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.

Extend the reach of your launch with an event photographer

Opening a new restaurant or bar? Launching a new album/film/book/product? Kicking off the opening of a new facility? If so, here are a few tips for getting the most out of your investment in your event:

  • Hire an experienced professional event photographer! While this is entirely self-serving, it is also in the best interest of the event planner or event coordinator for the launch. If that’s you, you already know how many details you need to take care to make the launch run smoothly. Everything from making sure the audio-visual components work, to having well-presented and tasty food, a good choice of red and white wines (not too cheap, not too pricey). Are you including a cocktail as well? And then there is the staff, both your own and that of your caterer and perhaps a team of volunteers who have the enthusiasm but may need a little guidance. The last thing you need to worry about is your photographer screwing up or not understanding the marketing value of good, clean, focused event photos.
  • Have your key people ready for a few quick important photos early: you don’t have to wait for the event to happen to get those key shots (like the one above taken before the event began). If what you are launching is important enough to merit a budget for an event, then you want to have a few key photos of the principals standing within a well-framed shot including a branded background if possible or other important visuals that link the event, people and purpose together. A professional event photographer in Montreal will know what to do and how to get that critical photo for you and can have it in the can before the event even starts. 
  • Get all the static pre-event shots done first: With an early start, your event photographer can also grab shots of the venue looking its best, including the food presentation and any other item that doesn’t require your guests to be there but are an essential part of the experience. These static shots are great to have for use in future brochures, on your website, in marketing letters and campaigns and are easy to get if your event photographer is there before the event has already started.
  • Ask for photo delivery on the spot: why wait for your images? Digital images are created instantly and a professional event photographer will capture them with correct lighting and colours balanced right off the first take. As a client, you can and should ask for a download of those images right away. Leave the photographer some time at the end of the night to process the images for you and end your event with DVD in hand of all the high and low res images – ready for usage immediately if you want to make the next day’s papers. Any specific images you later want to have a few touch-ups applied to should be included in your event photographer’s service to you (mine always does) so that you can have both speed and quality for one simple price.
Planning and running events are stressful and often thankless tasks. If it is your job to organize one, you want to work with professionals all the way through. As a professional event photographer, I’ve covered literally hundreds of events in Montreal and most likely have already covered and event in the venue you’ve selected. If you’re in the early planning stages feel free to ask for advice on venues, caterers, djs and other special event performers as I’ve encountered many throughout my career in Montreal as an event photographer and am glad to share with my prospective clients.
Below are a few sample shots from the Miriam Foundation‘s recent launch of their brand new facilities housing their Abe Gold Learning Center.

What’s in a photographer’s price?

Pricing one’s work is often one of the trickiest things to do as a photographer (or any artist for that matter). As a Montreal photographer who shoots events, weddings, portraits and real estate – four very different markets with four different types of clients, I have learned that the key to getting to a price both parties are comfortable with, is to clearly understand your client’s expectations and make sure they understand what they are getting from you in return for the price you are asking.

But what does it all mean???

While some event planners or wedding planners are familiar with contracting photographers, for most people finding, choosing and hiring a photographer is not an easy task. For one thing, there are countless photographers out there, many of whom have their own websites or blogs with different ways of packaging and selling their skills and their work. The sheer abundance of choice can be overwhelming, even to a skilled buyer like an event planner or wedding planner. What accounts for the difference between one photographer and another? There are many factors that I have observed, which I will share here with you to help you choose an event, wedding, portrait or real estate photographer the next time you need one:

