Events & Travel Tips » Event Photography
Documenting the energy and imagery of a music concert, political event or celebration can take special skills and planning by a photographer who has little control over the environment and often limited chances to get the perfect shots. Here are professional photographer Richard McCaffrey’s thoughts and advice for those looking to improve their shooting in a variety of venues.
I use Nikon equipment, specifically the D700 and D200 models, with the SB800 flash. I prefer to use the available lighting under almost all circumstances. I employ a wide to mid-range zoom lens (24-120mm, f3.5/5.6), as well as a telephoto zoom lens (70-300mm, f4.5/6.3). While wider aperture lenses could be used I find they are cumbersome to carry and difficult to hold steady while shooting (and quite expensive).
|Audience, available light balanced with direct flash -Nikon D700+ VR24-120mm on auto focus & manual exposure-SB800 flash.|
Regardless of venue size, be sure to get there early and scope out your surroundings. I personally like to take photos of the building, marquee, posters and the audience, anything that helps to document the occasion. For smaller venues, clubs and auditoriums find an ideal place that is both close to the action and allows for mobility. In these situations I will use the wide-angle zoom. In a large venue, if confined to one location, I will choose a seat or a spot on the left or right side of the stage as to avoid having a microphone block the shot and not hinder the view of the audience. Here I typically use the telephoto zoom lens.
Above all else, take into account your surroundings and maintain an unobtrusive presence at all times. Intruding upon or distracting your subject can make for a very embarrassing moment (I've witnessed this firsthand), particularly at more intimate venues when, for instance, a political speaker or solo acoustic singer could easily be distracted by camera flashes or shutter noise.
|Play, available stage lighting, taken from behind the audience, Nikon D700 & 70-300mm zoom lens ASA3200 f5@.100 sec.|
For music performances I recommend starting out at local clubs or events; large arenas typically will not allow a professional photographer inside without proper press/photo credentials. Always check with the club/venue concerning photo policies. Again, maintain an unobtrusive presence while shooting! Arrive early and be prepared for an all-night ordeal, as is sometimes the case with musical performances as well as political events.
When one camera will suffice, I attach a flash pouch and telephoto zoom lens case to my belt. When two cameras are required for a shoot I carry them around my neck; the wide-angle zoom on a short strap and the telephoto zoom camera on a longer strap (that way, both cameras are in front and easily accessible). I carry accessories (flash cards, extra batteries, etc.) in my pockets and, as personal preference, I do not carry a camera bag but I always keep a spare camera and other necessary backup equipment in the trunk of my car.
|Joan Kennedy and son, Patrick, at an election night celebration, available light, mixed with bounce flash Nikon D700 + 18-35mm zoom lens.|
In a low-light/low ceiling situation, I will use a bounce flash. For low-lighting/high ceilings I use the bounce card on the flash. If all else fails, I'll use direct flash and balance with whatever light is available. If I know flash is not allowed (check with the venue and/or subject beforehand when possible), I try to position myself near something I can use to help steady myself like the edge of the stage, a speaker box, seat armrest or I may bring a monopod.
Indoors I prefer to use ASA 800 to 1600 but will use whatever setting is necessary in low light conditions. Normally I set the camera to manual exposure using the spot meter setting with flash set on automatic or TTL and set the focus to spot single and pre-focus, then compose if possible. If there is fast-moving action I'll use either the auto/continuous or manual focus (depending on the circumstances). The main problem I find with using automatic settings is the camera will not fire until everything is focused and exposed 100% correctly, which often is too late to get the ideal shot.
|Deer Tick's John McCauley, no available light, bounce card flash Nikon D700+24-120 zoom on spot auto focus & manual exposure-SB.|
When shooting a live performance study the movements of the performer as to anticipate where/when momentary pauses may occur (with musical performances, the pauses are usually synchronized on the beat). Continually be aware of any lighting changes and address you exposure accordingly.
Event photography challenges you to optimize your shooting in an unpredictable environment. With a bit of practice you can capture the iconic high quality images that will transport viewers into the middle of the action.