If you are considering becoming an Event Photographer this guide may be useful. I spent a long time researching all the kit needed to be a successful Event photographer, testing and costing carefully. It’s all current gear available now so it’s up to date unlike some of the guides I read.
I’ve been on training courses and I’ve done quite a few different Events now, so this is to help others avoid some of the common mistakes. This guide to Event photography is based on my personal experience and you are welcome to reproduce it as long as you credit this article with the website address
I do recommend anyone interested in Event photography going on the excellent training course supplied by Systems Insight, speak to Mike Orr, Stuart or Darren at systems insight. I’ve also found the Event Photographers Society really useful.
It is divided into sections as follows:
1, Camera Equipment needed for Event Photographers;
2. Lighting equipment for Event Photography;
3. Printers for Instant Event Photos;
4. Mitsubishi Click system for Event Photography;
5. Green Screen Event Photography;
6. Starting an Event Photography Business.
1. Camera Equipment for Event Photographers.
You don’t NEED the latest high-end professional DSLR with pro glass lenses to shoot an event! It’s nice to have good kit but that should be a given for any Pro Photographer. In reality the customer at a football tournament, school prom or black tie event doesn’t care what kit you have as long as the results are good, and you don’t want to be carrying a heavy camera with fragile glass in an environment that is often boisterous and busy!
You don’t need to shoot huge resolution RAW files and won’t have time to post process or mess about with hundreds of settings.You are aiming to get a sharp, vibrant and well lit photograph of enough resolution to print at your final output size. Concentrate on making the people look great!
I do recommend a wireless work flow which I cover later, and again you need the files to be small enough to send quickly. I use a Nikon D700 but that’s only because I have one for Property photography as I need the full frame and low light capabilities.
I shoot jpg at just medium resolution for most events, and use a Sigma 24-70mm HSM lens so I can quickly zoom between individuals and groups. A Nikon D40 with a kit lens will do just as well. and I always carry one as a backup. It also takes my Nikon flashguns and is much lighter than a D700.
It is important to have a backup camera, I’ve even made do with a Nikon Coolpix P6000 when my D700 was being used pitch side at a Cricket Event. With proper lighting (see lighting section) I got almost identical results shooting people in front of a green screen. You must have at least one fully charged spare battery for each camera at an event, a couple of spare and preformatted memory cards, and spare batteries for your flashguns. I use the new Duracell rechargeables for the flashguns as they stay
So don’t go mad on the camera kit, it will get bashed around at an event! As for settings, indoors I shoot at around f7.1 to f8 for groups so I get good depth of field, I use shutter speeds of around 125 to get sharp shots as I don’t like a tripod, too restrictive, and I use ISO 400 to get enough sensitivity. White balance is easy on a Nikon, see lighting but the flash setting will do. For individuals and couples I open up to around f5 and shoot full length, head and shoulders and a close-up. Outdoors events are more dependent on the available light and the lens.
One tip, using a wireless transmitter to send the images straight to your PC, Mac or Click system avoids the pitfall of people (the ladies mainly) wanting to see each shot on the back of the camera as you take it! That gets them through quicker and lets your team at the workstation show the images properly at full size. I do actually keep the images stored in the camera as a backup though in case the wireless system stops working.
Another tip, if you are shooting groups at a School Prom or Corporate event, take a stepladder! If you get above them and shoot down it changes the angles and stops the people at the front looking much larger than those at the back! This lets you squeeze bigger groups in as well, especially useful if you are shooting in front of a green screen at an event.
Also, if you ever get a large group of girls at a School Prom or Sweet Sixteen event, take LOTS of shots! It is very hard to get a single photo where every girl is happy with how she looks, guys really are not as fussy. The girls will buy the photo that they look best in.
We tend to charge the standard rate £10 per shoot including a 6×9 mounted photograph, but do offer incentives for groups such as discounting copies of the same photograph, or offering 3 for the price of 2 if they are different shots that need processing.
2. Lighting Equipment for Event Photography
I don’t use studio lighting for indoor events! Initially I used the standard large softbox above the camera and shot in front of a grey, back or white backdrop. But that’s boring and old hat nowadays, the lighting is very flat and there is always the risk of people tripping over cables and the hassle of finding a nearby power socket.
At School proms, Bar-Mitzvahs and especially Sweet Sixteen parties it gets very busy and although we carry full insurance I don’t want a heavy studio light falling on a guest. It’s the same at Corporate events and Black Tie dinners, there’s usually a huge rush after dinner for photos and even a taped down light can get pulled over by an inebriated partygoer!
