In Event Photography, Gear Matters

An executive delivers a keynote speech to his audience and is dramatically spotlighted, on stage, from a single light source

Corporate Events require Pro Level Equipment

I’m just going to put this out there. Gear matters! For professional event photographers, who want to be able to compete for the large clients, the multi day corporate events and star studded keynotes, gear matters. I get asked all the time about equipment. From other photographers, to event planners and even attendees. It usually starts with, “What kind of lens is that”? or “Is that the Mark 5?” While I am not a gear guy, I do love talking about photography, so I am always happy to share what I’m carrying and thoughts about why I am using it.

Some will say that in the hands of a skilled photographer, any camera is good enough. While true in a simplistic way, in reality, a professional photographer is going to use the best equipment possible in order to insure success. Obvious right? Well good equipment costs money and if you are just starting out, money can be in short supply. I understand that, but in order to be able to meet the needs of high end corporate event clients, you will need to invest in order to be successful. Sure, you may be able to land a big client, but without the right gear, your results will be disappointing and you may not keep them.

Fortunately, while I strongly advise professional quality camera equipment, you don’t need a lot of gear. I probably shoot 80-90% percent of all my assignments with a used Canon 5D Mark II, a 24-105 F4 and a Canon 600 Flash unit(an older 580 would be just as good). To Nikon users I apologize. I will be writing in Canon language. That is what I know, but you can apply these same principals to Nikon, you will just have to translate. For a point of reference there are basically three categories of Canon camera. This generally applies to Nikon as well.

A capacity crowd of attendees pack a convention hall to watch and participate in a mock Family Feud entertainment segment of a corporate event.

So What Camera is Good Enough?

EOS 1D Series. Top of the line and in my opinion not necessary for corporate event photography. Though I love my 1D Mark IV.

EOS 5D Mark II, Mark III, 7D, 7D Mark II, EOS 6D. Cameras in this group are what you should be aiming for. These are what I consider the workhorse category for most event and wedding photographers. They may not be fast enough for sports work, but more than adequate for most other kinds of photography.

EOS 80D, 70D 60D, any Rebel. These are cameras that I would not consider using for consistent event work. They have good sensors but are not designed for casual photography. They don’t have the appropriate speed or durability needed for the rigors of professional event photography. They might work as inexpensive, emergency backup cameras in a pinch.

EOS 5DS, 5DS-R. These cameras are specialty and not necessary for everyday event work.

The camera doesn’t have to be a new one. Find a good used one. Your camera doesn’t have to be the latest model either. My 5d is several generations old now and I still don’t feel the need to upgrade at this point. You do have to invest in good equipment. You can work your way up with small jobs and lesser equipment but for the big stuff, you need pro level. With the camera body, the sensors are similar, it’s the focus speed, focus speed in low light, sync speed, and long term durability that matters .

Only Top Level Lenses

24-105 f4. Some might argue that the 24-70 2.8 is necessary and that having that one extra stop can make a difference, however, with an image stabilizer, and it’s excellent sharpness combined with the increased ISO sensitivity of camera sensors, in my opinion, negates the need and makes the 105 a better choice. Add the extra reach of the 105 and the fact that this it is a very sharp, and this lens stays permanently attached to my 5D. In fact, so much so that I have two. The second is a backup because I wouldn’t want to shoot an event without it. These lens are readily available used and for decent prices.

There are many shooters who like fixed focal lengths vs. zoom and I understand, but for me, a zoom is much faster than using my feet when an opportunity presents itself. A zoom also allows me to be discreet and low-key. Most importantly, from a cost standpoint, I can get much more focal length for my money. Good primes are expensive. Inexpensive primes, while better than inexpensive zooms, still aren’t quite good enough, in my experience. Yes, the standard 50 is a capable lens, and if that is all you have, use it. I would prefer to shoot with that than a sub $500 zoom lens, but even a good, inexpensive 50 can be slow to focus. There are always exceptions of course, but in my experience, not many.

Borrow a lens. There are plenty of camera rental companies now. If you do land a big job, rent. (Names of a few rental companies) You only get one chance to impress a client. No excuses! Keeping a client once you have them is a lot easier than finding new ones.

Hologram of BB King performing on stage during a Keynote for Microsoft Corporate Event

Gold is Better than Red, Right?

The quick answer, no. Red band vs. gold band. Canon has several categories of lens. Their L-series lens are generally black with a red band or ring. These lens generally are optically and construction wise superior and suitable for professional use. Gold band or ring lenses are non-L EF lenses that may or may not have USM motors for quicker focus. They are slower to focus, less durable and have more glass elements between your subject and the camera sensor. There really is no comparison for focus speed, durability and sharpness between the two.. I know I shouldn’t make absolute statements, there are always exceptions, but this is my professional opinion and I am going to stand by it. L series, red band/ring lens are what you should be using. I want to touch on the durability difference. I don’t need to be able to drop my gear from 10 feet in order to use it, but in corporate event photography, particularly multi day events, you gear gets used a lot! This constant use, and inadvertent bounces and bumps, quickly takes a toll on your equipment. You’re lenses are particularly vulnerable because they stick out there take the brunt of impacts both large and small. Red bands, L- series lenses are just built that much better and they can stand up to the abuse for alot longer.

Meet & Greet with conference attendee and General Colin Powell

Flash IS Available Light

You just can’t count on available light in corporate event photography. I’ll qualify that. There is always available light during a corporate event, you just never know if there will be enough of it and what the quality will be! Flash is not an option, it is a necessity. Canon 580’s or 600’s are what you need. Smaller Canon on camera flash units or after market brands that don’t output at least a GN (guide number) of 36, will be of little if any use. Without getting into technical details, 580’s and their equivalents 580II, 600, and some aftermarket brands such as Metz 58 AF-2 and AF-2, Nissin Di866, and even the venerable Vivitar 285HV (if you can find one) are all suitable power and feature wise to get the job done. Personally, other than the Vivitar, I have always used Canon brand flash units, but on a budget, I would definitely use one of the aftermarket brands. I have also found that a swivel head is critical to being able to control the quality and direction of the light. Do not be hesitant to use older models such as the 580 or 580II. I currently use the 600’s but I still have 580’s that I use regularly and as backup.

For the level of corporate event photography that is quite lucrative and exciting, camera style, lens build and flash output are critical to your success. Anything less, and you are making a challenging job, a heck of a lot harder. The good news is that professional level equipment will fill you with confidence and help create work that will make your clients happy. More good news! You don’t have to buy new or even the latest models. Over the last few years, improvements in camera technology, sensors and lens have slowed. In fact, I am currently using all version one lenses, a 1D Mark IV that they don’t event manufacture anymore and a wonderful 5D Mark III. I have recently upgraded to Speedlight 600’s for their wireless control but my 580’s are still quite relevant. There you have it, my take on equipment matters.

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.