From parties and concerts to conferences and rodeos, event photography can be a fun and financially lucrative market!
If you enjoy new experiences and find you do your best work when left on your own, event photography may be an ideal niche for you. But just what is event photography? How does it work? What events can you photography? Keep reading below for more information and decide if being in the middle of the action is a genre for you!
What is event photography?
Event photography is capturing an event for a client, or sometimes shooting on speculation of getting paid for your images by participants later.
Events you may shoot include, but are in no way limited to:
- Concerts and music festivals
- Fairs and festivals
- Local celebrations
- Fundraising galas or dinners
- Religious ceremonies
- Sporting events
- Political events
- Conferences and meetings
- Award ceremonies
- Grand openings
- School functions
Event photography is often more candid, documentary style. Often, your job is simply to document the event as it unfolds, not to the direction the action of the event. Occasionally you might be asked to take “grip-and-grin” awards photos or run a photo booth for participants. These requests require some posing. But most of the time you’re free to simply work the crowd and do your thing.
Event photography is similar to wedding photography, but I find events are considerably less stressful, less work in the editing room and a lot more fun!
What kind of shots do event photographers take?
Event photographers provide a variety of types of images, making use of different focal lengths and angles. Ideally, you provide a combination of wide-angle, environmental shots, candid portraits, details shots and sometimes, staged portraits.
How much do event photographers charge to photograph an event?
Event photography rates vary with geographic location, type of event, length of event, the experience of the photographer, and the amount of editing required after the event. Beginning photographers in small markets might charge $50 an hour, where a well-known photographer shooting a high-profile event might command $500-$1,000 an hour.
You’ll need to consider all those factors when establishing your event photography rates. Also think about the other sessions you are giving up by committing to an event (called opportunity costs,) any expenses you may incur, and whether there is any potential profit from selling images to attendees during or after the event. Will you discount your fees for non-profit or military events? You can structure your rates by the job, the hour or the number of final images you’ll provide, or some combination of these. What and how you charge potential clients is up to you.
Need more guidance on pricing for success? Read our tutorial!
What is the best lens for event photography?
There is no single best lens or focal length for event photography. In choosing a lens or lenses, think about these factors
- Size of location. Is it a small, private celebration in a home? Is it a large, outdoor festival spread out over several acres?
- Lighting. Is it outside in full sun? Indoors in a dimly lit ballroom? Will you be shooting photobooth style requiring studio lights and a backdrop?
- Types of images. What types of images has the client requested? Are you shooting mostly posed portraits, such as a red carpet portraits or awards photos? Candid portraits? Wide-angle environmental shots? Action shots?
- Lenses you own. Be creative and use what you have first.
The type of location and lighting conditions will often dictate your lens choice. For outdoor events such as fairs or festivals, I usually pack two lenses: my 70-200 f/2.8 telephoto zoom and my 50mm f/1.4. The telephoto gives me reach and is great for action photos, while the 50 mm is good for up close-portraits, wide-event shots and is lightweight and less obtrusive. For indoor events such as parties or fundraising dinners, I will often take a 35 mm f/1.4 lens and my 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens. The 35mm lets me capture candids and scenes in small, dark spaces, while the 100 mm is great for details shots like decorations, cakes and party-favors and makes a great portrait lens if you have just a little more room to maneuver.
Try before you buy
If you don’t own those exact lenses, don’t worry. Use what you have if you are confident you can make it work. Or rent a lens to round out your kit for the day. If you’re unsure about lens selection, scout out the location before the event. Take some test shots and see if you’re satisfied with the results. If not, you can change your plan before the event gets started. After working as an event photographer a few times, you’ll begin to understand what lens you need to get the shots you want to take given your shooting style.
How do I photograph a party?
Whether you’re shooting a party for a client or just shooting for yourself, follow the same guidelines and establish your event photography groove.
Begin by outlining what the job is and what it entails. Clarify the client’s expectations in terms of the who, what, when, where and why you’re being hired. Who is the party for? What kind of images are needed? When does it start and how long will you be there? Where will you be shooting? Why does she want images (social media, prints to gift, prints to sell, etc.)? Should you just document the event as it happens or try to gather people to produce specific images? Do you need to focus on a single person such as the birthday boy or the mother-to-be? What final products will be required, i.e. digitals, prints, products, etc.? Make notes as you talk to the client so you can provide more accurate pricing and begin to build your party plan.
Even if you’re just shooting for yourself, you need to have a plan. Make notes of any images you may need for your portfolio, social media or to give as gifts. A shot list is helpful even if there’s not client footing the bill!
Visit the location ahead of time if at all possible. Take your camera and the lenses you think you’ll be shooting. Take some test shots, dial in your white balance and get the lay of the land. Make notes of equipment you might need or additional questions to ask the client. If you’ll be setting up external light, practice with those too, noting settings to dial-in later.
