Event photography & equipment advice

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by equilibrium17, Apr 10, 2013.

  1. equilibrium17 macrumors member

    Aug 20, 2007
    Hi all,

    I've gotten some good advice here in the past regarding equipment purchasing, and it's less intimidating here than the big photog forums, so I thought I'd try here again. Here is the situation and my query:

    I would classify myself an enthusiastic amateur photographer. My present body is a Canon T3i/600d, which I've been shooting with for about a year and a half now. For lenses, I have an 18-135 IS USM (the kit lens), a Sigma 30mm/f1.4, a Canon 50mm/f1.8 II, and a Canon 70-300mm/f4.5-5.6. I also have experience shooting with some other lenses which I have rented from time to time.

    I've been asked by a friend of a friend whom I also know somewhat to serve as photographer for a private event she is coordinating. She has offered to pay me fairly well, probably enough to hire a pro instead of me they wanted to. Not sure why she is hiring me instead of a pro... I speculate she just isn't comfortable comfortable working with a stranger. I actually tried to refer her to a pro photographer I know, but she'd rather have me do it.

    The event is fairly mundane -- it's basically a cocktail reception in a fairly nice restaurant. Should be pretty low-key. She primarily wants photos to memorialize the event and capture who attended. So it will be mostly candids and some casual posed shots.

    I'd like to give her the best product I can. I have shot some indoor events before, including some fairly similar social events, so I do have some clue what I am in for. At these past events, I have shot mostly without flash using my primes, especially the 30mm, and I've seen my results gradually improve from event to event. I like shooting without a flash because it's unobtrusive and tends to capture people in a more relaxed state of mind. But I can also see how having a decent flash might open up additional shooting possibilities. I have very little experience using flash. What little I have used the built-in flash on my T3i has suggested to me that it's good for a little fill flash on a backlit subject and that's about it.

    Anyway, I'm thinking about buying and/or renting some additional equipment for this event.

    I think the most obvious think to pick up would be a better flash, which is something that is on my long-term purchase list anyway (though probably something I would be looking to purchase more like 6-12 months from now were it not for this event). So I'm looking at picking up a 430 EXII, which seems about right to me in terms of cost, size, and capability.

    And then there's the possibility of renting a lens. I like shooting with primes, but swapping lenses and/or sneaker zooming can be tricky during a social event. I live in NYC so renting is very easy for me -- just a quick hop down to Adorama and I can pick up pretty much anything I want to play with for a day. I'm thinking maybe a 17-55mm/f2.8 IS. I'm less inclined to buy a lens of this caliber right now because I'm undecided as to whether I'm going to stick with a crop body or upgrade to full frame in a year or two, and this obviously affects any choices make regarding a substantial lens investment.

    Finally, I suppose I could go crazy and rent a full frame kit like a 6D or even 5DIII to give me better low light capability. While this would undoubtedly give be better performance than my T3i, and I'd actually love the excuse to play with high-end equipment on somebody else's dime, I'm not sure this is a good idea because in my experience it can take a while to acclimate to using a camera body you aren't familiar with -- no advantage to renting a 5DIII if I'm going to spend all my time fumbling around, looking for the right knob or button... my T3i I know very well at this point and am very comfortable shooting with it in full manual mode.

    Anyway, that's where I am. Curious to know what others with more experience think of my plans and purchase/rental ideas. Event is in about a week, so I have a little time to familiarize myself with something like a new flash if I do buy.


  2. rolsskk macrumors 6502

    Sep 1, 2008
    Before you even go to try anything out or rent, get everything in writing, be it compensation, expectations/coverage, because the last thing you want to happen is get hung out to dry after forking over some cash. This way, you've got all your bases covered, and you have the peace of mind knowing exactly what they want.
  3. acearchie macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2006
    This is how I got started and I pretty much invested every pound I made into new equipment to make my photos better for the next event.

    I shot 4 events on a 17-55mm f2.8 without a 430exii. Very easy if there is enough light and you are looking for candid.

    Then I afforded a 430exii which really make shooting a lot easier as I no longer had to hunt for the extra lights.

    Now I am onto full blown event videos and this is all in the past 6ish months.

    What sort of event is it?

    The one thing I would make sure is take on board what she needs from the photos. Quite often clients won't care about composition, framing, the candid nature if the sponsors logo isn't in the background etc.

    Basically what may look like a good shot to you will not be the same to them!
  4. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    Good advice above. Also keep in mind that she has probably hired you because she has seen your photos of past events and likes the style (or someone she knows and trusts and seen the photos). So if you have been shooting with a 30mm in available light and then show here your early attempts at mastering a flash while using a 90mm, she is not going to like the photos.

    If you don't have insurance, be very very careful when you are backing up with a camera to your face. My insurance agent, who specializes in photographic coverage, tells me that in his experience the most frequent claim from photographers is to pay for the cake/statue/flower-arrangement/table/fountain/person they knocked while trying to get a wider shot.

