For everyone at the event, it is an important milestone in their lives, in some way or another, and so the event deserves to be recorded properly. And guess what, you can’t do it with one shot - it will even stretch the capabilities of your memory card, unless you have a spare 16 GB on board.
So to make sure that you can get the event in its entirety, here are a few hints. The secret is to start long before you get to the event venue and sit down and make yourself a list. A checklist, in fact. What you have to remember at all times, is just what is this event all about? Let us assume that the party you are going to record is a birthday. Here’s what you should be thinking about.
What do you need to show? Firstly you have to show that it is a birthday, not just any old party. Secondly you have to feature the person whose birthday it is. Thirdly you have to show who came to celebrate the birthday and fourthly any significant gifts that were received. Not even Henri Cartier-Bresson would be able to get all that lot into one “decisive moment” photograph!
It should go without saying that you have checked your camera, it does work, you do have a memory card with space and you do have spare batteries for the flash. Here is the type of list I would draw up for myself if taking photographs for your child’s birthday:
1. Shot of birthday child looking at a birthday card (close up - this gives the visual clue that it is a birthday)
2. Birthday child opening present (close up - more clues)
3. As above with parents and friends standing around (wide angle shot)
4. Mother placing candles on birthday cake (classic clue)
5. Father lighting candles
6. Blowing out the candles (close up - an absolute “must”)
7. General shots of people singing and clapping
8. Happy time shots
Note that all these shots are designed to set the scene, show the participants and nominate the “star”. There are varied shots, some close up, some group shots and together they make a package called “Bab’s Birthday”.
Probably one of the most important items to remember is my adage - “Walk several meters closer!” When people are just small dots, you cannot pick out who they were, several months later. Do not be afraid to walk in close - this one factor alone will result in much better pictures. Remember too, that although you can make subjects look closer using a telephoto lens, the flash may not carry the distance.
For many of the shots, you will also have to be prepared, because when the action happens at an event, it can happen very quickly. For example, blowing out the candles. You can’t say, “Sorry, I wasn’t ready. Can you do it again please?” The name of the game is to know what you want to shoot, and be ready for it.
Now when you come to put them in the family album, you have a nice group of pictures which many years later will continue to say “Bab’s Birthday”. And you made it happen photographically. Well done!
So next time you are going to photograph an important event, buy a spare memory card and plan your shots, take them deliberately according to the plan and be amazed at how much better your results will be!
One final word of warning. When you have become the ‘official’ photographer for any event, you cannot be the life and soul of the party until you have taken all the shots on your list. You are being relied upon to come home with the goods. You can’t do it with a belly full of beer!