Working Backwards

What is the end result that you are after? Keep in mind, it’s not enough to say what you want; you also need to know why you want it.

There are three primary purposes for event photography:

  1. Documenting the Event
  2. Capturing THE Moments (The Essence of the Event)
  3. The BIG picture


This is rudimentary event coverage. It includes pre-event photos that document the event’s setup – the floor plan, the table centerpieces, the decorated ballroom, the fixtures, the uncut cake, ice sculpture, food and bar, and possibly the event staff. Even though these types of photos typically serve no marketing or editorial purposes, they are extremely useful for planning future events as well as doing the post-mortem. (While these images can be captured by staff on their cellphones, unless those photos are curated off those cellphones, they will only be available until the phone owner moves to another job.)

Once guests arrive, the event coverage of photography starts. These are the “people” shots, usually involving 2-5 in each frame, who are captured either candid or specifically posing for a group photo. Make sure the photographer knows your preference, as well if there are any specific people to follow. If the event includes a program, remember a need for capturing keynote speakers and award-winners at the podium, the grip-and-grin moments, and possibly group photos. There should be a handful of photos of the venue, preferably taken at the peak attendance, to highlight the general interest of the event.

Capturing the Moment (The Essence of the Event)

While just about anyone with the right camera equipment can handle basic documentation photography, only an experienced event photographer consistently delivers images that capture the essence of an event that an organization can use for gifts, marketing, and editorial content. These are the images that tell attendees they are valued, that say, “Thank you for being here and making this event such a fun and wonderful place to be!” Quality photos make the attendees feel special because you thought the event and their attendance was important enough to warrant spending the money to hire a professional. These are also the images that may ignite a streak of envy for those who missed the event, and remind them to mark their calendars for the next one.

A key indicator of quality photography is their ability to impress on the viewer the feeling of the moment. Your event photos could be the opportunity to grab the attention and interest from a new audience. Images that look as if someone simply walked around blindly snapping away are quickly dismissed in the deluge of photos that stream through today’s visual world. Images that capture the interactions, smiles, tears—THE moments—make viewers pause to soak in the 1,000-word essay captured in the frame.

It is unrealistic to expect every image to be a prize-winner; however, when a viewer can relive an event through its imagery, you will know that the essence of your event was captured. It is not accidental when someone feels that the imagery makes a perceived boring business event look fun and interesting. It is because the photographer knew what to look for and then captured it. And that is part of the BIG picture.

The Big Picture

Do not take for granted the opportunity your event represents for your organization. While the event is the primary focus, the photographer could also be looking to add to the necessary profile photos and marketing photos that are always needed. This step goes beyond the documentary nature of event photography and into commercial and editorial photography. You might wind up with some photographs that can serve multiple uses. If there is an opportunity to fill your image bank, it is more likely to happen on purpose with an experienced commercial and event photographer than accidently by someone simply wandering around.

What separates these images from the rest?
Timelessness. It might take 3-5 years before they appear dated.
Flexibility. They can be used in multiple formats and media.
Hidden Gems. Images of individuals can be used for profiles, articles, and/or marketing.
Broad Focus. Different people in different roles will have different requirements and needs. By not constraining a photographer to a narrow focus, more needs throughout the organization may be met.

Getting the most from your investment

First, do not simply “hire a photographer.” Look for a photographer who can deliver documentation, essence, and the BIG picture. Make sure the photographer knows your expectations for the full range and not just a narrow focus. If you have specific requests, make sure they are communicated explicitly in advance (feel free to refer to our Event Photography Planning Guide).

Remember, it cannot always be quantified in terms of an hourly rate. For example, you could pay $25/per hour for a handful of bad images. On the other hand, $200/per hour for a treasure trove of images that can satisfy multiple needs and purposes for a number of years might be a steal. It could be the difference in having a perfect gift photo for an important donor, or not – and how do you value that?

When you have an event, think about all the possibilities it might represent and hire your photographer accordingly. Think beyond the narrow scope of documentation. Think broadly:

  • Who will be attending, and would a printed photo make a nice “thank you”?
  • Is this an annual event that needs collateral for selling and/or growing the event?
  • Beyond a handful of photos for a news release or small online image gallery, are there other uses?
  • Who else, besides you, might be interested in the photos?
  • Would it be helpful to you to offload fulfillment? Or are you equipped to field image and print requests?

The thing to keep in mind is that there are typically no do-overs once an opportunity is missed. When the speaker has left the podium or left the room, when the honorees are mingling or leaving, when the guests are gone, will you have the photos you need?

Quite simply: can you afford the risk of not hiring a professional photographer?