Whether you’re capturing private or corporate event photography, planning is key. Well before the event takes place, prepare a list of what you need to photograph (e.g. event highlights, solo/group portraits, products, branding). This will help you work out gear requirements, plus where and when you’ll need to be to get the photos.
Knowing how the images will be used—whether it’s for a quick social media post, a website banner, or for printing in a brochure—will determine the best image format and dimensions to use.
Come event day, always refer to your shot list and, where possible, tick off the most important shots first.
Tip: For corporate events, it’s a good idea to take a mix of photos that can be used not only to document the event, but also to market the business year-round.
You’ll likely be holding your camera gear for long periods while shooting on the run, so consider something that’s lightweight and easy to use. A comfortable strap and accessible bag will help a lot.
Unless your event is taking place outdoors during the day, your main challenge will be low light. Without enough light, you’ll end up with photos that are very dark, or sufficiently bright but blurry and grainy.
Luckily, you can maximise the amount of light at your disposal by choosing the right gear.
Larger sensorcameras with interchangeable lenses (see below) and good ISO performance—such as Sony mirrorless cameras—work best in low light, producing clearer and more detailed images. Most professionals use full frame or APS-C sensor cameras.
Because event photography is often done without a tripod, in-camera image stabilisation is also an asset, especially when combined with in-lens stabilisation. This helps to reduce blur caused by hand shake, ensuring sharper results.
Every bit of light helps in event photography, so choose a lens or lenses with a large maximum aperture (small f-number) – ideally f1.4, f1.8, f2 or f2.8 – and/or image stablisation. The larger the aperture, the more light the lens can gather.
To help you cover all bases, choose a lens or lenses that cover multiple focal lengths – ideally:
- 24-35mm equivalent for venue, presentation/performance and group shots
- 50-85mm equivalent for portraits and details
- 200mm+ equivalent for closeups of faraway subjects, such as a speaker or performer on stage or someone in a crowd
Find out more about choosing lenses in Lenses 101.
Portable lighting is the event photographer’s saviour. An external, on-camera flash or continuous LED works great if you’re taking photos on the move, while larger, stand-mounted lighting is good for illuminating large, stationary subjects or areas (e.g. big group portraits or a stage set).
You only get one chance to photograph an event, so you can’t be too prepared.
If you can, do a test run (preferably on location) ahead of time so you can get a feel for the venue and make sure your gear is working properly.
Be sure to pack a spare camera and lens, extra batteries (for your camera and any other equipment like lights or microphones), and plenty of fast, formatted memory cards – especially if you’ll be shooting in continuous burst mode. (Check out Which Memory Card?.)
It’s well worth having a camera with dual memory card slots (so you can create backup files as you shoot) or, alternatively, an on-location backup solution.
Tip: Event photographers often carry two cameras, each with a different kind of lens. This not only keeps your backup camera close to hand, but also allows you to quickly switch between lenses.
How to Shoot Event Photography in Low Light
Photo by Product School
4. Use Manual Camera Settings for Indoor Event Photography
Your camera’s Auto mode will do a pretty good job in most situations. But in some, like with moving subjects or dim lighting, you’ll get much better results by choosing certain settings manually.
Shutter Priority (TV) mode, which automatically works out aperture and ISO based on your selected shutter speed
Aperture Priority (AV) mode, which automatically works out shutter speed and ISO based on your selected aperture
There’s a lot of movement at events, so you’ll need a fast shutter speed to prevent motion blur in your images.
If shooting without flash, try 1/125 or 1/(your lens’ focal length) seconds (whichever if faster). If you and your subject are very still, you may be able to reduce your shutter speed slightly more.
If shooting with flash, 1/125-250 sec (depending on your sync speed) should work fine. However, if you want your background to be brighter, you can use a slightly slower shutter speed to increase the amount of ambient light. When used with Second Curtain Sync or Rear Curtain Sync, a slow shutter speed is also an effective way to capture sharp subjects with a bit of motion blur – great for shots of people dancing and other moving scenes.
As well as gathering more light, a large aperture creates shallow depth of field, blurring busy backgrounds so you can emphasise key details. However, shallow depth of field also reduces your margin for focusing error.
Try a relatively wide aperture such as f4 – wide enough to gather enough light but narrow enough to capture more of the scene in focus. For larger group shots, try a narrower aperture like f5.6-8 to ensure everyone’s in focus.
If you’re shooting in bright outdoor light or using flash, set your ISO to the base level (usually around ISO 100).
If you’re shooting at night or indoors without flash, you’ll need to increase your ISO to compensate for the lack of light. Just bear in mind that increased ISO leads to increased image noise. Most recent cameras can go to around ISO 1600-3200 without too much loss in image quality.
Avoid using Auto White Balance (AWB), which often leads to inconsistent and unnatural colours. For best results, select the white balance setting that matches the dominant source of lighting at your event – e.g. fluorescent, tungsten, daylight or flash.
In many situations speedlights (portable flashes) can be set to TTL (Through the Lens) mode. This automatically calculates the optimal flash output based on your surroundings and camera settings, and is ideal for beginners and those who need to work quickly. However, TTL mode doesn’t work with all flash settings.
If you want greater control or to use more advanced flash techniques, set your flash to Manual mode.
