Equipment Tips for Photographing Corporate Events

President Bill Clinton address a crowd of supporters.

Photographing Corporate Events . Long Lens and a Monopod

When shooting Corporate Events either in San Diego or Las Vegas, the more advantages, tricks or equipment combos I can use to insure quality photos, the better. Being able to capture professional quality imagery for the client, particularly in difficult or low light conditions really separates the average from the best. On top of that, you don’t get second chances to capture compelling images and important moments when working live events, stage performances or keynotes. In this post, I attempt to explain some of my thoughts on a camera, lens combo that I have come to rely heavily on to insure I provide the best images possible to my event clients.

James Carville addressing a corporate event.

My Two Favorite Lens for Corporate Event Photography

Frankly, I only have two lenses that I use to handle almost 95% of all my event work. My workhorse Canon 24-105 f4 IS (I have two) and my Canon 70-200 2.8 IS (version 1). With a 24-105 on my 5D Mark lll and the 70-200 on my 1D Mark IV, I am very comfortable with pretty much any scenario or subject matter. Before the newer, higher ISO’s which are very usable at even 6400 in a pinch, the 24-105’s might have been a bit slow. I struggled with several 24-70 2.8’s and never found a “good one” that didn’t have back focus issues with some of the older digital cameras. But today, the 24-105’s are more than fast enough at f4 and ISO 3200 with a little Lightroom magic added to render virtually noiseless images. Add the 2-3 stop IS compensation and the only real problem I have is keeping the subject still enough in low light to avoid motion blur. I’m getting off track here, my use of 24-105’s is whole different discussion.

Blue Man Group entertaining a corporate event audience

Camera and Long Lens Combo

So why the 70-200 2.8 and why is it almost permanently attached to my 1D Mark IV and monopod? The first answer is weight. This is a heavy setup. Many times I find myself shooting a general session or a keynote speaker and lugging around just the camera and lens without any support would wear me out. Award ceremonies and graduation, where I can be holding the camera in position for 30-45 minutes at a time, are just not comfortable, and let’s be honest, doable for me. I could carry a lighter setup, and many times I do, but as we discuss this combo further, you will see the advantages and begin to understand why I love this setup with the monopod.

Securing the 70-200 on the monopod using the tripod collar gives me a very balanced and steady shooting platform. Not only is this combo heavy, but zoomed out to 200mm presents the real risk of camera shake. The longer the focal length, the greater the exaggeration of any kind of movement or shake on your part. In event conditions, low light is always a potential concern so the monopod gives us a bunch of breathing room.  The rule of thumb for hand holding focal lengths and the suggested usable shutter speed is the focal length X2 = the shutter speed.  So if we are zoomed out to 200, we need to have our shutter speed set to at least 1/500 of a second.  Generally, even on well lit stages, we are luck to get 1/125 so you can see there are lots of potential issues with getting in focus shots in low light.  With the lens in place on top of the monopod, I easily get a very high percentage of in focus shots, in fact, I rarely miss. On a side note, Canon recommends that you turn off the stabilizer on this lens when it is on a tripod or monopod. Something about the lack of instability can confuse the system that is actually expecting a certain amount of shake.  I do this, but honestly, I have forgotten many times and not really had a problem. Just keep this in mind if your monopod mounted and are having issues with focus.

College Game Day set during a corporate event

My Four Key Reasons for Using the Canon Mark IV and 70-200 on a Monopod

Heavy, Steady, Low Light and Stealth. I feel like of covered heavy first, sort of combined steady and low light second and now onto stealth.  Generally speaking, I personally do not like walking up to the edge of the stage and getting in the way of 1000’s of people to get close ups of the speaker. Of course, there are many times when this is necessary for a great wide angle shot of the speaker in context, including the crowd, but being able to stay 4-5 rows back and still get in tight, is very helpful. From a position further back from the stage, you can avoid distracting the speaker, stay out of the way of production cameras (usually stationed towards the back) and avoid irritating VIP’s who are usually occupying the front rows.

Misc Benefits of a Long Lens and Monopod

My final argument for why I use this setup is an assorted mix of important benefits that are crucial in my attempts to capture keynotes and general sessions. I will list them here in no particular order:

  • Sometimes you physically can’t get close enough. This combo gives me the ability to pull the subject in when I can’t physically closer.
  • Discussed above plus added “reach”.
  • Speaking of “reach,” that added length helps me if I am at the wrong end of the stage when something important happens and I need the shot.
  • If the stage is much higher than seating area, you can move back to avoid shooting up your subjects noses.
  • Natural expressions and candids (where the subject is not aware of your presence) are much easier when you can be away from the action.

Enthusiastic audience applauding during a corporate event

A Working Corporate Event Example

I have a story that helps illustrate some of these benefits from a shoot I did just a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. A major Japanese auto manufacturer was hosting a dealership meeting for several hundred of their biggest dealerships. They wanted me to capture various CEO’s and VIP’s as they welcomed and introduced next years line of new cars. The cars themselves were top secret and they absolutely did not want images taken of the cars. On top of that, they did not want me to be up front, preferring that I stay low key.  Apparently, the last photographer they hired was a major distraction and they did not want a repeat of that. Of course, this a tailored made situation for using my long lens, monopod setup. That’s why I’m sharing it with you. Using my setup, I was easily able to stay back and out of the way, isolate the speakers from the cars in the background, and because the presentation was fast paced, I was able to “reach” across the stage to capture shots of important events when I was not in always in a prime shooting location relative to the on stage event.

Excited Corporate event attendee in full racing gear

Wrapping it All Up

 

A couple final and important details. This setup works best with the tripod collar attached to the 70-200. Not only because you need it to mount the lens on the monopod, but also because you can loosen the collar a bit and rotate the lens from Horizontal to Vertical quickly. A warning! This does tend to scratch up the body of the lens under the collar so be aware of that.  I personally buy my lenses for the long haul so this doesn’t really bother me but I certainly understand if it might bother others. Second and third are Mark IV related. The Mark IV has separate shutter release buttons when either holding the camera in landscape or portrait mode which makes it very comfortable when operating this setup. I am able to hold the camera comfortable in either orientation which also helps stabilize my camera to avoid shake.  And finally, the 1.4 crop factor with the Mark IV’s sensor give me just a bit more magnification allowing me to get “a bit closer” to my subject than a full frame.

There you have it.  My go to combo for shooting many aspects of corporate events. I have included a couple of links to help you in case you are interested in exploring this setup further. The Manfrotto monopod and the monopod head can be found on B&H and other equipment sites. Thank you for reading and we will talk again soon.

Manfrotto Monopod

Manfrotto Rapid Connect Monopod Head

 

About

Now based out of San Diego, John Morris has been a successful corporate event photographer in Las Vegas for the past 15 years. John also teaches and coaches photography and business to aspiring photographers.