The key to covering the keynote speaker

Sergio Marchionne, Keynote Speaker at ASABE 2014 conference in Montreal, July 14, 2014

Sergio Marchionne, Keynote Speaker at ASABE 2014 conference in Montreal, July 14, 2014

I was hired this morning (yes, sometimes the last minute is literally the last minute), to cover a keynote speaker at a conference at the Palais de congrès in Montreal. While I didn’t know the speaker would be someone quite as famous as Sergio Marchionne (currently Chairman CNH Industrial, FIAT Chairman and CEO of Chrysler, amongst several other roles) my method for covering a speaker is always the same. As much as possible, I try to shoot the speaker without a flash setting my camera to the type of lighting on stage (almost always tungsten). I position myself up front and shot with both a long (70-300mm) and short lens (24-105mm) stalking the speaker as a hunter would a wild animal, waiting for smiles (mouth and eyes) and eyes wide open. If possible, I also like to do a fake shot or two with the speaker at the podium before the event to be guaranteed of a great shot, though of course this is not always possible and certainly wasn’t in this case.

A few other elements I’m always asked to include by my clients are:

  • Shots of the speaker showing some of the slides in background 
  • Close up shots of the speaker
  • Shots of the speaker showing the audience (speaker’s p.o.v.)

Not all speakers are easy to capture as some don’t look up very often, or smile, or both. In Mr. Marchionne’s case, he was a calm, engaging and relaxed speaker but clearly the stage lights were quite bright in his eyes as he tended to squint a bit and did not look out at the crowd for longer than a few seconds at a time. Luckily we also had a few opportunities to get more candid photos after the speech when Mr. Marchionne visited the CNH Industrial booth.

Sergio Marchionne at CNH Industrial booth

Sergio Marchionne at CNH Industrial booth

Providing photographic coverage of conferences, trade show booths and speakers at events, is a key function of an event photographer and something I am doing more and more of these days. Companies spend a lot of money on attending conferences, sending over staff, often hiring marketing companies to help with the booth and signage, and getting professional quality photographs from the event can help a firm leverage that spending. Images captured at conference can be used in trade magazines, on corporate websites, in emailers, even product brochures.

Other important shots to capture while covering a conference or trade show are:

  • booth setup shots before crowds arrive. It’s important to get these kind of clean set-up shots early on as they are useful for showing off the brand(s) showcased without any distracting elements.
  • any promotional items/giveaways
  • signage clearly showing logos
  • any products on display
  • booth staff smiling, posed and engaging with visitors
  • visitors engaging/interacting with products/staff
  • booth from afar showing full size as well as close up of specific elements

Ultimately, good conference coverage is much like covering any other live event with a few extra details to keep in mind. The lighting tends to be a bit tricky and important visitors will whisk in and out of the site very quickly so you have to be on your toes.  Most importantly, as a conference photographer you have to keep the customer’s priorities in mind always. The kinds of shots they are looking for and the client’s purpose for hiring a professional photographer in the first place should be the key reference points for all photography coming out of the conference.

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