Happy 2023, everyone! We are all sitting at home looking at our calendars for the new year ahead. If you are planning an event – be it bar mitzvah, wedding, or blowout birthday party – then this blog post is for you. Today’s article is a list of my best event planning photography tips. By the end of this post you will know what to have prepared and what to tell your photographer so that your party shines in front of the camera.
Event Planning Photography Tips – Photo Time is Story Time
Work with your photographer to create a shot list. Think of your photographer’s shot list as a list of the top people, portrait combinations, and items you want captured. It is important to communicate these image priorities to your photographer well ahead of your event. Your specific shot list (in addition to the main events such as speeches, cake cutting, etc.) might include a memory table, DIY floral projects, or even getting the bride together with her third cousins from Omaha. Whatever it is you want photographed, just make sure to tell your photographer.
Your budget determines your photography time. The key to deciding how long to employ your photographer is to look at the schedule of your event and focus on your photo priorities. If you are working within a specific budget, then you may need to schedule your ‘photographable’ events together at the beginning of the day in order to pack as much value into your photographer’s allotted time. For example, I always recommend scheduling the speeches and cake cutting towards the beginning of the party in order to leave the eating and dancing until the end. This way, if your event runs until late into the evening, you can easily cut back on your photographer’s hours since your main images have already been captured.
Consider telling your event story from beginning to end. Conversely, you may want to consider photographing the entirety of your event from start to finish. As a documentary style photographer, I’m a fan of photographing an event from beginning to end so that the photos tell the full story. This means being there when the guests arrive and staying until the final dance. If your budget won’t accommodate this amount of time, however, then determine when to best use your photographer. At the very end of an evening, you’ll have the final dance and hugs as people are saying goodbye. These may be some great moments you want to capture. However, if your event runs very late and there will be a lot of drinking and sweaty dancing, then these photos may end up looking more like evidence.
Bottom line, if it’s a family reunion and you know guests from every generation will be staying until the bitter end, then have your photographer capture everything. If it’s a wedding where most of the older generation will be leaving after the cake cutting, then you can probably leave off the final hour of photography.
Make sure to include extra time to photograph the details before guests arrive. You put a lot of work into your event, including planning all of the floral arrangements, food, and decor. Give your photographer at least 20 minutes before your event starts to capture the details. These details include buffet tables where the food looks appetizing (and un-eaten), the gift or memory table, centerpieces, and any floral displays.
Event Planning Photography Tips – When and How to Schedule Portraits
Get your portraits out-of-the-way before guests arrive. This advice works for both family events and weddings. Taking your family portraits before the guests arrive ensures that you are free to socialize without having to circle back to the photographer. The beginning of any event is always the best time for portraits because this is when people are looking their best and most primed to smile for the camera. In comparison, I would advise not taking any family photos after the bar has been open for three hours and guests have been dancing. That is, unless that you want to see ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos.
Put your DJ to work for any large group photos. If you have a lot of extended family groups to photograph, you might consider having your DJ announce photo time in the middle of your event. I have photographed quite a few events recently where none of the family could arrive early for portraits, so we decided to schedule the photos in the middle of the event. The DJ simply requests that specific family members or social groups (alumni groups, high school friends, book club, etc.) come together on the dance floor, and we then quickly and easily take all the photos at once.
Oh, and in case you were thinking about table shots… think again. No one looks good surrounded by plates of half-eaten food. For the sake of your guests, and most importantly for the sake of your final photos, say no to table shots. For your best group photos, have everyone stand up and go to a location with a blank background behind so that your guests are not surrounded by dinner detritus.
How much time do you need for _____________ portraits? For any type of event, I would estimate 30 minutes for immediate family portraits. If you have a very small family, then you can cut back on time. Likewise, if you will be photographing lots of extended family, then plan on adding more time.
For bridal party photos, I always estimate 20 to 30 minutes of time. It all depends if you will be taking the bridal party to a different location or if you have a larger than normal party. (Any bridal party over 10 is large in my book.) On the contrary, if several of your bridal party members will also be photographed during the family portrait time, then you can cut down on the bridal party photo time since you won’t be photographing people twice.
For portraits of an individual family before an event, such as children and their parents, I would estimate 30 minutes of time. For a bride and groom, I would estimate at least an hour, with an additional 15 minutes for a first look. In the case of bride and groom portraits, you also need to add additional transportation time if you will be going to different locations for your photos.
Event Planning Photography Tips – Final FAQ
Do I need to feed my photographer? A wise person once said that a well-fed photographer takes the best photos. However, I generally don’t eat at parties unless the event lasts over four hours. If your event is less than four hours in length, then you don’t need to include any downtime for the photographer.
When do you schedule a venue check? I never want to show up to an event without having first walked through the venue. For new venues, I always do a venue check. The only exception is if the venue is in a personal home or if I have been to the venue a million times and know it very well. For events that are being held inside a personal home, a Zoom call or video provided by the client would be ideal.
What about bringing in extra lights? When I asses a venue, my top issues are ceiling height, color, and shape because these factors determine how my flash reacts. When trying to light a room with on-camera flash, tray ceilings tend to catch light. The ideal situation is a white, flat ceiling off which I can easily bounce my flash. Black ceilings, on the other hand, suck up light. If you are holding your event in a dark venue, then I may need to bring in extra lighting equipment (i.e., camera flashes on light stands with radio triggers) because the room will end up looking like a cave otherwise.
When spacing tables, remember your waitstaff (and photographer). I also view a venue with an eye towards the amount of available space. When you are considering the room configuration, always make sure you keep enough space between tables and that you have an adequately-sized the dance floor. There will be waitstaff moving in between tables to serve guests, plus the occasional photographer. Nothing makes a room feel more uncomfortable (or more difficult to photograph) then when guests are piled on top of one another. Cut your guest list or get a bigger space; everyone involved will thank you.
Plan for bad weather. Every host hopes for a wonderfully sunny event. But it’s New York, so let’s just accept reality. Always have a rain backup plan in mind. For outdoor events, I recommend renting a tent, or at least make sure you have sufficient space indoors should the forecast turn gloomy.
Meet Amy, the World’s Best Hostess
If you have been following my blog, then you were first introduced to my client Amy when she held a gladiator-themed birthday party for her one-year-old daughter. Well, she outdid herself a year later with a Marie Antoinette-themed party.
Amy truly is the world’s best hostess, and is the sole event planner of all of her parties. All of the décor items you see were either found online or she made the items herself, including the fabulous faux cakes. When discussing the shot list for her event, we packed in plenty of time before the guests arrived so that I could photograph each and every detail.
Furthermore, we also planned time to photograph her gorgeous guy friends. The men dressed as Marie Antoinette’s courtiers are all friends of Amy, and they are always up for a good costume.
Enjoy the images, and I will have more photo adventures to share with you next week!
Are you planning a party in the coming year? Drop me a line and let’s discuss your photography needs.
If you would like to view more images from my party portfolio, then please visit my website – KellyWilliamsPhotographer.com