I know that many people, upon hearing the term “event photography,” immediately begin to think of fancy gatherings like award shows, corporate fundraisers, weddings, proms, any manner of so-called black tie affair. But in reality — as far as a photographer should be concerned, at least — as long as you have a gathering of people doing something, loosely speaking, you may very well have an event on your hands.
It could be an elementary school fundraiser, a community bake sale, a family reunion, a photography meet-up. It doesn’t matter how the people are dressed or whether there are any celebrities in attendance; introducing your camera to a crowd of people represents an ocean of interesting possibilities and observations, in terms of both human behavior and photography.
Regardless of whether you're shooting in a very formal atmosphere like a wedding, or a more laid back, casual setting like a birthday party, there are a few universally applicable tips for successfully photographing any event.
- Be Prepared for Anything. Because anything can happen anytime people are freely mingling amongst one another. Unlike a studio portrait shoot where you, as the photographer, exercise quite a bit of control over the situation, shooting an event is not going to afford you such a luxury. Sure, you might get a few posed group shots (especially at a wedding), but generally speaking, you’re going to have to go with the flow; whatever happens…happens. Your job is to be ready to click the shutter.
- Shoot a Lot. And by “a lot,” I mean a lot. This, however, is not a call to be haphazard with your shooting, hoping that you’ll get lucky and get some great shots. But with so much going on around you, there’s going to be a lot to capture. Given the spontaneous nature of the environment, multiple exposures will be a great asset to you; catching someone mid-yawn or mid-sneeze or in some other unflattering fashion isn’t what you’re going for. There’s no reason you can’t capture people looking their best just because they aren’t posing for you.
- Pay Attention. At any event, the range of human behavior on display can be astounding. Observe your fellow human beings closely. Notice the subtleties, focus on the details, and extract stories. By telling a story in pictures you can convey what an event is all about without even having to express explicitly what the event is. It’s pretty easy to look at photos of people of a certain age, dressed a certain way, and conclude that they’re attending Comic-Con or some similar event. Photographed the right way — with context and attention to detail — a family reunion is as easily recognized by any viewer.
- Be Properly Equipped. Unless you’re shooting an outdoor daytime event, you should expect the lighting conditions of the location in which you’ll be shooting to be less than ideal, in terms of both quantity and quality of light. Concert venues, school gymnasiums, hotel conference rooms, wedding reception halls — they all present something of a challenge. So use your fastest lens and don’t be afraid to boost the ISO level. Using a flash shouldn’t be your first course of action; some places won’t allow it, but even if flash isn’t prohibited, using it might be more of an adverse distraction than anything else. As they say, don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
- Be Efficient. Move around and work the room without being intrusive; be polite and don’t ruin anybody’s fun. Don’t stress over individual shots, don’t get hung up on trying to get one particular type of shot. Shoot everyone and everything around you from from different angles. Think as you shoot and you’ll fall into a groove soon enough.
- Have Fun. Pretty self-explanatory.