So now I use a Nikon SB-900 on the camera with the wide-angle flap down and the soft diffuser fitted. This controls two other Nikon SB-600’s also with the wide-angle flaps down using Nikon’s excellent CLS lighting system. The two SB-600’s are mounted on sturdy but portable stands and shoot through white umbrellas for lovely soft lighting.
At an Event you don’t want to be messing around changing lighting when you have queues, but this setup is flexible and light enough to be safe to move quickly if you need to. The Nikon system lets me control the brightness of each flash directly from the camera without having to touch the lights.
As we use Green Screen backdrops at most events to add effects and digital backgrounds, I have to ensure the backdrop is evenly lit to avoid problems when chromakeying out the green. By mounting the umbrellas high up at either side and shooting through them, the green (or blue) backdrop gets evenly lit where it matters. The guests get a nice flattering lighting setup which I can easily adjust for large groups or closeups. I
I shoot on full manual with the on camera flash at about 1/32 power to give a little fill light, but mainly to trigger the two mounted lights. These are usually on about 1/8th power which is plenty! Recyling is very fast and I’ve never had to change batteries yet at an event, although I have charged spares on hand.
If I get a large group like a football or cricket team at a sporting event I can quickly move the two sidelights back and up the power.If it quietens down and we get a guest who wants some special shots, the lights can be moved so one acts as a keylight and one as a fill for classic Rembrandt lighting. We have professional makeover software running on the workstations so can enhance pictures quickly if someone wants portfolio shots.
The SB-900 on the camera can also be removed and used as a slave for hair lighting or other effects, triggered by the on canera flash. So we can do a three light setup easily! White balance is crucial, on Nikon cameras just stand where the subjects will be, set the white balance to “pre” then hold down the wb button for three seconds. When the display flashes, point the camera back between the lights and shoot. If it says “good” in the display, you are set to go. If not, try shooting again straight at one of the sb600, it will work!
The real beauty of this system is that it all fits in one calumet rolling case and is easily portable! It is very flexible for other types of photography. These flashguns are just as powerful as studio lights, and we even carry Fong diffusers and softboxes just in case we get a chance to do some glamour photography. (and yes, you can book us for private shoots!)
3. Printers for Instant Event Photos.
I used to to run a large independent company selling calibrated colour printers, scanners and displays into the corporate design market and previously worked with Canon, Xerox, Mitsubishi and Tektronix as a colour consultant. So choosing the best Event printers was an interesting exercise!
Inkjets and colour lasers were instantly dismissed as I needed portability, reliability and photographic quality. Plus I needed to know exactly what each print would cost. An inkjet will produce the quality with a bit of tweaking but will never match the quality, speed or durability of a dedicated dye-sublimation printer.
I don’t believe in compatible inks as I’ve seen first hand the amount of R&D that goes into a manufacturers own ink. So ink-jet prints are going to be too expensive for event printing. Lasers are fast but lacking in colour quality, and extremely tricky to transport. After testing all the current offerings I decided on the Mitsubishi 9550 DW linked to the Mitsubishi Click system as our basic workhorse for producing large 9 x 6 inch photographs.
As I use a full frame camera this is exactly the size the camera shoots at, so no cropping needed! The photographs are fast and very accurate thanks to the dedicated colour profiling we use supplied by Systems Insight and fine-tuned by me!
The dye-sub process basically involves heating the ink on a ribbon until it turns into a gas and sublimates into the special paper. This is a true continuous tone process so the colour gamut is much wider than other processes, giving smooth and accurate skin tones with no dot patterns.
You can actually roll a photograph up and stand it in a pint of coke, leave it for hours and then wipe dry without any signs of running or fading, as demonstrated on the training course by Stuart! These photographs really won’t fade and are fingerprint proof thanks to the special coating. They will last longer than any other photograph!
The fixed cost per photograph allows us to offer discounted pricing for pre-paid events like weddings or school proms as we know exactly what our costs will be per photo regardless of how much of each colour is used.
But we also offer a unique digital make-over service for events using a very special PC with professional retouching software so needed a printer we could connect directly. And we wanted to be able to offer instant 12″ x 10″ photos and other large sizes for Sporting Events like football and cricket events where team shots are popular.
So we decided on the larger format Mitsubishi as well as we have now found out it also works on the Click! Consumables for the Mitsubishi Event printers are readily available and therefore discounted prices help bring the costs down. Some of the more obscure brands like Shinko and Olmec are often tricky to source.