Even if you can’t physically visit the site, do a little creative scouting. Look up the location on the web, via Facebook or Instagram or ask the client if they can provide you with a few sample pictures. It’s not ideal, but it is certainly better than nothing!
Get to your party early and do another quick walk-through of the space. Set up your gear and use the quiet time to shoot detail and behind-the-scenes photos. Document those small details and the work that goes into making the party a success! This is also a great opportunity to chat briefly with the host/client about any last minute changes to the schedule or party plan. Confirm the important details and then get to work!
Work the Room(s)
As the guests arrive, start working the room. Try different vantage points, angles and focal lengths. Capture as many of the guests as you can. Don’t forget about the guest-of-honor if there is one! You don’t need stalk them but you’ll definitely want images with them in it! Photograph the guests interacting with the host, the guest-of-honor, the environment and each other. Keep an eye on the time! Be prepared with the right equipment and spot to capture any big moments like opening presents, announcing awards, etc.
Tips for Getting Started in Event Photography
No one wants to shoot for free, but unless you have an established and well-known photography business, you might need to volunteer for your first few event photography jobs. Start by brainstorming some possible events you could photograph to build your portfolio. Ideas include a school function, community celebration or a private party, shower or ceremony. Contact the organizer or host and ask if you could provide some complimentary photos of the event. Don’t just show up with your camera if it’s a private function. The event might already have a photographer or they might not want photos for some reason. Respect their answer and find a different opportunity, if needed.
Once you’ve received permission, treat it as you would a paying gig. Ask for a schedule, develop a shot list and shoot the event.
Marketing ideas to get your name out there
- Provide watermarked images for the organization or host to use online.
- Gift a few digitals for the organization to use in their marketing material.
- Gift some small prints to the organization, host or VIPs as a thank you for the opportunity.
- Offer to provide images to the newspaper in exchange for a photo credit.
- Inquire about trading photography work for in-kind donor recognition. You might be able to get your business listed in ads, on signs or in the program.
- Ask about trading photography work for other benefits such as a product discount, discounted entry fees or other advertising. I’ve gotten to see some great regional bands and attended events for free in exchange for shooting the event!
- Post some favorites on your business page and tag the business, host and any VIPs if they have a public account. One time I shot a concert, tagged the band on Instagram and the band members love the photos so much they licensed some for commercial use!
- Ask if you can list the host or organization as a reference for future jobs.
Be sure you clear any sharing or posting of the images with the host or organizer and that you have the necessary permission from your subjects for their images to be posted online. Always respect a client’s wishes.
Need some ideas on putting together your freelance portfolio? We have you covered!
Other Event Photography Tips
#1. Take along business cards!
Always keep your business cards handy when you are shooting an event. You might get asked for one by a potential client! Business cards are also a great way to share information about where attendees can find your photos. Provide them with a link to your website if you’re hosting the photos, or the client’s website where you’re listed as the photographer. Either way, you’re getting your name out there.
#2. Rep yourself.
Where appropriate, I advertise my business myself by wearing polos, shirts, jackets or even a ball-cap with my business name on it. It’s free advertising, I don’t struggle with what to wear and it sets me apart from the other party-goers packing a camera.
#3. Keep a shot list close at hand.
It is easy to get caught in the fun and forget some of those “must-have” moments. By referring to your shot list occasionally, you will keep yourself on track.
#4. Shoot groups at angles other than just dead center.
Sometimes by simply stepping to one side or the other creates more depth and interest. And don’t be afraid to take a lower or higher angle to mix things up!
#5. Learn to shoot flash with confidence.
If you’ll be shooting indoor events, you will need to learn to shoot with a flash. Take the time to learn how to use your flash correctly and effectively.
#6. Watch for the action!
Try to capture people interaction – embracing, clinking glasses, dancing, laughing, playing games, etc. The more emotion and connection you can capture, the better.
#7. Take some video.
If you’ve got the skills and equipment, grab video along with your stills and surprise your client with a short video recap. You’ll be amazed at the reaction even a 30-second video can get you.
#8. Send a thank you or congratulatory note.
People put a lot of effort into these events. A short note saying what an awesome day it was and how much people enjoyed themselves can do wonders for your word-of-mouth marketing. People love being appreciated.
#9. Wrangle a group shot.
If possible, try to get a group shot of all the attendees and/or staff. Obviously this won’t happen if you’re shooting a 3-day music festival, but it is possible with a small event or intimate gathering. Often, that group shot is the one the host or organizer loves the most.
#10. Keep it professional. ALWAYS!
It is okay to enjoy the party and the action, but you should never become the center of the action. You are there as a professional photographer, not to drain the free bar, party with the band or flirt with the servers. Don’t ruin your reputation as an event photography professional before you ever get it established.
If there’s always something going on in your town and you love being in the thick of the action, event photography might be your niche. It is fun, fast-paced and no two nights are alike! It also offers great networking potential. With a little planning and creativity, you and your event photography might be the talk of the town!