Conference Photography – Why you need a professional photographer

Why you need a professional photographer for your conference

Before I divulge into the world of conference photography I’ve listed 5 key components you will need from your photographer

1. A Great Technical Skillset – photography, lighting, editing, etc

2. Professional Attitude – a friendly persona with clients, as well as their sponsors and delegates.

3. Experience – they will just know what to do and you can focus on your job.

4. Insurance – make sure you grab a copy of their details, especially public liability. They should also be able to supply a risk assessment if required.

5. Equipment – the best cameras and lenses for the job, without doubt.

Unless your budget stands at near zero then don’t take a chance with your conference by hiring an inexperienced event photographer. If your conference event is new and you have a very small budget it might be worth locating an aspiring conference photographer with a proven eye for detail in this area. But if your aim is to promote your conference for growth and take it to market in a big way then you will need professional photographer.

What you expect from an experienced conference photographer
Well, for sure the 5 bullet points detailed above, other than that stamina and consistent awareness of how they interact with absolutely everyone. The typical conference can be 8-10 hours solid work. There are a few opportunities to rest and being a consistently great photographer takes great skill and dedication. You will also demand the best professionally edited images that really hit the mark. You will be relying on their prompt arrival and to be set up ready for the first wave of delegates coming through the doors. Personable characteristics are just as important as style and quality. Who wants to compromise – getting fantastic images when the photographer is getting on everyone’s nerves? That’s why recommendations and introductions followed by just a phone call or meet up work so well for preparation on site working as a team. After all the photographer is also a team player and needs to gel with your people.

Think about the kind of images you want a conference photographer to supply
There can be many Conference formats but they all share a familiar concept to achieve the same goals – stage, speaker(s), audience, debates. Maybe your producing a political or academic conference, or it could just be entirely industry focused, forming part of a wider event such as trade shows with multitrack seminars or workshops. Whatever the subject or scale you’ll need to ask yourself just “what the heck do we need photographing and how are we going to use all these images!” Most conference producers plan way ahead a list of essential images they will need. Thinking about the shots you need for future collateral will save you so much frustration come the end of your conference. Most professional conference shooters are good and will get what you need without asking but please don’t leave it to chance, write a detailed brief based on the end use!

Who will want to use the images? So lets split this in to the various stakeholders any conference may have: the conference producers, the events marketing department, PR, the speakers, the sponsors, the event designers, catering and AV units. They may all have an interest in obtaining photography for an event so consider all aspects. You might have to sign a deal with the photographer to licence images to absolutely everyone involved, but that should be straightforward. You and the photographer need to know from the outset what is being photographed and for whom. Nothing worse than a missed opportunity because something was overlooked! I’d like to say as a professional photographer I just capture everything. In part this is true to a point but there will be somethings that can be overlooked or a no go area, documents, labels or high risk to photograph. Some delegates and even speakers have made requests not to have their photos taken. This needs to be upheld and you we could be breaching data or privacy protections laws if not followed through and images are published online.

The Shots You Need
If your event is small or less reliant on marketing and sponsorship you may not be so concerned with a seasoned conference photographer but if you want absolutely every base covered your going to need a photographer with a very wide skill set. Here are some bullet points outlining what they will be expected to cover, using the largest possible conference as a benchmark covering all possible scenarios. Bare in mind you may need more than one photographer or with the addition of an onsite editor depending on your the brief and deliverables.

  • Wide shots of the space from ground to elevated levels, both empty and full showing your event in full capacity.

