Event Photography Attire and Professionalism

Large convention crowd enjoying poolside networking party at the Encore Beach club in Las Vegas

Appearances and Professionalism in Event Photography

As an experienced event photographer in San Diego and Las Vegas, I get asked a lot of attire and basic etiquette questions from beginning photographers. “What should I wear?” “Can I eat with the guests?” “They said it was an open bar.” I have also observed new and inexperienced photographers make bad decisions that make them appear unprofessional and cost them repeat clients. I thought I might share some of my opinions on event photography attire and how I view certain situations that might not be obvious when considering how you are viewed as a professional event photographer. 

Appearance is more than just what you wear. It’s an attitude and professionalism that clients and attendees notice when you are on the job.

What Should you Wear?

It’s as much about what you wear, as when you wear it. Proper attire is not only about the clothes, but also the atmosphere and occasion. Your attire says something about you and it can make a strong statement both good or not so good. How people receive and perceive you, and the job you are doing, is influenced by what you wear. Make sure it’s appropriate for the occasion. I recommend wearing black when possible. Black blends in. Your client may also request that you dress to match the crew, and the 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.

Large, seated crowd listening intently to presentation during corporate event

But it’s My Brand!

Your Brand is important, I get that. But in event photography, your client is as concerned with your brand images 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 personally don’t care for it though. I’m not sure why.

Joyous attendees enjoying some stage time during a corporate networking event.

So What do I Wear? 

Black and dark gray are my go to colors for almost all of my events. Keeping my wardrobe simple makes deciding what to where 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. Light weight, 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. Light weight, slim fit (good for slinging cameras)

I am very fond of my Pranas. They are light weight, moisture wicking, and look good with or without a sports coat. I keep three black and three gray in my closest, ready to wear. When I find a style of shirt, pair of pants or shoe 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.

Group of attendees heading to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway center buildings after an evening of fun.

Shoes and Boots?

I must have comfortable shoes. I wear doctor prescribed orthotics for collapsed arches and sometimes it’s difficult for me to find a pair of shoes that are appropriate, comfortable, and that allow me to fit the orthotics. Unfortunately, I have spent an inordinate amount of time in shoes stores trying to find the perfect shoe.

I have several different styles depending on the formality of the event, and Ecco and Merrell are my favorite brands. Merrell? Don’t they make hiking boots? Well yes, yes they do. 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. However, I do 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

Don’t.

Peyton Manning making a point on stage during a talk for a corporate event at the Aspen Institute.


Courtesy Considerations During an Event

Saying Hello and Goodbye

It should go without saying but always arrive just a few minutes early, whether it’s the first day of an event or the 3rd, and check in with your client or event planner. Leave enough time to go over any changes to the coverage or last minute details you may need to prepare 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 rapped up and are heading out.

I have found that it is good practice to give my clients a heads up about 30 minutes before I am scheduled to finish. This gives us a chance to touch base to insure there are no additional photo’s needed before I leave. Many times, there is a shot they want and this keeps me from rushing last minute or going into overtime. Last minute stuff happens all the time so this is a great habit to get into and my clients really appreciate it.

A choir, on stage, joyously belts out background vocals as an energetic singer raises her hand towards a crowd of attendees during a convention

Meals and Eating

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 to keep me energized is all I need. I also don’t feel that it looks professional for someone to see me grabbing a beef slider or pot sticker from a plate as it goes by when I should be capturing people having a great time. Many times, even on shorter events, clients are very generous and will tell me to help myself, but call me old school, I think it’s just better to avoid.

On all day, or multi day events, it’s important and necessary to eat. Again, I don’t feel that this is my clients responsibility nor do I ask for it in my contracts. Having said that, there are many times when it makes sense from an efficiency stand point to accept a clients 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. It is important that you talk to your client or planner in these cases. Confirm that they are okay with the timing of your meal break and whether you can join the attendees at the buffet or should dine separately with the stage and event crew. The one thing I don’t do is just help myself. If in doubt, I always bring my own food and eat it when I can.

Taking Breaks           

You may have just finished working 4 hours straight and need to get off your feet for a few minutes, go to the bathroom or drink some much needed water. When I take breaks, I like to do it out of sight of my 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 finished 4 straight hours on your feet and a break is necessary and deserved. All they might see is photographer sitting when they should be working. Finding a quiet spot where you can rest inconspicuously and uninterrupted is a smart move appearance wise.

Gene Simmons is recognized by a shocked fan walking the aisles of the SIA Snowsports Show is Las Vegas.

Open Bar 

In my opinion, it is never a good idea to take advantage of alcoholic drinks, before, during or after shooting an event. Surprisingly, I am invited 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, 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 very important that I share our clients 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……

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.