Event Photography 101: The Essential Shot List
Whenever an event photographer is hired, it is important that the client supplies him or her with a shot list. In essence, a shot list details all of the essential moments or things that absolutely need to be photographed. When I did a Google search for shot list ideas, I was surprised to find that they mostly refer to weddings or filmmaking because shot lists are definitely crucial for just about any paid photography gig.
During my 5 years of experience as a professional event photographer, I find it’s a 50/50 chance that my client will provide a pre-determined shot list before I ask for one. Even if the client doesn’t hand you a specific shot list, every event photographer should have a basic shot list in mind as a guide for shooting every event. Thus, I created this blog post to describe the essential shot list for event photography.
Why is a Shot List Important?
In essence, a shot list is like a checklist for photographers. Without a shot list, a photographer is more likely to shoot blindly and not capture all of the essential images that the client needs. As a result, it is vital that lots of time and thought go into the creation of a shot list. Generally speaking, the client is responsible for providing a shot list to the photographer. However, a professional photographer should be able to provide their own input to help their client with the shot list if needed.
A shot list is also important because it helps you get a sense of what to include in your event photography equipment.
Ben Hindman of Splash, says this of the shot list: “If [the event photographer] doesn’t realize the goals of the event and the potential R.O.I. of the photographs, you are lost.”
How to Create a Shot List
To start forming a shot list, ask yourself why a photographer is being hired to shoot an event in the first place. Once you narrow down the intent of the photos, be sure that this is communicated to the photographer. Otherwise, you may end up with 100 posed photos of attendees, when in reality you need 100 mixed and varied candid shots of the event.
- What will you do with the photos?
- Who will see the photos?
Generally speaking, there are several main reasons why event photos are needed:
- Sponsors want to see how their investment paid off
- Photos for internal use (company newsletter, company marketing, and promos)
- Future marketing of the same event
- Event planners and coordinators need setup and event photos in their report recaps
- Media and publicists want photos of the event for promotions
- Attendees want to see photo recaps
Include a Run of Show
A run of show is a timeline of scheduled events. It generally includes a time, location, and brief description of the event. It’s similar to the event program that attendees receive but differs in that the run of show generally includes production notes. These extra details help the photographer know when and where to be before important events take place.
Event Photography Shot List
With all of this in mind, here is what should be included in a basic event photography shot list:
Anything unique to the event that has branding on it should be photographed. This includes signs, programs, gift bags, and related collateral. They are essential pieces of the event story that should be captured. Some of these might be related to sponsor shots, or they may simply serve as memorabilia or archival shots. Either way, be sure to get photos of all kinds of event collateral.
Intended use: these photos help the client tell the story of the event to any higher ups or sponsors.
2. Venue Photos
Odds are lots of planning and money went into how the event is structured and set up. Capture photos of the exterior and interior of the event space. Focus on parts of the venue that have been transformed specifically for the event, such as a red carpet with a photo backdrop, or trade show booths with vendors. Always take a “before” shot before attendees arrive, and take a shot during the event when the venue is as full as possible. Also, try to get a photo of the venue with a long line of attendees waiting to get inside. Finally, don’t forget a big group photo of the event staff before the action begins, and as they’re working.
Intended Use: Venue photos are great for event recaps showing how the event space is set up. Pre-event shots are also a good time for the photographer to arrive early and get acquainted with the venue before attendees show up.
3. Sponsor shots.
Most events have at least one corporate sponsor who donated money, products, or services. It’s essential to capture images of the sponsor donations in action. Whether it’s a product with sponsor branding on it or a service with sponsorship signage, capture it by itself and with attendees interacting with it.
Intended Use: These shots will be valuable to the event’s marketing team who will later be able to show the sponsor how worthwhile their donation was. For photographers, sponsor shots are also a great networking opportunity.
4. Happy Attendees.
Capture a wide variety of candid shots that illustrate the vibe of the event. Get photos of people interacting with booths and vendors, sampling products or services, and having a good time with each other. Close up shots are great, but also include wide angle shots to show the size and scope of the event. If you can, try to arrange access to a higher vantage point by getting rooftop access or climbing a ladder. A bird’s eye view always makes for unique photos!
Get comfortable with approaching people at the event and asking them to pose for photos. Event attendees are often more than happy to pose for a group photo. These images may not feel creative from a photography standpoint, but clients love posed photos of people enjoying their event.
Intended Use: Clients want to visually see attendees having fun and enjoying themselves. These images portray a positive and exciting event and can be used for promoting the next event.
5. VIPs and Special Guests
More often than not, a VIP will attend the event, and his or her presence needs to be documented. Be sure to ask the client for a full list of VIPs or special guests, and also don’t be afraid to enlist their help in pointing the guests out on site. Not many CEOs or corporate VIPs will be easily identifiable. Try to get a mix of candid shots and posed portraits, preferably with an event or client branding in the photo as well.
Intended Use: Shots of VIPs are needed for event coordinators to show their attendance, as well as for press releases or news stories that recap event highlights.
6. Speakers and Panelists
If there will be any special speakers or panelists, be positioned to photograph them as they’re speaking. Get a variety of photos: wide-angle, close-up and from the left and right. Also, seek out the speakers when they’re not on stage to get posed solo shots, and photos of them interacting with attendees.
Intended Use: Think of speakers and panelists just like they are VIPs (oftentimes, they will be!).
7. Award Winners
Many events will feature an award being handed out. If this is the case, find out from the client when and where this will take place, and be sure to be there on time. Capture candid photos of the recipient receiving the award, and posed photos of the recipient holding the award and looking at the camera.
Intended Use: Similar to VIPs, photos of award winners are important for internal use and marketing.
If there is a speaker, there is an audience. Train your camera on the audience and look out for moments that garner a powerful reaction. Get as many photos as possible of the audience looking interested and engaged. This is often best done during audience Q&As, if on the agenda.
Intended Use: Audience photos can be tricky to capture, but they are essential for illustrating that the event was well-attended.
During event breaks or a post-event happy hour, attendees will naturally interact with each other. Capture photos of networking as much as possible. The business card exchange is always an important moment to shoot.
Sometimes, especially at an event with lots of celebrities in attendance, the event coordinator may ask you to record the names of each person that is photographed. This is why a pen and notebook are handy, as well as a system of identifying unique photos on the memory card. Whenever name collection is requested, I always tack on an additional charge, as this is definitely a painstaking process.
Intended Use: Networking photos are akin to happy attendee photos. They show that the event was enjoyed. The client values these for future event promotion, and possible press releases if a celebrity was there.
About the Author: Suzi Pratt
Suzi Pratt is an event, food, and concert photographer based in Seattle. She started Intrepid Freelancer to inspire and teach others how to start a photography business. View her at photography portfolio, and subscribe to her YouTube channel.