Event Photography: The 1st Annual Santa Cruz Waves Soiree

A few years ago I was asked to do some event photography for Santa Cruz Waves. I had no idea I was wandering into something I’d really love doing. Last night was the The 1st Annual Santa Cruz Waves Soiree where Alison Gamel and I were hired to photograph the event.

Photos from the event are available on my commercial site.

Event photography is a challenge. You play the part of host, guest, on the fly portrait photographer, lighting technician, lens juggler, battery wrangler, and eternal camera strap adjuster. You’re also invisible as necessary and life of the party the rest of the time. This is, to use all of my extensive powers of the English language: hard.

Be so engaging that people want to take pictures with you!

Lighting is often a challenge. Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to focus on my subjects because it can be so very dark. On-camera flash is really the only way to go and there are so many lessons applied from previous events. Get that light up high. Bounce the flash off the ceiling when you can. Move the flash around when you can’t. Shoot RAW. Be pretty good with Adobe Lightroom. Ask people to move. Pose them around for something super fun. Take note of the folks who really, really don’t want their picture taken. Have a couple of good jokes ready to go. Know who the VIP’s are.

Try to know your VIPs!

Over deliver

That doesn’t necessarily mean provide more photographs than required. To me that means anticipate. Research the venue, the type of the event, the details happening around that event.

Be prepared to narrow down the top 50 out of hundreds of photos. While you may think that supplying hundreds of photos speaks well of you (it kind of does) you may actually be creating more work for the person tasked with publishing the photos. Provide the service and break out those top 50 at delivery time.

Anticipate!

For this event I checked out the venue. I learned that people were coming in costume. I also learned that a couple of classic cars would be out front with a red carpet. The combination of beautiful building, red carpet, costumes, and period cars told me that people were going to want their pictures taken with those cars.

Guests with a classic car out front of the venue
  • I setup my favorite general purpose lens; a 24-105mm Canon L series
    • this allows me to get in tight while still ready for a group shot
  • I learned some of the backstory about each of the cars to get people engaged (and to give a good reason why leaning against it might not be a great idea).
    • One was a Bentley that once belonged to Bob Hope
    • The other was a Lincoln from the early 1930s made in Pasadena, CA.
    • The owners of the cars were incredibly generous with their time, and just like most folks love to tell their story when asked. The amount of good will created here will blow your mind.
    • I brought one of my studio lights, a powerful external battery, a solid light stand, and radio triggers.
  • Bring business cards. People will ask. This is a perfect opportunity to network and gain new clients.
  • Before the event I rounded up some volunteers to help meter the light and look for good angles.
Round up a couple of volunteers to test lighting and angles. Here’s an angle that I liked yet decided wasn’t safe since, hey, it’s a city street. That and these two ladies are stunning.

Be everywhere

These candids are what makes it special. Photos of people having a great time helps provide a memorable experience. You have to move around to get them though!

Roam! Make sure everybody knows why you’re there and that you’re having a good time too! Most importantly look for moments when people are engaging with each other. Tell the story.

Dance

No, really! Get out on the dance floor and dance! Be part of that party. Engage. Make people happy that you’re capturing the moment.

Get out and dance!

Be invisible

Turn it off so they can turn it on

Yes, that’s a total contradiction to nearly everything I said earlier. There are moments when you need to not distract. A perfect example is when there is a performance. Turn off the flash. Spot meter on your subject. Crank up the ISO as needed and break out that telephoto.

Know when to turn off that flash so that the entertainment can do their job without distraction. Let them be the center of attention.

Pose people!

One of my favorite group poses. The ends are looking in. The center is engaging with each other. A couple are engaging with the camera. Exactly what I was looking for!

Honest, people usually love it when you have an idea of how to make them look great. This is also a perfect moment to have a funny joke ready to get a reaction from your subjects. Have a couple of standard poses and draw out their personalities. This is a skill and in the end it’s probably why you were hired for the event. I’m mostly an extrovert but even I had to work to develop this skill. I’m sure this is far more difficult for an introvert but like any skill it can be learned.

Draw out that personality!