Professionally or as a hobby – event photography is an important topic for many photographers. It hardly matters whether the photo is taken at the wedding of your best friend, during a theater performance by your own daughter or on the evening of the next company Christmas party. Events usually have one thing in common: there is a lot going on, the light often leaves a lot to be desired and the photographer only has a certain amount of time to take good photos. It is important to keep your nerve and trust in your ability. But there are also some ground rules that will help to end the event with lots of great shots.
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Proper preparation is worth its weight in gold
Even if such photo sessions are exhausting – with the right preparation you can look forward to the event much more relaxed. This includes taking a critical look at your photo bag at home. What do I need, what probably not? Since it is important to always be flexible and agile, you should only take the bare essentials with you. That means: A fixed focal length and a zoom lens are usually sufficient, then an external flash, the body and that’s it. Too much equipment is rather a hindrance in event photography and should therefore be avoided. It is also important to have a fully charged battery and an empty memory card (do not forget a spare battery and memory card). Camera care should not be neglected either. It’s worth cleaning the lenses again before the event, for example, so that you don’t have an annoying spot on every picture afterwards.
When the day of the event arrives, it doesn’t hurt to be there half an hour before the official start. In this way you can familiarize yourself with the location and draw up a plan. Where do I have the best view and at the same time not disturb anyone? Where is the light coming from? And what settings do I need? The last question in particular should be clarified before the actual shooting – here a few test shots will help to find out the right combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
What exposure time, ISO and aperture make sense?
The settings on the camera are always based on what is currently being photographed. Here we make a fundamental distinction between close-up portrait shots and more distant stage photography. For the former, for example at a Christmas party, the exposure time is only of limited importance, since one does not have to reckon with major shaking of the people to be photographed. The rule of thumb to compensate for your own movements with a short exposure time is: exposure time = 1/focal length. So if you are shooting with a 50mm fixed focal length, the exposure time should be at least 1/50 sec. It gives a nice effect when the aperture is as large as possible, i.e. the f-number is as small as possible. The background becomes blurred and the viewer’s gaze is focused on the essentials, the people in the foreground. If several people are standing in a row, an aperture of 8 makes sense to get all faces sharp. Finally, the ISO: In portrait shots, this depends entirely on the brightness and should be adjusted accordingly. It is always good to keep the value as low as possible to avoid noise.
In stage photography, on the other hand, other settings are important. Here the photographer usually has to deal with fast movements, with speakers the gestures of the hands and arms, with actors and dancers the whole body. In order to get sharp pictures, short exposure times are extremely important – aperture and ISO should be based on them accordingly. For example, if you photograph a speaker, the exposure time should be at least 1/50 sec. 1/100 sec is better. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to set the aperture as large as possible and the ISO accordingly high, especially in dark rooms. For dancers and actors, the shutter speed should be at least 1/100 sec., although a faster exposure time will often be necessary.
Flash? No thanks!
At events, you often see hobby photographers from the back row taking a photo with the internal flash. The internal flash only has a range of 3-4 meters. In order to achieve an effect at all, you need an external flash, because it can sometimes reach a distance of more than 10 meters. In general, however, you should completely avoid this artificial light source. The hard, cold light usually destroys the entire atmosphere and just looks cheap. Rather, it is recommended to use the available light with the possibilities of the camera. For this, the ISO may have to be increased a little or the aperture increased. But even a somewhat grainy image from a high ISO is better than a dead-flash shot in which the uninteresting foreground is well lit, but the actual subject – the stage – is far too dark.
RAW or JPEG?
When it comes to the file type, you usually have the choice between RAW and JPEG format. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – also when it comes to event photography. Photographing in RAW makes sense above all if the prints are to have the highest possible quality. This format makes it possible to make a broad correction afterwards, which makes a big difference, especially in the areas of brightness and white balance. The RAW format can be problematic when it comes to speed, both when photographing and when transferring. Due to the size of mostly over 10 Mb per photo, you are clearly limited here. If you need to be quick, for example when photographing a sporting event or if the images are to be published on the spot via the website or social media, JPEG is the ideal choice. With this format, the photos are already adjusted with an in-camera editing program, for example sharpened and the contrast increased. In addition, the size of the files is very small, so that both the transfer to the PC and faster series recordings are possible.
Foreground makes pictures round
Many event photos often look flat and unspectacular. This can be changed with a little trick. If you accommodate several, clearly defined levels in your recordings, you gain depth and make the pictures attractive. It is important to have a clearly defined foreground, a delimited center and a clearly recognizable background. This division is usually easy to achieve. For example, if a speaker is to be depicted on the stage, the glass on the lectern can be used very well as a blurred foreground.
It is also possible to take photos from the audience area and shoot between the two men in front. These then frame the main motif on the left and right in the middle. With such a division, it makes sense to place the main motif, in this case the speaker, in the middle level. It is important that it is as sharp and well lit as possible. It doesn’t matter if the foreground is too dark as long as the main subject is clearly visible. The background layer most often consists of a curtain or an illustration behind the speaker. If you use a large aperture here, this will be blurred and the viewer’s gaze will be drawn to the main subject on the middle level.