By Douglas Gritz
Face It Together, a nonprofit that provides coaching services to people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, opened their first location in Denver last month. I had created portrait photos of their staff the month before. When they set their grand opening date they asked me back to cover it. I was happy to accept.
When covering event photography, it can a bit daunting knowing where to start, particularly an event with a large crowd of people scattered all over the place.
So the first thing I like to get is a shot list from the client. That will help create some structure out of the madness. Still, a shot list is not going to help me creatively, that I’ve got to figure out on my own. Where to start with that?
I have included below some of my favorite photos from the FIT event and provided an explanation with each detailing why I go for that type of shot and the purpose it serves. I’ve been covering various events as a photographer in Denver for several years so I’ve got it down to a bit of science. This will give you an idea of what I look for creatively.
GETTING MY SHOT, NOT THE CLIENT’S
This photo request was on the shot list written as “Writing on chalk board.” So I got out my ultra wide angle lens and get up close and personal with the chalk board to get some dynamic shots with writing in the foreground and some of the event action in the background (out-of-focus).
To me that’s one level above just taking a straight on photo of the board. But I know my client will want that as option. That’s for them. Once I get that, then I think, what’s the shot for me?
Once I forget about the client’s concerns, I’m able to get creative. I saw these women from a distance as they quickly snapped an iPhone photo of the chalk board. Boom! There’s the shot for me. So I went over asked them politely if they wouldn’t mind doing that again. Sure! (I am not bashful about asking people to do things for me for a shot. No one ever says “no”.
So I got my shot. Often, that ends up being the shot the client uses, too. But I would never get it if I was just thinking about them. For me, it helps to be a little selfish while on a photo assignment.
GET OFF ANGLE
This was also on the shot list and the most important photo capture of the day. Every grand opening is going to have a ribbon cutting. Once the giant scissors and ribbon came out on the stage, 25 people lined up right in front of them to snap a photo with their phones. Rather than fight them for space, I embrace them. I’d rather have a shot from off-angle that is more dynamic like this one. The iPhone paparazzi gives my subjects a place to look, which lifts their eyes and gives them a direction to look in out-of-frame. This will engage the viewer’s imagination to fill in where or what they are looking at, creating a more engaging photo.
THE HANDSHAKE PHOTO
This is not ever on anyone’s shot list, but it is a photo that every client covets, which is the shaking hands shot. Of all the photos I might be tasked with capturing at an event, it is easily the most difficult. Why? Because it is so fleeting.
The handshake happens quick. By the time I’ve seen it, it’s over. Nevermind trying to get in a good position for a dynamic angle, or getting crisp focus, or good lighting. So if I can get 2-3 good handshaking shots in a given event, I feel pretty good. This photo is one of my favorites. Great framing (didn’t even need to crop in post), in focus, and an absolutely fantastic smile on that gentleman’s face.
EMOTION IS CRUCIAL
Emotion in an event photo is pure gold. Every client loves it and it’s the primary reason why I get hired. My portfolio is packed with photos showing emotion. Even better if I can get an emotional photo of the Denver mayor!
More emotion. All clients want shots of the speakers. That’s obvious. But I like to turn around and see what’s going on in the audience, too. How are people engaging with this speaker? The expression on this woman’s face says it all speaks to the kind of services this organization offers.
CREATIVE SPEAKER SHOTS
I’ve got a litany of close-up photos of the five speakers. That is low-hanging fruit. Once I knock those out I look for something different. The nice thing about speakers is they usually talk for a while and they don’t move. So it gives me a lot of time to experiment and search out other interesting angles.
Here, I noticed the light circle lamps hanging from the ceiling and thought that might be an interesting graphical element to include a composition of a photo of the CEO speaking. The two blonde-haired onlookers on the bottom left balance out the weight of the lamps in the top middle and top right of the photo.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT EMOTION
This is another great photo showing emotion. It also has fantastic light coming from a window out-of-frame on the left. And it has excellent depth. These three elements did not happen by accident.
One of the first things I do when arriving on a site at an event is take note of the light situation. This facility had a few big windows in a couple of locations. Windows offer fantastic natural flattering nlight. So I camped out there for a while looking for photo opportunities.
As for the depth, this room was long and narrow. There was a lot of action happening on the perimeter but I wanted to avoid photos with blank and featureless walls behind people. So when I saw this duo chatting in the middle AND near a window, I jumped over and went to work. Depth adds a lot of interest to a photo.
ULTRA-WIDE LENS SAVES THE DAY
Here is Exhibit A for why I always carry an ultra wide angle lens with me. On the client shot list was a request for a photo showing one of their staff in a coaching room coaching remotely. So the photo needed to show a monitor, the room , and the coach. Wide angle lens affixed. Check, check, and check. Oh, and a fourth check — emotion (I can not stress how important it is to have emotion is my event photography).
CAN WE GET A GROUP PHOTO?
And now Exhibit A for what I dread the MOST—group shots! And I get a request for them without fail on every photo assignment, and never with advance warning. On the surface, they seem so easy. Just line a bunch up and shoot. Not quite.
First, I need to be able to see everyone’s face. Second, there are very spaces indoors that can accommodate a large group shot. Either the lighting is deplorable, or the space is too small, or both. So often I end up outside and then I have a new very big problem—the sun!
Since I usually don’t have the benefit of shooting group photos during the “golden hours,” I am stuck with a high sun angle in the middle of the day that just puts ugly shadows all over my subjects. Ugh.
My best friend in that situation then is the shade. The trick is finding a shady spot big enough to fit all the people in the group. I lucked out here; the building has a north-facing entrance with just enough shade to fit 20 people. I got on a big rock in the landscape to get high so I could see everyone’s face for the shot.