The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Event Photography

Have you ever dreamed of being a fly on the wall at exciting parties? Do you dream of attending huge corporate events or mingling with influential people? If so, event photography could be the perfect career for you.

This guide takes a behind-the-curtain look at event photography. We’ll explain the gear you’ll need to get started, some basic camera settings, and lots of tips and tricks. If you follow the advice in this article, you’ll have the tools you need to get started as an event photographer.

Event Photography
Photo by Halil Ibrahim Cetinkaya


What is event photography?

Event photography can be defined as professional photography taken at any special event. A photographer might be hired to shoot anything from a child’s birthday party to a massive corporate event. 

Weddings technically fall under the event photography genre, but it’s such a large and specialized category that wedding photography is considered its own genre. So, this guide will focus on other types of events besides weddings. 


Types of event photography

There are endless reasons people gather together, we couldn’t possibly list them all. But here are some of the most common events that a photographer might be hired to photograph:

  • Corporate events
  • Product Launches
  • Concerts
  • Festivals
  • Workshops
  • Trade shows
  • Birthday parties
  • Holiday parties
  • Charity events
  • School events
  • Parades
  • Bridal and Baby Showers
  • Political events
event photo
Photo by mentatdgt

What’s the best camera for event photography?

As a professional photographer, your camera is one of the most important purchases you’ll make. When it comes to event photography, there are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration. Since you will often be shooting in dimly lit rooms, you need a camera that performs well in low light. You’ll also need a high megapixel to allow for capturing high detail and cropping in post if necessary. Additionally, you will need the ability to change lenses so you can adapt to whatever the situation is.

A full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera will meet all of these requirements. Consider the Sony a7R III or the Canon EOS R6 if you want a mirrorless. Or, check out the Canon 5D Mark IV or the Nikon D780 if you want to stick with a DSLR.


What is the best lens for event photography?

Now that you’ve got a great camera, you’ll need to select quality lenses for it. Remember, your camera is only as good as the glass you put in front of it. When shooting event photography, you’ll need to keep a wide range of focal lengths available and handy, so you can easily capture wide crowd shots, portraits, and close-up detail shots. 

For this reason, we recommend getting a couple of zoom lenses that cover all the ranges you’ll need. A 24-70mm and a 70-200mm will cover almost every photo you need to take. Depending on your needs (and what you primarily shoot), you might want to add an ultra-wide-angle lens or a longer telephoto. For example, if you shoot huge corporate events, you’ll need a focal length wider than 24mm to capture the entire audience.

Corporate event
Photo by Samuel Pereira

In addition to the focal length, the wider the aperture of your lens, the better. Wider apertures (lower f-numbers) allow for more light to enter the lens, allowing for you to shoot in lower light conditions. When possible, look for a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or lower.


Other event photography gear

Event photography calls for some gear in addition to your camera and lens: 

Lighting

Sometimes you’ll need to compensate for the poor lighting conditions by supplementing with your own flash. Never use a built-in flash on your camera. A Speedlight or off-camera flash is always a better, more professional option that will yield better results. Be sure to use a diffuser and bounce the light any time you use a flash.

Accessories

When you’re working an event, you’ll barely have time for a break or have a place to set down your gear. That means you need to carry your gear on your body all day. A pro-level camera, a couple of lenses, and a flash can get very heavy after a couple of hours. You’ll quickly learn the importance of using ergonomically designed camera straps and bags. Always pack extra batteries and memory cards, too.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Camera settings for event photography

No event is the same, and neither is the camera settings you’ll use to shoot them. But, there are a few things to always bear in mind when it comes to your settings. 

  • Focus settings: Continuous focus (AI Servo or AF-C) allows you to follow moving people around and keep the focus on them.
  • Shoot in RAW: This will allow you to capture the most data and give you more editing ability in post-processing than if you shot in JPG;
  • Aperture: A wide aperture (low f-number) allows the most light in, but results in a shallow depth of field. A wide aperture (higher f-number) will allow you to focus on large crowds but will result in a darker image;
  • ISO: Rule of thumb is to keep ISO as low as possible to avoid noise. However, today’s cameras can push ISO high in low light without too much noticeable noise, and it can be reduced further in post. So, don’t be afraid to bump ISO in low light;
  • Shutter Speed: Start around 1/125 to freeze the movement of people. Unless your focal length is longer than 125mm, then increase as necessary to avoid blur from camera shake.
  • Burst Mode: Also known as continuous shooting, burst mode lets you fire off several shots in a row with a single press of the shutter. This is helpful when action is happening quickly.

