Appearances and Professionalism in Event Photography
As an experienced San Diego and Las Vegas event photographer, and a business owner who occasionally hires and works with beginning photographers, I get asked a lot of basic etiquette questions. “What should I wear?” “Can I eat with the guests?” “They said it was an open bar.” I have watched as new and inexperienced photographers made questionable decisions making them appear unprofessional and costing them repeat clients. I thought I might share some of my thoughts on event photography etiquette, attire and how certain situations might reflect on you and how you are viewed as a professional event photographer.
Remember, appearance is more than just what you wear, It’s also an attitude and professional demeanor that clients and attendees notice when you are on the job.
What Should You Wear as an Event Photographer?
It’s as much about what you wear, as when you wear it. Proper attire is not only about clothes, but also about the atmosphere, environment and occasion. Your clothes say a lot about you. They can make a strong statement both positively and negatively. How people receive and perceive you, and the job you are doing, is influenced by what you wear so it’s critical that your clothes are appropriate for the occasion. I recommend wearing black when possible. Black blends in. Your client may request that you dress to match the production crew, and that color is almost always black. If you’re unsure, ask your client. They will generally give you an idea of what they expect and if they don’t, wear black. It is never a bad idea to always dress nicely. Overdressing is always better than underdressing.
But What about My Brand!
Your Brand is important, I get that. But in event photography, your client isn’t as concerned about your brand image as they are about the images you create and how you go about it. Unless you are the entertainment, or it’s a costume party, low key and appropriate is the way to go when dressing to shoot events. Most event planners and corporate clients want you to blend in as much as possible. Bright colors, bold statements or trendy hats are counter to that idea. Remember, just because they didn’t comment, doesn’t mean they didn’t notice.
Keeping your outfits low key and professional is the safe bet every time. Some photographers like having their business name or logos embroidered on their shirts and as long as the colors are muted, I guess this is okay. I don’t care for it though. I’m not sure why but probably because it looks too much like a fast-food uniform.
So What do I Wear as an Event Photographer?
Black and dark gray are my go-to colors for almost all of my events. Polos and/or long sleeve button-ups and slacks are preferred and I like to make sure the materials are lightweight and moisture-wicking when possible. Event Photography is fast-paced and can be strenuous so the lighter and cooler, the better. Keeping my wardrobe simple makes deciding what to wear easy and stress-free. The brands and styles I have chosen are comfortable and easy to work in. I combine the pants and shirts depending on the event and usually add a sport jacket to the ensemble. Without exception, I would rather be slightly overdressed than underdressed.
Here’s what hangs in my closet:
- Prana pants (3) Black and gray. Lightweight, moisture-wicking, extra gadget pocket.
- Hagar slacks (2) Black. For slightly more formal events.
- Levis (2) Dark blue, never faded. For very casual and some outdoor shoots
- Van Heusen shirts (4) Black, long sleeve button-ups. 70/30 Polyester/Cotton Blend. Moisture-wicking. My go-to shirt.
- Nike (3) Performance Golf Polos, Black, of course.
- Calvin Klein (2) Black sports jackets. Lightweight, slim fit (good for slinging cameras)
I am very fond of my Pranas. They are lightweight, moisture-wicking, and look good with or without a sports coat. I keep three black and three gray in my closet, ready to wear. When I find a style of shirt, pair of pants or shoes that I like, I tend to buy multiple’s and keep them boxed so that when used ones wear out, I just open a new package and move on. It should go without saying but make sure your clothes are wrinkle-free, neat and not faded or worn. If wearing black slacks and a black shirt, ensure that the blacks match and the shades are similar. How you dress and conduct yourself goes a long way in how you are perceived and how you will be viewed.
Shoes and Boots?
Comfortable shoes are a must. Just as important as your equipment, shoes allow you to focus on your work and in event photography, you can be on your feet for many hours at a time and sore feet WILL affect your performance. I wear doctor prescribed orthotics for collapsed arches and it is difficult for me to find a pair of shoes that are appropriate, comfortable, and that allows me to fit the orthotics. I have spent an inordinate amount of time in shoe stores trying to find the perfect shoe.
