Conference Photography: Why I’m doing it and why you need it.

My photos from the inaugural HOBY ALA in Feb/March 2013 in Maryland, on HOBY's website. [Conference Photography by CC Photo & Media]

My photos from the inaugural HOBY ALA in Feb/March 2013 in Maryland, on HOBY's website. [Conference Photography by CC Photo & Media]

My photos from the inaugural HOBY ALA in Feb/March 2013 in Maryland, on HOBY's website. [Conference Photography by CC Photo & Media]

My photos from the inaugural HOBY ALA in Feb/March 2013 in Maryland, on HOBY's website. [Conference Photography by CC Photo & Media]

My photos from the inaugural HOBY ALA in Feb/March 2013 in Maryland, on HOBY's website. [Conference Photography by CC Photo & Media]

My photos from the inaugural HOBY ALA in Feb/March 2013 in Maryland, on HOBY's website. [Conference Photography by CC Photo & Media]

You may remember this post from several months ago when I mentioned I would be serving as the official conference photographer/director of photography for a brand new program by HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth) Leadership called the Advanced Leadership Academy. So, you might be wondering why I’m bringing it up now, 8 or so months after the program…

Well, I’m pleased to announce that I will once again be fulfilling this role! So, in about three weeks I will pack my gear and board a plane to St. Louis, MO to photograph and take video of the second, ever, Advanced Leadership Academy. That’s right, it’s the second one – so that means, all the photos you may or may not have seen as part of a HOBY ALA campaign were also mine – including all the photos in use on the HOBY website related to the ALA program (screenshots above, click on image and scroll through to see others), including on their home page.

Why HOBY??

It’s always really inspiring to see the work the students do at HOBY events, and see how empowered they feel when they leave. This program is different from a regular HOBY seminar, though, because the students at the conference are learning how to apply their leadership skills to make positive change in their communities, whereas at the original seminar, the students are just starting to discover their leadership potential and identify as a leader. It’s really very cool!

Won’t it be boring to photograph a conference?

Some might say, “why bother photographing a conference, won’t it be boring – people at podiums, etc.?” Sure, there are some photos of people at podiums, but the real value of photographing a conference is in documenting everything important that happens. That means, in addition to getting high quality photos of the speakers at podiums, also capturing the environment and the way the attendees get involved.

The job of the conference photographer is not only to see the official, planned moments of the event, but to also capture the feeling of the people there and the other activities and details that happen. (That’s one reason why photographing a HOBY event is so unique – because there are definitely very active moments where people get up and cheer, or where the students show off their work, or even when they are working on a service project.)

Why do event organizers need photography in the first place – don’t they all look the same?

Maybe, maybe not. Like I said in the above answer, the job isn’t only about capturuing the obvious, but also about the subtleties. So, not only does it take proper techincal acumen and equipment – it’s often dark in conference locations – but also professional behavior – photographers are there to record, not to distract – to do the job.

In any case, the real question here is why are photographs needed. Well, the first thing that my new marketing team leader for the ALA this time around said to me was, “I need MORE photos!” Now, she may have been struggling mostly because only so many photos can be made and there had only ever been a single event in the first place, but the point is … photos are 100% necessary for promotion of the event next time around. Whether that’s on an official website, in ad campaigns in print/web, Facebook and social media postings, mailings, etc.

The fact is that photography makes promotional efforts MUCH more successful because they connect with the viewer. The SHOW rather than TELL what the event is and what to expect. The people seeing the marketing materials should FEEL something when they see your flyer/website/etc. and the easiest and fastest way to evoke that emotional connection is through the power of strong images.

What’s the benefit of photography like this?

Bringing in a professional conference photographer offers a lot of benefits – some of which I’ve touched on above. But the main thing to consider if you’re on the fence about it is: what will you do if you don’t bring one on board? Will you do it yourself, search for a “volunteer” or forego it altogether?

Let’s examine each of these options…

  • A. The DIY: Pros: 1. Free or inexpensive (have to have a camera). Cons: 1. You’re already busy because you are running the event, you don’t have the time to manage this as well. 2. Your technical skills and equipment are a question – no insults meant here, but it’s worth considering what equipment you have access too and how well you know how to use it. 3. The quality of the work will likely suffer. When the quality of the images is not good, that also reflects on the organization/conference as a whole… (read this post for more info on that…)
  • B. Finding a “volunteer”: Good luck. There are many people out there that are looking to “build a portfolio,” so it probably won’t be too hard to find free or cheap labor. However, remember the old adage “You get what you pay for.” When hiring a true professional, certain things are guaranteed, like reliability, skill, access to proper equipment for the job, knowledge of lighting, professionalism, timeliness, etc. When you bring on a free or cheap photographer, none of these things are guaranteed because their reputation as a high quality, professional and responsible photographer/business person is not on the line. So, not ony is the quality of the final product questionable, but other factors are also uncertain, like the time in which you’ll get photos, if/when they will even show up, how they will act at the event, and more.
  • C. Forget photography, “ain’t nobody got time for that”: So… you’ve decided you don’t want to deal with photography at all? So, what happens if you want to do this event, or a similar one, ever again? How will you promote it? Probably you will use a whole heck of a lot of text, and hope to grab people’s attention long enough to get them to register. Best of luck with that.

How do I use the photography from my event?

The answer to this question really goes back to marketing basics, since the real purpose of documenting the event is in order to promote it in the future. So, here are a few examples: do a PR campaign following the event in order to get news coverage in local media and industry specific media, put together a post card mailing to event attendees and prospective attendees to promote the event next year, upload images to social media or blogs following the event to keep people involved and interacting with you. These are a few easy examples, but really, the sky is the limit here.

The bottom line is that the images are there to help personify the event, and make people want to go. If you have no images or poor quality images, they won’t work in your favor – giving people the inspiration to go sign up.

What should I look for when searching for the right photographer?

A few things to keep in mind when looking for the right conference photographer for you: professionalism in presentation and communications, a strong and diverse portfolio (look at their images, do they look like the person knew what they were doing and used quality equipment?), does the style of their work match what you want to convey (style includes not only visual elements like brightness/contrast/color/etc., but also the type of photography they do – are they mostly showing weddings and baby portraits, or corporate events, etc.?). These are a few of the things that you should evaluate – but you sould also consider reaching out to your potential photographers and talk with them, to see if your personalities mesh, because no matter how good their work is, if you can’t get along with them, you won’t work well togehter.

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Well, if you made it this far and you’re still reading, thanks! If you liked this post feel free to share it with your friends/colleagues and then be sure to sign up to get my free tips and updates delivered right to your inbox!

If you know anyone that is hosting/sponsoring a conference or convention and is looking for a photographer, please feel free to pass along this information to them.

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