Good Briefing for Event Photographers

I covered an event last week in Central London, 500 plus guests, drinks reception with moving entertainment, dinner and then stage entertainment followed by dancing and games areas.

The event organizer is a professional who knows her stuff and never misses a beat, she has trust in what I do and very much on the night leave me to get on with it, covering the event with photography as I see fit. Being the sort that leaves nothing to chance though she always sends me a brief a few days prior to the event. And this years briefing document which ran to 10 A4 pages long got me to thinking what does an event photographer actually need in a briefing?

So here’s a guide for new event organizers and a reminder to some of you more experienced old hands on the essentials of a good briefing for event photographers.

Photographers are visual people, ideally one A4 sheet with bullet points is the best brief as it’s simple to tuck in a pocket and pull out when required. Ten pages is too much to handle and absorb or find details while trying to work.

First the essentials, Venue address and phone number, date, time of start and finish of event and expected time of arrival for the photographer.  That’s your header on an A4 sheet.

Next is a timing sheet for the event, time when dinner is expected to be called, expected dinner serving times, and times when specialty acts maybe performing,  perhaps a list of speakers and when they are due to speak.

If the photographer doesn’t know your client from previous shoots a list of the vips, preferably with portraits should be next. This is gold dust for an event photographer as it means reportage photography during a drinks reception can be covered with preference to important people.

If you have a requirement for posed group shots list names for each shot, try to resist the temptation to do a list of every combination of people possible of the VIPs as it tends to ware more on the VIPs than the photographer and can sometimes offend one or other guest if they are asked to step out of the next picture.

Next your freelance paragraph, this is for the style details and general coverage notes. This might list your requirements for a mix of reportage and formal shots, your preference for or not for images shot at angles, your request for room set shots or details of the flower arrangements for the florist.

Lastly your requirement for images. This could be 10 selected images by email the same day for web site publication, images of speakers for your blog etc. and then your expected date of the full selection of images either on disc, via the photographers web site or full size images pushed to Dropbox or Flicker.

I’ve done a sample brief below should you want to reference a copy. Or email me and I’ll send you an image.

event brief picture


Having got your brief organized here’s a few further thoughts for negotiations with clients when discussing their photography requirements. Sometimes clients want everything and everyone photographed, it’s understandable they have spent lots of money on their event and they want the most mileage they can get out of it with their clients.

This may result in a request for pictures of all guests either as they arrive or while they are seated at table. We’ll look at both options separately.

To photograph all guests as they arrive normally will  involve the photographer to be placed prior or just after registration. Before causes problems of guests being uncomfortable if they are still in coats or a bit wind swept so can be the least favorite option. After registration and cloakroom but before entering main drinks reception can be a bottle neck problem – if you have 150 guests all arriving for a 6.30 drinks reception most are going to turn up within a 10 minute period after that time. Doing the maths  even if only 100 turn up in that 10 minute period that’s that is 10 people a minute to photograph, even if they are all in couples that’s 5 couples or 12 seconds a shot. No time what so ever to pose or interact to get the best possible image.

So unless you have a fantastic show stopping display that everyone will want to be photographed by at the entrance to your venue be prepared for queuing in this sort of photography is requested, which can put guests in a bad mood to start the event – not what anyone is after.

So, the alternative, table shots. Table shots can record everyone at an event, they aren’t the prettiest views of clients as they are always a looking down view across a table. If you are going to do all of a table at once with one side of the table getting up to stand behind the sitters on the far side of the table the photographer is going to cause major disruption in the dinning area and at least 2 minutes for each shot taken while people get themselves sorted.

If it’s going to be 2-3 shots round a table of guests seated then again you are talking at least 90 seconds to do a table. All shots need to be taken prior to the first course being started, pictures of half eaten food on the table is a no no and also disturbs the guests (bear with me through this grandmother sucking eggs lesson there is a point).


Traditional table shot
The traditional table shot, never the prettiest of images.


Normally from the point of people entering the dining area to the commencement of starters is not much more than 10 minutes, lets do the maths again – 90 seconds to 2 minutes a table and a photographer is only going to be able to cover 5-10 tables prior to first course, that’s no more than 100 people. So 5 photographers would have been required to cover this sort of photography in the event I mentioned at the start of this article!


more interesting table shot
A more interesting table shot?


Lastly on the subject of tables, it’s wonderful to have elaborate table centrepieces, it can really make a room look great but if that is happening at your event remember it will make a table shot an impossibility. Keep it in mind for discussions with clients from the start and you’ll look even more the professional!

Lastly I want to talk about royal attended functions. I’ve covered many events where a charity or organization have assembled 80-100 guests in the room and the royal patron is the to do the meet and greet, handshake and generally make the guests/donors feel good.

Be in no doubt, members of the Royal family are professionals in this sort of thing and can gauge timings to cover a whole room and be out the door on time without missing a soul. Unfortunately that can’t always be said of the organization leader. They are as excited as any other guest to have the royal member there and can often forget that this sort of event is to give their donors not only the pleasure of meeting a Royal but also a keep sake after – the photo of me with a Royal for the sideboard (Does anyone have sideboards these days?).

The problem comes with what we event photographers like to call the square four. The room is filled with groups of people in clusters of twos and threes the Royal enters with her host and is introduced to the first group by the host and starts to chat. The people form an enclosed group and there is no angle an event photographer can take a picture without getting a back in the image. At this point we can separate the well prepared host from the beginner.

The beginner will stand there listening to the royal discussion. The professional or well briefed host will be aware of the photographer hovering and step back without being asked, opening the group for the perfect shot of guests and royal all in one. You as event organizer can make so much difference to the end resulting images briefing the host to do this. Whether they remember in the excitement of the moment is another thing!

So there we have it a simple clean brief and a well briefed client can make an event as smooth as silk. A goal all event organizers can achieve with a little preparation.


Brian Russell

copyright 2013