Event Photography Tips to Take You Pro

I’m not a professional photographer by any stretch, but somehow, by both design and accident, I've shot a handful of weddings in the years since I got my first DSLR camera. For the two weddings for which I was paid as the main photographer (yikes!), I covered my butt by making the brides acknowledge a dozen times that I wasn’t a pro and couldn’t promise a pro-quality photo package and I'm just a lowly girl with a camera and please don't hate me if my photos aren't like the ones in the magazines.

And yet, even with that caveat in place, I of course still wanted to do a great job. I wanted to capture images they’d treasure, not just for my own reputation and future jobs but because these were their WEDDINGS. I was SO nervous and SO overwhelmed because, well, because you don’t really get any do-overs when it comes to event photography.

There are a lot of factors at play when it comes to shooting an event, but because this blog series is about getting better photographs, that’s my focus (har) today. Other bloggers in this series will be giving nitty-gritty tips about how to compose shots and how to get the most out of your equipment, but I want to talk about some of the larger concepts that will help you be a better event photographer, whether that means shooting a big fancy wedding for money or your sister-in-law’s backyard baby shower as a favor.

Here’s what I keep in mind when photographing events both big and small:

Shoot A LOT. I’m going to assume that the vast majority of you are working with digital cameras, which means there’s no cost to you shooting, say, twenty close-ups of the bride’s bouquet, if that’s what it takes to get the perfect photo. When you’re shooting people, it’s even more important to take multiple exposures, since your goal is to capture them looking their best, not mid-word or pre-sneeze. See if your camera has an option to rapid-shoot a high number of frames per second; you can pick your best shot later during processing. Taking a series of shots is also great because sometimes you can combine them in a way that tells a fun story. These are of a bride and groom during a bridesmaid's speech at dinner:

Learn from a pro. If you ever have the opportunity to second-shoot an event for someone with more experience, DO IT. Ask questions, learn by example, and make a new friend in the industry. Any time you're in the presence of experts, watch how they work a scene, pay attention to how they direct crowds for formal shots, and note how they find interesting angles and arrangements of people and objects. Never stop learning.

Do your research. Just as writers should read a lot, photographers should look at other photography a lot. Go on event websites (e.g., wedding blogs) to learn practical techniques like composition and lighting and also to see what’s trendy so you have a better idea about what your clients want and don’t want. Let the pros inspire you toward creating particular feelings or stories in your photographs. That said, if a client has hired you based on work you’ve already done, make sure you retain your signature style and flavor, since that’s what you were booked for.

Make an event out of a non-event. “Practice, practice, practice” is something you’ve heard a million times before, but that’s not always easy to do if you’re looking to shoot major gigs like weddings. The next best thing is to practice your techniques on smaller events--your kid’s sleepover, the winter concert at preschool, your dad’s 60th birthday. What sets event photography apart from studio sessions is that your job isn’t just about getting a few great shots but about telling the complete story of the day. If all your best shots so far have been posed, practice, practice, practice your photography storytelling skills whenever you have the chance.

Practice processing. Taking photos is only half the job of being an event photographer. Practice selecting the best shot out of several similar shots, practice processing batches so they have a cohesive look and feel, and practice making mini-albums to hone your eye for what shots go well together on a page. Again, remember that the client has hired you for your eye and your style, so don’t turn someone’s big event into a chance to try something new and wacky.

Dress the part.This last point may seem like a minor detail, but it really can affect your ability to shoot an event to the best of your ability. Above all, wear something you can move in, shoes included. Definitely look polished and professional—don’t show up in, like, sweat pants and tennis shoes for a wedding—but also remember that you’re not a guest, you’re staff, so function should win out over fashion. Dress appropriately to the style of the event, but always always always dress in a way that won’t restrict your shots. For one wedding I had to climb a ladder. For another, I bushwhacked through a redwood grove. For just about every event I shoot, I end up standing on a table or lying on the ground at some point. Wear sturdy shoes too, since even if you won’t be climbing a tree or wading into a stream to get the perfect shot, you’ll still be on your feet for hours at a time and won’t have the luxury to take a break and kick back with a glass of champagne.

And finally:

Expect the unexpected. Some event photographers choose to shoot with a list of Specific Images to Capture, but the best of them will also be on the lookout for smaller moments that help tell the story of the day. Definitely get a photo of the cake before the ring bearer goes at the frosting with an index finger, but catch that mischievous moment too. Always get the bride and groom's first kiss, of course, but then turn the camera on the father of the bride to snap a photo of the tears in his eyes as his little girl heads back down the aisle with her new husband. With a bit of stealth and maybe a zoom lens, you'll get the shots that will make this event--and your work as a photographer--stand out from all the rest.

Happy clicking!

This post is part of BlogHer's Pro Photography Tips editorial series, made possible by Panasonic.

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