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Conference Photography – A Tutorial — 17 Comments

  1. Great Article, I enjoyed it a lot.
    I recently did a conference photoshoot myself in Antwerp, Belgium, so I can relate to the advice you give here. Anyway, the client was very happy with the results. However they did gave a pointer on … name plates in front of the speakers. The setting was in a dark meeting room with poor lighting. The speakers were all seated and had name plates in front of them. I focused on the different speakers with my canon 70-200 at f2.8 manual mode and did use bounce flash.
    This resulted in good images of the speaker, but left the name plates pretty unsharp. Do you have any advice on how to avoid this? I guess I could go to f5.6, but in a dark room… i’m not so sure.
    Thx again for the great article.

    • Hi,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      I know what you mean about the name plates. Sometimes it’s better to stand further away and set you zoom to the maximum length (200mm) as this has the effect of ‘flattening’ elements in the image, meaning the nameplate will seem less unsharp.

      To be totally honest though, it’s pretty difficult to get both the speaker and the nameplate in focus. Moving further away and stopping down your aperture both help but they both mean your sensor is receiving less light from the subject and you have to do something to compensate (such as boost the flash or the ISO).

      I tend to find the best compromise, then add contrast and clarity to the image (or just the nameplate) in post.

      Hope that helps,

      Dan

  2. Hi Daniel,

    A really good article. I’ve just read this and the nightclub photography post.

    I have a couple of questions if you could spare a few minutes to answer please?
    For a full day exhibition/conference (7-8hrs), on average how many edited images would you give the client? and do you just give them unlimited usage rights to save hassle or do you keep it to a year/2 media? and charge extra for more usage?

    I recently did an exhibition/conference which was 2 full days work. I gave the client around 175 images from day one and about 80 from day two. So around 250 for the two days. The reason i gave less from the second day was quite a lot of photos from the first day were of the exhibition stands and it would basically be the same shots. I made sure they had plenty of varied shots of each stand as well as crowds and any guest speakers.

    I charged £600 for the two days and gave unlimited usage. I’m quite new to conferences but reading your blog post was helpful because it pointed out what I did right…..and wrong. A lot of it was being prepared, like you said.
    Sometimes I felt like I should be constantly taking photos so the client knows I’m working and not standing around. Towards the end I knew what shots I needed and knew when I to take them rather than wandering around constantly firing off shots.

    cheers

    • Hi Pete,

      I see you’re from near my home-town of Newcastle (that’s right, I Facebook-stalked you) a local lad…. direct competition for me… shooting conferences on my turf and now you want advice too?! The cheek of it! =D)

      At least you’re not drastically undercharging – that would have made me cry a little.

      Ha ha, anyway, to answer your questions – the number of shots a client gets varies with every brief. I don’t go in there thinking ‘I need to come out with 300 shots today, or I need to be shooting 2 shots a minute in case the client checks the time stamps (I’ve never had that happen, don’t worry), I go in there thinking I need to get x amount of really great shots for each different section of the brief and y amount of great shots for each speaker highlighted.

      I’ll let you in to a big secret: The key to providing a good service for conference photography (in Newcastle, London or otherwise) is how you organise the files on the disc you submit. Any competent photographer can make usable pictures and send them to a client but if you can find a way to structure the files so the client can find what they’re looking for easily, then it doesn’t matter if you shoot 200 or 2000 pictures.

      If you’re not into organising your pictures, then definitely don’t shoot 2000 pictures! Clients hate trawling through images looking for good ones and the more they have to look at, the more they start to look the same!

      Now, you asked how many on average, so even though I’ve said it varies, I suppose I could give a rough benchmark figure. I charge a little more per day than you and I tend to deliver about 200 – 300 pictures per day depending on the size of the event. I’m looking to get 5 or 6 great pictures of the important speakers (which means there’ll be other, not so great ones included just in case my client’s taste differs), 3 or 4 good shots of other speakers and then – listen up because this part is important and I deliberately didn’t include it in the tutorial so as not to give my competition a head start – then I take **as many pictures as possible *** in the exhibition area. As long as you’re not shooting so much that you have no batteries to use for the speakers of course!

      The reason for this is because those organisations with stands in the exhibition area are the same people who sponsored and funded the event. The client will want to have images they can publish showing that their delegates enjoyed interacting with the exhibitors and the exhibitors did a lot of business. They’ll use those pictures to (re)secure sponsors and exhibitors next year. It’s not much fun photographing the exhibition but that’s where the money is, so that’s where you have to be.

      I could write a whole other tutorial about the nuances of exhibition photography – and maybe I will someday – but know this, even if it feels like you’re producing ‘basically the same shots’ you don’t know which one is going to make the client’s eyes light up, you should know who the major sponsors are (and if you don’t, the size of their stand is usually a good indication!) but generally, you don’t know which of the delegates are VIP’s and which set of interactions will be ideal for whatever the client has in mind for your pictures.

      So, while 200 – 300 pictures a day is almost definitely too much if you lump everything into one folder, I find that a client appreciates the extra work if you can organise those shots in a meaningful way that makes it easy for them to find what they need and use it.

      Having said all that, I understand the nagging sensation that you should be constantly taking pictures all the time but it sounds like you’re confident enough to know when you’ve got what you need – and that’s important.

