Gear for an Event Photographer

A reader recently asked me about what gear I use for event photography, since that is a large part of what I do. I wanted to share the thread for others who may be similarly interested.

What camera gear do you use and recommend for event photography in general?

I think the key here is recognizing that every event is different in terms of the lighting conditions, the house rules of the venue, and the specific needs of your client, which may dictate factors such as how much you are allowed to move around and how close you can get to the action without being in the way, as well as how much you can alter or add to the lighting without being a distraction. The combination of gear I use and recommend provides excellent performance for capturing any scene:

In terms of event photography, whether it’s a wedding or a birthday party or a conference, my most common two-camera setup is a Canon 5D Mark III with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens and a Canon 7D with Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens for optimal coverage. This is my combo for 90% of event shoots. The reason I want to have two cameras with me the whole time is so that I can cover a full range of the action. When I need a wider shot, I pick up the Canon 5D with the wide-angle lens. When I need to get in close, I use my Canon 7D with the telephoto lens. Yes, you can of course use “sneaker zoom” by walking closer to or farther from your subjects, but you don’t always have the luxury to do so, due to the speed at which events are unfolding or due to the house rules of the venue. For example, I’ve now been to several weddings where the church coordinator’s rule was, “Pick a spot, any spot, but you’re not allowed to move around during the ceremony.” So my gear has to be able to cover a full range. The reason I’ve invested in two camera bodies is for speed — I can immediately change ranges without fumbling with lens changes. There are many events I cover where this optimal combination allows me to not have to change lenses at all during the entire event. That is a huge plus to me.

There are of course times when it makes sense to change lenses, so in my gear bag I also have a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens for extra wide shots, and Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro lens for the serious detail shots (like rings, etc). I used to shoot with more primes like the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8 when the venue was very dark, but I hardly bother anymore because I can pump up the ISO to 3200 and 6400 and still get great image quality on these camera bodies (particularly the Canon 5D Mark III). I like the versatility of zoom lenses when the scene is unpredictable and I want to be ready for anything.

In order to carry both cameras on me during the event, I use the BlackRapid DR-2 double strap, which has been way better than getting tangled up with two standard camera straps. The DR-2 can also be separated into two separate shoulder straps so you can keep your cameras mounted on them even when you only need one camera. The only thing that is annoying about the BlackRapid design is that it requires use of the tripod mount, which effectively means I have to take off the BlackRapid fastener before using the camera on a tripod or monopod. Those are not part of my standard arsenal for event photography anyway, so it has not been a major issue for me.

I do also set up portable lighting for some events, such as wedding receptions, and that is covered in the Gear for a New Strobist article. You can also check out the rest of the gear I use on the Gear I Love Using page of my photography blog.

Finally, to carry all of this gear with me everywhere I go, I use the Lowepro Pro Roller x200, which is a serious roller bag that is also carry-on compliant for flying. The pop-up pull handle can be very easily deployed with one hand, and you can even mount a camera or an external flash on the handle if you’re in a pinch for a tripod or light stand. I like that it comes with a security cable mechanism so that you can lock it down to an immovable object, and I’ve used it a few times at events so that a thief can’t just easily walk away with my whole bag while I’m distracted. It has lots of configurable compartments and heavy padding to protect my stuff while providing quick access when the bag cover is unzipped. I usually have the following loaded up in there: Canon 5D with 24-70mm lens mounted, Canon 7D with 70-200mm lens mounted, Canon 16-35mm lens, Canon 100mm Macro lens, four YongNuo 460ii strobes with wireless transmitters, Canon 580EX II flash, and a bunch of smaller accessories, batteries, etc. No doubt, this thing gets VERY heavy when fully-loaded, but having this bag has certainly saved my back! I can’t believe I used to try to carry most of this stuff in two overloaded backpacks!

Anyway, here was a long answer to your question. This is how I find myself best prepared for whatever happens at an event. Hope that helps!

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Wednesday April 27, 2005

Stanford’s health site for its staff is full of random tidbits: For example, a cup of what is called 2% milk on the package may contain 5 grams of fat and 120 calories. In other words, 38% of its calories come from fat. It is a peculiarity of the labeling regulations that milk has been allowed to be called 2% fat because it’s 2% fat by weight (milk being mostly water), but 38% fat by calories, the more significant way of determining percent fat. Do you think milk would sell as well if it were called 38% fat milk?

I also never really thought about how peanuts (and consequently peanut butter) contain a lot of fiber.  In fact, I think I’ve just been confused about what constitutes fiber in the first place.  I’m about to turn a quarter of a century old and I haven’t even figured that out.  Imagine that.  Sure, I know that fruits and vegetables are generally high in fiber, but for some reason,  I was also under the impression that meat, which can be stringy and sinewy in nature, also contains “fiber”.  Thanks to 10 minutes spend in online health education, I have eradicated this ridiculous misconception.  No more chicken-spinach-tomato-soup smoothies for me!  Thanks, Stanford!

Monday April 11, 2005

Brilliant idea of the day (not approved by Martha Stewart): Instead of dousing baby carrots in a bowl with Marie’s Poppy Seed dressing and letting precious and tasty dressing go to waste (unless you’re going to lick the bowl afterward), just dump all the carrots into the dressing bottle, close the cap, and shake shake shake! Perfectly drenched carrots, every time!

