Event photography is a bit difficult to explain to some. Each event is different and no two are the same. Formal events are one thing, car shows are another, and sports competitions are yet another. Obviously, there’s a wide range of planning that goes on before photographing an event and that helps to pin down exactly what coverage is needed and what equipment best supports that coverage.
This past weekend, I was invited to be one of 5 official photographers for the Lone Survivor Foundation Gala in Houston, Texas. The Gala is a fundraising event held each year to help raise funds that assists in restoring, empowering and renewing hope for wounded service members and their families through health, wellness and therapeutic support. Being a veteran myself, I was glad to support this event and their mission.
We were lucky enough to have J.R. Martinez as the guest speaker along with the founder of the foundation, Marcus Luttrell. If you’ve seen the movie, Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg, then I don’t need to explain who (retired Navy Seal) Marcus Luttrell is. If you haven’t seen it, you need to (more info on Luttrell is located in the link above).
This was the largest indoor event I’ve ever covered and I learned a lot in the process, as I do with most of the events I’m involved with. I was fortunate enough to work with some really outstanding people shot everything from donated gifts and lifestyle shots to environmental shots. For those considering covering dimly-lit indoor events, I can honestly say that your ISO rules your world. Modern camera bodies like the mirrorless Sony A7 II and Nikon 800 series demonstrate clear advantages over older camera bodies that don’t necessarily function well in dim lighting. If you’re planning on making indoor event shooting a mainstay in your business, definitely put some thought into investing in a high performing, high ISO camera body. It’ll literally save you in so many ways.
Camera bodies are great, but they’re nothing without the right lens. My choices were pretty standard for event coverage missions like this: Tamron 15-30, Canon 24-70, and a Canon 70-200. This was the first time out for the 15-30 and it performed flawlessly. It maintains very little distortion for such a wide angle lens and it’s perfect for wide angle shots where you need to take-in the environment (ballroom shots, wide open foyer shots, etc). The 24-70 was great up close, so I primarily used it for capturing product shots and ad hoc shots of attendees as they received awards or donated gifts. The 70-200 was useful for stage shots from across the room and it works really well, so long as natural light exists where the subject stands. Without the natural light, even an off camera flash isn’t going to work very well to capture shots unless the flash it purposely setup near to, and at the right angle to your subject. I found it useful for stage shots and foyer shots of guests as long as there was enough natural light. I put it away when the light was no longer suitable.
Image Sizing & Processing
Knowing the size of the ultimate destination of your image is important during the planning process. Shooting RAW means large files, but you can easily modify attributes like white balance later on in post if you need to. Will you have the chance to run your images through post before delivery or will you have to leave your memory cards at the event? Will event staff process your photos or will they just post in .jpg format? That’s a tough one. If that’s the case (I’d recommend against it), your images better be right in-camera. What size will your images need to be? Are they going to only be used on a website or will your images be used for printed media? You need to know so that you can adjust your file size, if need be. For this event, I shot L-RAW all night long and still only burned one memory card (I had plenty).
Onsite Product Shooting
Product shots are an entirely different beast. Everyone has their own strategies and methods, but a lot of that depends on what’s being offered at the event and where you have to shoot. Shooting in a studio environment is relatively easy. Shooting onsite? Not so easy. Give yourself plenty of time to take several runs on different setting to see which will yield the best results. This was actually the most time-consuming portion of the day, shot for shot. It’s also physically demanding. I was completely sore the next day from the positions I had to get into to get the right shots. Bring plenty of lighting for onsite work. I’d recommend a light weight variable temp LED setup for versatility.
I won’t go into how our gear was secured in this post, mainly because I don’t want everyone in the country to know how or where I secure it. I will say this though…make sure you know exactly where you’re going to story your equipment and who has access to that location when you’re not there. A gear bag for an event like this is easily worth more than $20,000 and there’s no reason to take risks with your livelihood. Gear storage is so important that I would make that one of the very first conversations to take up with your event coordinator. You can’t carry it all, all the time, so it needs to be a convenient, secure location.
If you have an event coming up and need a second shooter or primary event coverage, I’d be glad to help where I can. Contact me and let’s talk. Much of what I shot cannot be shown, but here are some sample images, straight out of the camera.