Event Photography – Tsunami on the Square got me thinking!

Richard Charpentier Notes from Rich, Photographing Arizona, Photography, RLC Design 2 Comments

This weekend got the juices flowing.  Photographing events isn’t like other photography work I do.  Normally I’ve got some time to think, setup up, walk around and take in the scene……  That’s not how photographing an event works.  And I’ve got a few thoughts on it to share with you.

The April / May Issue of Photoshop User Magazine had a wonderful article on Real World Concert Photography by Alan Hess.  Alan had some great tips, and honestly they paid off for me weeks ago while shooting Filabusta over at the Cliff Castle Casino.  Before heading off to Tsunami I re-read the article once more just to brush up.

Wouldn't it suck if there was a tripod up front in the audience's way?


What I learned from Alan Hess, combined with what I already had in my own bag of tricks allowed me to pull out some nice well balanced images once again at one of my favorite events.  I’ve got a few bullet points for folks wanting to shoot at events below:

  • Events can change over time:  Tsunami’s start was Friday night at the Elks Theater.  An indoor location with extremely warm lighting when the house lights are up.  When the house lights go down and the stage is lit, totally different story on color temperatures.  Tsunami’s day shows were on the square, harsh afternoon light in some areas, dappled light in other areas under the trees.  Settings change as the event unfolds.
  • Indoor settings:  At the Elks I ran with a similar setup described by Alan Hess in the Photoshop User article.  High ISO baby!  Aperture Priority mode.  This is one situation where I’m not in manual.  Shoot wide open, keep in mind your depth of field and for gosh sake, try to lock in on somebody’s eyes!  Focus on the people.  Set a single point of focus, lock on the eyes, recompose and fire.  Move fast.  High speed on the shutter.  Fire!
  • Tripods?  Yeah, leave them at home:  Alright folks.  I love my tripod.  I use it for landscape, low light, portrait work, etc.  You name it, Rich loves his tripod.  But not at events.  There are crowd considerations, access consideration, space to keep in mind, etc.  YOU CANNOT BLOCK ACCESS FOR EVENT PARTICIPANTS.  PERIOD!  For instance, in a theater that is completely packed with people coming and going, no tripod for you!  Use your camera’s amazing functionality to shoot hand held.  Crank the ISO, open it up wide, etc.  But do not make yourself a nuisance to everyone attending the event, or block aisle ways (er, fire hazard Davey, fire hazard).  And yes, I’m harping on this one because I had to get around several people with tripods blocking the aisle ways.  Not good.  You’ll get photographers banned from events with that behavior!
  • Need stability, try a monopod:  I loved my Manfrotto monopod.  If it wasn’t broken it would have been with me.  Hey Manfrotto, are you going to respond to my warranty inquiry?  Please???  The monopod does not take any more space than I do, is highly portable, and won’t block people.
  • Do not get in the way of performers:  Probably the most shocking thing I saw this past weekend was a videographer walk straight up to the main stage area and plop down into a front row seat (dang, I should have gotten that seat when I saw it).  They had a large gear backpack that they laid out in the performance area, broke out a HUGE video tripod, and commenced setting up.  They literally plopped their stuff in the area where performers were doing their thing!  A Tsunami volunteer spoke to them (I was on the Courthouse steps watching with my mouth wide open) and the person was not dissuaded and appeared to argue with the staffer.  Ugh!  Well, after the set wrapped up an Arizona Ranger popped over to talk to the person and get them to move their gear.  Once again, stuff like this will get the rest of us banned from events.  Don’t do it!
  • Point and Shoots are doable!  That’s right.  You don’t always need the big guns at an event.  I was out with my 5D II and my G11.  The 5D was used to get tight on acts, the G11 was used for crowd shots and getting the overall feel of what was happening.  I made the call that morning that I’d bring one big gun, and one small one.  That G11 bought me a lot of wide shots without having to swap lenses or carry 2 DSLRs.
  • Point and Shoots at night don’t rock:  The daytime is great.  Night time low light stuff?  Yeah, you really need something high speed, high ISO.  Something with continuous focus, AI Servo mode, etc.  The G11 is not up to snuff for stuff like fire dancers.
  • Know your gear!  I can change ISO, Focus settings, Single/High Speed shooting all while looking through my viewfinder now.  I’m that familiar with my camera.  All the top buttons are memorized, and the number of clicks to the setting I want is also known.  So, when lighting changed in the Elks Theater (several times) I wasn’t putting the camera down to reset.  Having it in Aperture Priority mode also helped as opposed to being manual.
  • Finally, stay out of the way!  I covered this in tripods, and staying out of the performers.  But I’m going to say it again because it is so important.  Photographers have been having a tough time with permits, limited access, no access, and bans.  If you’re the guy who walks into the middle of a parade with your camera, you’re killing everyone else.  Performers like to have their images taken, but not if it interferes with what they’re doing.  The event is not for you to practice your craft.  In practicing your craft be as unobtrusive as possible.  I reiterate this now because I actually left early disgusted by some photographer behavior I saw early evening Saturday.  I figured it would be better to go home and watch a movie than try to shoot the event.  Why add to the problem?  🙂

Next weekend we’ve got another favorite event.  The Blue Grass Festival.  I’ll be out and about again, but not near the stage area.  My personal preference is to shoot the pick up bands on the backside of the courthouse.  It’s fun to watch folks drift in and out of groups and immediately join right in.  I admire that amount of skill, and those are the folks I enjoy photographing.  The lighting is the biggest challenge, as there are big trees and lots of dappled light (hard to get a good exposure).  Oh, and dog poop randomly in the grass.  A bit to deal with!  😉

Ah, check out the dappled light in the background!



Comments 2

  1. I too saw the videographer who almost joined the stage performance. Talk about being self-centered! I was hoping the policeman that made her relocate instead asked her to leave.
    I saw a photographer using a monopod at the last 2 acts in the evening. Then I wondered why I left mine at home 🙁
    My husband used a lot of fill flash to handle the courthouse area lighting, which a comnination bright Az sunshine or dense shade.
    Liked the images you had in your prior post.

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