      Your question about usage rights is a great one, I’m glad you asked (you don’t see that kind of question on the nightclub tutorial!). Most conferences are annual affairs, and most of the imagery you’re producing quite naturally has a short shelf life. Having said that, I never sign over all rights. My standard agreement states that I retain copyright and the client has a two year usage licence. Due to the naturally short shelf life (and the lack of any real creativity necessary to produce the shots) conference clients are the only ones that I don’t make a point of checking up on after two years – as long as they’re still hiring me every year, lol!

      I hope that helped – but not too much, I need to be photographing more conferences in Newcastle, it’s tiring going down to Birmingham and London all the time!

      Dan

  3. Spot on! I appreciate the honest answer even though I could be considered your competition 😉
    The fact that you answered with good feedback to help a fellow photographer is really refreshing to see. If i’m busy on any work I get I’d gladly pass your details on to them. I noticed you work together with a few other photographers and I’ve read a couple of the blogs you guys do and it’s nice to see people helping each other out. Photography tends to be really competitive, or what I’ve seen in my short time doing it anyways!!

    The advice on how to send the files to the client is really good. I think that’s what I was more concerned about. Sending hundreds of images in a folder which would get boring to look through. If I can stick them in different folders for them for different speakers etc then this would make it a hell of a lot easier.

    I’ve only did the one conference and it’s work I get through a PR agency I work with. I haven’t really did any promotion and I don’t know if it’s what I’m going to be doing all the time but it was quite a good couple of days. I’m kind of at a point where I don’t know which road I’m gonna go down. I’ll probably end up doing something totally different to what I’d planned but hopefully it’s something I enjoy.

    Thanks

    Pete

    • Cheers =D) My mission statement when it comes to business is simple; don’t be a dick!

      The other guys in the FNP collective are both really sound, friendly guys and we all want to keep the quality bar high!

      Personally I believe competition in any field is a good thing for that field (even if I personally ‘lose’), so I’m happy to answer any questions.

      Good luck for the future and Merry Christmas!

      Dan

  4. I enjoy reading through a post that can make people think.

    Also, thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  5. This is one of the few ACTUALLY good articles I could find on this event photography. Thank you so much for the advice – all of us amateurs can learn from your expertise!

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  7. For someone looking to start out, network and practice without necessarily charging standard professional fees, can you talk about basic equipment requirements?

    • I can briefly say that you need a camera body capable of shooting great quality images at high ISO – because you’re going to be working in rooms dimly lit by artificial lighting and because often they prefer you not to use flash.

      You’re gonna need a long lens to get speakers at the podium. 70-200mm or a 300mm, your call. Tou’re also going to need a wide lens (17-40, 12-24, or 10-20mm) to capture the full room set if you get a talk where the re’s a large audience. And you’re going to need a mid range zoom (I use a 24-70mm) for photographing the inevitable exhibition and networking stuff that appears on any conference brief. Although you’re sometimes required not to use flash, it still helps to have one for when you need it.

      You’d also be wise to invest in a set of light step ladders to aid you in shooting crowds at the exhibition or taking shots from the back of the room. A tripod might come in handy too, although I virtually never use one.

      I hope that’s what you were looking for.

      Dan

  8. Hi Dan,
    I came here by way of your nightclub tutorial. I got offered some work shooting at local clubs ( near Sydney, Australia) and the first night didn’t go too well. After that I found your tutorial and my work improved immediately. There’s lots of room for improvement, but the clients happy and I’ve gotten shots I’m proud of.

    Thank you.

    I’m keen to know if you have any tips for approaching prospective clients? My partner works in an area that means we attend conferences overseas about twice a year, and he has a few locally too. if there was a chance I could do some work there I’d feel less like a superfluous freeloader.

    I haven’t done corporate work in this area before, mostly it’s been small gallery openings and community events ( like comic book and writers festivals ) It’s all just small stuff that giving me experience while I study part time. So it’ll be a while before I try to work at one of the conferences. ( like a year or to) I’d need a fair bit of specific expernce before I felt confident, but I’d like to start working towards that.

    Do you have an suggestions about getting started? Like where I could start finding a small events that would give the right kind of look, and how to offer your services.

    Cheers
    Sam

    • Hi Sam,

      I apologise for taking so long to reply.

      What I’d suggest you do to gain experience is try your local college or university. When they have events on, they usually get students to cover it for free, so you could ask to do the same to build your portfolio.

      Alternatively, when you find yourself at a conference, you could approach the photog there and offer to help out on future events.

      When you’re ready to start booking jobs, look for conference organisers or event planners to approach (either by searching locally, or finding out who runs the conferences you already attend. Conferences are rarely organised in house, they’re almost always done by an events company – and it’s these guys who hire the photographer, so start networking with them.

      It’s not an easy field to get into though, usually the events company have preferred photographers and are loyal to them. In this case, again, it might be worth approaching the photographer, who may be looking to share the workload.

      Dan

  9. This was priceless, thank you! Next week I start to shoot a neurosurgery international conference and it will by my first experience in shooting a conference. I am nervous a bit, but I find it very motivating! As we can see, shooting a conference is not so easy as it looks like. After your article, I think I will buy a monopod.
    Thanks for brilliant advices!

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