Event Photography – The Gear

A few weeks back I had the privilege of covering a large event once again (I think this is the 2nd or 3rd year now) in Pittsburgh as an event photographer.  The event, History Uncorked, at the Heinz History Center is one of the largest events in the region and a blast to photograph.  So I thought it would be timely to share some insights into event photography from my perspective.

Many event photos at a social event include small groups of friends at the event having a good time. A wide angle zoom lens is a good flexible option.

Let’s start the conversation with gear…  After doing several events both big and small, I have learned a few things about the gear that is best for me.  I am sure that there are other tools of the trade that would be good to have, but this has worked for me.  The other key of course is that you have to find what works best for you.  Some people like to have several lenses available at all times.  Some prefer a vest.  Some a small bag.  Some a belt system.  There are endless possibilities for how to carry your gear and what gear to carry.  And I would love to hear from some of you about what you use and like best.

The key I think is traveling light but having what you need.  So for me, this typically means:

  • dSLR camera body (or two).  Two definitely makes life a little easier.
  • Wide angle lens.  I personally use the Pentax DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 lens.  Light enough to carry around throughout an event and yet the highest quality glass available by Pentax.  I also like the constant aperture and fast f/2.8 for the most flexibility.  Since group sizes will also vary in size and what I am trying to capture will vary, I like using a zoom lens over a prime as well.
  • Telephoto lens.  This really is optional depending on the event I am covering.  In the case of a major event in a larger venue, I will typically have the 16-50mm on one lens and a longer lens on a second body for quick shooting.
  • Other lenses.  This is typically based on the individual event.  Outdoor sporting event like the Ben Roethlisberger youth football camp I covered in the past, meant a 100-300m f/4 lens.  I also rented a fisheye lens to give some unique perspective on this fun event.  Low light events and you might want an f/1.4 lens.  Perhaps a super wide like the Sigma 10-20mm would be nice perspective.

    Capturing the scale of the event and the fun people are having makes for good promo photos for the organization.

  • Bounce Flash.  Pretty much a “must have” for the majority of events either as a main light in low lit situations or for fill for an outdoor event.  In most cases, I am using the flash on the camera’s hot shoe.  But there are a wide variety of options for shooting off access or off camera whether that is a bracket, hand holding the flash, or a small portable light stand.  Some events of course it might make even more sense to setup flashes in the venue and fire them remotely with wireless triggers.  For the events I have covered to date, I am typically “running and gunning” so on camera is my best option.
  • Flash accessories.  While not necessary, I have found that it is nice to have a few options for diffusing the light coming from the flash.  On many occasions this is as simple as a Stofen diffuser.  There are literally hundreds of makers of these products and it might take some trial and error as to what is best for you.  My personal favorite for events right now is the Demb Flash Diffuser Classic.  In essence a large white bounce card to reflect the light off of and onto the subject.  I like that it is portable, doesn’t take up a lot of room in the bag, and is light weight and still gives consistent results especially when photographing a small group of people at an event.
  • Memory cards.  I tend to bring more than necessary but never know when you will need more.  I think on average I have 20 gigabyte or so of memory on me pretty much all of the time.  These are predominately Sandisk 4 gb Extreme III cards for pretty fast writing speeds.  I don’t personally like any larger than 4 gb in order to spread out the shots from an event.  But that still typically means a capacity of 250-300 jpg images at highest resolution on my 14.6 mp Pentax K-7.

There is always more gear and other options for event shooting, but I hope these insights were beneficial.  So what is in your event kit?  Feel free to post a response to share with others!