    Good Luck.
  5. equilibrium17 thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 20, 2007
    Thanks for the advice, all. Very helpful.

    Contract etc. is all set, and I actually already have general liability insurance coverage in place from other things I do to make a living. I should double check to make sure it will cover me for this but I’m pretty sure it will and at worst I’ll probably just need to pay a small rider fee to add coverage for work as a photographer.

    I can’t give exact names and details for privacy reasons, but the event is a cocktail mixer for alumni of a prestigious educational institution. Good observation that the client is probably wants photos that clearly capture faces and groups more than photos with artistically intriguing compositions (though in my experience composition always matters).

    Anyway, it sounds like my plan to buy a 430 EX II plus rent a 17-55mm for the evening is a good way to go. Good to get confirmation from those with more experience that this is a solid plan; thanks. It is a very good point that I should give weight to what I already know how to do. The client has, in fact, seen some photos I’ve taken at other events using primes without flash, and she may really like this style – working with available light and very wide apertures certainly enforces certain style choices. So I’ll definitely bring my primes and make sure to take a good number shots using them, and without flash.

    But, as I mentioned, a decent flash was definitely already on my future upgrades list, so I’ll take this as an opportunity get a fun new piece of equipment and have someone else pay for it. I can run out and pick up the flash today, and that will give me about a week to play with it so I have some clue how to use it at the event. Should be a good learning experience.


  6. aerok macrumors 65816


    Oct 29, 2011
    For all events events, I use my t1i fitted with a Tamron 17-50 2.8 non-vc with a 430ex. Works amazing all the time!

    If the ceiling is low, make sure to point the flash upward to bounce the light for better shadows. It also helps to use a light modifier like a stofen or Gary Fong lightsphere.
  7. glenthompson macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2011
    If you're going to rent equipment, make sure you get it far enough in advance to get acclimated to it. Nothing worse than trying to get a shot and the lens isn't doing what you expect.

    As someone else mentioned, she selected you for a reason. Find out why and what style of photos she expects. Make sure the two of you are in agreement on what the results will be.

    Last item is post-processing. Will you be responsible for that? Have you thought about how much time it will take? Will you be able to meet any deadlines?
  8. snowweasel macrumors newbie

    Mar 5, 2013
    It depends largely on the lighting at the venue. I would probably stick with the 30 1.4, myself (though have the rest nearby, just in case). Set it to wide open (1.4) & focus on the eyes if you're shooting individuals. Stop it down some (maybe 2.8-4 or so) for any group pictures that you need more depth of field. If the lighting is bright enough and relatively even, it should get you plenty of light for most of what you will be shooting. A flash can certainly help if the light just isn't there, or is particularly harsh, but I personally try to avoid using it if I can, as a) I just don't like the look of it, and b) flashes can be very distracting and can make it difficult to get candids. The wide zoom lens can certainly help with sneaker zooming, but will need more available light (either ambient or flash) to freeze any movement.

    If you do need/decide to use a flash, I agree with aerok about trying to use bounce flash off a wall or ceiling and/or use a diffuser like the Gary Fong lightsphere (I love the lightsphere if I HAVE to use flash, and will be near the subject, though it does look a little strange & will likely get a few people to ask you what it is). Gary Fong also makes a diffuser for pop up flashes, but I've never used it to say how it works.

    Good luck & let us know how it turns out!


    5d3, 7d, (EF) 16-35 f/2.8L II USM, 24-105 f4L IS USM, 70-200 f2.8L II IS USM; (EF-S) 10-22 f3.5-4.5 USM, 60mm f2.8 compact macro

    I also have, but don't carry with me anymore: 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS USM & 70-300 f4-5.6 IS USM
  9. twitch31 macrumors regular

    Feb 12, 2013
    It's hard to get interesting photos at such an event, even harder to be a fly on the wall and get good photos.

    I'd hire a 17-55 f/2.8, get proficient at on camera bounce flash, and take a lot of photos early in the evening while people aren't putting food in their mouths or too smashed yet.
  10. equilibrium17 thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 20, 2007
    Thanks for the additional advice!

    Picked up the 430 EXII along with a diffuser on Friday and experimented with it some over the weekend. I'm already wishing I picked one up a long time ago -- it's remarkably intuitive to use and it's fun to monkey around with bounce flash.

    And I've got a 17-55/f2.8 reserved for the day of the event. I've rented this lens before so I don't feel the need to get it much in advance in order to practice with it.

    At this point I'm pretty confident I have the tools I need to do a credible job. I also looked up the venue online and it has a few attributes which should be interesting to work with:

    -- The front face of restaurant has large panel glass windows which means I'll have at least some natural light to work with for the first hour or so of the event. I will have to be careful not to bounce the flash off of the windows and right back at the camera...