We are happy with the speed, quality and reliability of our printers, but more importantly, our customers love the results.
4. Mitsubishi Click System for Event Photographers.
My background is in colour technology as mentioned, but prior to that I was a DEC system manager, I have a HND in Computer Science and am a qualified programmer. Yes, I’m old enough to have done all that and spent 7 years in the Army controlling Artlillery fire by computers and by slide rules and log books when those systems were taken out.
So I’m probably more of a technical geek than most photographers. So why did I choose a dedicated turnkey solution for producing event photographs rather than use my expertise in PC and Mac solutions?
Laziness really, why re-invent the wheel! I quickly realised that to make any money at all in Event Photography you have to produce very good photographs to a very high standard very quickly! Work flow is very important. Initially I was either going to use a big 27″ Mac with a studio display for quality to handle all the incoming pictures, or go down the Windows 7 route with a couple of fast Sony Vaio AW notebooks with their gorgeous Adobe RGB 18″ monitors, with either system linked to a dye-sub or two.
But once I started looking at the workflow and software required I realised the Mitsubishi Click would cover all the bases. Yes, I could run either system quickly and use dedicated green screen software and professional retouching software to produce stunning results. But then who would take the photos? I needed a system that was streamlined and simple to use so I could train others to use it.
My first event was a corporate Xmas dinner and the only person available to do the green screen effects, printing, mounting and sales was my wife! The Click system is very straightforward, you set up a new event and pictures are sent wirelessly from the photographer. Selecting them by just touching the screen allows for full screen previews, once the customers have decided which photographs they want it is quite easy to drop in a green screen background and print, all by touch!
Camera cards and CD’s can be easily read or burnt, multiple printers are supported and the whole system runs smoothly and look very professional. We’ve even had customers connect their own cameras or mobile phones by bluetooth and print their own photos! My wife managed well on our first event, and we had over thirty satisfied customers that evening, in a very short period of about 2 hours from when the meal ended to going home.
Many purchased multiple photos, with different backdrops and effects, but she handled it all while I took the shots. Now we have more trained assistants as it did wear her out a bit:) But I still wanted the flexibility and power to use more specialised green screen software to drop in overlays and fine tune some of the more tricky effects.
So with a bit of help from the techies at System Insight I worked out how to access the system directly, and underneath the smooth software front end is a powerful windows PC. So now if we get a really special request (like “put me in the Oval Office with President Obama”) I can jump in and alt tab to Photokey or Portrait pro running in the background! And yes, you can print directy to the dedicated 9550DW by dropping jobs straight into the queue, email for details:)
You can also boost the processor speed, add more RAM, put in a HDMI graphics card to support external displays, even change out the motherboard if you are brave enough and don’t mind voiding your warranty!
I’d recommend this system to anyone starting out, and would also recommend you buy it from Stuart or Darren at Systems Insight as they know the system well!
5. Green Screen Event Photography
To be successful in Event Photography as in any business you need a key differentiator, something to make you unique. We all provide basically the same service, photographing people having a good time and offering prints or downloads. Some specialise in niche markets like weddings or school photographs, or certain types of events like Equestrian or Motorcycling. I chose Green Screen Event Photography for a variety of reasons.
I like the portability of our lighting system and didn’t want to spoil that by having to carry around various huge coloured backdrops for different occasions. I find it boring having dozens of people shot the same way, and I’m sure most people who go to events are getting fed up of the same bluey grey backdrop, or the “ultra modern” white or black high or low key shoot.
I want to have fun at an event and want the guests to experience something new. So we shoot everyone in front of a blue or more usually a green screen and then our special software can replace that colour with any of our 2500 digital backgrounds! This gives us the flexibility to add classy studio backdrops to Black Tie and Corporate Events, and lets us choose appropriate colours to enhance what the guests are wearing.
For School proms and Sweet Sixteens we can get the guests flying through space, on stage with their favourite rock bands or in the latest movies. Bar and Bat-Mitzvahs are great fun as we can transport the guests anywhere in the world, and for all events we offer free personalised overlays and designs so the event is memorable and unique.
The secret to Chromakey Event Photography is keeping the workflow fast! If you offer a guest 2500 choices, expect a huge queue or a lot of disapointed people. We tend to design 10 choices for each event and will print an example of each so they can decide before we shoot. That way if they are going to be posing alongside a Twilight Vampire or on the dance floor with John Travolta, they can strike an appropriate pose! It does slow things down having to add backdrops but we prefer the interaction and the guests enjoy the experience.
