I've been working for a local magazine publisher since 2011 as a writer and a photographer. My assignments have varied over the years, and one of my routine assignments is extremely high end events, fundraisers and galas.
When you first see these events in publications, they seem like pretty easy work. And overall, compared to shooting an editorial or a fashion shoot or a portrait, these events are very easy work. However, if you are intimidated by approaching complete strangers, or if you don't understand the publication's demographic and layout, it's much harder than you think. I've seen a few photographers who more than hold their own in their preferred niche, but were not hired beyond one issue because they failed to understand and meet the publication's needs (THE CLIENT!).
Today I thought I'd talk about some tips that may help other photographers succeed in these shoots. Your mileage may vary. Not all events are created equal, and my tips may not work for you. I hope that they do.
Study Your Intended Publication
If you've never shot events for a publication, or even just for a specific publication, educate yourself on that publication. Find out who the target audience is:
- The age group
- If applicable, the gender
- The income level
- The focus of the general content.
Every publication has a target audience. If you don't understand the target audience, you will not get hired beyond the first assignment. Talk to the editor, look at several issues of that publication, and study the photos used:
- How many people in a photo typically?
- What are the ages of the subjects in the photo?
- How are they dressed?
- Are they shown holding alcohol, or no alcohol?
- How are the photos framed? The last one is especially crucial; if you don't frame the image the way the publication wants, the image won't get used. That's bad for the publication and for you.
You've studied the publication, you have a feel for what they want, and you've just gotten your first assignment. What do you do now?
- Get your gear ready. Charge your batteries fully.
- Have that workhorse lens that will allow you to zoom in and out. Events can be very crowded, and sometimes you don't have the luxury of backing up a comfortable distance from your subject. I use a 24-105 mm lens. Make sure the lens is clean.
- A backup camera is optional. Because I typically shoot very high end fundraisers and galas and events during cocktail hour, I don't carry a backup camera. I have a limited number of shots I need, and I'm out before people sit down to dinner at the event. If I were shooting as an event shooter for an entire event, this would be a different article, and I'd tell you to have a backup camera without question. You can still have a backup in your car, but if you shoot events in a limited capacity like I do, one camera suffices.
- Format your cards ahead of time. In my Canon 5D Mark III, I have both a CF card and an SD card. That way if something happens to one card, I have a second card as a backup.
- If your publication requires names, you have two options: use your phone for notes, or bring a notebook and pen. I prefer the latter. It seems antiquated, but if a phone gets dropped and broken, or wet, or stolen, or lost, you just lost your information. You can loose a notebook, too, but it won't get erased or wiped out as easily as a phone.
- Research the event if you have time. A) Editors make mistakes, too, and sometimes may provide the wrong location or time. B) Know the purpose of the event, the expected attire, and any VIPs.
Dress For the Event
As I said earlier, I shoot very high end events and galas. This means I'm interacting with affluent guests. I have found that my visual appearance at these events has the same impact as if I were at a job interview. When you are dressed in attire similar to your subjects and you approach them, it helps them relax. It establishes credibility. You have 2-3 seconds tops to get your subject's trust and open that door. It sounds superficial, and it may be, but it helps me do what I do and get the assignment done faster. It also can be the precursor to a light conversation that can eventually lead to clients outside of the event itself. What does this mean? It means wear clothes that fit well, no wrinkles, no dirty worn out shoes, and tidy hair and facial hair. And yes, I've seen photographers at high end events that did not dress accordingly. I've also seen the results. It's why I'm spelling it out in black and white.
CARRY BUSINESS CARDS! People do ask for them.
This may seem like common sense, but for some folks, it's not. These kinds of assignments can take me anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, but if the crowd isn't what the editor anticipated it would be, or if it's just a night when the guests seem to arrive later, you want to give yourself the leeway to get what you need. Arriving early affords me the time for the next section I'm about to discuss.
Media Check In
Many events will have a media check in table, and usually your editor will get you on the list. The hosts or the organization want to know what media is there, understandably. However, don't just check in. Ask for the PR/media contact, and ask them who their VIPs or notables are that they want photographed for the publication. The organization most often will go out of their way to get their VIPs and notables in the magazine. They want that the free press and publicity. This will typically get you escorted by the PR/media contact to those people, and can take up a good portion of the shots you are required to get, which means you are saving time. VIPs and notables can include guest emcees, celebrity entertainers, chair committee or board members, and major donors or sponsors. By arriving early, the PR/media contact can get you access to these people before the throng of guests arrive and everyone is busy with ensuring the success of the event.
One of the hardest things for many photographers is to walk up to a stranger, or a group of strangers, and asking to take their photo. You've arrived at the event, and it hits you that you're going to start approaching strangers. It's okay, deep breaths, they aren't going to lynch you. The worst that can happen is someone says "No." I do get refused on occasion, and I don't take it personal. If it happens, you move on to your next potential subject, and start the process over. What is my process?
- I smile and I say, "Hello, my name is Miachelle, and I'm with XXXXXX magazine. May I take your picture for the xxxxx issue?" Having a smile, positive energy, that neat visual appearance, and being polite will usually gain my subjects' trust in that 2-3 second time span I mentioned earlier.
- Be aware you are going to interrupt conversations. When you have an assignment, and a limited amount of time, it's an ugly part of the job. That's okay. Again, use your manners. "I'm sorry for interrupting your conversation, but my name is Miachelle..." Most people warm up realizing you are there to do a job, and most people are happy to be associated in a magazine with that event, especially when it's a charity function or fundraiser.
- Give the subjects time to put down drinks, or to arrange themselves. If necessary, assist with posing. People love it when you take the time to pose them. That tells them you care about how they appear in the magazine. Sometimes, if someone makes a comment about how they NEVER look good in pictures, I'll take 20 seconds and give them a couple of pointers they can use any time they are being photographed. Most people, especially women, really appreciate that.
- Take the picture, and take two. Check your images to make sure that no one is blinking, and that the eyes/face are tack sharp.
- Once you confirm the images are good, thank your subjects. "Thank you so much, and enjoy the evening/event."
- Next subject!
This is where opinions definitely may vary. As photographers, we all have our differing techniques and settings for certain situations. What I describe below is merely one way of doing the job.
- My personal choice for darker events in ballrooms or conference rooms is 1/160 shutter speed, f/7.1, and adjusting the ISO as needed to ensure ambient light is evident in the image. I'll go as high as 2500 or 3200 ISO depending on the ambient lighting situation.
- A custom skin tone setting of 5400 kelvin.
- I have my Canon 600 ex-rt speedlight with a Gary Fong dome on ETTL, and I usually aim the speedlight up to the ceiling to bounce the light evenly.
After the Event
Remember the publication that hired you? They are your client. My typical turn around time for delivering the photos and the information to my editors is 24 hours. On occasion, 48 hours, but no longer than that. Publications have to do layout, proofing, and send the layout to the printer. They have internal deadlines to meet, and need your content as rapidly as possible. If you are going to be delayed delivering the content, make sure you contact your editor immediately!
Another tip for after the event...really try to learn names and remember faces. I'm bad with names, but I've learned remembering people and their partners or spouses goes a long way, and (again) can lead to conversations that lead to clients outside of that event. One woman commented recently after I remembered her name that she's usually only remembered by her role as her husband's spouse and was deeply touched I remembered her name. Those moments are connecting moments that can open doors.
I hope this helps you out if you're new to shooting events for publications, and I look forward to comments and questions.