Photo by Antenna
Event Photography without Flash
While great for a wide range of evening or indoor events, flash may not be ideal or even permitted for some events like conferences, where bursts of light may distract presenters and audience members. Flash is also not suitable for video, which requires a constant light source.
In these situations, you’ve got three options:
Adjust your aperture, shutter speed or ISO –As outlined above.
Maximise ambient light – Moving your subject closer to existing light sources, like lamps, can make a difference.
Use continuous LED lighting – While not as powerful as flash, continuous LED panels or fresnels are highly versatile and easy to use. They can also be used for photography as well as video or live streaming, and allow you to preview the light before you take any photos.
Photo by Alexander London
5. Soften the Light
Naked, front-on lighting—like that from a camera’s pop-up flash—is rarely, if ever, a good look. For flattering results opt for lighting that you can soften and direct, such as a speedlight or LED panel.
An easy way to soften speedlight flash is to bounce it off a white wall or ceiling. Simply rotate the speedlight sideways towards a wall, or backwards and slightly up towards the ceiling. Alternatively, if you’re not close enough to a suitable wall or ceiling, you could use a flash diffuser.
Continuous LED panels generally come with built-in diffusion, while LED fresnels and freestanding flashes can be softened using modifiers like umbrellas or softboxes.
Event Photography Techniques & Legalities
Photo by Elevate
6. Embrace Candid Moments
Candid photos—whether of presenters mid-speech, or of party guests enjoying themselves—help capture events at their most interesting and memorable. But taking candid shots well is often easier said than done. Here’s a few tips:
Set your camera’s focus mode to continuous (often abbreviated to AF-C or Servo AF) or turn Face/Eye Tracking on. This will help keep your subject in focus even if they move.
High-Speed Burst Mode
Try shooting in high-speed continuous (a.k.a. burst) mode. When you hold down the shutter, this will capture multiple frames per second (fps), making it easier to capture just the right moment – handy for not only candid shots but also posed group portraits, when one or more people might be blinking. (Just bear in mind that burst mode consumes a lot more battery and memory.)
Silence Your Shutter (and Flash)
If you can, set your camera (and flash, if using one) to silent mode so any clicks or beeps don’t disturb what’s going on.
Anticipate the Moment
If you try to photograph an expression or reaction when you see it, you’ll more than likely miss it. Keep your camera poised and settings ready at all times, and start shooting before anticipated moments like laughs or handshakes.
Do You Need a Model Release for Event Photography?
Permission to Take Photographs
As long as you’re not invading anyone’s privacy, you generally don’t need permission to photograph people. But it’s always good practice and courtesy to ask.
You do, however, need the owner’s permission to take photos on private property (e.g. restaurants, entertainment venues), even if you have permission to enter.
Permission to Use Photographs Commercially
If you use an identifiable photo of someone for commercial purposes, they may be entitled to any income generated by that photo. An appropriately worded model release can help prevent any such claims.
Rather than get model releases from every person at an event, it’s common practice to use a crowd release or a notice of filming and photography – e.g. information on tickets or signs at the event advising guests that photos or video will be taken.
Note that you always need a parent’s permission to take photos of children for commercial use.
Chances are you’ll need to take a large group portrait (or several) – especially if doing corporate event photography. Group shots take a little more time and preparation to get right, so here’s a few pointers to help you:
Shoot from a (safe) high vantage point, whether it’s on a balcony or sturdy chair. This way, people are less likely to get in the way of others behind them.
Use a lens that’s wide enough to fit everyone in without introducing too much lens distortion (24-35mm equivalent is recommended).
Arrange the group so everyone is on a similar plane and get people in each row to stand close together. This makes them easier to light evenly and fit into frame, and results in a more cohesive-looking portrait.
Use multiple lights. One speedlight or small LED won’t be enough to illuminate more than a handful of people. Try setting up a large, soft light source (e.g. a flash or LED fresnel inside an umbrella) on either side of the group and angling each so the light spreads evenly across everyone.
Example lighting setup for group portrait
Use a tripod. As well as taking the load off your arms, this allows you to take multiple consecutive shots with the same framing – extremely handy for editing.
Use a narrower aperture – around f5.6-8 – and take a test shot. If some people’s faces are blurry, narrow the aperture (increase the f-number) further.
Photo by Mitchell Luo
8. Change Things Up
Have you ever seen photos from an event that all seem to depict the same few people, framed the same way?
Work the room, work different angles, and you’ll end up with a much more interesting and well-rounded account of the event and those who attended.
Try shooting at a variety of focal lengths: think wide shots of the presentation stage or audience, semi-wide shots of people socialising, and close-ups of expressions or details.
Rather than photographing everything from eye level, try shooting from a higher or lower position.
Finally, mix up your subject. As well as the people, include some shots of branding or details that will help signify the event, like the venue, food or decorations.
Photo by Ferbian Zakaria
9. Pose & Put People at Ease
Many people feel uncomfortable in front of a camera, and it often tells in the photos. So a bit of friendly interaction and gentle guidance go a long way.
Don’t be afraid to take command, but try to keep it light and encouraging. A handy formula for formal portraits is straight backs, relaxed shoulders and clasped hands, or arms around each other in group shots. With a joke, some silly warm-up poses or a bit of good luck, you’ll get some genuine smiles, too.