Photo Tip Of The Week: How To Shoot Events (Part Two)
You can often add interest to a scene by choosing unusual angles to shoot from. (Thinkstock.)
In the concluding part
of this feature on how to photograph major events, Robert Keeley runs
through some specific situations, and explains how to handle them.
A methodical approach will get you to a major event properly prepared. Remember, it’s not rocket science! Plan carefully, work out which specific lenses and camera bodies you’ll need, check your equipment is working properly, make sure all your batteries are charged and that you take the necessary spare camera body and batteries. Write a photo list to prompt your memory of the essential shots, and make sure you either visit the venue a day or two before, or arrive sufficiently early to check it out (and importantly) to see how it will be lit, whether inside or out in open air.
If you have covered all those bases you’ll be as prepared as you can be. But the essence of major event photography is then being able to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. What if the major speaker is late, or even fails to attend? What if there are last-minute restrictions to access? What if the rains come at an outdoor venue?
Here I’ll outline how to handle a few of different scenarios.
01 INDOOR CONFERENCES
I was asked to cover a day long major national sports and community conference at which many national administrators, and state and national politicians were attending. Schedules were ‘fluid’ to say the least, so I took some establishing shots first, showing the main conference hall and some of the first speakers. In a big hall I aimed to shoot two types of image, using a wide-angle lens close to the foot of the stage, then moving to the rear and fitting a 70-200mm zoom to focus on the speakers. To accommodate Power Point presentations the hall was quite gloomy, with limited (and hard) artificial lighting. I shot some images with flash, but I also tried some high ISO settings to try to use the ambience of the available light. When the major dignitaries were available at short notice I made sure I had arranged with the conference PR officer to tell me when I could photograph them. You need to have a flexible mindset to cope with changing circumstances at any major event.
At a major sports and community conference I wanted an overall shot of the presentation hall. It was gloomy, with lots of different artificial light. I used flash for some shots, but decided to use ambient light for others by cranking up a high ISO setting. Canon EOS 1D Mk IV, 16-35mm lens, 1/60s @ f/5.6, -2/3EV, ISO 5000, no flash.
Weddings really need an entire story devoted to them. Remember,
at a wedding you are telling the story of a special day. Think about
the shots that will tell that story successfully. Suffice to say you
should never take on the sole responsibility to shoot a wedding
(however much your friends say they “just need a few shots”)
unless you’re totally confident in your equipment and how to use
it. It’s essential to write a ‘shooting list’ of all the key
combinations of relatives and friends you will need to photograph
with the bride and groom. Double check every item in your kit. Take a
lens which has a 100mm focal length, as this creates a flattering
image of faces, without distortion. You should check out the venue
(church or otherwise) a few days before, check with the priest or
celebrant about where you can shoot from, locate a relatively easy
venue nearby where you can shoot a more relaxed series of pictures
with the wedding party (and if it’s a park, see whether permits are
required), and take a detailed look at the reception venue. Dark,
gloomy rooms at night will definitely require a dedicated flash unit,
but aim not to overdo it! Don’t bother with a tripod as you’ll
most likely need flexibility, and time will be short. Instead rely on
higher ISO settings, and make sure you have a very steady shooting
technique – brace your elbows to your side, breath out, squeeze the
shutter button slowly.
Weddings are in a category of their own, with lots of pressure! At a wedding it's your job to tell the story of a special day. Write a ‘shooting list’ of the shots you want and plan how you are going to get them. You also need to consider the key combinations of relatives and friends you will need to photograph with the bride and groom. Double check every item in your kit. (Thinkstock.)
