At my last few charities I was the designated “Event Photographer”. I’m not fabulous at taking photos. To be honest, I’m mediocre.
Mediocre to Acceptable, maybe. But free! Free is always in demand.
Based on years snapping pics at charity auctions, luncheons, galas, cocktail receptions, award ceremonies, board meetings, AGMs, and golf tournies, I have some advice on how to take half-decent photos if you’re not an actual photographer with, uh, skills.
If you roped your “friend with a digital SLR” into helping out at your event – this post is for you!
#1. Give your volunteer a shot list.
If you’re getting a free photographer, you can afford to spend the time to create a shot list for him or her.
Put a document together with the names of the people you need on camera. Your board members, celebrity host, major donors, senior NFP executives, etc… Add a small .jpg so they can be recognized. Google Image, Facebook or your org’s web site will usually provide some kind of image for most high-profile people these days.
This is so helpful to your photographer because on the event day you won’t have time to point out: “That’s so-and-so, get a pic of him!”
Also, if you need pictures of people and not pictures of the decor, or vice versa, tell your photographer. There is no need to have your volunteer capturing dozens of shots of the table centrepieces if you don’t intend to use them.
#2. Provide a schedule with priority items highlighted
When you are holding up the big cheque in the ballroom, you don’t want your photographer to be wandering around the silent auction display. Provide an agenda with the times of important events during the evening and highlight the things you definitely need photographed.
If you know you need a picture of your sponsor and your child spokesperson, make sure your photographer knows too, so you’re not tracking down people for “pictures” and stressing.
I always really appreciate when event managers make time for a speaker or award recipient to stand briefly to the side of a podium/stage and pose for a picture. Even for small or informal events, this is an asset. When you build this 60 second moment into the agenda, it really does help get better pics than the pics your volunteer will get crouching near the podium while people are speaking.
#1. Forget food & drinks – avoid, avoid!
If people are eating, reaching for, holding, looking at, smelling or touching food – don’t take the picture. Nobody is going to use it unless what’s in the photo is a giant cake that says 100 MILLION DOLLAR GOAL REACHED!
Think to yourself, would this scene be published in an annual report? If it’s your Executive Director smearing butter on a bagel, chances are, no!
Depending on the event, some NFP employees feel awkward about being in pictures while holding a glass of wine or beer. If they express this, no problem, ask them to hold their glass lower, and frame the shot above it.
Another decent thing to do is to remind people to take off nametags/lanyards if they are going to be in a pic with a celeb spokesperson or important figure — it will make a nicer shot for them.
#2. Don’t worry about candids, work the posed shots!
If you are Robert Mapplethorpe I’m confident you can get a billion great candid shots from just snapping randomly at artsy angles. Unfortunately, if you’re only mediocre like me, you’ll get the best bang for your buck by choosing your shots and posing people deliberately.
You can’t avoid “candids”, but every event has the same sequence of likely occurrences, so you can look for shots ahead of time and massage situations to get your shots.
“Candidy” shots you can predict will happen and be in the right place to catch them:
People applauding. People shaking hands. Two people listening, one person talking (a classic!). Person smiling at a podium. Hugging. Giving flowers to a speaker. Somebody signing a document whilst others look on. Prize draws! Shot of the orchestra or band (particularly if composed of youth).
If it looks like it could be stock photography, go for it.
#3. Look for natural groups of three
Depending on the level of booze at your event, you may have some difficulty getting folks to look happy and relaxed in pictures…Especially if they see you coming at them with intent to snap away.
I like to look for natural groups of three. Three is a great number for a picture, and you’ll notice that at events, people tend to group in twos and threes to chat. Whenever I see a group of three talking, I pounce on them and ask: “Can I take a picture?”
Asking people to pose for pictures helps not-so-fabulous photographers get more reliable pics than relying on candid snaps.
Always be ballsy and just ask people for pictures. You’ll get your shot list completed and you’ll be able to control how the shot is framed.
When you ask people to pose for a picture, they can go all “Business Face”.
That’s okay, good tricks to get people to smile and look natural include…
“Hey, you guys know each other, right? You’ve met before?” – Usually provokes laughing, always works on lawyers.
“Don’t worry, I only take pretty pictures, I trash all ugly pictures!” – Older men chuckle about their pic breaking my camera.
“It’s digital, want to see it afterwards?” – Works on kids.
“How amazing was [Random Guest Speaker]?” - You’ll get a round of smiling and nodding.
Sometimes a group won’t stand close enough together naturally, so go ahead and prompt them in a cute way:
“Come on, squish closer together, I know you guys are buddies!”
I’ve gotten some of the best pics at charity events by just telling people: “I want to get a great picture of you.”
Engage your subjects in helping you out and you’ll get better results.
I’m taking pics at two events this May. If you see me coming at you, please put down the shrimp kebab and forgive my canned lines. A mediocre photographer’s gotta do what a mediocre photographer’s gotta do!