure I found a good position for the cutting of the cake, a key moment in the celebrations, so I was ready to capture this joyful reaction shot! Photo by Helen Hooker

Plan a Shot List for the Event

A shot list doesn’t need to be too prescriptive, but having a general tick list is helpful. Take a written one with you if it will be a helpful memory jogger. Here are some of the items on my shot list from the Festival:

1. Wide Shot

A picture that sets the scene, capturing a wide angle and giving your audience an overview of the event.

A photo inside a church showing the wedding guests
A wide shot which captures the whole scene and gives an overview.

2. Get Closer

Now zoom in and capture some closer shots of the people and their activities. If you’re photographing an event, people like to see themselves in action so go for multiple shots if you can, capturing a cross-section of the crowd.

A photo of a group of people having a discussion at an event
Zoom in to get a closer view of participants and activity

3. Behind the Scenes

If you can get some behind the scenes access, go for it! People love seeing what goes on to make an event happen. If you’re photographing a large event this makes the whole thing seem a little more personal.

A photo of a model in a dressing room backstage. Behind the scene photos such as this adds to your event photography
Having behind the scenes access allows getting right in among the participants to capture a more intimate shot.

One of my favorite parts of the Festival was having behind the scenes access to a rehearsal for the gala concert. For the performance, I was mostly restricted to shooting from the balcony, above the players. During the rehearsal though, I could go anywhere, including on stage. This gave me an opportunity to catch some unique images that would be impossible in the concert. I also used the rehearsal to observe the geography of the stage and where the most dramatic moments would occur – information that was invaluable at the concert itself.

My behind the scenes access at the rehearsal meant I knew exactly where the dancer would be on stage so I was ready for this dramatic leap! Photo by Helen Hooker

4. Characters and Interactions

It’s easy, in the heat of the moment, to get caught up being a serious documentary photographer. Don’t forget to look for interesting characters and entertaining interactions too. These are often fleeting moments which most people will miss so you need to be ready for anything!

A photo of 4 men on a desk dancing and performing music
One of the livelier moments from the party entertainment by the Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet! Photo by Helen Hooker

5. Look for Details

Don’t forget to look for interesting details to photograph. These pictures don’t need to be hugely complex but they help flesh out your story and give some added color.

A photo showing the event cake, piano details, and music notes
A few of the detail shots I captured during the Festival. Photos by Helen Hooker

It’s worth looking out for abstract shots while you’re working on details too. These can be great additions for marketing purposes.

An abstract photo of a darkened theatre showing chairs. Abstract photos can be great marketing materials in event photography
Theatre abstract. Photo by Lloyd Dirks

Planning Is Key to Event Photography

It’s a good idea to do as much planning as possible before the event. If you leave it until things get going you may miss key opportunities. For instance, your only chance to photograph the venue might be before the crowds arrive.

Take a moment to think about where you’ll be shooting. Is it a building with which you’re already familiar? If not, arrive early so you can size up where the best light is and the ideal spots to shoot from. Of course, you may find the event set up limits your options, but it pays to prepare well.

Don’t forget to check your white balance at this stage too. If you’re based in one building you may be able to set your white balance and then forget about it. This is especially important if you’re shooting in JPEG format as you can’t adjust it later. Even if you’re shooting in RAW it’s really irritating to have to change the white balance on perhaps hundreds of pictures after the event.

Choose Your Gear Wisely

Think carefully about the equipment you choose to use in event photography. I’m a huge fan of prime lenses but I shot exclusively with two zooms at the Festival as it gave me much more choice of framing and composition. I used the equivalent of 24-70 and 70-200mm f2.8 zooms and their fast maximum aperture proved very handy in low light. Read this article for additional must have photography equipment.

Crowd Control

At most events I photograph, my job is to blend in and be unobtrusive. However, there may be formal moments you need to photograph too. These might be portraits of participants or group shots of the delegates. Try to plan ahead for these moments.

For individuals or small groups think about photogenic locations where the ambient light is good. If you are tasked with taking formal shots spend some time thinking about poses beforehand. With a little preparation, you can shoot quickly and efficiently, without stealing too much valuable time from the busy participants.

For group shots, it’s helpful if you can find a higher vantage point to shoot from. If you are higher than the crowd you can capture everyone’s faces and no one will be hidden behind someone tall. Remember to be assertive and clear in your instructions to the group. Situations like this can quickly become chaotic if you don’t take control over the group and issue clear directions.

Blend Into the Crowd

In event photography, you get your best shots when people are relaxed. Many people become self-conscious when there’s a photographer around, so you need to do your best to blend in. If you hang around in your chosen location for a while people will eventually lose interest and forget you’re there. I try to keep my movement around the room to a minimum, so it’s important to think through the type of shots you will take in each venue. If I find a good spot from where to shoot I will often start with a wide shot, then zoom in closer to take some different pictures before I move position. This is where having a zoom lens is really handy!

It’s worth thinking about how your appearance can help you blend in too. I would recommend avoiding brightly colored clothing and take your cue from what others will be wearing. If it’s a formal event, smart clothes will be the order of the day. But if the participants will all be dressed down in jeans and t-shirts do the same so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb! Don’t forget to wear quiet, comfortable shoes. There’s nothing worse than painful shoes when you’re on your feet all day.

Use Silent Mode

If your camera has a quiet or silent mode it’s a really good idea to use it in your event photography. A clicking shutter can be distracting, especially if you’re photographing a performance of some kind. My mirrorless camera has a silent mode which is so handy – people have no idea when I’m taking photos! If you’re shooting with a DSLR, whose mirror movement inevitably makes a noise, try to release the shutter when there is some ambient noise to cover it up.

A photo of a group of people performing music
Caption: Having my camera in silent mode made it easier to capture this candid moment during a masterclass Photo by Helen Hooker

Choosing Your Angle

It’s easy to get into the habit of always shooting from a standing position, resulting in lots of pictures that look rather samey. If your camera has an articulated LCD screen try using it to take some high and low angle shots too. Another strategy I’ve often used in concerts is to sit on the floor near the performers. You can catch some unusual shots this way, and it has the added benefit of keeping you out of the eye line of the audience too!

A group of flute players from a high angle taken with the help of camera's LCD
Caption; Using my camera’s articulated LCD screen allowed me to capture photos from a higher angle, including more people in the frame. Photo by Helen Hooker

What If I’m Photographing Something Completely Different?

The techniques I’ve talked about here are just as valid for any type of event photography. It could be you’re documenting a stage play, dance event or conference, in which case the principles will be much the same.

Go and Find an Event to Cover!

So, here’s my challenge to you…. Find an event or a group of people who interest you and create your own photo essay. You don’t need to create a huge body of work – perhaps aim instead for half a dozen photos that show off your chosen subject and tell its story.

If you’d like some more inspiration why not take a look at the ‘Seeing in Sixes’ project over on Lenswork where you’ll find lots of six image photo essays. 

Related Article: Photo Essay Ideas

I’d love to see the results so why not create a post over on Photoblog.com and share a link to your pictures in the comments below. I can’t wait to see your stories!

STEP-BY-STEP EVENT PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE

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About the author

Helen Hooker

Helen Hooker is a musician and photographer based in the UK. Helen has been photoblogging every single day since November 2008 and has a particular passion for architectural and wildlife photography.

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