This article is geared towards anyone looking to venture into events photography for the first time. It provides a few tips here and there that first timers might find useful.
Having done my fair share of event photography, I would say it's pretty easy to get into, and would be a good first step into the world of commercial photography after you've grown tired of shooting flowers, buildings and other non-paying subjects. Whether you're looking to make some money doing this on the side, make it a full time job, or just want to give it a try, I hope this guide will give you a few useful pointers on what to do and what not to do on the job.
First things first
Before you even venture into getting paid taking pictures, here's a list of things you should already know.
You should have built up a solid all-round portfolio of great photos you're proud to show your mom. Every client will want to see what you've done before putting good money and trust into your ability to deliver. So have something good to show at all times.
- Technical Proficiency
You should have a solid grasp of how to handle your equipment as well as solve any technical problems that might occur during a shoot. No one is going to tell you the difference between center weighted and spot metering when you're on the job. Or if you have your white balance all wrong.
- Photographic Proficiency
You should also have a firm understanding on how to achieve certain types of shots, like overexposed high key shots, shallow bokeh shots, panning shots, flash compensated shots, backlit shots, etc.
- Adapt to the light, or change it altogether
You should be able to adapt to all kinds of lighting, in the day, evening, night, indoors and outdoors in different lighting situations. Low light, concerts and nightclubs are particularly challenging.
- Post Processing
You should have basic understanding of Photoshop, processing work flow, file sizes, file types, how to cover up obvious flaws, resizing, cropping, saving images for web and for print. In these days of digital photography, the first half of the job is shooting. The other half happens in Photoshop.
There might be other things more experienced photographers can tell you about, but these are the things I feel everyone should have a good foundation in before going commercial.
There are various ways photographers and agencies charge for event photography, depending on event size and special demands. I'll list the ones I've come across here :
- By the hour
Anywhere from $50 - $300, depending on the number of photographers required.
- By packages
Minimum 2 hour time slots, anywhere from $200-$500, with an additional $50 - $300 per additional hour over.
- Extra value added stuff
Some agencies offer additional value like printing on the spot, projector screens, instant Wi-Fi photo viewing, name taking, video coverage and a host of other stuff. These range from an additional $500 - $2000 on top of hourly rates.
- Post processing
Rare, but some agencies do charge a 'digital fee' for post processing images.
Anywhere from $50 for the entire batch to $50 PER photo.
As you can tell, how much to quote depends on your capabilities as well as the value you offer to clients. Basic things to consider of course are the number of hours you think you will spend on the job, transport fees, camera wear and tear, batteries, studio rent, software costs and any other costs you might incur. Do note that although a shoot might last only an hour, post processing time may take an entire day. So take note of who and what you're shooting, so you can factor in post processing time into your quotation.
I'm only familiar with Canon systems, but the basic things to note still apply to other brands.
To me anything less than a pro-sumer DSLR is a no go. The 30D to 50D series are a good start, then from there the 5Dmark2, and the 1Dmark3. At the moment i feel the 5Dmark2 is the perfect body for doing events, because of the large LCD screen, video ability, size, weight and image output size. 21 megapixels is more than enough for any magazine publication.
Because of the nature of my events, my main lenses are the Canon 24-105mm F4L IS and the Canon 16-35mm F2.8L II. I rent the 70-200 F2.8L IS when I need to cover longer ranges in large dinner/speech type events. Some photographers like to use primes like the 50mm F1.2L as part of their basic kit. But I like the flexibility of zooms when you find you don't have the luxury of moving around a lot.
Basically when choosing lenses it's good to get fast lenses (large aperture), lenses with IS (image stabilizer), and good range (24-70, 24-105). There's always a debate going on between the Canon 24-70 F2.8L and the Canon 24-105 F4L IS. Both are great lenses, but I prefer having a wider range and image stabilizer over having a larger aperture but shorter range. Depends on you really. Note the 24-70 is much heavier.
If you're covering a major event and have the luxury of 2 camera bodies, it's great to have a 1.6 crop sensor body like the 50D paired with a 70-200F2.8L IS for telephoto shots, and a full frame sensor body like the 5Dmark2 paired with a wide lens for the wide shots. Why not just have 2 lenses and 1 body? At most events you usually don't have the time, space or enough light to switch lenses without dropping something or having someone bump into you while you're handling your expensive glass.
The Photographer vs body vs lens argument
There's always people on either side of the fence, saying it's the photographer, not the equipment. And the people saying it's stupid to buy expensive large aperture lenses. I say it's all crap. It all works together. Having better equipment will enable you to shoot in more extreme situations, like very low light or small spaces. This will give you the confidence to charge higher rates and take on a wider variety of projects. It's having the peace of mind that your equipment has the ability to go where you need to go when the moment arises, to be able to deliver the best possible quality photos to your clients. Everything else is irrelevant.
I have 3 Canon Speedlite 580EX II which I alternate between events. If you don't need the additional lighting power, or remote features, it might be wise to go with the smaller and lighter (not to mention cheaper) 480EX II. The extra weight makes a difference during long hours of shooting.
For light diffusion I use the Sto-Fen OMNI-BOUNCE with a hole cut out when pointing up, and a normal one when pointing forward. Sometimes I do without and just go with the bounce card on the 580EX II. I've seen people using the Gary Fong whale tail or light spheres with great results. I've never used them before so i can't comment on those. If you're ballsy enough you can also try using macro lights or a ring light adapter. Guaranteed unique lighting in your photos. ^-^
For batteries i use the quick rechargeable Sanyo 2700 series. GP batteries didn't work well for me. Enelope batteries seem to be a good alternative. Never tried Engergizer ones, so can't comment on those. Always have a lot of spares. Batteries can run out fast or over heat if you shoot at high power all the time.
I have several portable mini light stands and umbrellas in a kit that I bring along when I know I need the extra lights or when it's crucial to get good photos. I use the 3 580EX II as lights, controlled by Pocket Wizards or Radio Poppers, depending on whichever one works for you. I don't go with studio lights because they require a power source, and they're not as portable as I'd like them to be. Running entirely on small flashes enables me to set up easily and quickly, just about anywhere.
Some photographers like to use hand straps compared to shoulder straps for holding their camera. It provides a more stable shot, and less tiring in the long run, but i find it a hassle when someone asks for your name card and your hands are tied up, literally.
I find these unnecessary, they just add bulk and weight to your already heavy lens and flash set-up. But others find it a necessity for prolonged portrait shooting use. Once again this is a personal preference. Note that you've have a hard time fitting a body + battery grip set into a slim camera bag.
You should always have 2-3 full charged spare batteries on the day of the event. There was once I forgot to charge my main battery the day before the event, and realized my spares weren't charged either. Terrible day indeed.
High capacity cards are cheap, I use a 16GB CF card and several 4GB ones as spares.
What's worst than having a dead battery? Not more storage space when a VIP shows up.
Most of the time you're able to keep your loot with a receptionist, with event staff, or with a bartender. So what you carry TO THE event doesn't matter that much, it's what you keep with you when you shoot. When moving around in small areas I sling my camera, and only have one set of spare CF card, camera and flash battery in my pockets.
On larger areas I bring along a utility belt with pockets for more backup stuff and slots for lens bags if I need to swap. I like the belts because it keeps both your hands free. Sling bags are not recommended in tight areas. You'll be more concerned with not hitting people with your bag, not knocking over wine glasses and trying to not get it stuck in doorways with a zillion people moving in and out.