It’s not all about getting them shot and printed to us, some event companies work like a slaughterhouse concentrating on quantity rather than quality, that’s what the auto cameras at theme parks are for, we would rather spend a little time earning our money!
We prefer green screens to blue screens as less people wear the actual shade of green we use. Blue clothing, eyes and jewellery are more common and can cause probems unless you know how to mask out those areas. We use very special green screen material now, direct from the film studios. This is a special white backed material that absorbs light and glows evenly. Ordinary green muslin will reflect light and cause problems especially with very blonde hair. Contact me for details, it’s twice the price but worth it!
Don’t worry about evenly lighting the backdrop as many claim, that will just cause more spill and you need more lights power and cabling! You can’t get your guests the recommended 10-12 feet away at an event, which you need to if you light the backdrop! Imagine if you were shooting a group and they all had to be 12 feet in front of the cloth!, how big would it need to be! Using pro software lets you quickly adjust for spill and reflected green light.
The trick is to light the people not the backdrop, that should only appear in the gaps anyway and if you have a light enough green it will work. Less is more, light from the sides and above so any shadows are still green and they will disappear.We use overlays and backgrounds to get realistic Magazine covers and special effects.
People don’t notice that usually the models on magazines go in front of the title heading but behind the informative text! And watch out for copyrights, design your own magazine covers that are similar but not identical, you can buy these from the USA as overlays..PNG files are best but won’t work on the Click, you need to do what we do and switch.
The President Obama shot is a good example, He is in the background, the guests are dropped in on top, then the desk is added as an overlay in front.
6. Starting an Event Photography Business.
Don’t believe some of the salesmen out there who claim it’s a licence to print money! That is their job and they do it well, but like any business you need to really work at it. Most pro photographers woudn’t dream of doing a photoshoot AND supplying a framed large photograph for a tenner! And don’t think just because you get a booking at a black tie event for example with 100 people that you are going to sell 100 photos!
30% of those people won’t even want a photo taken! That’s just the way it is. There won’t be many single people wanting a photo on their own, and there’s always a large group who want just one shot of all of them, but will buy additional copies at a discounted rate. That leaves the couples, so that brings you down to around five singles, a large group and twenty couples.
You will earn about £300 at an event of this size. Ok, that’s a small event but just about possible for two people to cover so that’s only one assistant to pay. Then there is the cost of the prints, mounts and bags, travelling costs, insurance costs not to mention an hour to setup and an hour to pack down plus sometimes many hours of waiting for a dinner speech to end.
Don’t forget the website you need, the adverts to get bookings, the expense of all the gear, marketing your website, the admin and post production work to get the images online. The usual business costs of stationery, phone bills, promotional gear and all the insurance.
Also remember there are a lot of excellent photographers out there, and anyone can buy a good camera, lens, and a fast printer and go out and do this. The big companies will already have the big events sewn up, So you need to use your contacts, ask around, advertise and promote. Offer to do some small events free for the practice, but still charge the going rate. Even if you only sell 10 shoots in a night, the experience is invaluable before you tackle a busy event.
Once you get a booking, splash out on some pop up banners showing what you do, flyers and business cards. When you get there and setup, take a few test shots of the bar staff, waitresses and event organisers to test everything. Frame these up and give them out as gifts, asking them to show the guests! Great advertising! Get the DJ to tell guests where you are and what you are doing. Work the tables if it’s quiet. Above all enjoy it and be polite and professional as you are representing us all!
That’s enough secrets revealed for now, if anyone wants to ask any questions feel free. This is just my opinions and experience so far, I’ll add more as I get time. If you find this at all useful, please tell others, I’m not charging to write all this, nor am I selling anything, but links to my site will really be appreciated, or a mention in any blogs etc. Cheers, Paul Harrison
I’ve been a keen photographer for many years, but at the age of 50 decided to go pro. Great excuse to buy the best gear! After a lot of research I brought a new Nikon D700, a Sigma 24-70 HSM lens, a Nikon SB-900 main flashgun with two SB-600 flashguns to use as slaves.
Then I went for the Mitsubishi Click system with 9550 dedicated photo printer churning out nine inch by six inch photographs really fast! I’ve since handled quite a few events, especially over Xmas, and have earned well from them. More importantly to me, the event organisers have loved what we do, and the guests have been amazed by our green screen effects and very happy to buy what we’ve produced.