I huge part of my photography business is conference photography in and around Nottingham. It might not sound the most glamorous genre of photography but I love it as still provides lots of challenges in terms of skills required but also because I get to meet lots of lovely people passionate about some cause or other. So I thought I would share a recent event and detail what kit I used, the challenges involved and what generally this type of photography is like as a working professional photographer.
You might expect a conference to just be photographing the people speaking but often you will find it is much more than that. Therefore I cannot stress enough - however straight forward an event may seem always, always agree a brief for what is required photography wise with your client. For this conference I made sure I knew early on what was required from the event. So always make sure that discussions take place well in advance of the planned event so that you are absolutely sure of the requirements of the day. For this brief I had the following requirements forming the brief:
Images of conference event attendees arriving and mingling/socialising
Images of key speakers throughout the day from a variety of angles
Images of entertainment
Images of the information stands around the venue
Images of conference attendees engaging and interacting with the information stands
Images of groups of attendees around their tables interacting
Group shots of attendees
Individual shots of attendees
Environmental images of the venue and conference set up
What’s in the bag ?
Knowing what the brief is will determine what needs to be in your kit bag for the day. For this conference I took:
2 cameras - Nikon Z9 and Nikon Z6
Nikon Z mount 24-70mm 2.8
Nikon Z mount 70-200mm 2.8
2 light diffusers for the speedlights
Dual camera strap
Extra batteries for cameras and speedlights
I always run 2 cameras at an event each carrying a different lens. The Nikon Z cameras provide incredible resolution for high quality images, great low light performance and silent photography capability.
The 24-70mm lens gives you a really nice range of angles from being able to go wide at 24mm for environmental/venue images and group images but also a little bit of reach for images of people on stage/presenting etc. The 70-200mm gives a fantastic amount of reach meaning you are able to capture candid images from far away without being intrusive and also presenter images from further away whilst including some of the foreground giving a nice perspective of the venue or audience.
I keep a speedlight on each camera and alternate between using flash or not depending on what I am shooting and the lighting conditions.
Extra batteries are a must as a just in case. This particular event was an all day event and usually I wont need a battery change on the Z9 but the Z6 will run dry so having an extra battery in the pocket ready to switch out is very important. I use rechargeable batteries in my speedlights and I have never had to change any of those even at the most intensive of events but I always keep some just in case. It’s really important to never run out of batteries at an event so make the investment and make sure you always have enough.
On the day
A tutor of mine told me ‘if you are on time you are late’. This is very true. Always turn up early - always, always. It takes much longer than you think to find places, get in, unpack, set up, get orientated and be ready to go. So allow plenty of time for these. If you get there at the start time you will end up rushing and flustered - doesn’t look good. For this conference it was at a new venue for me so I made sure I knew exactly how to get there, where i could park, when it was open etc. Once arrived and checked in I find a corner to unpack and get my kit set up. It helps if you can find somewhere secure to stash you bag once unpacked but make sure it is somewhere accessible in case you need to get back to it during the event. Getting there early really helps with getting environmental images of the venue before lots of people turn up. These images will help tell the story of the day.
Once in the venue I make sure I take a good walk about to find out best positions for the stage, speakers, entertainment etc. Locating these positions help to get better speaker shots - look for places you can shoot from that will get nice speaker images where the lectern doesn’t block the person too much and also where the microphone does not cut across the speakers face. I also look for where I can get nice wide images of the event. Have a look around to see if there is any upstairs area that you can access and if necessary ask a venue employee if you can access these. I am usually given pretty much free reign from my clients to roam where I need so I will just wander where I think I need to be. However, always follow health and safety procedures and venue rules and make sure none of your movements disturb the event in any way.
Lighting - where to start ! Lighting at a lot of venues for events can be horrendous. Strong artificial light, harsh coloured lighting, flashing lighting will all be on show. So make sure you have a good look about to see where the light is coming from. Avoid lights coming straight onto you or into camera. Quite often I find slightly off centre to the left or right of a speaker will be best but not too far in and one direction otherwise you might find really harsh shadows across the faces of your speakers. For some events I have spoken to the tech teams to see if particular lights can be moved or turned off at given points to allow for images to be taken but this is not always possible. So take the time to review your images as you go along and if necessary change location to get better lighting conditions.
It is also very important to ask your event organisers about whether using flash is ok. Some events will say absolutely not and that no flash can be used as it may distract their speakers. If this is the case then you have to go with it and work out your settings to allow for this. Otherwise I am typically switching between flash and no flash depending on what the subject is and what the lighting looks like.
Once the conference starts it makes sense to get a consistent set of images of each speaker. So I look to get some close up shots of them at the lectern from each side, wider shots of them on the stage, some straight on shots etc. Keeping it consistent for each speaker will really help your client as they will appreciate a variety of images of their speakers rather than just each one being from the same position. Now this means that you are going to have to move about and this where arriving early pays off so that you can work out routes for moving about without disturbing the speakers of the attendees.
If there are breaks for food / meals I tend not take many images during this time. Nobody really wants a picture of them eating so be respectful of people during this time. That said that does not mean that are not images to be had during meal time. Quite often people will start to relax and socialise a bit more so there may well be more smiley faces to be had, people clinking glasses etc. so always look out for those. And keep moving ! This is you time to circulate the venue - listen out for where laughter is coming from, a noisy table etc.
The best feedback I get about my work is not only for getting the images that the client wants but for the candid images that I also capture. Getting true candid images of people smiling, relaxing, socialising and having fun are by far the most popular images and the ones most used by clients after the the obvious ones of speakers etc. Clients want their events to look fun, interesting and popular so images of people engaging and having fun are critical to them being able to sell the event in the future. So always look out for these. So may of the hero shots for events that I shoot for end up being something candid so get good at it !
After the event
I use Adobe Lightroom to process my images post events. Because of a variety of lighting conditions will have been encountered I use auto white balance in camera and then correct any that need amending in post. The majority of images of speakers will all be the same lighting so they can all be amended with the use of a preset in one go. Apart from that editing is usually straight forward - maybe a little lifting of shadows and a little pulling back of any harsh highlights. I use Pixieset to deliver my client galleries so they get a link to a private client gallery with all of their images from the event. From there they can view, like, share, download etc. Quite often clients will share the link with the event attendees so that they can view and download also. It’s always great to se the image getting downloaded and shared.
Event and conference photography is a very rewarding genre of photography to be involved in - I love it !
Mike Spencer Photography and Film is an award winning event, conference and corporate photographer from Nottingham. I work all over the UK and work with organisations of all sizes to tell the stories of their events. I work closely with major venues to ensure that clients get the images they need to showcase their events in the best possible way across all their media platforms.