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Photojournalism Photography: Capturing Events (Pre-Shooting)

written by: EReynolds•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 1/29/2009

Sometimes professional photographers won't delve into photojournalism because it seems scary and stressful. In this article I give a few tips on how to manage the weight on your shoulders and realize that the weight is only in your head.

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    Be Confident

    Occasionally I get the opportunity to chat with a portrait photographer or two. We talk about our workflow, how we treat our subjects/objects and really any aspects of photography that time will allow. It is not uncommon that we will find out that we have quite a bit in common. However, as we begin to talk on a deeper level, sometimes I find out that the reason they solely do portrait photography is because they don't know how to deal with events - they are scared of them.

    It isn't necessarily that they want to do portraits only, they just don't know how to treat events and they don't really want to learn how or don't know where to start. I used to be the same way, it can be a very daunting thought for someone that is not used to it. After you have a few under your belt, you realize shooting events is not nearly as scary as you imagined. The doubt you might have is all in your head and will reverse once you gain more experience. The trick to getting over this fear is being confident with your abilities. With just a little preparation along with your natural skill as a photographer, it becomes very easy to shoot events at a professional level!

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    Understand Why You Are There

    Before you go out and start shooting events left and right, you must first have an extensive understanding of why you are shooting the event that you are shooting. When I say this, I don't mean understanding the reason why everyone is there... I mean the reason why YOU are there. You are a professional photographer – Your client most likely hired you because you know how exposure works, how to shoot with effective composition, and have enough knowledge and skill to produce great photos. They know you'll be able to capture the experience of their event or have the capability to even create a distinct image for the event for future reference.

    But don't be fooled, knowing why you are there will inevitably lead back to the initial thought: In order to capture the experience of the event, you must know and understand why the event is being held as well as why people are actually showing up. Having a deeper understanding of why you are where you are can dramatically decrease your nerves and level of stress, while increasing the rate at which you are able to shoot. This added layer of understanding is necessary in order to give you more ideas that may, in return, result in photos that satisfy and/or impress your client to an extent they did not expect.

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    Get Your Settings Down

    It is ideal to walk around the event venue before the event starts and write down appropriate ISO, shutter, and aperture settings for each part of the location. This is done so you can adjust your camera quickly by using a “cheat sheet” of sorts. Keep in mind that this "cheat sheet" may also only turn into a temporary reference guide if you are not shooting in controlled environments (outdoor events). Using the paper and pen method usually only works when shooting events that have a slower-paced environment. When shooting more intense events, it is a good idea to memorize exposure settings and learn how to improvise. If you can do it all mentally, it is not only faster but will slowly develop a sense of light over time - which is obviously a great skill for any photographer to obtain.

    It may take a little time to mentally adjust but the main thing you'll need to get used to is knowing how to configure calculations in your head at a faster-than-average rate. You'll need to understand how to effectively make up for light loss, or how to effectively cut exposure down with ISO speed, shutter speed, aperture, etc. This may sound difficult at first but after doing it for an hour or two it becomes very easy and should be no problem if you know what you're doing. When shooting events professionally, it is usually (keyword being "usually") not a good idea to set anything on your camera to "auto" unless absolutely necessary. Your client is paying you for your photography skills, this entails not only composition but an understanding of how exposure works. After all, anyone can go around with a camera set to auto and take pictures!

Photojournalism 101

Whether you are simply looking for the definition of photojournalism, are considering a career in this field, or want to learn tips and techniques on mastering this type of photography, here are several articles that will help you learn what photojournalism is all about.
  1. The Definition of Photojournalism: Looking at Ethics in Photojournalism
  2. Basic Principles of Photojournalism
  3. Photojournalism Careers: Looking at Photojournalism Degree Requirements
  4. Photojournalism Photography: Capturing Events (Pre-Shooting)
  5. Preparing for Your First Shoot as a Photojournalist