A female speaker at a conference.

Tips On Shooting An Event (Part 1 of 2)

Women talking at a conference

Click the pic for a bigger view

Today I thought I would try something a little different.  Ok, a lot different.  I have had the good fortune to shoot several events over the last year and thought I would offer some tips on what I’ve learned.

Most of the events I’ve shot follow a typical format:  lobby filled with silent auction items or a meet and greet with cocktails, followed by a dinner with keynote speaker(s).  Your mileage may vary but some of these should apply across the board.


First lets start with the hardware.  This is one of those break the rules about “it is not the gear it is the photographer”.  Unfortunately you have to have some decent gear to pull this off if you want to get paid.   Why?  Low light ballrooms.  These things are darn near black.

Shooting an event you have to think high and fast .  You are going to need a camera capable of shooting high ISO (up to 4000) that can still yield quality images.  Along with that you are also going to need some fast glass.  How fast?  You want glass that can get to 2.8 or wider.  I know it sounds insane, shooting 1.8 at ISO 4000 should blow out any image.  It won’t in those ballrooms.

Along with those wide apertures you have to decide on focal lengths.  So far I’ve used a 17-35mm zoom and an 85mm prime with pretty good results.  If you have the budget I would go with a 2.8 70-200mm zoom in place of the 85.  Versatility wins over prime sharpness.

One other thing about camera bodies, bring a backup.  I typically rent a Canon M2 and bring my 40D along as a backup.  If you are getting paid then you must do this.  If the one and only one body you bring fails you in the middle of the event and you walk away with no shots of the keynote…well let’s not think about that one.  Bring a backup.

What about on camera flash?  I would recommend bringing two speedlights (a prime and a backup).  For the lobby area or during meet & greets you can get away with using a speedlight.  However for the keynote speakers make sure you have it turned off.  Lighting up the speaker like a Xmas tree is a no no.

A female speaker at a conference.

And some final thoughts on gear:  format your flash cards the night before, make sure batteries are charged, and if you are renting gear make sure you are familiar with how to operate it.  During the event is not the time to be opening the user manual on that 580EX II speedlight.  Bring enough gear to get the job done but don’t over do it.  You could be on your feet for awhile during these so save weight where you can.

I’ll pick up with shooting the event and processing in a future post.

Until next time…


Camera: Canon 5D M2 with a Canon 85mm

Processing: Lightroom 3

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  1. Great write up. I did an outdoor event so I didn’t have to worry about light. Made things much easier (although the event was mid-day and everyone was in white uniforms!)!

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