  1. Who owns the final images?: In the pre-digital days and through the industry transition as older photographers held onto their film cameras and film-based pricing structures, a price was bounded by and built upon a monopolistic control of the negative. The photographer took your picture, but her or she held onto the negative. They would make you a print and charge you for it, but keep the negative in order to charge you more each time you wanted a new image or an image in a different size.  In my opinion this business model is dead and does not serve either the customer or the photographer’s best interest. It certainly makes no sense in the digital era yet still I am surprised at how many photographers cling to the notion that they somehow retain some implicit right over a client’s images. It is even more astounding when the client has already paid you for your time and effort if you are charging an hourly rate or session fee. It pays to ask up front if you will be given a copy of all the images taken during your shoot or if you will only be allowed to select the ones you want and then pay for prints. If the photographer retains the digital images and only lets you have prints you will be guaranteed to pay more.
  2. Hourly or fixed fee?: As a Montreal wedding photographer and Montreal event photographer I charge by the hour for my work. My price is based on a few things. Firstly, I will be providing full coverage of your event, usually non-stop. The only point in an event where one can safely take a 15 or 20 minute break in my experience is during meals as no one wants a picture of themselves with their mouth open shoveling food into it, no matter how pretty the face. Unless you are documenting some kind of food related event, eating shots are unnecessary and provide a built-in break. Otherwise, you cannot afford to be unavailable and so you will be out and on the move and ready with your camera for when the moments happen.  I tend to take a lot of photos (roughly 100-125 per hour) which provides clients with security knowing they will have their event fully covered.  A fixed fee, on the other hand, makes sense for small groups or individual portraits and real estate listings photography where the agent is more concerned with getting good results than the time you spend inside – in fact, most agents would prefer you spend as little time as possible shooting as they are not getting paid for the time they spend waiting for you.
  3. Is your price negotiable?: From time to time I get asked this question and my answer is always the same: no. But I don’t stop there. In the case of wedding photography or event photography I explain to my prospective client that my rate is based on  the time I will spend working and providing live continuous coverage of the event + the time I will spend uploading and preparing viewing galleries for the client + the time I will spend responding to emails and queries from the client + the time I will spend editing the photos the client selects for final post-production + the time I will spend burning a final DVD of the images + the costs of delivering the DVD to the client + an allocation of the cost of my investment in professional photographic equipment, computers and the latest versions of professional photo editing software which is expensive. Once a client sees all the many inputs that go into a price, it is much easier for them to understand that my price is actually more than reasonable. I then ask them to consider the costs of the food they will be serving, or perhaps the venue rental fee or some other fee attached to the event against any one of which I am certain I will be one of the least expensive. And my work yields lasting images that document the event or wedding and forever retain the beauty or significance of the event – the food will be eaten and gone tomorrow, the lights turned off, the flowers wilted and composted while my photos will be looked at, shared, posted across Facebook accounts, websites and sent by email around the world. Finally, if the client is really looking for a discount I recommend them to other, younger and less exeperienced photographers who will work for the experience.
  4. Quality matters: This one is simple but needs saying nonetheless. Yes the ubiquity of digital cameras has made it seem much, much simpler to take photos of anything and everything you want. Yes, even the most inexperienced photographer can come up with a few good lucky shots. But can you – or your sister’s younger cousin who just started taking photos – consistently set up, find, capture and produce quality images time and again? Does your photographer know how to shoot in different or changing light conditions? Are they prepared with backup gear, batteries, storage cards and chargers should something happen? Do they know how to interact with you and your guests to elicit real smiles and laughter without overdoing it and taking up more space than they should as someone who works for you.  There is ALWAYS a cheaper alternative. But quality is hard to fake. If your photographer comes with great references, a portfolio you admire, a personality you like and a professional, client-focused attitude, then he or she is worth the price being asked. Quality counts because photographers, just like other professionals who put their name to what they do, live and die by their work. A professional cares about his or her reputation – and so do you if you have chosen to talk to them about their price. They get it from producing quality work clients love.

Educating your client about what goes into producing quality photography is key.  Even if all it looks like you are doing is pointing your camera and clicking a button, you should now know that there is much more work involved in producing a gorgeous image. Whether your charge by the hour as I do for event photography and wedding photography, or work for a fixed fee as I do for portraits and real estate listings photography a photographer’s price is based on the effort before, during and after the shoot that goes into producing an image that will exceed the expectations of you, the client. Clearly explaining how photography is priced helps both photographer and client appreciate each other.  Having achieved understanding, you will both be happier and better prepared to discuss a photography contract.