Covering a conference or trade show is not as easy it would seem. While it may look like all you have to do is wander around, point your camera and shoot, the process of getting really good conference photos is a little more complex than that. As a photographer, it is critical that your images capture both the feel of the event but also convey the organizer’s messages and help them to achieve their marketing goals. When covering a conference, then, not only do you need to contend with variable lighting, from hot stage lights to fluorescent breakout session rooms, but importantly your professional mandate as discussed with your client.
Typically, a conference organizer wants to show their event off in its best light possible. While this is almost a truism in event photography, the conference (or trade show) is a little different than your regular corporate gala or fundraiser event, as the images generated from this year’s show are going to be used to help sell attendance in next year’s. So it is important to show future attendees the benefits they will get from attending in addition to all the well-curated content and knowledge they will gain. Photos should show people smiling, of course, as much as possible, but also doing the things they will be expecting to do, like shaking hands, exchanging business cards, listening to engaging speakers etc.
With corporate travel budgets constantly under pressure, the investment in sending one or a handful of employees to a conference must be clear. The images captured should also show the full range of activities at the event. All conferences follow a fairly predictable formula: large general sessions with keynote speakers, a few panel discussions, smaller breakout sessions and a lots of networking and socializing time in between the set menu to allow the attendees to make or renew contacts and actually enjoy themselves. Photos, shot from a few different angles of all these experiences are absolutely critical and will be key to delivering a set of images that will make your client happy.
Other shots required for a conference photographer should also include:
- Good headshots of all the speakers: I often try to get a few before the speaker actually goes on stage by hanging around when they are setting up. This helps ensure you have at least one good image where the speaker is smiling and looking right at your lens as once they get going, you may have to snap many shots to make sure you have enough of the speaker talking with eyes open and mouth not that the conference organizers will be able to use in their promotional materials.
- Posed groupings of attendees smiling and looking at the camera: these shots can be a little challenging if you are a shy or fly-on-the wall type photographer. As the professional, your work here is to interact and engage with the guests in a way that makes them feel good and willing to work with you to get a good photo, but to be quick and efficient at the same time. Ultimately, no one is at the conference for the photographs – they are there to learn, make contacts and hopefully do some business. As professionals they also want to look good in any images you make of them so you have a responsibility as the official event photographer to ensure that they do, without wasting their time when shooting,
- A limited number of scenic shots shot from interesting angles: It is important to showcase the venue, usually a hotel, and give a sense of the rooms and ambience of the space selected by the organizers for the event. You don’t need a tonne of these kinds of shots, but a handful of representative images will help complete your set of deliverables to your client. These shots can usually be taken in between other events on any downtime you have during the conference.
- Full rooms, engaged audiences: when covering any general sessions or breakout rooms, only shoot seats with smiling, engaged looking people in them. No one, not your client and not future attendees, wants to look at a conference with a bunch of empty seats. Abundance sells, so make sure your room shots look full and people look interested. Quality over quantity counts here as a few winning shots are all it will take to make the event look like a success – and bring smiles to your clients and hopefully repeat business when the conference becomes an annual event!
A final word on working as a conference photographer: Timeliness matters. Many organizers post the images from their conferences on a daily basis. This is great because once the first batch of images is up, attendees start to perk up and really make an effort with you to look good for the shot, knowing they too might end up featured on the conference organizer’s website. Take advantage of this almost real time streaming to be diligent in your shooting. Edit out dud images before the upload to save time and be ready for an end of day upload to make sure the client has good images to work with for the next day.
You can check out some of the shots I took recently for the Imedia Canada Summit, here.