TOP 5 TIPS FOR BETTER EVENT PHOTOGRAPHY
By Carson Au
Although I only started doing photo documentation for animal rights events a few months ago, my love affair with photography began at a very young age. I was always fighting for the camera when taking family photos. My dad bought me my first point and shoot camera at age 12, and I started taking portraits for money at 15. I first attended a technical photography program, and then I swung 180 degrees and got a degree in conceptual art.
Recently, I’ve seen just how photography can enhance animal right events, and so my vision is to build up a community of photographers in Vancouver who have the core skills to capture them magnificently, effectively, and effortlessly. Social media endlessly demands new photographs, and so when being a new dad and living in the suburbs means I can’t make it to many events, I would love to see many other activists taking beautiful photos.
Without further ado...here are my 5 top tips:
Tip #1 - Exploit angles and distances
Try them all to tell the complete story. Although each photograph can show only 1 perspective, the good news is that you can take more than 1 photo! Get up high, ride on someone’s shoulder, go upstairs and shoot from a window. Or get to the ground and try a low angle. Shoot from the other side of the street, or walk right up to people and do close ups. If there is a march, get to the front and shoot back so you can see the signs and the people. It will be a workout, but it will be worth it. This brings me to the next tip...
Tip #2 - Don’t be lazy
Keep shooting. You might think you have a great shot, but the subject might have blinked, it might not be perfectly in focus, or it might have slight motion blur. So, always take at least 2-3 shots each time, and you’ll hopefully get a great one.
Tip #3 - Provide the full experience
To inspire viewers to join future events, capture the participant’s perspective. Note what they are doing, what they are looking at, and capture what they see and feel. Wide angle shots are wonderful since they gives a sense of scale of the events, but close, intimate shots allow viewers to experience really being there, and there is a lot more than just people holding signs. There is a friendship, love, and a depth and breadth of emotions! Did an observer show support? Look for that high five shot! Did you miss it? No problem, get them to pose it for you again -- it never hurts to ask! Do whatever it takes to get the shot, and if in doubt, refer back to Tip #2.
Tip #4 - If in doubt, use A-Mode
If in doubt, use A mode with large aperture settings (smaller number f1.4, 2.8, 4 etc) for close up shots. This will let you isolate the background from the subject, as well as giving you a higher shutter speed to reduce blur.
Tip #5 - Edit rigorously
Quality > Quantity. I read 25 years ago that National Geographic published roughly 1 out of every 6000 frames of film that were shot. I can only imagine what digital has done to that ratio! I personally publish just 1 out of 10 event photos. At an average 2-hour protest, I shoot 300-500 pictures, selecting around 100 to download, and event organizers usually upload around 30-50. Make sure that everything you show is up to your standards.
Bonus Tip - Build trust
In the animal rights world, you will likely run into the same people many times, and gaining their full trust is critical to having them be comfortable subjects. So, only post good photos of them. Look for people’s best side, those shiny eyes, and that passion. After a while, you’ll get a sense for people’s preferences. It is also good practice to ask people, during the pre-action briefing, to let you know if they prefer not to be photographed, as that will save you lots of time later. Also make sure to get the subject’s permission to use the photos outside of the original intended use.
Shameless plug: my 365 Photo Challenge project, where I’m creating one decent photo a day for a whole year.
A special thank you goes to Jo-Anne McArthur for everything she has done for the animals, for her inspiration, and for simply being an amazingly kind and sweet human being. Without seeing her work and listening to her talk, I would never have started photographing these powerful animal rights actions.