My Technique For Photographing Events

by William Lulow

I have written before about how to photograph events, so let me reiterate a few points that I use whenever I’m asked to cover a corporate event.

As you probably know from looking at my website, I am a portrait photographer. I have been trained and have studied all forms of portrait lighting and techniques from Kodak manuals to working and studying with famous, professional studio photographers, including the renowned photographer, Philippe Halsman, who was responsible for over 100 LIFE MAGAZINE covers!

So, I bring my studio lighting expertise to the photography of events as well. What this means is, I am intensely aware of how light works to create images. And, I love to see the various lighting techniques I can use to achieve different results outside of the studio setting. I’m constantly looking for all sorts of interesting lightings I can set up with my portable flash units when I am out “on location!” Many photographers may think that photographing an event simply means putting a portable speedlight on their cameras and just snapping away. Although that may work in some cases, it doesn’t produce really interesting photographs. If you have a strong enough speedlight and you use it basically to light up the space within which you are working, that might suffice. But, as I said, that doesn’t make for really good and innovative images.

My technique involves thinking about the background as well as the subject matter itself. If you are going to cover a room, you either have to bounce a strong flash off the ceiling to light it up, or, you are going to have to light the background separately.

I use at least three speedlights to accomplish this task. I try to position two of them in opposite corners of the room I’m shooting in, and the third, I have mounted on my camera. Given many speedlights’ working distances and power settings, some may not provide enough light to cover large rooms. Using a “flash-on-camera” will, at least ensure that the subjects in front of you will be lit correctly. You also have to keep in mind that using a speedlight on full power will drain its battery much more quickly. So, I often wind up bumping up my ISO setting to around 1000 and reducing the power on my portable flash units to 1/4 power or so. This gives me quite a bit more light, faster recycling times and much more battery time. I have not noticed much, if any, image noise or graininess from using ISO speeds of 1000 or even 2000. You begin to notice it more if you use ISO speeds in excess of 2500.

Here is an example I shot at a recent corporate event, a cocktail party:

This image was made by bouncing my on-camera flash off the ceiling.

This image was made using an external “EDGE LIGHT” (off to the right and behind the subjects), and the light on the camera, bounced off the ceiling. The bounce effect diffused the overall light while letting the external light provide some highlights on the dancers because it was aimed directly at them. (Remember, an accent light should be about one f/stop brighter than the main light in order for the highlight to register as white). I was also shooting at 1/125th of a second (to stop the action) at ISO 1000 and an aperture of f/5.6.

In this room, I set up one light to light the background, and another to light a bit of the front of the room. I still had my on-camera flash, but for some shots like this, I simply turned it off:

Here, you can see that the people in the foreground are dark and only the background is lit. By using your speedlights selectively, you can achieve very different results

Here, I have turned off the on-camera flash and backed away from the room to show the people in the front in silhouette while lighting only the main dining room.

You can obtain many more interesting images by using your speedlights judiciously, knowing when to turn them on or off.

In addition, there are times when you may not want to use any speedlights:

So, armed with an arsenal of lighting techniques and know-how, I can create a series of different images that can be used by corporate art directors and communications people alike.