Event Photography & Photo Essay Guide

By Luz Bratcher 


Recommended Gear

Regardless of your make and model preference, there’s some specific situations you need to be prepared for:

  • Low-light situations like dimly lit auditoriums, happy hours in a basement, etc.

  • Portraiture, both candid audience shots, lifestyle, engaged speakers, and posed portraits for social media, interviews, etc.

Here’s what I’d recommend bringing. I prefer to shoot Canon, so I’ve listed gear accordingly. Feel free to substitute with your brand of choice.

Experienced Photographer with Big Budget

Experienced Photographer with Small Budget

Amateur Photographer with a Small Budget

Camera Body

Canon 5D Mark III

Canon t5i

Fuji X100s or high-res mobile device (such as an iPhone 6+)


Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L or Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8


Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II and/or Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 or Canon EF 50mm f/1.4


Canon EF 135mm f/2L

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 or Canon EF 100mm f/2


Canon Speedlite 580EX II

Canon Speedlite 580EX II

Nice to haves, but not necessary



If using mobile device, recommend VSCO CAM for iOS/Android

Have a Schedule Ready

  • Check with organizers and sponsors

Who’s coming that you need a photo of? What events do we need photos of to show a little sponsor love? Where are the high-activity events?

  • Build in time to explore

    • There will be unplanned events. Give yourself some margin time to be flexible and change plans when Drake decides to show up unexpectedly.

    • It’s important to help set context in your collection as well.

      • Are there architectural details with signage? A splay of nametags? People filling their coffee cups with a Startup Week wristband?

  • Build in time to edit along the way

    • Don’t feel like you need to shoot everything all the time. Dump your photos on the go if you can. Spend a little time editing and culling as you go. This will help identify production issues as well as give immediate feedback to help you do better along the way.

What do I need to shoot?

  • Who’s there?

    • Mealtime photos are tricky. Most folks are going to be smiling and enjoying themselves after they finish eating.

    • Who are the community leaders?

  • What are they doing?

    • Having coffee together?

    • Walking from one meeting site to another?

  • Where are they doing this at?

    • Context

What story should I be telling?

Donald Miller has a great framework called How to Tell a Story and I like to use this to set up the story I want to tell visually. Take some time to talk with event leaders and community leaders to fill in this structure (I’m using examples from Phoenix Startup Week):

  • Who’s the hero and what do they want?

    • The Phoenix startup community and they want connection.

      • Energetic crowd gathering

      • People entering into Basecamp

      • Volunteers hustling

      • People gathering, talking.

      • Let the tone be somber.

  • What’s their problem?

    • Their city is so spread out, making it hard to unify the community.

      • Serious conversation

      • People sitting alone

  • Who’s their guide?

    • Startup Week

      • Volunteers/planning team

      • People hanging out and connecting with each other.

  • What’s the guide’s plan?

    • A good party brings people together!

      • People hanging out and connecting with each other.

      • Post-mealtime photos of people enjoying sitting around, talking with each other.

  • What’s the action the guide is calling the hero to?

    • Show up and support your community

      • Community leaders interacting with others

  • What’s the result of the plan?

    • The city says, “I had no idea this was here!” and gains momentum like never before.

      • Photos that map the energy of the week’s end. (I used a vibrant sunset)


  • Image size, type, & quality for print and web


Photo Essay Examples:

The 15-Year-Old President by Charity Water.

Great example of an individual-focused story.

Hack the Drive: Sleepless in San Francisco by Hunaid Hussain

Simple, intimate photos. Who was there? What were they doing? Where were they at? What made this place special? Who made this place special?

PAX Australia 2014 by Joshua Blackman

Contextualized the experience. Just like an attendee, wide-eyed with big photos. As the story develops, the number of photos increase, just like attendee’s curiosity. Footnotes make for a great case for shooting wide open. Important at events.

XOXO Festival 2013 by Ian Linkletter

Not inspirational as much as an interesting example of lots of people and activity photos that don’t draw you into the experience. For goodness sake, keep snapping speaker photos until there’s a good one.

Forge Copenhagen and Build 2013 by Joris Rigerl

This is a great example of context-setting and event recaps.