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Event photography can be challenging, lucrative and fun, although not always at the same time. Events can be modest and easily managed or huge, complex and bewildering. The key to success is planning and anticipation. I've spent years covering events ranging from high school proms to marching band competitions to a congressional visit to the South Pole, and the X-Games and just about everything in between.
While some events are over with quickly and confined to a small space, more often they're spread over a large area and may run a whole day or much more. As such, these events can turn into marathon endurance trials. You're carrying lots of equipment, often in the hot sun, racing from location to location and often fighting crowds in the process.
If you're planning an event shoot, here are some things to consider:
- Pre-event planning and organization
- Schedule analysis and shoot planning
- Equipment considerations
- Special considerations
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Pre-event planning and organization
Once you've determined you're going to photograph an event, it's time to do some research. First off, see if there is an event web site. This can be a valuable resource with schedule information, site maps and contact information. Depending on the event there may even be information on press or photographer access.
If you have a good reason for photographing an event, you may be able to get a photographer pass. This can be valuable because it can get you access to positions that offer better opportunities for photography. This kind of access can be particularly important for sporting events and other events where there are off-limits areas. Often, photographers get greater access during rehearsal or practice times, so if you can't get a press pass, see if you can get permission to photograph one of those sessions.
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Schedule analysis and shoot planning
Often events can be so large and spread out, that you'll have to carefully prioritize your photographic efforts. Track and field meets for example, are impossible for one photographer to cover thoroughly. There are just too many sports going on at too many different locations. Companies that do event or yearbook photography will often schedule as many as four or five photographers to work a single track meet. If you're shooting on your own, you're going to have to decide which things you really need and which you can live without.
Get a copy of the event schedule as early as possible, but remember that the schedule will probably change as you get closer to the event. You should also try to get a map of the site so you can plan your coverage. Then prioritize your coverage according to your needs.
Plan on getting a wide variety of shots including close-ups, wide views and everything in between.
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The wide variety of situations typical at events makes an equally versatile camera kit vital. Generally you need to cover from wide angle (for crowd shots) to telephoto (close ups, shooting from behind barricades) and everything in between. If you're shooting an outdoor event during the day, you can get away with slower lenses; if you're shooting indoors, faster glass (f2.8 or better) is helpful. You should also plan on a back up camera if you have one (even a small point and shoot can bail you out if your main camera fails).
At least one portable flash unit is a good idea. If you have a wireless flash set up, then perhaps a second strobe is merited. Figure on carrying extra batteries for both your camera(s) and flash units plus sufficient memory to get you through the shoot.
If you have a choice of camera bags, opt for one that provides easy access to your gear while distributing equipment weight comfortably.
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Check to see if there are any restrictions on the use of flash or even whether there are any restrictions on photography. Also, are there layout considerations you can use to your advantage such as balconies or roofs you can get access to for birds eye perspectives. Also consider close ups of signs, brochures and representative items (such as food or toys or sporting goods).
Don't forget to get some crowd shots too! Often the excitement and drama of an invent can provoke compelling reactions from spectators at an event. These can produce some of the most interesting images from the whole shoot.
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Lighting often needs to be kept simple for event photography since you may be covering a large area. Flash is better used in a fill mode rather than as a main light (if you have that option). If you have to use flash as your main light source, bouncing it will produce a kinder light with less likelihood of redeye problems.
Since many of the latest generation of digital cameras perform well at higher ISO's, cranking up to 800 or perhaps even 1600 ISO and working with a large aperture lens can make available light sufficient for your main lighting and flash viable for supplemental use. The power of your flash is greatly expanded with this combination too.