Got a demo unit of Motion Computing’s M1400 tablet PC last week.  It got hacked over the network on the first day, so I’ve spent more time reloading the OS on it than actually using it for anything interesting.  Ironically, this meant that I had an external mouse and keyboard plugged into unit for the first two days of “testing,” which pretty much defeats the point of having a tablet.  And for something that you’re supposed to cradle in your arms, it sure runs hot!  Not so sure it’s supposed to be like that…

Have you ever worked in a restaurant before?  How much of the tip ends up in the waiter’s pocket, and how does he even get any of it when you include it on the credit card payment anyway?  Had an *excellent* pork shank dinner (for lunch) at Mimi’s Cafe with Steph and friends last Saturday.  It was way more excellent after the waiter said it was on the house because I actually had ordered the pork chops and they made me the wrong thing.  In gratefulness, I wanted to leave the waiter (who for all I know had to pay for the mistake out of his own pocket) a larger tip.  But then we decided not to add it to the credit card payment in case it didn’t go directly to him.  But then we stayed at the restaurant to chat with our friends for such a long time that the waiter eventually told us his shift was over and that he was going to have to leave us.  And then he didn’t take the cash tip that we had placed on the table specifically for him!  So who exactly ended up with the tip anyway?

Trying out Blockbuster.com, which offers 3 DVDs at a time, plus 2 in-store rentals a month, plus random free popcorn and soda, for less than the cost of Netflix. Is Blockbuster really that much slower a service, or else why aren’t more people biting? I don’t know a single Blockbuster.com user, except… me.  And the first month is free!  What’s the catch?

Had $0.99 Chicken McNuggets with Steph last Sunday.  They were so-so when lukewarm.  I remember the days of 20-piece boxes of McNuggets for $5.00, which I often consumed all by myself.  Guess I’m a tad less inclined after reading “What’s in the Meat” in Fast Food Nation and watching Morgan Spurlock super-size himself (though Brian and I did order an extra helping of Micky D’s to liven up the viewing).  But I’m still pretty curious about Chick-fil-A, if only I could find one.

Finally added RSS feeds for my phpbb forum at work, and then decided to enable it in my photo gallery too at http://niftyken.stanford.edu/gallery/rss.php (uh, which won’t look like anything if you don’t have an RSS news aggregator like Firefox’s Live Bookmarks).  Hey, I think the Jack Checker should bookmark my photo site instead of this sad little blog that I “nearly never update.”  Cute baby ducks, Cute babies, cute… pore strips!  All this and more at http://niftyken.stanford.edu (updated way more often, and much more visually stimulating).

Speaking of photos, I think my Canon Powershot G2 is dying.  The LCD screen doesn’t light up most of the time unless I position it just the right way.  What will I do without a camera with a swiveling LCD screen?

Monday February 28, 2005

Since I haven’t blogged in nearly a quarter of a year, I was tempted to just up and systematically delete all of these entries today.  But instead here I am adding another one.  *Shrug*

Life at Meyer:
— My cube got flooded when a silly consultant put a message to me in my serenity rock fountain instead of my paper inbox.  And this is already *after* I dubbed one of the consultants the official Fountain Monitor.  Just how *is* one supposed to explain the presence of a giant puddle in his cube?
— Wide-format printing is alive and kicking! Now that we offer 44″-wide prints for $45 (up to six feet long), users are finding all sorts of creative things to print in poster format: huge advertising banners, a big… uh… leaf?…, a giant pink rubber ducky… Should I be surprised we haven’t gotten any Britney Spears posters reproduced here yet? 
— The consultant who now looks like Jesus / Dartanian with his shoulder-length hair and goatee has come back after a year from backpacking in Chile, ready to make all the ladies swoon again over his dashing good looks and irresistable charm.  I’ve already gotten one personal “thank you” for rehiring him.  Wow.  I’m tempted to include a photo of my very capable consultant, but I don’t want to bring the Xanga servers down.

Random:
I never knew what the song “Mack the Knife” was about until today.  I always thought it had to do with that Moon Man in the McDonald’s commercial in the 80s.  It doesn’t.  It’s actually kind of weird how they changed an upbeat song about a murderous gangster into a subliminal suggestion to eat a Big Mac for dinner.  Speaking of commercials from the 80’s, I came across this random site in my research.  McDonald’s sure has a lot of commercials.  Strangely, I don’t remember most of these.  Maybe I was deprived of television.  All I seem to remember is MacGyver, Captain Planet, and Thunderhawks, which I’ve been frustrated about since probably 6th grade since nobody ever remembers them.  But then I just googled it right now and realized that it’s because it was ThunderCats and SilverHawks that I had blended together.  Silly Kenneth, Trix are for kids! And holy cow, I just realized “MacGyver: Season One” is on DVD and that Green Library is going to have it for checkout!

Um, more later about Steph, my studies, church, Xbox, and the Prius.  Yeah, “later.”  Alternatively, you can make suggestions about what I should post about, since you’re gonna be the one reading it.

Friday December 10, 2004

Wow, shameless plug:  My photo site broke through the 10,000 photo threshhold!  Chieze’s album has 10 hits, and it doesn’t even have any photos in it yet!!  I think I’ve spent the past three hours trying to sort the endless Stanford pics.  Google AdSense still hasn’t figured out that there isn’t a single ghost-related photo on my entire site, and it keeps serving up outdated Halloween ads.  However, this is a pretty funny targetted ad if I do say so myself.  And somehow the Project Compassion Kenya 2004 folder continues to lead in hits, to my jealous bewilderment.  (There’s no need to further inflate the figures by visiting it just to confirm this claim.  Go look at some of the other albums instead, like this, this, and this.)  How is this possible?  All these interesting stats and more are available at http://niftyken.stanford.edu