The difference between taking pictures at an event and covering an event

IMG_0442.jpg
Too many chefs?

Is it necessary to hire a photographer to cover your event? When virtually all staff and every attendee is equipped with image capturing devices, social media accounts and motivation to share the experience, in real time, what value lies in hiring a pro who will charge you for coverage that you will already be getting for free from multiple sources?

No, of course it isn’t necessary. If you want to rely on crowd-sourced images and dimly lit, shakily held videos, random tweets and multiple viewpoints for the narrative surrounding your event, then it’s probably not even advisable.

But I’ve encountered few professional organizations – companies, brands, conference organizers and event managers – who are so laissez-faire with their brand image and marketing of their events.  Most professional teams choose to work with professional suppliers simply because it is more efficient, more effective and more controllable than any other option.

Everyone enjoys taking pictures at professional events. They do it to show that they are there, to participate in the dialogue and share learning and information gleaned from sessions they attend that appeal to them and their distinct personal and professional networks. They do it for fun. But one thing they don’t do it for is the company putting on the event. While some of the content they generate may well wind up being retweeted or shared across the organizing company’s social channels, it can only ever be the result of good luck and good timing. Unsurprisingly, most of the professional organizers I’ve worked with are reluctant to stake their reputations on good luck and timing.

CK4A5835

Professional event coverage is a skilled trade. It requires attention not just to the visual elements transpiring in real time – what slide is shown on stage, the type and quality of the lighting, the instantaneous emotional responses of audience members, etc – but also the content and theme of the event, and the brand of the organizer itself. And the coverage includes everyone and everything. It doesn’t just focus on the big highlight moments or the fun times people have around the bar or at networking cocktails (though that is included). It is comprehensive, including every speaker, every session, and most if not all attendees in some context or another.

Additionally, the coverage is being captured and recorded with professional grade equipment designed to be adaptable to changing light conditions, and multiple scenarios that even the best of phone cameras can’t handle. It’s not too challenging to take a beautiful photograph outdoors in bright natural light in a beautifully laid out setting. It’s not quite as carefree when the subject is a wan looking speaker with thinning hair in a beige-walled, dimly lit conference room who rarely looks at the audience. But he’s part of the event and needs to be included, and not just included, but has to look good too.

0E7A0835

As a line item in an overall event budget, photography is going to come in under video and frankly, have much wider applications than videography. While everyone loves video and video marketing continues to rise in influence and reach, the uses of video are still rather limited. You may put a highlights reel from an event on your site advertising similar upcoming events, but once it’s been viewed once (and it’s highly unlikely anyone will watch it through to the end no matter how short it is given that humans now seem to exhibit attention spans shorter than a goldfish), it probably won’t be rewatched, while photos have multiple applications. They can be used throughout a website, in headers, as templates for advertising, as content in blog posts and as a virtually inexhaustible supply of pictures for social media feeds. They can also be printed, used as profile pictures, put into sales decks, emailed out as gallery links to sponsors and generally be shared more easily and widely because they are lighter and require even less of an attention span than a 30 second video.

CK4A6152

Having an event covered by a professional matters to other professionals. It translates into higher quality, more reliable, deliberate and usable content that can be leveraged by good marketers to build and maintain momentum for companies whose business models rely on hosting regular, well-attended events. If that’s not you nor aligned with your goals, than no, you don’t need a professional to cover your event. Just task a junior staffer to do it on their phone and hope for the best. You’ll for sure get some fun pictures, and maybe even a tweet or two.

Is your event photographer too shy?

CIENA 377
Popup, shoot, pop down

If you have the right personality for it, being an event photographer can be one of the best jobs in the world. I’ve covered hundreds of events and still get excited about going to work. You get invited to attend all the best parties, go backstage, have complete VIP access to anywhere in the venue, and you get to meet hundreds of people weekly during the busier times of the year. If you are, like me, a hyper-extrovert, the thought of this is thrilling.

Covering large conferences or tradeshows can also be intellectually stimulating as you get to be a fly on the wall at all the sessions, see world-class speakers deliver keynote addresses and learn about all kinds of new and interesting things while doing your job. One day it’s how beacons are revolutionizing retail bringing the physical and digital worlds together (phygital), and the next its a deep dive into diagnostic imaging, or an international food show, or a trade show on plastic injection moulding and 3D printing.

However, covering events is not something every photographer can do equally well. Many photographers are by nature a little shy and introverted. Some chose photography as a career specifically because it allows them to be behind the camera and not in front of it. This can serve them exceedingly well with some forms of photography (landscapes, street photography, fine art) but is deadly for an event photographer.

Smile!I see it as part of my job to “embed” myself in an event. I like to engage with the guests, chat with people, make friends and generally put people at ease before I ask to take their picture. This doesn’t mean I forget my place or the task at hand. On the contrary, it allows me to do my job better. I’ve found that once people like you, their guard drops and that’s when you see real smiles, real sparkles in people’s eyes, and real expressions of people enjoying themselves. These are the kinds of looks you want to see when looking at the photos of your event, particularly if your job is to sell more seats or tickets to future events. People who come to a given conference, for example, will choose yours over a competitor’s in part by looking through the photos from past events on your website. They want to see people like themselves, having a good time, making connections and looking engaged and interested in the content. To get those kinds of shots, your event photographer has to be in the heart of the action and can’t be off hiding somewhere snapping photos from afar or timidly interrupting social pods to ask for a photo. A truly great event photographer plays with the crowd, enjoys their company and vice-versa. Some of the best photos I’ve ever taken have happened at the end of the evening when the group I’ve been shepherding around through my lens finally lets loose and starts to mingle and have fun.

EVENTS 107
Get down, get down!

I think the key qualities to look for in the next event photographer you hire are these:

  • Extrovertism: taking pictures of large gatherings of people in any kind of social setting has to excite your shooter. If the thought of meeting 20, 50, 100 people in one busy night doesn’t get their blood pumping than they are not going to be happy doing their job.
  • Curiosity: is your shooter curious about the people at the event? Is he or she interested in the subject matter being covered at the tradeshow or conference? Does your shooter seem interested in your business and what it takes to make your events happen? Curiosity about people is fundamental. Only a curious person is interested in looking at people all day and night and never tires of it.
  • Engagement: is your shooter engaging in conversation? Can he or she start conversations quickly? Is he or she socially well adjusted and not awkward? Being in the crowd and moving through it relatively smoothly and quickly in order to cover the entire scope of the event takes skill. A shy person will not want to plunge into the thickest part of a crowd, nor interrupt their conversations politely to get their photos, though that is precisely where they will need to get to if they are to get the required shots.
  • Unobtrusiveness: ultimately your shooter has to be everywhere and nowhere. No one of your guests should be annoyed at his or her presence, and in the case of a wedding or podium shots, the shooter has to get in and out quickly so as not to be blocking the view to the audience behind them. Knowing one’s place is important in events and a good photographer’s place is to see everything, but not be seen to be in the way.
  • “Know when to walk away”: knowing when and how to “disappear” is also important. Your event photos should include a range of shots that also show the room(s), set ups, views of the crowd from a distance and if possible different angles (from a balcony). While it’s important for the event photographer to be inside the crowd for all the up close and personal shots, it’s also necessary to step away from time to time and observe from a distance to capture the feeling of the space and the event.

    A room with a view
    A room with a view