    Corporate Event Photography. copyright www.tellingphotography.com
  • Conference set up. Depending on how much detail behind the scenes is required, its worth getting the photographer in early to show off that expensive 6×3.5metre LED screen you had shipped in.
  • Registration at the point where delegates are greeted and signed in. That initial mass of curious people flying through the doors is priceless. Once its happened that is it, you won’t be able to re-create it! There is a very short window so you crucially need a fast photographer who can follow the stream here.
  • Networking and greetings, whether they be hugs, handshaking and any business card exchanges, morning is the best time straight after registration. People grab some coffee, a light breakfast and then its straight on with the conversations. Your photographer will want to nail this way before midday after which the interest waivers. This is also a good point for when sponsorship and trade areas get busy. Some big room shots, plenty of interaction – this is key for your marketing,PR and sponsors, they will be crying out for these images.
  • Event branding in all areas and in detail and importantly with the focus on people moving through those spaces. Cleverly aligned shots of the event branding can make for a really nice cover shot for publications.
  • Stands – There will be so much detail here. Merchandise on table, people flicking through brochures, watching demonstrations and importantly interacting.
  • Sometimes just a few shots backstage of speakers getting mic’d up before they go out can look interesting and again if you want to share these with the AV team I’m sure they’ll be appreciative.
  • The conference. Now if we’re in just one room then there is usually plenty of time here for photographers to work the floor, discretely as possible to gather the keynote shots, panel discussions or round tables, whatever you have planned for your conference. Just make sure the photographer has the most up to date schedule and is familiar with the layout. We’ve covered events where speakers are presenting on different floors for just 15 mins so we have to really move fast. For marketing shots I’d recommend focusing on the best locations and angles, again think about where these images will be used. Your going to want to get all the great conference shots with branding for your marketing team as well as some great speaker portraits whether its for the conference team, editorial or for the speaker themselves.
  • Lighting in the auditorium . Typically conferences are dark places, there is a reason for no natural light. A controlled environment without external distractions and artificial lighting is designed to focus your attention on the stage area.
  • Every conference I’ve been to I’ll check out the lighting in the auditorium as well as stage lights. Maybe talk to the AV guys about toning down that blue back light right behind the speaker. No one wants a blue face, worse still, green!
  • Your photographer will need to recognise all the different light levels and colour distributions, from where the speaker is standing and importantly the entire length of the stage. Tracking an enthusiastic presenter as they move from one side to the other through difference light levels is no simple task, mix that with a bright LED screen behind your subject.
  • The networking areas in conferences can suffer from extreme light loss. You might find one side is fantastically bright and well lit from a huge atrium window, the other side not so great with people in virtual darkness. This can also cause a terrible blend of warm and cold light spectrums. Photographers sometimes have to work with just fluorescent lights or incandescent lighting and can only dream of having a consistent ambient or a bright LED alternative. I usually bring an off camera remote and try to fill in some of those tight networking shots with some dynamic lighting. Works a treat!
  • In the conference room a professional photographer won’t be using any of their own artificial lighting but will use the light available which mostly comes off from the stage lighting. So they should introduce themselves with the AV and video team. The photographer is not there to direct the lighting, merely to work with the team on levels and saturation.
  • Dynamic big room shots – Now most conference rooms won’t have the luxury of an elevated position but your photographer should be able to use their skill set to achieve those important scale shots, looking over audiences and looking down while people have a round table discussion. These are great images to showcase what is happening here.
  • Aside from more networking at intervals and some carefully executed catering shots the photographer needs to keep their eye out for extra detail so that the collection doesn’t become too repetitive.  Speaker and audience reaction/interaction shots for the remaining part of the day are in danger of becoming very safe unless the photographer is able to develop more of a variation for the final gallery.

Realtime images at your Conference
A pro conference photographer will bring a laptop, usually as a pre-requisite. Professionally edited images delivered as your event happens needn’t come at huge expense. If it’s just to grab some images throughout the day for social media the photographer will be able to manage this task independently of an assistant. However if you are looking for a constant stream of images throughout the day then hiring a competent onsite editor is the way to go!

So whats the hurry to get images out so fast?
Show people clearly whats happening whilst its happening. That keynote speaker needs to be on your twitter, Facebook or Instagram account well before they have finished their talk.

I could just use my smartphone for all the instant images?
We’ve seen this before many times at events – the PR team are using their phones. Ok so you’ve hired us to take loads of fantastic images for your marketing and sales collateral, so why are you sending someone around the event with a smartphone? Ok I get it, its fast and yes its more interesting than sitting in front of the laptop tweeting.

If there is one thing that truly doesn’t stand out on social media and that is the smartphone photo. Yes they’re pretty good these days but hmm they can’t surely take great photos at conference. Its usually way too dark, no zoom to get the detail and absolutely no scope for creativity!  All PR and marketing material demands crisp, clear well executed images that make a great story.

The marketing campaign happens a few weeks after the event, no rush.Thats cool, I guess it depends on your criteria. For large events covering a wide spectrum of areas and a potentially larger audience, then within the first few minutes of an event taking place is when the marketing and PR machine kicks in. This is crucially when your biggest audience is happening, whether they are attending the event or on the outside. They might be missing out on something interesting.

To be fair realtime production won’t suit all events and a great deal of photographers enjoy taking their work back to the studio for editing.