Thursday, March 8, 2012

What Not To Do As An Event Photographer

Now here's a real story that happened today during our full day department meeting at one of the hotels.

But first, I have a quick confession to make! if you've been following me on twitter, you'll know that I sold my 60D and all of my EF-S lenses, and got myself a 5D Mark II with the 24-105 lens, but that's a story for another time, and that's one of the reasons I have not been posting lately.

This post is directed to all event photographers, and to Kirk Tuck, since I have read on his blog countless times on how to act professionally at events.
I went today at a full day department meeting at one of the hotels, the main event was hosted inside a very large tent (but with a flat ceiling, if that makes sense), the light there was pretty dim, and there was the typical hotel photographer blasting away flash shots, I immediately noticed a few things:

  • The guy was using an SB-900 on top of his Nikon D80, with the omni bounce thingie strapped to it's head and pointed straight up, and every time he took a shot he blinded all of the onlookers, why use the omni bounce thingie and waste precious flash power in lighting the vast areas behind him and to his right and left?
  • Where were he taking the shots from? Directly in front of the speaker, directly between the speaker and the audience, was that distracting? You bet!
  • Then he'd suddenly step up to the stage during the speech and shoot the speaker from his side and his back, while blinding everyone, every time.
  • Then, bored with getting the same shots of the same person, he'd step up in front of each of the tables and take some more flash shots, while the speech is still going on.
  • Talk about being discrete, after all the distractions and the nuisance, he went up to the stage, behind the speaker, and started removing his jacket and putting it aside, I believe most of the people were concentrating on him.
  • The meeting went on like that for the first hour, then suddenly he re-appeared without his speedlight and started taking shots with the popup flash, totally amateur, ugly, frickin direct flash shots. He seemed to repeat everything again from shooting the same speaker, and then the different tables, but at least now the flash was firing directly in our faces, and without seeing the results I have no doubt what his shots will be like, I've seen them countless times from hotel photographers.

Finally we had a small break, and we all went outside the tent for fresh air, green grass, and a nice blue sky,. I had my 5D with me with the 24-105 lens, I started taking some photos of my friends, but in no way obstructing the photographer, after all, he's the paid professional, not me. In a short while we came close to each other in the same group, I immediately put my camera behind my back out of courtesy and let him take photos of us, then we started talking, the conversation went like this:


Me: So, did you run out of batteries for the speedlight, I noticed you stopped using it and were using the popup flash instead.

Him: Oh, no, it heated up, this was an SB-900 and when it heats up, it stops working. (by the way, he didn't use it till the end of the event, it must have heated up pretty badly and never cooled down during the remaining few hours of the meeting /sarcasm).

Me: So how are you managing?

Him: I turned up the ASA and all is well, by the way, what is this camera you have? (P.S. for those who don't know, by ASA, he means ISO, he's probably an old film guy).

Me: It's a Canon 5D!

Him: Wow, does it capture high definition? Full high definition?

Me: What do you mean? (I'm now thinking he has no idea what a 5D is, nor any background about the Canon system, as I knew later on).

Him: I mean, how many million pixels does your camera have? 12? 16? 18?

Me: Well, 21 million pixels.

Him: Wow, it must take very professional pictures.

Me: Of course not, I'm just an amateur, having a nice camera doesn't mean I take good photos, you're the professional one (he was very flattered at this, and I honestly meant it since he was way older than me).

Him: Nice meeting you, my name is ..., the hotel photographer.

Me: My pleasure.


The guy was very humble and quite nice, but I don't believe that's an excuse. The meeting resumed indoors, then we took another break, and before returning indoors again, he decided to take a group photo of everyone (more than 300 people), he came over to me and asked me: "what do you think of placing the group here? It will be a nice view, won't it?", I simply told him that I don't really know, I'm just an amateur.

Well, he gathered everyone in and started taking shots while people gathered, and to my horror, this happened:

Did you notice? He was taking photos at 1 pm, in full sunlight with the popup flash open, this only meant one thing, his photos will be totally blown out beyond recovery. If you haven't picked up the hint yet, here's what's going on, in bright sun, your shutter speed will be usually above 1/1000 sec, unless you use a very narrow aperture. But when you use your popup flash, the camera will limit the fastest shutter speed possible (sync speed) to 1/200 or 1/250 sec, especially since popup flashes doesn't have high speed sync, which allows faster shutter speeds to be used. This means you will be letting in a lot of light into the sensor, resulting in a blown out picture. If he were using the SB-900, I'd have probably assumed that he was using HSS/FP modes and using it for fill, how can a popup flash be of any use for a HUGE group shot at a far distance with full sunshine?

Anyway, I was sitting among the group like everyone else while this was happening, I didn't notify him and thought maybe he's using an f/16 aperture or smaller to make sure the whole group is in focus, and the shutter speed then would've been below the sync speed.

As the group finished gathering and he was still firing away, I decided to take backup pictures, just in case. I stood up, went to the photographer and politely asked him for permission to take photos beside him, and assured him I won't stand in his way, and so I did, I took a few pictures in no more than 30 seconds, 24mm, f/11, ISO 400, hyperfocal distance and fired about 20 shots from a slightly awkward angle since I didn't want to get in his way, and immediately went back to the group. Below is a small shot to show you how the group and the place looked like (in the full 21 MP res photo, all the faces are clear and recognizable, but I can't post it on the web). He took 3 more pictures, then went for the grand finale by raising the camera high above his head, pointing it somehow at the group, and taking the last shot as everyone cheered and clapped.

We went back in, and continued the meeting until it was time for lunch break, and while filling up my dish, the guy came up behind me and ashamedly confessed that he blew the group shots, and asked me to look at the shots that I've taken, I showed them to him and he picked a couple that he wanted from me if I allowed him, I told him "of course, my pleasure", he walked away very happy. I was very happy I have saved him the day, and we lived happily ever after. And that is the end of today's photography adventure.

Learned Lessons:

So why did I write this post? I have never worked as a paid photographer, and never will, but when I was reading Kirk's blogs and the extreme measures he takes to make sure he's not in the way of the audience, or even cause a loud shutter sound, I expected that most of the photographers will be this professional. You can take bad photos, you can use direct flash, you can do whatever you like, you are simply a bad photographer, but don't you dare get in the way of the main event.

I am telling you, most of the people were quite distracted and annoyed with the photographer's behavior and his blinding flash fire in the very dim environment, during the actual speech. If I had the authority, I would never let him cover any important business events in his life.

I hope you can convey this message everywhere, twitter, facebook, etc...

Very soon I will be posting a comprehensive initial impressions of the 5D Mark II from the view point of a previous crop sensor user, then I will talk some more about how the iPad fits in my photography and blogging worlds.


  1. The honor is mine Kirk, thanks for reading and sharing, and more importantly, for telling us how professionals do.


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