8 Tips for Storytelling with Event Photography

Event photography is all about telling a story, and as the photographer, it’s your job to tell it well.

Your photos need to serve multiple purposes: Provide a collection of photos that portray the event (and client) in a positive light; help attendees relive the wonderful time they had; entice non-attendees to wish they would have attended; and garner future support for the client.

There are a few things that you need to know when planning to photograph an event:

The more information you have, the better. Before the actual event, meet with the client and walk through the expectations, event layout, and more importantly, provide you with key times within the event for important photo opportunities. Make sure you have that timeline with you at all times to reference during the event. You don’t want to miss those photo ops or have to fight crowds to get a good position.

Plan, plan, plan. If you need to use additional gear, like lights, make sure you note electrical outlets. If you’re able to scope out the location before the event, it helps you plan for the best vantages or positions and minimizes that initial setup time.

Stay out the way. Plan to make sure your gear makes a minimal presence at the event and is safely secured from foot track. The last thing you need is someone tripping over your wires, causing an accident. And your attire does matter! Find out what kind of event it is, and the dress code, and dress accordingly. You’re already going to stand out in the crowd with a camera, so try to blend in with the right clothing.

Set the stage. Before the event really kicks off, start to walk around and take establishing shots to preface the story of the event. Take photos of the entrance of the event, the client’s sign, event decorations or the valet-service. Once the event’s location is photographed, you’re ready for the first chapter. Start the story inside and with what attendees can experience. This includes the table-settings, the food, the drinks or bar, event decor, and anything that needs to be showcased before it’s too crowded.

Move like water. Once the event is in full force, act like water, and move effortlessly throughout the event. Start recognizing where the groups of people are converging to and take advantage of that. People typically freeze up when they see a camera lens pointed at them, so it’s your job to flow around the party without being noticed and capture those candid moments. If you must capture staged or group shots, be more forward in talking to people and asking them for their permission to take their photo or suggest they get together for a group shot. If unsure about your role at the event, make sure you clarify that at the initial client meeting.

Shoot, but not too much. Make sure you successfully represent all the aspects of the events. If you see a shot, try to fire off 3-4 shots and move on. Don’t review your photos on-site too much, because during that time, you may lose another great shot when your head is buried in camera display. It’s better to have too many photos than too few. It may take you longer to review your photos after the event, but that cushion of extra photos could be helpful later.

Do it with purpose. Don’t point and shoot aimlessly. Make sure that you’re taking the time to ‘see the shot’ and capture it. Avoid taking photos of the same people –  you want to show how expansive and diverse the event is. Once you feel like you have detailed the event in photos, and you still have time on the client’s clock, start taking some creative shots, by playing with angles, bokeh, layering, or even some macro photography. The client may not have asked for these types of photography for their event, but it’s great practice. Include some of them in your presentation and make them fall in love with them!

Pack Smart. And try to pack lightly. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries, memory cards and wireless remotes, if needed.  Depending on the type of coverage you’ll be doing, choose the best lens for the job. A zoom lens is ideal, because it allows flexibility to stand far away, but still allow you to do some portrait or group work. Use a wider lens or prime lens for really large events to showcase the venue and tons of people. For staged portrait work, I would definitely go with a 35mm or 50mm.

These tips will get you on the right path for your first event. Take a look at some of my shots from a recent event at Porsche of Fresno:

Peter Carrion, Senior Graphic Designer/Photographer