From the inside out
I’ve shot a LOT of events. A scary number of them, and they range from huge festivals, sporting events and Royal ceremonies to intimate dinners. I’ve probably seen more events than most event organisers, and more interestingly I hear the voices of the guests whilst I’m working.
I like to engage with the people I shoot. It helps me take better photos and people stop hiding and act more naturally, a bit of banter goes a long way. Consequently they see me as a ‘neutral’ and tend to offload their comments onto me. I hear it all.. the good, the bad and the very, very ugly.
I hear about the food, the lights, the sound, the entertainment, the state of the hand-dryers in the ladies toilet. Guests feel safe, they don't really know who has commissioned me. A lone wolf in the sea of canapés and champagne glasses.
I also see things myself which I inevitably compare and contrast with other events I’ve been to, how things are done, how the staff act, how stressed the organisers are and what is being noticed and what is being ignored. It’s quite a privileged position, and I sometimes wonder if I’d make a good event producer with all the intimate knowledge I have.
I’ve always said that the problem with photographers is that we tend to be ‘last to get booked, first to get cancelled’ type of addition to an event, I’ve written and whined about this previously so I’m not going down this route just now - but when you think about it, a well travelled photographer could hold the key to the success or failure of your event - and this is before they’ve even clicked the shutter. They KNOW things.
I can’t say this would be true for ALL photographers, but I know it’s true for me. I am known for being rather vocal about the world we work in, and whilst it might appear to be slightly acerbic, it’s all based on actual fact, which is why it resonates with people.
So here’s a few examples of how a little bit of advice from an unlikely source could help out.
At a recent ‘do’ I was covering there were speeches, but the organiser had seated key guests in separate areas of the room - thinking it was a good idea to spread them out. This made it impossible to get reaction shots and candids because they were so spread out. Keeping the key guests together would have enabled me to get ALL the people. Even more so when you’re having a video made, unless you want to hire 3 or 4 camera operators and photographers think wisely about placement of people.
Big centre pieces are an utter pain in the ass . They block conversation between guests across the table and make for lousy photos. Honestly - a 2 foot glitter ball on some silver acrylic lit by colour changing LED’s on a bed of glass beads may seem lovely, but trust me it’s really not great, if you really must have these sculptures on the table go thin or low. Seriously - your guests will thank you for it.
If you want decent photos of the night - don't’ make the hall so dark I could develop my black and white prints in the corner. Mood lighting is important but try not to wash the room with deep, strong colours like red or blue. It makes the food look bloody awful. Blue light makes food look grey and red makes it look like something thats just been pulled from butchers chopping board. Go for soft tones - peach or light pink. You’ve spent enough of the food - let people at least see it.
Wi-fi. A massive bug bear of mine. The number of times I’ve walked into a venue and the mobile signal has vanished. Wifi isn’t available or is so slow it would be quicker to post a letter rather than tweet. Personally I wouldn’t book a venue that had poor or no connectivity. If you want your guests to interact on social media, if you want them to tweet about what is happening - there’s no point in creating a hashtag and spending months promoting it, if when they arrive their phones don’t work.
What will happen is people will leave your event to stand somewhere there is signal. Everyone is bleating on about ‘engagement’ so let people engage.
After an event I always like to blog about the work I’ve been up to. It’s not a bad idea for you to allow the photographer to brag about what they’ve done. Make sure they include links to your company, the event, and anything else. I get hundreds of people clicking through to my blog when I write a post like this- so it’s free publicity.
So ASK your photographer things- explain the flow of your event, who is going where, doing what and how. They may just have a little gem of knowledge that you can use which will make things go that little bit smoother.
I don’t charge for advice and good ideas should not cost you more than bad ones.