Tips for event photographers

Event photography is fast-paced and full of energy. It can be fun, but it’s not always easy. Here are some tips to set you up for success:

concert photography
Photo by picjumbo.com

Master your camera settings

Like we’ve mentioned, events are fast-paced — and that means you need to be able to think fast on your feet. Know your camera like the back of your hand, so you can quickly switch settings as the conditions call for it. Whether your event is indoors or outside, using natural light or flash, know your camera’s exposure settings fluently before you attempt to shoot an event.

Communication is key

Regardless of whether you’re photographing a friend’s birthday party or a huge event for celebrity clients, communication is essential for managing their needs and expectations.

Before the event, ask questions that will give you an idea of the kind of photos the client is expecting. Make sure you know exactly what they expect and be sure they know exactly what kind of photos you are able to deliver. 

Ask questions like:

  • Is there an itinerary? If yes, ask for a copy.
  • What kind of images do you want for the event. Ask for sample images they like, if possible.
  • What are the most important moments from the event that must be captured?
  • What style of photography do you like? Ask them to show examples.
  • Is there a style of photography that you do not like?
  • What key photos do you need? What key attendees must be photographed?

Make a shot list

A shot list is a checklist of all the photographs you intend to capture during the event. This will help you and your client manage expectations. With your client’s help (or the event organizer, if there is one) create a list of all the planned shots and key attendees who must be photographed. This way, your client can be sure no critical shots are missed and you can cover yourself by preparing ahead of time.

event photography candid
Photo by Fábio Alves

Include candids

Event photography should include a shot list of planned and posed photos (see our simple posing tips below) but you should always be sure to snap some candids, too. The candid photos express some of the most personality and are often the client’s most cherished photos.

event details
Photo by RODNAE Productions

Don’t forget the details

Photograph the venue, the table settings, the food, and any other important details that help tell the story. They are all smaller pieces of the big picture. Many clients won’t think about this when planning what photos they want, but they’ll appreciate having photographs of the details they spent so much time, effort, and money on. 

Always get a contract signed

All photographers should have a contract signed by the client prior to ever clicking a shutter button. But, this is especially true before shooting any event where, if a problem arises, a reshoot is impossible. Hire a lawyer to help you create a solid business contract.

event posed photo
Photo by Jonathan Borba

Simple posing tips

Being able to pose people properly is an essential skill for event photographers. Here are a few simple posing tips to get you started, but it’s a good idea to study posing in greater detail:

  • Turn people to the side to make them appear slimmer
  • Pay careful attention to arms and hands. They can often look awkward or stiff. If they do, ask them to cross their arms, put their hands in their pockets, or place their hand on something.
  • Watch out for double chins. Have people keep their chins up and pushed out.
  • Ask people to look at each other, embrace, or even kiss if they’re a couple.
  • If everyone seems too tense, have them do a silly pose or jump in unison to loosen up and lighten the mood.
event photography
Photo by Marcin Dampc

Editing event photos

Many people don’t realize that a bulk of the photographer’s work happens when the photographer puts their camera down. This is especially true of event photographers just because of the sheer volume of images you shoot. That’s why it’s vitally important to streamline your editing process. Otherwise, you’ll spend an unnecessary amount of time editing photos.

First, go through all your images and remove the ones you won’t keep. Then, you can use software like Lightroom or Photoshop to batch edit your photos. Batch editing means you can apply the same edits to all of your images at the same time. For example, if you realize you want to lighten the exposure by one stop on all of your photos, there is no reason to open each one individually to do that. With batch editing, can simply apply that edit to the entire folder of images at one time. Imagine how much time that saves!


Final thoughts

Using the tips, tricks, and advice you’ve picked up in this guide, now you’re ready to try your hand at event photography. Start with a small event first, like a party for a friend or a small corporate holiday event to build your portfolio. When you gain experience, you also gain the confidence to land bigger — and better paying — jobs. 

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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