The insider's guide to event photography

"Protect your camera like it's your last Rolo". We hear from Photocrowd user, Andy Cruxton, on his experiences as a charity event photographer, and why the "proper" camera is still king.

"Event Photography doesn’t have to be track side at the Olympics or backstage at Glastonbury; local events are happening around you all the time and trust me, many of the organisers would all love to have some “proper” photographs taken. In a world of smart phones and filters, the “proper” camera is still king!

As part of my job as Communications Officer at St John’s Hospice in Lancaster, UK, I photograph lots of charity events through the year. One of the most challenging events from a photographer’s point of view is our Colour Dash where 1,000 people run 5km getting coloured powder paint thrown at them.

The Challenge

Cover a 5km course, photograph 5 colour stations, capture as many runners as possible and make sure everyone looks like they are enjoying themselves. It is not easy for people to show their pearly whites when they are rubbing powder from their eyes and spitting purple paint all over the ground! Oh, and you have about 30 minutes to do it all in, while avoiding marauding spectators, nomadic dogs and millions of pesky particles of coloured powder from destroying your camera. After all that, you have until the end of the day to get back to base, sort, edit and post all the photos on social media and send to the local press! No pressure then.

The Kit

I have a Sony A77ii and I love it, but any half decent camera is fine as long as it can shoot and focus quickly. Pick a versatile lens and stick with it. I use a Sigma 17-50mm f2.8. Don’t change your lens under any circumstances. The powder gets everywhere, so protect your camera like it’s your last Rolo! Make sure your memory card is big and empty and your battery charged, again you want to avoid opening any entry points to your camera. For this event I jumped on my bike too... I can’t run 5km AND take all the photos!

The Shots

A good event photographer will be able to tell the story of the day, to someone who wasn’t there, without using a single word. Don’t get bogged down with trying to capture the perfect shot as you need to snap all aspects of the event.

The event unfolds quickly, shoot in Aperture priority at about f5. If shutter speed dips below 1/200, bump up your ISO. I would normally recommend shooting RAW but with the time pressures involved here, a well exposed JPEG is great. Make sure your focus is spot on!

The Weather

Stay upwind if you can to protect your camera and to get clearer shots. If it rains, just keep the camera as dry as you can. Remember, unless you are being paid a lot of money to do a pro job, it isn’t worth wrecking your £1,000 camera in a storm! Take a waterproof compact as a backup if the weather looks bad!

The Edit

You did it! You didn’t get eaten by a dog, you didn’t shove any old ladies to the floor, you didn’t drop your camera or accidentally format your memory card! You have probably taken around 800 to 1000 shots. By the time you have finished editing you will feel like a few shots of the tequila variety!

I use Lightroom and Photoshop CC to sort and edit my shots. Be ruthless, be quick. You don’t need 500 photos and time is against you. For social media you might need up to 200 for a gallery. For press, send your best 20.

For this event colour and vibrancy are everything, so once I have whittled my numbers down I will put everything through the wash! That will include slight crops, level adjustments and a little boost to contrast and vibrancy. It makes all the difference but don’t overdo it! On an overcast day these wonderful colours can look really flat on screen without a little rinse!

If event photography interests you get in touch with local groups, sports clubs, press, charities and offer your services. You probably won’t get paid at this point but you can build a reputation and portfolio that could lead to paid work in the future. It is such a great way to help your community and also learn about your camera and perfect your art."

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