An Event needs a photographer to show people who were not there what a good time it was they missed.
An event can be a parade, a conference with numerous meeting rooms, a speech, a party, a dinner, a book launch, a jazz concert, opening night at the theatre, etc…
We can’t rely on photojournalists because they only spend ten minutes there and then only one picture will ever be seen.
Guests of the party or event will not cover the event properly because they are only going to take pictures of themselves and their friends with their phones. While this may produce some lively and exclusive pics, it is far from properly representing the event to someone who was not there.
An event is a large multi-faceted organism that needs dozens of images to tell the story. The photographer needs to be there long term to get a sense of it, to see patterns, and to see the forest for the trees. What might seem to be small and trifling could be an important part of the overall narrative; like when a specific politician is talking to an artist. That shot needs to be gotten because they are both from Iceland or something.
Rules for photographing an event:
When showing up to the gig to shoot it, take some photos of the venue from the outside. Is there signage or posters for the event around the location? Get some shots of people arriving, holding doors open for each other, Limousines pulling up, etc…
Show up early. At a parade, the people and floats will be “marshalling” in an area nearby and this provides and excellent opportunity to get some candid people shots. At a jazz show, shots of the musicians tuning up and sound checking can also make for up close and behind the scenes type pics.
Remember; the event is more than what people think as the Headlining Attraction. Don’t just shoot the main course, but the garnish, and salt and pepper shakers too. And for that matter, get into the kitchen and shoot the exhausted looking dishwasher guy; metaphorically speaking.
It should not need to be said, but the photographer should know who the VIPs are. The Mayor, City Councillors, Executive Directors, Funders, Important Businessmen, their Wives, the Principle Architect, etc… Ask the organizers who is who and try to get someone to point them out to you. This is the Newspaper shot, the cherry on the cake. Get them hugging, shaking hands, and though I hate it, smiling and posing for the camera. (I prefer to Paparazzi them in the crowd, and then erase the unflattering frames after.) Sometimes, very rarely, people are sensitive of being captured with wine or beer in their hands, so beware of a social faux pas like that.
Shoot small and shoot large. That is; shoot specific and shoot general. Sometimes looking at the big picture makes you miss the details, and vice versa. It’s a fun mental exercise to flip back and forth while shooting the event.
Small is the tray full of canapés being handed out, the hastily scribbled note saying “Extra Coat room space behind stage”, the broken guitar string on the floor, and the fan with his finger jammed in the favourite page of the book as he approaches the author for an autograph.
Large is the whole room full of tuxedos, the line up down the block, the show stopping moment when all the actors are on stage, and the lobby full of projections of the sponsors logos.
Sponsors are very important. The client will want some nice shots of people near logos so they can get money for next years event. Shoot as many logos as possible with as many people as possible.
Do not get in the way or interrupt the event. Keep a low profile; pretend you are an Anthropologist.
Direct people when they need to be directed, as in group shots. Count them down, 3,2,1 click, so they know when NOT to blink.
Think 10 seconds ahead or 10 minutes ahead. A really old dude with a cane and a great big beard has just arrived at the door, and he will have to walk in front of the sign indicating the event because of where it is placed in the room; hurry up and get into position so you can get a shot of him crossing in front of the sign! The next band due on the stage has amazing costumes and hats. You realize that the band on the stage right now is about to play their last song. Get into the wings and get a shot of the next band waiting to go on! The brother who has not seen the bride in five years is about to give a speech. Make sure you can see the parents when this happens so you can get shots of them tearing up and getting all emotional! The politician will inevitably have to get into that limousine after exiting the jet and having a small media conference. Shoot the scrum but also be ready to be in a good position run over and shoot him getting into the Limo! After all; he has made everyone think he is democratic and egalitarian!
Keep a shot list in your mind. Did you get all the bands? All the major guests? All the sponsors? Are you about to shoot the cute sister of the bride for the 18th time while ignoring the rest? Oops. Did you shoot everyone at the party but forget to show how pretty the tables were before they sat down and messed them all up? Hmm… Did you shoot almost everything at the street festival but forget that Tim Horton’s was a major sponsor for the first time this year?
If you are shooting a music gig, don’t forget to shoot the poster on the front door, or their name on the marquis.
If you are shooting a music festival, don’t forget to shoot people dancing and having a good time. Most photographers will only focus on Herbie Hancock and ignore the people who actually paid to get in. Tell the whole story.
Get close. Don’t be shy. Get right in the conversation. Shots of people standing around from 15 feet away look cold and uninteresting. %99 of people like getting their picture taken, even though they may squirm and say they look terrible. they will still stand there next to their friends and let you take their photo. Say Hello and try to be charming and get a spontaneous photo. If everyone poses then all the photos will look alike, and people tend to be very different from each other. Show it. Make jokes about their “good side” and keep the conversation going. You should add to the event, not be a speed bump.
Don’t shoot backs of heads. Try to get everyone’s faces in the shot in a recognizable way. People like to see people, and the shot will be a bit sad if everyone can be seen, but there is one person with their hair obscuring their face.
Let’s imagine you need to shoot a walkathon in a park.
What sort of pics should you get?
Volunteers setting up tables. The backs of the volunteer shirts where it says VOLUNTEER. (This image will help get more people for next year.) Happy volunteers smiling and holding up a banner or sign for the event. The signs alone. Balloons with logos on them. Kids holding balloons. Clowns making balloon animals. A kid with a balloon animal sitting on her father’s shoulders wearing sunglasses. (You know what I mean.) People looking happy doing happy family things. The BBQ guys grilling hamburgers. The local celebrity pretending to warm up before the one hour walk. The green field and the blue sky. The crowd of people gathered to collect their water bottles, shirts, numbers, lanyards etc… The big sign that says START and FINISH. The friends gathered together for an iPhone Facebook photo. (Make sure you get the photographer in the shot too.) Any handmade customized shirts with names, dedications and tributes on them. The starter pistol being fired. The surge of people at the starting line. The long line of walkers going into the distance. The people handing out water half way through the course. A throng of people going through a cross walk with the cross walk sign clearly visible. Four Ducks paddling in the pond behind four fundraising walkers. Fun visual metaphors or rhymes like that. The volunteers on golf carts whizzing around making sure things are going smoothly. The first person to cross the finish line. The medals or trophies or certificates being handed out. The sweaty people towelling off, chugging gatorade, or beer. A shot of the whole field of finished walkathoners eating hamburgers and hotdogs. The local celebrity looking exhausted on the grass. A dog wearing a volunteer shirt.
There. That is as many different types of photos of that type of event I can think of. And of course when a photographer is actually there and looking around, many more images will present themselves. I like to shoot like a war corespondent or photojournalist at events. That means covering what is there and not influencing the scene. A fly on the wall philosophy. I have never actually been a war photographer but I imagine the ethos to be similar.
A three hour event might get you four or five hundred images. These will get whittled down to 40 or 60 choice photos.
Maybe even less. Less is usually better.
My philosophy about shooting an event is to shoot the headline “Red Carpet” stuff, but also look around for the things people are ignoring and neglecting. If you are the only photographer at the event you have to shoot it all. If I was a shooter at the Juno’s or Grammy’s or some big show like that, I wouldn’t even show up to the red carpet. There are 80 photographers there, all getting the same shot. It’s covered. (Bo-ring.) What about the Limo driver? The busker down the street trying to piggyback the buzz? The screaming fan in the wheelchair who can’t even get close to her hero? That’s interesting. Not 80 pictures of Lara Flynn Boyle in her awful dress.