Event photography: Take better candids at your client’s next event

I’ve shot a ton of corporate events where the client specifically asked for candids. Now there are candids and there are candids.

This article covers what to do when shooting people at events and parties, and some advice for introverts who take party pictures.

A lot of people don’t like having their picture taken, especially at a business or fund raising function. They are deep in conversations, they are networking, and they don’t want to be disturbed. More than once I’ve gotten the evil glare of someone that meant, “Don’t even think about it!”

Groups of two or three people standing works well. In this shot a bounce flash was used, which also softens the harsh light from the flash and eliminates red eye.

My best technique is to circulate through the party quickly and early

I chat people up, and tell them I won’t take much of their time if they just give me a quick pose and a smile. I tell them I’m giving them a chance to look their best. If they protest, I tell them I’ve been hired for the event and that the photos will be used for company purposes only. People may want to know who you are and who you represent, as there may be media photographers covering the same event as you.

If you approach people in this friendly and business-like way they usually can’t say no. Most people do not want to seem impolite. In the case of a family reunion or wedding, people are usually a little more willing to be photographed. You can have a bit more fun with the shy ones at a non-business event too.

When you act as a voyeur and just grab shots of people talking or eating, you don’t get the best results. In this case it would have been better to say “hey ladies, how about a little smile for the camera”

Don’t be a voyeur

Engaging people this way is better than just snatching photos with a long lens of people standing around talking. That’s what usually raises eyebrows and gets you stern looks. Act professionally, and you’ll get hired again.

Shots of large rooms of people really don’t tell much. It’s much more interesting to go up and meet people, have a quick chat and then take a shot or two.

Here are some more useful tips on shooting candids:

  • Don’t take photos of people shoving food into their mouth or when their mouth is open. They’ll hate you for it.
  • Groups of 2 or 3 work best and make a nice horizontal
  • Crop tightly, head and shoulders are enough
  • If people are standing they look better than if they’re sitting
  • Step back a bit and use a longer focal length as opposed to being a foot away from people and using a wide angle lens. Distortion is unkind to people’s faces.
  • Overall room shots are less successful unless your client is a party planner and they want room shots. Don’t bother.
  • Using flash: I set my camera on f5.6 @ 1/60 second to catch some ambient light and keep the people in focus from front to back, but your settings may be different.
  • Sometimes Program or Auto mode uses an ultra slow shutter speed, so you get too much ambient light and the people move or you get camera shake
  • Also, using an ultra slow shutter speed makes white balance hard to set as the light is usually mixed
  • Use the bounce flash to negate red-eye. Bounced light is also less harsh than direct flash.
  • If you don’t have a bounce card built into your flash, make one out of white card or plastic and attach it to your flash with an elastic band.
  • High ISO is okay, but 400 ISO is usually the highest I need to use.
  • You’re capturing moments not fine artwork, and the chances of something being enlarged past the size of a standard letter page is pretty rare.
  • Make a web gallery for your client so they can pass it on to the event guests. You can charge for this service too.
  • Only show the best shots from the party on the web gallery or to your client.
  • Delete the closed eyes shots and ones when people just look downright awful.

When you shoot groups, try to set people at different levels so they aren’t all standing in a row.

Group shots

Sometimes you get asked to do large group shots at parties. Group shots are one of the hardest things to organize and shoot, especially indoors with limited lighting and when people are in party mode.

  • If possible, try to get your group outside
  • Look for an area where you can get people on different levels as opposed to standing all in a row
  • Use a small f-stop for your group, so you’ll get more people in focus. Try f16 or smaller.
  • Use fill flash outdoors to even-out the light and fill in the shadows

Here’s what I shoot with at parties and events:

  • Panasonic Lumix GH3
  • 12-35mm 2.8 lens with the lens hood attached
  • Lumix 360L Flash with the bounce card up
  • Keep extra flash batteries on hand if it’s a big event

Even introverts can be party photographers

Getting good event candids is fun and easy if done right, and you can make some good money at it too. I’m an introvert, so it took me a bit of practice to just go up and talk to people. But one thing I’ve learned, is that people usually like to talk about cameras and that’s something I can speak easily about.

The camera also acts like a crutch or a friend, and when there is nothing else to do you can always adjust the dials and make yourself look like you are doing something highly technical and important.

On some cameras in Program mode, the shutter speed the camera chooses is too slow for hand holding and too slow for your subjects too. Even though a flash was used in this shot, the ambient light takes over the scene.

Practice at your next family event

I started taking event photos when I was a teenager at my family reunions. I had a huge extended family that lived on the other side of the country from me. I wanted to remember all my cousins and aunts and uncles, so I started shooting the reunions. It was great practice. Years later when my grandparents had their 60th wedding anniversary, they specifically asked me to take the party photos and all the group shots too.

Next up: Sharing and showing

How to show and share your event photos

Go and read that post right now.