The right photographer can ensure your event remains a vivid and exciting experience for your guests that can be shared for years to come. But finding and working with the right photographer isn’t as simple and easy as snapping a selfie. It requires a bit of vision and a lot of communication to get the images you want.
BUDGETING FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
Don’t just throw in photography as an afterthought— budget for it, says Portland photographer Ara Roselani. “Having a budget in mind is very helpful, but be aware that good photography isn’t cheap,” she says. “If you have high expectations for how photos will look, make sure you have a good budget for it. Make sure you budget for the level of photography that you’re expecting.”
“Photography is often last on the budgeting list, but it’s important to consider,” Seattle-area photographer Caren Morris says. “It’s kind of all you have left after the event. If you’re putting all of this time and energy and money into planning an event, but you don’t have any pictures, there’s no evidence that it existed.”
Sometimes nonprofits will try to save money by enlisting a volunteer to take pictures. If there’s really no room in the budget, that can work. “But you kind of get what you pay for,” says Seattle events planner Audrey Fan. An amateur who loves shooting landscapes may not be able to translate their hobby into getting great images of your event in a dim ballroom. Even if they do, the turnaround time is usually much longer because the volunteer has other commitments. One of Fan’s clients used a volunteer one year and it worked out fine. “But the next year, they paid a professional,” she notes.
CHOOSING THE PHOTOGRAPHER
The first hurdle is identifying the best photographer for your needs. Fan says if she’s looking for a photographer in a new area, she asks for referrals from industry groups or convention and visitors bureaus. Once she has names, she reviews the photographer’s portfolio. “You’re able to see the eye that the photographer has,” Fan explains. “You can see if it’s in line with the expectations of your customer.”
“You want someone approachable and nice and interested in making everyone look good,” Roselani adds.
NAVIGATING THE CONTRACT
Once you’ve found your photographer, the next thing to consider is the contract. You need to know what you’re buying and what the cost is going to be. And unfortunately, there really is no industry standard contract.
Seattle photographer Alan Alabastro says you’re typically buying two separate things when you hire a photographer. “One is the actual photography services, going there and capturing the images,” he says. “The second is the rights to those images.” Details such as photo credits, how the images can be used, turnaround time and whether the photographer will provide you with digital files only or actual printed copies need to be specified. “You can have anything you want, including full copyright, the very next day. But it comes at a price,” Alabastro says. “Everything is negotiable.”
Portland photographer Andie Petkus charges an hourly fee for her time photographing an event. Then, if clients are willing to have her logo on photos and only want to use low-res images online, they can use them for free. If they don’t want to use her logo, it costs a bit. If they want high-resolution files for printing, the cost goes up as well. Essentially, you only pay for what you need, Petkus says. “I shoot primarily auctions and gala dinners, and I would guess 90 percent of those clients never print a single one of my images,” Petkus explains. “They put [the highres photos] online, in email or on Facebook.”
Still other photographers, like Portland’s Paul Rich, charge an hourly rate that includes unlimited usage rights. Because each photographer sets his or her own policies, it’s vital to carefully read the contract and understand exactly what you’re paying for. And if you will use the images for marketing or advertising, you don’t just need rights from the photographer. You need to make sure the people in the photographs agree to that, as well. The general practice is to post a sign at the registration table that notes that guests’ images may be used for marketing purposes.
SETTING THE STAGE
At the event itself, let the photographer know what to expect. “It’s always a good idea to provide photographers with a run-of-show document,” says Seattle-area photographer Mike Nakamura. The document provides a timeline of what is going to happen and approximately when. And if there are any must-have shots, give that to the photographer as well—but don’t overdo it. “As somebody who has been doing this for a decade, I don’t necessarily need someone to give me a really detailed set of images to capture,” says Jonathan Marrs with Portland’s Atelier Pictures. “If I can understand the heart of the event and what purpose those images are going to serve, as a professional, I can run with it.”
If there are VIPs you want to have photos of, you can give the photographer a list of names, but it also helps to have someone point them out and wrangle any group shots you need. Petkus says some clients put a special ribbon on the name tags of VIPs to help alert the photographer. And name tags, although not particularly photogenic, can help you identify guests in the photos afterward, Alabastro says.
Just like at home, you want to minimize clutter in photographs. There’s not much you can do about exit signs, but try to make sure things like trash cans are tucked away, the pros agree. Give guests a coat check option so they aren’t draped over chairs. “Cover the podium with a sign that has your organization’s name on it, rather than the hotel,” Petkus advises. If you have sponsors, make sure their brand is prominent in the background.
TAKING THE SHOT
If you are a guest at an event, make sure the photographer captures your “best side.”
“If you see the photographer or you are aware of their presence in your periphery, it’s best to smile,” says Rich. “Put purses down and your jacket away so you’re actually wearing whatever your attire is.” When you’re getting your photo taken at an event, whether as a speaker or a guest, make sure you don’t have papers or napkins in your hands. If you don’t want to be seen with a beer or wine glass in your hand, set it down, and place your purse at your feet instead of slung over a shoulder. Plus, if the camera is pointed your way, and you’re talking, stop. “You will notice that politicians and experienced professional speakers will periodically pause and not talk,” Nakamura says. “I don’t know whether that’s for the photographer, but it helps.”
Make photography part of the show.
Beyond documenting an event, photography can become part of the entertainment. Photo booths with props can create a festive mood that helps guests loosen up and get into a party spirit. “Sometimes attendees will grab some of the fun photo booth props and wear them around,” says Portland photographer Paul Rich. “Especially if you can get a key person in there, like the CEO wearing funny props, it really adds levity to the event.”
Photo booths can also help get people warmed up for the photographers documenting the event. “If I come by to take photos after someone has taken photos in a photo booth, they are more willing to ham it up for me,” Portland photographer Andie Petkus says. The photos can be printed on-site or made available in an online gallery.
You can also set up a step-and-repeat station, Seattle photographer Caren Morris says. Essentially it’s like a redcarpet photo experience with your logo on a backdrop. Attendees step in front and get their picture taken on the way into an event.
For smaller events of up to 75 attendees, a flipbook station can provide a memorable and fun keepsake. Guests are told to move around and do something silly while a short video clip or a burst of still photos are taken. “It’s printed out onto very small card stock and bound together,” Rich says. This, however, takes some time. “I’ve found the flipbook thing is really fun and is a great keepsake, but it kind of clogs itself up,” he says. “It works for groups of 50 to 75, but if it gets much bigger, it’s much less successful. That’s where a photo booth becomes a better option.”