Event photography is a fantastic genre to build a business around or to help you make a little extra money for your hobby. To help you out, here are seven tips for better corporate event photography.
As a corporate event photographer for the last 13 years, the specialty of business event and seminar photography is one that I highly recommend getting involved in. The benefits of this genre are many.
Event photography pays well.
Typically the events take place on weeknights, which mix very well with wedding and family event photography.
It can lead to steady gigs as you work more with the same businesses, and it can lead to supplementary work such as business portraits or product photography.
But the key is that you have to do a good job to get that repeat business. You will be exposed to a wide variety of situations and many of the difficulties and complications will be somewhat different from what you will see at your typical private family events.
So here they are:
Most important corporate event photography tips
1 Learn how to make people comfortable
One of the toughest aspects of corporate photography is that the attendees often feel on guard since the events are usually professional settings.
There are of course the boozy exceptions, but there will be many events that will feel much stiffer as opposed to your family events or weddings, particularly early on in the event.
As the photographer, this can make you uncomfortable as well, but it’s important to fight through that and to not show any discomfort.
First, dress to impress. Then make sure to smile and briefly engage your subjects when the situation warrants, particularly early on.
After some initial pleasantries, you’ll find that people will feel more comfortable around you and you will often not have to engage them again for the rest of the event.
You will, of course, be sneaking around trying to capture beautiful candid moments. But it’s much tougher to sneak around if people are wary of you and your big camera.
If you look and act the part, people will leave you be and will focus on the event.
2 Learn to work in bad lighting
That means learning to use a high ISO, getting and using a fast lens, and learning how to bounce your flash.
There will be a certain portion of corporate events and particularly seminars, where the lighting will be terrible. In these cases, you have to do the best that you can. That starts with raising your ISO to let in more light.
I rarely go below ISO 1600 and often shoot at 3200 for these events.
The noise is quite not that noticeable in newer cameras and it allows me to enhance the dark lighting to make it look more pleasing.
You want to balance the background ambiance with noticeable and well-lit faces, so this is where your flash unit comes in handy. I will set my flash to the TTL (through the lens) setting.
This is the automatic metering setting that allows the camera to choose the strength of the flash, based on your camera settings and the ambient light in the room.
When shooting an event that takes most of my focus, here is a setting that helps me to set it and forget it most of the time.
I will sometimes dial down the flash strength (FEC or flash exposure compensation) to -0.66. This will lessen the strength of the flash on the subjects so that the lighting is more pleasing and balanced with the room light.
The problem is that a flash pointed directly at your subject does not have a very pleasing look.
It’s too harsh.
Instead, I will point the flash up and slightly tilted backward, so the light will bounce off of the ceiling and back onto the subjects in a much more pleasing manner.
I also use a small diffuser cap, which diffuses the light and allows it to spread in many different directions.
In situations where the ceiling is too high to successfully bounce the light (note: you can still bounce off a 10 or even 20-foot ceiling, it just means your flash has to work harder), you can keep the flash aimed straight up with a diffuser cap on.
But sometimes you will have to point it directly at your subjects.
This is not ideal, but it still works, and it is often necessary if there are no other options.
3 Wait for the best moments to capture engaging shots
This is the most important tip!
Business events are not like weddings where you know when jokes and big moments will happen, or when to be prepared for that special part of the day. There are fewer moments when people will smile, so you have to anticipate them.
I will find a group that looks like they’re having fun. Then I’ll camp out near them and make it look like I’m surveying the room or taking a little break.
I will watch them until someone makes a joke or until they finally have an engaging moment.
This is how you manufacture smiling shots at boring events.
Seminars can be just as difficult.
Five or six hours of photographing an insurance seminar will make your eyes bleed, but you have to be at attention and wait for jokes or light moments.
Most presenters will make their jokes at the very beginning of their presentations. So you need to be extra prepared every time a new person comes up to speak.
4 Don’t always use the lowest possible aperture
It’s tempting to want to have a really shallow depth of field for the pleasing look it gives.
Many dark venues will necessitate shooting as wide-open as possible, but keep in mind that you do want your main subjects to be sharp.
If you are photographing a group of people at f/1.8, there is a strong possibility that the center people will be sharp while the people on the edges will be blurry.
So whenever possible, I prefer to shoot between f/2.8 and f/4 in lower lighting situations to make sure more of the important elements are sharp.
This is not for all moments of course, so you need to use your discretion and choose wisely.
5 Come prepared
While it doesn’t happen very often, anything and everything can go wrong at an event.
So you need to make sure to bring a backup camera, lens, extra batteries for your camera and flash, more memory cards than you think you’ll need, and snacks!
Make sure to arrive early to test out the lighting and your equipment.
Also, so you can go meet the important people before they get too engrossed in the event.
6 Edit efficiently
The rise of social media has clients wanting photos as quickly as possible.
While it is annoying, having an efficient editing strategy will help you get through this.
I typically try to get the top 15-20 photos to my clients within a day or two of the event and the rest within a week. Although I pride myself in trying to successfully accommodate any time-frame.
To edit efficiently, the most important step is to pick out the best photographs before you do anything else. I use Lightroom’s star rating system.
I first go through and give 3-stars to shots I’m unsure about and 5-stars to the photos I will send to the client.
After that first pass, I go through the 5-star images and widdle them down with a pass or two, changing some to 4-stars. I do this until I get the desired number of photographs.
Getting this beast of say 600 to 1000 initial photographs narrowed down to the top 150-200 as quickly as possible will set the tone for the rest of your editing and will help you avoid procrastination.
I then turn off all distractions and try to knock them out in a few uninterrupted sessions, while taking some very important breaks to clear my head and eyes.
When I finish the photographs, I always make sure to come back and do another pass the next day with fresh eyes.
Having an efficient editing strategy like this is something that will help to turn your clients into repeat customers. Everyone loves getting their photographs quickly.
7 Price yourself well
I know that early on in your career, booking jobs and building a portfolio is the most important factor. But try to quickly get over this hump and price yourself well. This is hard work.
I know a per-hour fee might seem like a lot on paper, but this doesn’t include all the time you spend marketing yourself to get jobs or building your skills.
It doesn’t take into account the price of purchasing your equipment, your insurance, and every other business expense that you have before you even start to think about feeding yourself.
It doesn’t take into account travel time, expenses, or the time it takes to edit.
So please, for your sake and for the sake of the industry, price yourself so that you do not go out of business. Figure out the amount you need to succeed and lead with it, and if you need to lower the rate for some events, there’s no problem with that.
But in some cases, it’s just better to turn down the jobs that do not pay enough.
Your time is your most valuable asset.
I hope that you find these tips helpful for doing corporate event photography.
Whether that’s a full-time gig for you or your boss asks you to shoot an upcoming event for them. Use these tips to put your best foot and your best images forward.
Happy event photographing!