03 SPORTING EVENTS
At sports carnivals you might be required to shoot the
action, as well as presentations afterwards, which could involve the
handing over of trophies, as well as speeches by the key
participants or guests. Once again, if possible check out the venue
– most likely outdoors - beforehand. You’ll need a wide variety
of lenses, including a fast telephoto lens (the standard for many
sports photographers is a 70-200mm f/2.8 or f/4 lens). A 1.4x
tele-converter can help to close in on action, and use fast shutter
speeds (1/500s and above) to freeze the action. As well you will
need a more standard lens (28-70mm or something similar) to
photograph trophy presentations, the speeches, and small group
shots. If you have to photograph teams before or after a game, try
to arrange them in lines and make sure they don’t spread too far
apart (sideways or forwards and back). Two lines are good, and get
the front row to kneel or sit down. Take charge of the situation. If
your job is to take photos, the participants will expect you to
direct them as to how they should arranged. Be very aware that with
big groups, it’s highly likely that someone will blink or look
away at any given moment. To cover this, take three or four shots at
least. After that, some subjects will inevitably tend to lose
interest! You have a very narrow window in which to achieve your
objective, so be firm and direct, but friendly and respectful at the
To show off the start of a new sporting competition, I needed to shoot the team before play. With a smaller group it was easy to get them into two rows (good for a shallower depth of field). An overcast day was good for minimising shadows. On a sunny day I would have needed a dedicated flash. Canon EOS 1D Mk IV, 16-35mm lens @ 25mm, 1/400s @ f/5.6, -2/3EV, ISO 400, no flash.
After a soccer tournament a presentation evening was held in a local hall. After more formal pictures were taken I approached a group from the winning team and asked for an informal team picture. I used a high ISO setting to avoid using flash. Canon EOS 1D Mk IV, 16-35mm lens @ 18mm, 1/250s @ f/4.5, ISO 2500, no flash.
04 OUTDOOR FESTIVALS AND SHOWS
Local festivals and shows can offer
photographers some of greatest flexibility you’ll ever have in
shooting major events. You should be able to get plenty of
‘atmosphere’ images, showing proceedings – whether it’s a
local fair or an art show. Group shots of participants can be
grabbed around exhibits, or chatting, as most people will be
preoccupied and will often happily pose for photos. Dignitaries will
expect to be pigeon-holed for a quick snap. The key is to know your
gear so well that you will cause the minimum of interruption for
them. Two or three shots will normally see the subjects reach the
limit of their interest (and patience)!
Finally, here’s a couple of general tips. Where possible, keep your subjects away from walls, as a flash will create harsh shadows. If you have no option in this either try to turn the subjects and shoot along the direction of the wall, or use a flash diffuser to reduce the shadows. A slower shutter speed can help to mix in ambient light, but you will need to hold your camera very steady!
At a citizenship
ceremony I was asked to photograph each participant receiving their
certificate from a mayor. I could only shoot two or three frames for
each person, so I had to get it right. I aimed to place some
important icons behind the participants. I reduced the flash
output to avoid blowing out highlights. Canon EOS 7D, 17-35mm lens @
18mm, 1/25s @ f/2.8, ISO 100, flash -1/3 EV.
Before pressing the shutter, quickly check the edges of your frame. Sometimes distractions can cross the edge of the composition, and they can be easily removed by simply re-positioning yourself. Watch out for ‘poles coming out of heads’ and other distractions in the background, but if the subjects can’t be re-positioned (or even moved a further distance away from the background), try shooting with a shallower depth of field to blur out distractions. Use the flat palm of your hand to direct people, up or down, left or right.
In dark halls or conference centres, try shooting with a higher ISO. Whilst noise can be a problem with older cameras, many newer cameras handle high settings much better, especially if flash is used.
Above all, remain flexible to changing situations, and friendly but direct with anyone you need to photograph. Assess what light is available (be it flash or ambient) and work with what you have to your best advantage. Don't be afraid to direct, or even move your subjects. Most people at big events expect to be photographed, and they’ll co-operate and respond to directions as long as you appear to know what you’re doing, and are respectful about doing it. Remain calm and confident, and event photography can be a great experience.
See the feature in Australian Photography + Digital September issue for some 'real world' examples on this topic.