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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Are your event photographer’s rates on a sliding scale?

The short answer is yes, for a variety of reasons elaborated on below.

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Charitable organizations and non-profits deserve a break in the rate

One of the top sought after search terms on my blog and likely elsewhere on the internet is this: event photographer rates. While I like to think that what I do is a combination of skill, experience and art, the reality of a working photographer is that your rate is often one of the key factors in whether you get chosen for a job or not. Too high, and you price yourself out of the market, too low and you don’t get taken seriously. So what is a good rate for an event photographer and what, if any, flexibility is there room for on rates?

In my experience, the hourly rate is both the main tool for developing a quote and can vary quite a bit regionally. In Montreal, the range for professional photographers is likely between $75 on the low end up to $200 on the higher end. There is a range because not all photographers are created equally (some are brand new to the industry and just trying to get their foot in the door). Events are also seasonal, with “high season” and a “low season” when even a higher priced shooter may be willing to reduce his or her rate. Montrealers, and the many companies and organizations who host events here, like to do things in the fall (Sept – Nov) and spring (April, May). Summer weekends are very busy for wedding photographers, but mid-week, mid-summer (aside from big events like Grand Prix and the surrounding week in June), things can get a bit slower. Similarly, January through to March, in addition to being very cold in Montreal, is also a slower time of year for events. If budget constraints are a reality in your organization (and where aren’t they), consider booking your event in these slower times and you will have better leverage negotiating a good price, not just with your photographer, but likely venues, caterers, musicians and other event support staff too.ATWATERGALA 165

In terms of flexibility on rates, it is worth asking…but delicately. Without belabouring the details of how expensive it is to maintain top quality equipment in the photography business (not a client’s problem or concern, unless it’s not there), there is thought and justification for rates on the upper end of the range given above. Offering a ridiculously low budget that is far from the quoted range is insulting, and amateurish. I’ve dealt with firms who represent major global brands and put on events costing tens of thousands of dollars who try to get professional photography for less than they spend on the cocktail napkins and canapés. Squeezing your suppliers may work some of the time, but in the long run this type of cost-saving doesn’t save you money. You’ll end up having to constantly find new suppliers (wasting time and effort on search) and wind up with variable results, foregoing any kind of consistency in the product you offer. Which includes, make no mistake about it, the photos produced at your event.

On the other hand, if you are on a reasonable budget, it is okay to just say so. More often than not you can find agreement on price without haggling if your budget is realistic.

I have personally provided flexibility on my rates when it is clear that the client truly has a small budget but also values professional photography and is trying to meet me in the middle. I’ve accepted barters from companies and individual who have products, gift certificates, etc that can be offered in lieu of cash, usually costing the provider less than the face value to the recipient. I’ve also gladly reduced or even eliminated my fee altogether for charitable organizations and causes I believe in (I support child-related causes like the Montreal Children’s Hospital, Save the Children, UNICEF and others; as well as cultural and artistic organizations; and health-related organizations doing cancer research, or saving lives in conflict areas like Medecins Sans Frontières). In these cases sometimes a tax receipt can be provided, which is helpful, but even without, there is a good chance you can get a reduced rate. Just ask.

Marc Garneau helping kids reach for the stars

Marc Garneau helping kids reach for the stars

Can your event afford to not have great shots? While beginning photographers and pseudo-photographers may come cheaply, can they deliver on the quality of shots you need for your event to be judged a success? It’s too late to find out afterwards scanning through hundreds of photos of the backs of heads that maybe you should have sprung the extra $250 and hired a pro.

For small family gatherings, or events of personal importance, you may want to give an opportunity to a family member with a budding interest in photography, or hire someone whose rates are low or even free. And you may well end up with great shots. Everyone’s a winner. But if there are some missed moments, and an excess of poorly focused, dimly lit images, well, you can always gather the family again another time or consider hiring in a pro for the next milestone event.

But for professional event planners, whether in the B2C space or in-house corporate communications/event people running one of several projects all with tight deadlines, all incredibly important and with no margin for error there really is no excuse for not hiring professionals who will charge more. A professional will deliver, take a load of your back and make you look good. Guaranteed. That kind of peace of mind comes at a price which in the context of the overall budget for an event, is really quite reasonable.