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  • Writer's pictureedwardjamescoco

Ed goes on a tirade. . . again. . .

Ok. Those of you who have known me for a few years have heard me rant about this time and time again. It's one of my biggest headaches in the "industry" (I hate using that term). Yes, it's Event Photography. Or, I should say, "Bad Event Photography." There's nothing more painful than getting event photos back, a week or so after a show, and seeing. . . chaos. Utter chaos. Strange photos, weird angles, random exposures. You name it, I've seen it.

I know what you're thinking: "Just take your own photos, Ed." And I've given that a try. I'm not a bad photographer, actually. But I've also never been rich enough to invest in a high-end camera. So I've often ended up working with inferior tools and getting barely passable results. In this business you can't just use a regular DSLR camera. The artificial lighting can be a huge challenge, and events are crowded and happen quickly. The technology also moves too fast for me. For a number of years I was on top of it, but it was a constant fight to know what I should be using. And, consequently, the shots I took one year would look vastly inferior to photos the next year.

After a while I gave up taking my own photos and I've since relied on professionals. Or people posing as professionals. There have been some really good photographers; and I've honestly appreciated them. At Viacom/MTV I used to request that we hire certain freelancers for certain events, because I knew the results would be worth it. The other times. . . ughhhhhhhhhhh. . . . painful. . . .

As I've gone back to my old photos to plaster all over this website I've been reminded of the successes and the failures. It's hard to explain to someone what they should be doing when they take event photos. Some people just get it, and some don't. I've walked photographers through events and told them exactly what to shoot as still received horrible results. I can tell you, though, there are a lot of things that you can avoid in order to get closer to being a better photographer. So, for those of you who have had to endure my tirade over the years, I've compiled my top pitfalls. What I call THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF EVENT PHOTOGRAPHY. Here goes. . . . . .

1. Above all else, get photos with people in them. Photos without people are almost useless. The people don’t have to be posed, they don’t even have to be interested in what’s going on. They just need to be there. Of course the best photos are the ones where people are actually interacting with the environment. But the main point is to just get people in the shot. Otherwise it’s like throwing a party and having no one show up.

2. Avoid catching incomplete elements or “backstage clutter” in the photos. Everything in the frame should look like it’s done. There’s no use taking a photo of a beautiful element while there’s a half-installed piece of scenery next to it. Or while there’s an uncovered table, a stack of empty cardboard boxes, a random road case, etc., sitting in the shot. It makes the photo useless.

3. Avoid photos of “two hot girls who were working the event”. Seriously. It happens more than you think. In the last twenty years I can’t tell you how many photos I’ve been sent like this, from male AND female photographers. It’s great that you were chatting up two ladies who were working the show, but taking a photo of them doesn’t do us any good. We can’t show that to a potential client or use it on our web site.

4. Avoid straight-on photography. You don’t have to climb a tree or lay on the floor, but try to avoid photos that look like a front elevation of the scenery. They’re stiff and make everything appear boring/bland. Try to think like a participant at the event, and catch the environment naturally.

5. We don’t need photos of the stock elements. Unless someone asks for a photo of something for a specific purpose, we don’t need shots of rope and stanchion, wall braces, trash cans, standard bars, mushroom heaters, “a table with a single candle”, a ten foot section of carpet, or any of the support elements that might appear at EVERY event. Yeah – we get those. I could show you a dozen photos of a plastic trash can from various events, or a buffet table full of empty chafing dishes. Why someone took the photos, I have no idea.

6. Don’t take photos of the staff unless they’re working. Just don’t. Again, it’s pointless to show a client photos of the staff hanging out. We can’t use those photos, and yet I get hundreds of them. It’s ok to have the staff posed like they’re working. It’s not ok to have them waving to the camera, sitting around waiting for the event to start, or goofing around.

7. Avoid photos where it’s so crowded you can’t tell where you are. Yep, I have thousands of photos of random crowds. I can’t tell what’s going on or where the photo was taken; it’s just a sea of people. Every shot should tell some story by itself. If you have photos where you can’t tell if you’re at a red carpet or at someone’s wedding reception, just throw those away.

8. Don’t take photos of banners or a graphic wall by itself. These photos blow my mind. We created the banner and printed it ourselves; we have countless materials to show what it looked like. There’s absolutely no reason to take a close-up photo of a banner we made, unless it was printed incorrectly and we’re archiving it to point out our mistake.

9. No food or product close-ups unless someone specifically asks for them. Sometimes we get requests for these, so a client can highlight their product. But usually these go right in the trash. We don’t have any need for creative food photography. It doesn’t highlight anything that we promote.

10. Resist the urge to get super artsy. Leave the crazy filters behind. Black and white photos aren’t helpful. Wide angle is good, but fish-eye is probably a little too edgy. Changing vertical angle can be good in certain situations, but bug’s-eye-view isn’t very practical. While it’s encouraged to be creative, remember the practical use of the photography as well. These shots aren't going to get you in the Guggenheim, but they will sure make your client happy.

Thanks for listening to the rant!

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