I have different styles depending on the formality of the event, and Ecco and Merrell are my favorite brands. Yes, my Merrells are hiking boots but for outdoor events, and some multi-day trade shows, where I have been known to walk 18+ miles in a single day, I wear hiking boots when appropriate. My Merrell’s are dark grey and black desert hikers that are lightweight and well ventilated. They are very comfortable, low key and they accommodate my orthotics well. I also always carry a nicer pair of Ecco dress shoes just in case the boots are too casual.
On a side note, for longer days, when I know I will be putting a ton of miles on my feet, it’s amazing how changing into a fresh pair of socks can rejuvenate your feet and give you a boost.
Hats and Head Wear
Just don’t. Unless you will be outdoors, in a casual environment where a hat for shade or warmth is appropriate there is little reason to wear a hat as an event photographer.
Courtesy and Etiquette During an Event
Saying Hello and Goodbye
You should always plan on arriving 15-30 minutes early, whether it’s the first day of an event or the 3rd. Be prepared to check-in with your client or event planner and leave enough time to go over any changes to the coverage or last-minute details you may need to plan for. Also, make sure you reach out to your contact person when you rap up a day’s shooting. Even when the start and finish times are set in stone. It’s just good form to let them know you have wrapped up and are heading out.
I always like to give my clients a heads up about 30 minutes before I am scheduled to finish. This gives us a chance to touch base and ensure there are no additional photos needed before I leave. Many times, there is an additional shot they want and this keeps me from rushing, last-minute or going into overtime. Changes and additions happen and it’s great habit to get into, it’s the professional thing to do and my clients appreciate it.
Meals and Snacks
Keeping yourself well hydrated and full of energy is important for your well being and performance. During active, busy events it is very easy to forget to eat or drink. Clients may fill your schedule and forget to include meals and break times. Make sure you review your schedule with them ahead of time if possible to allow you to take care of yourself. For anything less than 4 hours, I don’t expect my client to provide me food or the time to eat it. A few power bars and some bottled water to is generally all I need to keep energized. You may be tempted to grab a beef slider or pot sticker from a plate of hor devours as they pass but this may be perceived as unprofessional. Remember, you are being paid to photograph people having a great time, not as a guest. On occasion, clients may be generous and tell you to help myself, but unless you know the client very well, it’s best to avoid partaking as guests and others may not know the arrangement and will judge for themselves.
On all day or multi-day events, it’s important and necessary to eat. Again, I don’t feel that this is the client’s responsibility nor do I ask for it in my contracts. Having said that, there are times when it makes sense from an efficiency standpoint to accept a client’s offer of meals. For instance, if there are no restaurants or snack bars close to the venue, or when timing is tight and you may not have the time to leave the venue for lunch. Meals and break arrangements need to be agreed upon ahead of time and are an important consideration. Confirm that they are okay with the timing of your meal breaks and clarify whether or not you can join the attendees at the buffet or should dine separately with the stage and event crew. The one thing you shouldn’t do is just help yourself. If in doubt, you should always pack some power bars and eat them when you can.
You may have just finished working four hours straight and need to get off your feet for a few minutes, go to the bathroom or drink some much-needed water. When taking breaks, do it out of sight of your clients and their guests or attendees. This applies to events both big and small. Someone is always watching and even when you think you are being low key or lost in the crowd, people notice you. The gear gives you away and people are curious. They may not know that you just walked five miles and a break is deserved. All they see is a photographer sitting when they should be photographing something. Finding a quiet spot where you can rest inconspicuously and uninterrupted is a smart move appearance-wise and professionally.
It is never a good idea to take advantage of alcoholic drinks, before, during or after shooting an event venue. Surprisingly, you may be invited to partake more often than not. Again, someone is always watching and it would be easy for people to misinterpret or make assumptions based on appearance alone. Best to just avoid the temptation. When offered, I don’t openly or verbally decline the offer, I just say “thank you, I appreciate that”.
Final Note, Your Team
Remember, the people you hire to work with you and for you also represent you. They are an extension of you and your company. I employ several second shooters, photo assistants and image editors on many of my shoots and it’s important that I share our client’s expectations with them. Don’t assume your employees know the dress code, rules or arrangements. Make sure everyone on your team is on the same page before the event begins. This will help avoid any potentially embarrassing misunderstandings that can leave a negative impression of how you do business.
As always, I welcome any questions or ideas you may have so please feel free to contact or comment on my article, until next time……