Conference photography is a specific type of event photography, and something that I’ve covered many times over the years. I don’t think I’ve really written about it though, so thought I’d use a commission from a couple of months ago to set the record straight and give some insight into how I approach covering conferences, and what kind of images are delivered.
This day, spent at MMU covering their day on ‘Industry 4.0’, was representative of a typical conference event. The day usually divides into registration, an introductory talk, a keynote speaker, or several keynote speakers, going up to lunchtime. Over the lunch break there is usually a demonstration, stands to visit, presentations, or something along those lines. Often, if it’s taking place at a university or other educational institution, there are representatives from industry speaking to graduates. The afternoon usually contains another keynote, and there is generally a plenary session to summarise and round the day off. Photographically speaking, it’s quite a challenge therefore; as a considerable part of the day involves taking photos of people sitting down! Nothing that I’m not used to, of course. This day was commissioned by the university’s marketing department, and the images would be used to advertise future similar days. So, my brief was to show what went on; and to ensure that the enjoyment and interest of the day came across in the images.
When I’m covering an event like this, I’m always looking for moments happening. That’s what makes one conference different to another one – the people who are attending and their responses to what is going on. It’s a day of information giving and receiving. Of course, I need to make sure that I get shots of the speakers in action – and these days so many have thought about their delivery as much as the content, so the chances of capturing somebody being animated and engaged is far higher (and makes for better photos, of course). Audiences too have become far move involved in what’s going on. You see people live tweeting an event; sometimes there’s even a live feed visible during an event. On a personal note, it’s good to see people still taking notes during a talk (and sometimes even using pen and paper!).
My job is also to search out those moment and interactions during the ‘between’ times. During registration, grabbing a drink in the coffee break, talking to delegates or business represetatives during the lunch hour – all of these are things that make a conference special to attendees, and need to be recorded and represented.
A great mantra running through my mind during an event like this is “high, low, near, far.” That influences how I’ll shoot the occasion – looking for unusual angles in addition to the obvious one (some people think that the world only exists at eye level); and using both wide angle and telephoto lenses to give different perspectives on what’s going on. I’ll also spend a lot of time moving around, searching for those angles, and changing position to keep looking at those perspectives and searching for new shots.
So, you see, as with all event photography, there’s a method at work all the time.