digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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How to Photograph an Event with Minimal Camera Gear

Bear with me on this intro as I get into how to photograph an event with minimal camera gear. First a little background on the event.

Recently I attended something called the World Domination Summit. Sounds a bit weird right? This is my third time attending. I love trying to explain what it's all about to someone who's never attended or heard about it, but here it goes:

Event photography community service adventure

The mandate and mission of the summit can be summed up in three simple words:

Community – Service – Adventure

The conference is made up of attendees who want to do all three of those things and live a remarkable life in an ordinary world, whatever that means to each person. To me it means doing what I love, being able to make a living doing that, and using my talents to help others in the process.

I must say it really sums up what I do here on Digital Photo Mentor as well.

  • I love to be of service to you, to provide valuable articles to help you with your photography, and encourage you to greater heights.
  • I want to build a community of people just like you who support and help one another and share images and stories of your success. Who build you up when you are down, and cheer with you when you have a win.
  • I want you to have some adventure, to try something new and exciting for you, or maybe even join us on a photo tour one day.

Read about my experience from the 2012 conference and how it inspired me to write – Why Unused Creativity May be Harming Your Health.

Okay so what does all that have to do with how to photograph an event, you may be asking?

Event photography community service adventure

While attending the aforementioned event I was asked by a fellow I know named Chris Ducker (speaking in the photo above) if I could take some photos at a special party he was hosting (with two other guys). All I had with me that day was my camera, and one lens (my 17-35mm Tamron lens). No flash, no special gear, no tripod – that's it.

I hesitantly agreed with an caveat that it was very last minute (he sent me a Facebook message about an hour before) and I had very little equipment with me. He assured me whatever I could do would be fine. So, as I was attending the function anyway, I agreed to photography the Virtual Freedom party.

Chris is the author of the Virtual Freedom book (about how to hire virtual staff, which I will be doing very soon to help me here on Digital Photo Mentor!).

Event photography 750px 16

This is how I approached this task. Use these tips to help you photograph an event, even if you don't have a lot of fancy gear.

#1 Follow tips for shooting in low-light

I've written a whole article on this called Tips for Low Light Photography. Start by reading that, or if you want the quick and dirty tips do this:

  • Use a high ISO, 1600, 3200 or 6400 if you have to. Don't be afraid of it.
  • Choose a large aperture, the biggest you've got. My lens, the Tamron 17-35mm has a variable aperture ranging from f/3.5 to f/5.6. So when zoomed in to 35mm the biggest aperture I've got is f/5.6. I would have preferred to use my 50mm fixed lens (with f/1.4 or f/1.8) but I didn't have it with me that day. So use what you have.
  • Use a tripod: this one didn't really apply for me at this event because I didn't have one, and doing events with a tripod is a bit cumbersome. A monopod could be useful if you have one though.
  • Shoot RAW files: this is a biggie! Raw files will give you the flexibility to pull lots of detail out of your images and correct for some of the noise from the high ISO.
Event photography community service adventure
John Lee Dumas, host of Entrepreneur on Fire, a popular business podcast.

I took this image above at 6400 ISO and even with my lens wide open was only getting 1/30th of a second. I was worried about blur from camera shake so I bumped the ISO to 12,800 which I know my camera can handle (do tests to see what yours can handle and what you're comfortable with) and got the shot below at 1/60th. More in my comfort zone. Personally I'd rather have more noise than a blurry image due to movement (of me or the subject).

Event photography community service adventure
Pat Flynn, another popular writer and podcaster from Smart Passive Income.

#2 Capture all aspects of the event

Make sure you get all kinds of shots including food (if there is any), set up shots, the important people like the host and any speakers, people having a good time, still life shots (the product in this case, the book and materials), and shots of the venue. Get close ups and wide shots if you can. Get candids of people, and set up posed shots.

Here are a few of the types of shots I took:

Event photography community service adventure

Event photography community service adventure

Event photography community service adventure

Event photography community service adventure

Try to get different angles and look at the usual event photos and get something more creative. If you've been asked to photography, make sure you have permission to go anywhere – then do it! Go behind the podium (don't be disruptive), photograph people at tables, people eating, the menu, etc.