    -- Very high (~30') ceiling over most of the space. While this lends a very nice sense of openness to the space, I suspect this will make using bounce flash off the ceiling tricky, if not impossible.

    -- There's a balcony over the bar/cocktail area that should open up the opportunity for some nice wide shots of the event as a whole.

    Anyway, we'll see how I do...


  11. acearchie macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2006
    One thing which I forgot to mention before is you might wan to consider some gels.

    A CTO (colour temperature orange) would be a good start to match the colour temperature of the lights in the restaurant. Otherwise you will find that your background is far too yellow or subject too cool either that or you will be spending extra time in Lightroom selectively white balancing.
  12. equilibrium17 thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 20, 2007
    Oooo... good tip. The venue is lit primarily by incandescent globe lights which are quite warm. I'll definitely pick up a couple of gel sheets at Adorama when I pick up the rental lens; I'm getting the flash temp reasonably close to the ambient light will l save me a lot of time in post.
  13. El Cabong macrumors 6502a

    Dec 1, 2008
    An alternative to bouncing is using a ttl cord so you can hold your flash above you and/or off-center with one hand while holding your camera with the other. It can be difficult when using a bigger lens, especially when it's front-heavy like the 17-55 2.8 will be on your T3i, but it will provide nicer light than having the flash directly in the hotshoe.

    Also watch out for bouncing off of colored ceilings/walls/etc, as they can throw off your white balance. Definitely shoot raw.
  14. seveej macrumors 6502a


    Dec 14, 2009
    Helsinki, Finland
    Thanks for the background. That always helps.

    I did this sort of stuff for 10ish years, without any relevant education (except that you could argue, majoring in physics at uni is relevant to photography:)), so these comments are disjointed and based solely on my experiences:

    - parties way be crowded, and thus minimize your ability to use "leg-zoom" => necessitating a "real zoom"

    - Be discrete. The candids are supposed to be candid.

    - consider working with two bodies. One set up for high-ISO and a fast prime, the other with a f/2.8 normal-range zoom (YMMV between 17-50 / 28-75 ranges) and a flashgun. Although you might thing you'd need the wide angle option, you might notice in PP, that you crop the pictures tighter all the time to get rid of the clutter...

    - reconnoiter the place, and if it's lighting is variable (daylight is a factor), try to factor that in. Also get a forecast for the day and time of the shoot.

    - What's the type of lighting (This might have an effect on the authenticity of the shots), how far is it to the roof, and what color is it? If the lighting's indirect and the roof is light and fairly low, bouncing a flash of the ceiling's not a bad scenario. If the original light is very warm and is based on point sources, you'd be better of trying to work with original light.

    - If the "original light" is far removed from the K of a flashgun, try to minimize flash usage in candids or skip it altogether.

    - Using a flash is really an art form in and off itself. If you do not feel comfortable, rather skip it (dynamic range and RAW postprocessing always allow more leeway to "lighten" underexposed shots than vice versa.). If you use Flash.

    - For candid photography, use a camera with low shutter noise and take three/five-shot bursts - otherwise one of the people in the picture will always end up with their mouth half open.

    - And always: Make sure to know what your client really wants. If there are hot-shots/dignitaries attending, you need someone to point them out, and to make sure that you get a few good frames of them.

    Oh, and make sure everyone at the party who notices the photographer also know who you are and how to contact you.

  15. equilibrium17 thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 20, 2007
    Thanks again for the advice, all. Shot the event last night and I think it went pretty well.

    It turned out to be totally the right call to bring both the 430EXII and the 17-55mm/f2.8. The reception was in a slightly different area of the restaurant from where I expected, and it was VERY dim, so I ended up using the flash and the 17-55mm wide open at f/2.8 the whole time. I might have been able to get some OK shots with my 30mm prime by shooting wide open at f1.4 and using 6400 ISO, but even this would have yielded a marginal shutter speed for shots of people in a reception, moving around, talking, etc. If I had a body like a 5DIII with better high-ISO performance, maybe this would have been a more viable option.

    Bringing CTO gel to use with the flash was also a great tip. What lighting there was consisted mostly of incandescent fixtures partially shrouded with translucent orange cloth. So the ambient light was VERY warm. Even with a full CTO gel on it, my flash was a bit cooler than the ambient light, but the gel brought it close enough that the shots look decent enough and I don’t think I’ll have to do spot white balance correction on them, as a rule.

    And yeah, I really needed the zoom, too. It was very crowded for most of the event so sneaker zooming with a prim lens would have been impractical most of the time. I was also switching back and forth a lot between wide shots to show groups, and close-ups on pairs and individuals.

    Anyway, thanks again for all the advice. It was definitely a learning experience. I’m sure my shots aren’t going to win any Pulitzers, but I also think they don’t suck and the client seemed to be happy with the quick preview I showed her after the event. So I’ll call it a success.



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