Don’t Turn Your Event Photography into a High-Wire Act

A good friend of mine works for a leading European events company, responsible for summoning the organizational and logistical know-how required to give smooth operation to those huge product launches or corporate events that all seem so effortlessly flung together. Recently, he told me that a major telecommunications client was throwing a thank-you bash for its top customers. Champagne would flow, acrobats would fly through the air, and contortionists would … well, contort.

The shocking factor was not the elaborate grandeur of the event — but the company’s decision not to hire a professional photographer to cover it.

Let’s Have Johnny Do It

The client’s in-house event organizer told my friend that she had a keen amateur photographer on her team (we will refer to him as Johnny) and that she would ask Johnny to provide full coverage.

Sounds like a reasonable decision, right? In these difficult economic times, savings are savings. And it is, after all, just “taking pictures.”

Eventually the night came, the champagne flowed, the acrobats flew and the contortionists contorted. Johnny ran from the tables to the stage throughout, sweating, his complexion increasingly ruddy, demonstrating visible signs of a cardiac event — which was not the type of event intended.

Sadly, all of Johnny’s efforts were in vain. The images were badly exposed, badly composed and just all round bad. For the most part, they were unusable.

The Real Cost of Using Johnny

Although the company planner didn’t realize it, she was taking a big risk — right up there with the acrobats’ high-wire act — by choosing Johnny.

Johnny may have been an excellent amateur photographer, but he was not a professional. A good professional has experienced awkward lighting, moving subjects and capturing the spirit of an event before, knowing exactly what to do to get the best possible images.

The saddest thing about the episode was the telecom company had spent more than $40,000 on the event, but had hardly any images for use in PR, marketing or even for plain old posterity.

A pro photographer would have cost in the range of $700 to $1,500 for the whole evening and subsequent postproduction. The images produced could have been used to create more business — and also would have been a great gift for attendees. Those photos would have lasted much longer than the drunken memories of the evening.

Avoiding the Boss’s Wrath

Digital cameras have brought about a devaluation — or at best an under-appreciation — of professional photography among prospective photography clients. What was once the domain of the skilled professional has been opened up by the very accessibility of the digital format.

This has left too many clients to ask themselves, “If I can take a picture on my mobile phone, pop it into Photoshop and get a serviceable result, why do I need to hire a pro?”

The answer is simple. A professional photographer delivers reliability, experience and the technical knowledge required to ensure that what’s being photographed is portrayed in the best possible light.

Which means that you won’t have to face the wrath of your boss when the photos from that $40,000 event just don’t turn out as planned.

11 Responses to “Don’t Turn Your Event Photography into a High-Wire Act”

  1. A great article. In the current economic down turn I've increasingly found that..'Johnny' seems to be getting a number of the jobs I used to.

    Their quality of work is bad but sadly I don't think that the clients mind that as long as they can justify the cost saving, because ultimately, the photographic image is of no great importance to them...sadly they just don't see the bigger picture.

  2. this rings true on so many levels.. music festivals with artist budgets in the millions still snarl at having to spend 100 gbp on decent photography...

  3. Thanks guys for supporting the cause! I do believe that we should drive home the "use a pro" message to existing and prospective clients by taking every chance to promote this message even if this means taking a literal approach and spelling it out word for word.

    Myself included, I do believe that photographers in general do not market well and that we should communicate the benefits of a professional in order to raise awareness.

    Maybe we should all get together. Have a standards committee to gain membership and start the "use a pro" standard of quality assurance!

  4. This is why I decided only to offer high-end packages. The low-end market is crowded with all sorts of videographers who simply take video cameras to weddings and press record.

    But with such tough times, people aren't going for the high end packages as often, so I decided against expanding my business. I wonder if the field will become obsolete as people start to take pictures and videos for themselves. With personal life recorders only one or two years away, who will want to hire a photographer when their entire life will be captured on their iPods?

  5. Great article and all too true for newspapers as well.

    When I quit, yes quit, my job at The Aspen Times in Colorado, the editors were not allowed to hire someone to replace me. Then the other photog was laid off.

    The writers were given cameras and the photography suffered greatly. My boss even said to me 6 months later that they need a real photographer shooting the news.

    And it happened to many newspapers across the nation as they cut staff. The first ones to go were the photogs/multimedia.

    And I believe many newspapers are now regretting the decision.

  6. As one of Southern Alberta's busiest event photographers, I can't tell you just how spot on this is. Several major clients have gone to "in-house" imaging. Using "Betty from accounting" because he has a DSLR. I can tell you however, that after this last busy event season of using their "Betties," the bookings for next year are coming back.
    None-the-less, it is still an uphill battle in the current economy.

    Great article, keep 'em coming...


  7. Great article. There could not have been a better example used to drive in the point about the digital age.

  8. History repeats itself. I experienced this same technology challenge several times in my career as a pro photographer.

    When slr cameras with through the lens metering and other fancy bells and whistles became popular in the late '60's early '70's I frequently encountered clients in industrial photography who were convinced that my pro services were unnecessary since "Joe" in the shipping department had the latest and greatest SLR that took great pictures.

    Desktop publishing similarly affected the graphic arts and printing companies that produced newsletters and brochures for businesses that didn't have in house art departments.

    Now it's DSLR's and mobile phones.

    It's a marketing challenge. But marketing itself is just as much a profession as is photography. Sean's idea is a good solution:

    "Maybe we should all get together. Have a standards committee to gain membership and start the "use a pro" standard of quality assurance!"

    My only addition would be to make sure the standards committee has a least one professional marketer involved.

  9. Nicely put! I could have not said it in a better way! THANKS!

  10. Brilliant! Now to try and get clients to read and understand. More examples like this would be very useful. Thanks

  11. OK, I'm a journalist too so appreciate the point being made, but let's be clear here: as the first comment stated the clients are often happy with the result: surely that's the problem?

    Idiots asking their mates to do the job and getting rubbish don't make the same mistake twice. But people who are prepared to accept lower quality for less money are a different matter.

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