Event photography - my first experience

Started Dec 22, 2005 | Discussions thread
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davidswallow
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Event photography - my first experience
Dec 22, 2005

Dear all

I have just finished the fourth of five large events so I thought I would share my experience so far for your benefit, and to see if anybody has any advice. I’ll probably do this in several parts, so bear with me.

I guess the thing I would say is if you get a chance to do this, try it. You need to work the crowd, the event needs to be big enough, and the stress levels are high, but I repaid my investment in Dye Sub printer in 2 hours.

So first, the background. I decided to try for the contract after receiving a flyer about a Christmas event which mentioned photography on the way. I asked myself whether they would really have booked a photographer in September, and it turns out they hadn’t. So don’t think the market is all sewn up. Have a go.

Lots of planning followed, and thanks to the people on this forum. Here is my set up.

Nikon DSLR. Standard zoom. SB800 speedlight. Laptop with PS7 and HiTi dye sub with their bespoke software loaded on the laptop. Format was JPEG fine, saved to half a dozen CF cards to allow regular downloading.

No room for lights or background, so I used the white tenting material at the event. I posed the clients after they deposited their coats, shot a few pictures, then showed them the pics straight on the TV, which I had connected the DSLR to via cable. I asked them if they liked the pics, they chose the one they wanted. My assistant wrote down the file number in a triplicate book, plus the surname, and took payment. The customer took the top copy and entered the event.

I know some people will balk at this. Showing pics at the time has the disadvantage of slowing things down, and undoubtedly meant some people walked on by, by those who posed all (90%) bought – so in 1 hour I made £500. With more people I would have shot everyone and printed samples later.

After 90 mins the customers sat down to their black tie dinner, which meant I could then process the images they had already purchased and get them printing. Let me share an idea here. Give a slip to everyone, with your card attached. Lots of contact after the event wanting reprints and other shoots. When we shot a customer and gace them a slip we categorised them “paid, collect later (PCL)” and “view later (VL)”. We printed PCL and simply prepared VLs for viewing on the laptop.

Lessons learned at this point:

1. I previously found the SB800 compensated for bounce flash, but not when it is a canvas ceiling, and I was underexposing by up to 1.5 stops before I realised
2. showing the pics on a TV has a wow factor for UK customers!

3. PS7 will, without fail, hang your laptop if you are also processing several prints to print via the HiTi software – avoid if possible

4. resist the temptation to be too perfectionist – I wanted to crop, sharpen, levels, etc for every customer, but you don’t have time. Go with the best, if it’s no good offer to take another later

5. drunk people spend more! You’ll get the nice couples on the way in, and the reluctant boyfriends dragged in to the foyer during the meal “to avoid the rush and get him before he gets too drunk”. Later on you will get the works groups and the girlfriends in a gaggle

6. Be prepared to hear “Oh, that’s the worst picture of me ever” (thanks), “I look fat” (you are) and “can you make me look like …” (insert film star name)
7. Use angles – tilt the camera slightly; they love it

8. 80% of women hate their arms, even the gorgeous ones – learn some poses to reduce their dominance

9. if they change their mind about the picture offer two for £15 instead of 1 for £10 – most will buy

10. many people need you to tell them which one to go for – you are the pro and they WILL listen to you

Later on, the band started. You must have about half the prints ready by then because people will come looking for their prints, or will want more shots. This is when the real money starts, but you need to get your assistant dealing with waiting customers, taking new orders, and getting new prints going.

We had credit card facilities, but it accounted for only 5% of orders. Another 2-3% came from on-line sales afterwards, but the majority was cash (hooray!). My advice is to price in round numbers - £10 is a note, £12 is a note and another one broken.

My assistants were both highly personable people – great with women and men, good at empathy. Go for this over technical skill (so long as you have the basics covered). Each event had about 550 people, so you need to bond quickly and move them on without upsetting them.

The above model applied for the first 3 events. In the fourth, someone tripped over my cable linking DSLR to TV, and I could not show the pics straight away. No one paid, everyone was VL, panic ensued. Keep cool. Keep taking pics and worry about prints later – since they are not paying you can always put them on line later. By the way, we had put out business cards at every place setting. When they sat down to eat we got printing again, but this time batch adjusted any that needed PS7, then closed it and printed (to avoid the laptop crashing). In the end we made the same amount but worked solidly until 2am.

Lessons learned so far? I can do 550 people with just me and 1 assistant, and hit 30% of clients. Probably the same again would also have their pics taken (the remaining 40% will always walk on by) but are unlikely to buy. I may try a second photographer/assistant to cover the peak times, but I am not convinced I would make much more. Since I made the same amount when they could not buy straight away, I think 30-40% is about the limit, but I could be wrong.

Also. This is well worth it, but do not treat it as portraiture. If you value what clients think of you you must accept that many people will buy pics you would normally reject, but if they are happy, that’s great. I’ve had reorders of pics I thought were rubbish.

That’s it so far, but I’ll post further thoughts later.

Merry Christmas

David

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