Sometimes, I fear, conference and event photography is seen as a rather unglamorous pursuit. It is characterised as sitting in gloomy conference halls, with brief moments of photographic activity when a speaker first takes the podium punctuating lengthy periods of inactivity while the speech progresses.
A few days ago I was asked by a client to photograph a short conference they were hosting; and, as on previous occasions, my experience thoroughly refuted any such criticisms!
I find conference and event photography exciting and engaging for three main reasons. First and foremost, the pressure is on to get good images in a short space of time. There are few things more aggravating for a conference delegate than to have a photographer constantly working away whilst you are trying to listen to a speaker. I normally like to give a speaker a few moments to “warm up”, and then take my pictures during the next two or three minutes of their speech. After that, I tend to sit still and listen, unless they suddenly do something particularly visual which merits another shot.
So you need to get your shooting position sorted, know your lighting, and get some good images in the bag fairly quickly. Which brings me to the second challenge – just what makes a good conference photograph? There are certainly some good stock photos you will want to get – the speaker making eye contact with the audience; and potentially the speaker with the conference or organisation’s logo to give it some context.
But I also set myself the challenge of listening to and observing the speaker, and trying to get shots which capture a bit of their character, or the emotional impact of what they are saying. Is their speech an empassioned plea for change? Are they giving a thoughtful and contemplative review of a thorny subject? Or perhaps a witty and irreverent take on a topical issue? In those first few minutes, if you listen carefully to what the speaker is saying, notice their tone, and observe them carefully, you can capture some really personal and insightful images which go beyond the standard conference shot.
And finally, what of those long periods of time when you are sitting still listening to the speeches, camera at the ready in case something visual happens, but more often than not just waiting. Well, my advice would be: just listen. One of the great privileges of being invited to shoot a conference is that you get pride of place – normally in the front row – to listen to people speak on subjects about which you perhaps know very little. And if you concentrate hard, not only will it let you capture those insightful images, you might just learn something too…