#3 Use what you have to your advantage

Since I was limited to one lens only I war forced to use it. If you only have one lens, try not to lament and covet others. Learn to use what you have. Work it the best you can. Then perhaps one day when you have it in the budget, get yourself a new lens. But for now, take the time to really get to know your camera and the lens (s) you do own. Take a class, read more books, watch some tutorials – those things will put you leaps ahead of buying more stuff.

#4 Don't be afraid to direct when needed

After the speakers had finished I suggested getting a photo of the three guys, Chris agreed. BUT I said, “Can we do it closer to the windows where there is more light?” No problem. I lead them out of the darkest area of the bar to the front where there was a large bank of windows. It still wasn't super bright but I was able to cut my ISO back to 3200 and still get f/4 at 1/40th of a second and got this image.

Event photography community service adventure

Granted the light is not perfect and I'd have loved to have done better, add some flash, etc., but that's the perfectionists in me talking. Does your perfectionist talk to you too? Does he/she talk you out of doing things sometimes? Tell him to knock it off and do it anyway!

One of the themes of the conference was “take imperfect action”, how perfect is that? Just go ahead and do it, correct if necessary and learn from it. You'll grow from that imperfect action more than you will from no action. Am I right?

#5 Encourage having a little fun

Knowing these guys a little bit, I thought the first photo was okay but not really indicative of their personalities. So I encouraged them to lighten up and have a little fun with it. This is what I got.

Event photography community service adventure

Event photography community service adventure

Event photography community service adventure

So give people you're photographing permission to be themselves and when appropriate, have a little fun. Life is too short for serious all the time.

#6 Make sure to photograph the boss and important people

Okay so the other hat that I wear is the Managing Editor position at the popular site, Digital Photography School. Over there I work for Darren Rowse so I made sure to get a few photos of him too, even though we had a photo bomber in one (Sean Ogle you know who you are!).

Event photography community service adventure

Event photography community service adventure

The photo above includes Chris and Darren, and the Three C's (guys from website, podcast and community for entrepreneurs, they've been instrumental helping me build this site and my business so I can help you!).

#7 Get in the photos if you're attending too

Lastly, if you've been asked to photograph and you are attending as a guest, why not get in a photo or two yourself. Just make sure to hand the camera to someone who will know what to do with it. In this case I chose Caleb from Fizzle who is also quite good at photography and has a DSLR. That's a general rule I follow when I'm travelling too. If I want to get into a photo, I choose someone to shoot it for me who has an SLR, if it's similar to mine in brand, even better. I know they'll hold the camera right, know where to press the button, and how to compose a decent shot.

Event photography community service adventure
Left to right: Darren Rowse (owner of and Digital Photography School), me (wearing my Fizzle shirt), and Corbett Barr (Fizzle).

Some additional examples of event photography


So let's put it all together and see some images from another event I was attending a few days later. A friend of mine, Andy from Great Northwest Wine, puts on wine competition events and as we were already in the area offered to help him out. Andy and I are in a mastermind group together – so he is part of my community for sure!


It may not seem very adventurous but doing anything you've never done before can be an adventure. Let yourself partake in something new as often as possible.


I had already offered my services helping out and I figured I may as well offer my photography services as well. This time I was able to bring my trusty 50mm lens so I had one with a nice big aperture. See if you can pick the f/1.4 shots out below.

Take a look at the following images and see if I followed my own advice above. How did I do on this one? Did I cover different angles? Capture the essence of the event? Get photos of the important people? You tell me.

Event photography community service adventure
Opening 125 bottles of wine
Event photography community service adventure
Pouring 1.5 ounces with the premeasured pours
Event photography community service adventure
Getting ready to serve the flights of 10 to each panels of judges
Event photography community service adventure
Event photography community service adventure
The first round of samples being poured
Event photography community service adventure
Details shot
Event photography community service adventure
Double pour technique
Event photography community service adventure
The judging room
Event photography community service adventure
The flight set up on the judges table
Event photography community service adventure
One of the judges sampling
Event photography community service adventure
Judge giving his glass a swirl. Note the unique camera angle!
Event photography community service adventure9
Judge taking notes
Event photography community service adventure
Andy's partner Eric keeping track of the scores
Event photography community service adventure
Andy keeping score, gives me a smile

Have you got any events coming up you can photograph? A birthday part or BBQ perhaps? Use these tips and let me know how you make out. Share your event photos with us in the comments below as well.


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