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10 Tips on How to Photograph a Business Conference

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This post is part of a series called Event Photography.
A Nine Step Guide to Being an Event Photographer
New Course: Introduction to News and Editorial Assignment Photography
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The sound of working a business conference may not fill you with excitement, but if you do it well, they can become a solid line of work. Conferences are also a great place to sharpen your documentary technique in a controlled environment. You may even learn a thing or two from all those presentations along the way!

For me, working business conferences are all about building a strong relationship with the client. Open communication is key. Your needs and their needs may differ, and not every decision will be made with you in mind, so be flexible. Low lighting or a busy schedule  might not be your preference, but if you can work well together with your client you’ll be able to make some great pictures.

1. Know the Schedule

Before the day, make sure you’re in communication with the conference hosts, or whoever has employed you to take the photographs. Ask them to provide you with a schedule of the day so you know where to be and when. It may be that more than one event is happening at a time, so it pays to be organised. This also gives you a chance to ask about any particular shots they might be after, any requirements they may have, roughly how many images they’re expecting and how they’ll need them delivered. It’s far better to know in advance; they’ll be busy on the day!

Conference hall and screenConference hall and screenConference hall and screen

2. Work as Discreetly

Your photos aren’t the most important thing happening in the room. The audience are likely to have given money and time to be there to hear the speaker’s presentation, so do all you can to not block people’s view or distract them from proceedings. Trying to go unnoticed also involves making wise photographic decisions. Shutter clicks can be really distracting, especially at key moments. A compact mirrorless or rangefinder camera with a silent shutter is ideal for these moments. Using flash is also a real nuisance. If you haven’t got any choice but to use it, check with the conference hosts first and look to come to an agreement to use flash for the first couple of minutes of each talk and then get out of the way.

Presenter at a conferencePresenter at a conferencePresenter at a conference

3. Be Confident and Move With Purpose

When photographing a conference, you need to have confidence to move around to get the pictures that you’re after. When I started out, I was afraid to move from the back of the room for worry of disturbing the proceedings, but that meant I never got a range of shots to tell the story of the event. With a camera in your hands, however, you’ve got the perfect excuse to discreetly move about.

The speaker and stage won’t move, so it’s up to you to find a variety of angles and perspectives to shoot from. Before everything kicks off, scout out a few spots that you'll have easy access to and which aren’t in anyone’s way but have a good vantage point of the action. Then you’ll know when you’re aiming for when you’re on the move and you can build confidence from there.

Presenter gensturing to screenPresenter gensturing to screenPresenter gensturing to screen

4. Take a Fast Telephoto Lens

Regardless of your freedom to walk around, you’ll want to be able to portray a certain amount of intimacy through the speaker’s expression and mannerisms. This may be impossible standing half way back the room or looking up at them from beneath the stage. I can also almost guarantee that the majority of the room will be poorly lit, so getting your hands on a lens such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 will give you the best chance of getting the shots you’re after.

5. Have Patience and Act Decisively

The first time I photographed a business conference, I thought I had to be everywhere at once, rushing around taking shots of everything that was happening. In reality, the quality of shots matters far more than the quantity. When photographing presenters, find a good vantage point, frame your shot, hold your camera steady and wait for that moment of expression, the gesture or glance that portrays their personality, to make your picture. Waiting for the right moment really does pay off, so take your time, just don’t miss it when the time comes!

Presenter at a conference making a characteristic gesturePresenter at a conference making a characteristic gesturePresenter at a conference making a characteristic gesture

6. Know Your Client and Make Associations

Business pride themselves in inviting Ms. such-and-such from ‘Big Shot Corp.’ to come and speak at their event, and it’s up to you to gather the evidence! Any opportunity to photograph them with the company logo or even representatives from the company, get on it. Conferences are about building bridges between businesses, so document the networking going on within the room. You may well not know who is who, but even more reason to catch those conversations happening, just in case it’s an important connection.

Conference goes in discusionConference goes in discusionConference goes in discusion

7. Tell the Story

Allow your images to follow the narrative of the day. The schedule of speakers and events will have been arranged to allow for an ebb and flow of activity, but make sure you keep working in the down times. You want someone who wasn’t there to know what it was all about, who was there and why they should be there next time, so look to capture a wide demographic of attendees. Keep an eye out for themes and details, colours, logos, features that make this conference different to others and make it unique.

8. Give it Warmth

A lot of businesses are now asking for their corporate shots to be less stuffy and business-like. Most conferences aren’t particularly exciting events, so any personality and warmth you can find to include in your images will really help add depth to your work. Look out for interaction, people sharing ideas in conversation, handshakes, gestures and smiles. Laughter during presentations is always welcome. If a speaker is crackings lot of jokes, try to anticipate an opportunity to focus on the audience and catch their reactions.

Conference presenters on stageConference presenters on stageConference presenters on stage

9. Make Breathtaking Images

At the end of the day, the client wants a set of pictures that not only document who was there and what happened, but that make them look good! When it comes to publishing the work, they’ll want one or two stand-out images that sum up the event. Find a way to portray the grandeur of the occasion. Maybe the location has particular features that you can bring out, or maybe the coloured stage lighting is a great focal point. Whatever it is, make it look as busy and impressive as possible.

Grand view of conference hallGrand view of conference hallGrand view of conference hall

10. Clean & Efficient Delivery

Once you’re home from the conference, it’s time to getting cracking on post-production as soon as you can. It’s likely the pictures will be used for online marketing as soon as they’re delivered. To keep your client happy, ask them how soon they want them so you can agree a realistic turnaround. Remember, they’re not art shots, so they won’t need any elaborate correction or retouching. Clean, crisp and well lit shots will do the job just fine and allow you to keep the client happy.

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