How to Become an Event Photographer

10 minutes • 20 June 2021

Event photographers, as the title suggests, take pictures for clients hosting or sponsoring special occasions. These may be one-time events, such as a speech, or recurring events, such as college reunions or the annual meetings and conventions of large organizations. The scale may be mammoth, such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, or you may be asked to shoot a more intimate gathering, such as children at a birthday party.

Hot air balloons floating in the sky

Some of these events may be exciting; others, considerably less so. The event photographer’s job is to capture the essence of what happened in compelling images that please the client – and ensure you get called back for the next event.

The pay is quite good for an event photographer. Many professionals in the field can set their own rates after a few years of experience. Another perk is the work day is never the same. Each event is different, presenting new challenges and requiring creative ways to approach the assignment. With steady work you’ll never be bored.

Another advantage of working as an event photographer is that many of your assignments will likely fall on weekends, meaning you will have time to pursue other work during the week.

Read on to discover what it takes to be a successful event photographer.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How much money you can make as an event photographer
  • The required training and certifications
  • Professional groups to join
  • Employment opportunities for event photographers
  • Finding clients
  • Plus helpful tips

How much money can you make?

A professional event photographer typically charges between $100 and $250 per hour with a 2-hour minimum, according to FASH.com, a search service for consumers looking to hire event professionals. A birthday party, for example, might be worth $300 to $500 for an afternoon of work. By working independently, as a freelancer, you can make as much money as you desire. It really depends on your marketing skill in attracting new customers and how much you wish to work. One of the marketing challenges to overcome is convincing people that a professional event photographer is a worthwhile investment for a special occasion. These days, everyone with a smart phone thinks they’re a photographer. Stunning images in your portfolio and on your business website can persuade people that excellent photography is worth paying for.

Guests at a wedding raising their glasses during a toast

Training and Certification

You’ll need a business license to offer professional services in most localities, but there are no license requirements or regulations governing event photographers. You may still want to pursue training and a certification or two just to build up your skill set and establish credentials as a serious professional.

Fully prepared event space prior to people arriving

A simple Internet search will turn up many training courses for event photography. You’ll find many for under $100. Here’s one example. When choosing a course, look for training programs that come with a certificate of completion after you finish. These certificates can be customized with your name, downloaded and printed, then framed for you to hang in your office. You’ll also want to mention these credentials on your business website. People notice certifications, which show you are serious about your work. That makes customers more confident when choosing your photography services over competitors.

Along with training and certification, you’ll need a portfolio of excellent images to post on your website and to print on brochures when you meet with clients. This may seem like a daunting task when you’re just starting out. How do you get new clients for a photography business if you’ve never photographed a major event? It’s a fair question. One possibility is to offer your service for free or at minimal cost to the promoters of an event, with the understanding that the pictures will be used in your marketing materials. You can give the promoters a thumb drive of the pictures as a thank-you gift. Another option is simply to show up at an event and start taking pictures.

In time and with practice, you’ll build a portfolio that will be the envy of the industry and you can charge as much as your market will bear.

Professional Groups to Join

There are many professional photographers’ organizations you can join to network with other pros and advance your event photography career. Here are two of the most relevant:

Crowd with hands raised in front of a band performing on stage

Professional Photographers of America is the premiere organization of photography pros in the United States. A full membership is open to anyone living in the United States or its territories and costs $323 per year. Benefits include:

  • $15,000 equipment insurance policy
  • Data loss protection
  • Access to all online education courses
  • Online referral database listing
  • Printed and digital monthly issues of Professional Photographer magazine
  • One full registration to Imaging USA during the first year of membership
  • Business Resources
  • Contracts and Copyright Resources
  • Access to Member Discount Program
  • Weekly newsletter

American Photographic Artists
Benefits include a photographer photo ID card, discounts on Apple electronics, a listing in the association’s directory to help new clients find you, and more. Membership tiers range from $50 to $500 per year.

Employment

Contact corporations and area businesses big and small. Send them your marketing materials, brochures and business cards. Follow up with a phone call in a day or two. If your contact says he’s already working with a photographer, ask if he knows anyone who needs your services. Don’t be discouraged by rejection when calling potential clients. The very next call you make could be gold.

Fully set table prepared for an event on a beach

Use the networking power of your professional memberships to find assignments.

Develop and maintain working relationships with publications and other photographers in your area. If you capture a newsworthy image, you’ll already have contacts in the editorial department who may want to buy your photos as a local-interest item for their publications. 

Finding Clients

Business cards and a basic website should be the core of your marketing toolkit as an event photographer. The website need not be fancy or expensive, just attractively designed, with photos of your best wildlife photography work, your business location and contact information. No need to include your pricing. You can discuss that directly with clients.

Man standing on stage surrounded by an audience as he gives a speech

In addition to your business website, the next thing to do is create an Instagram account to showcase your photography. Instagram is the #1 online venue for creative professionals to display their work. It’s a free promotional tool that’s always working on your behalf.

Other strategies for attracting new business:

  • Create a referral program with discounts for returning customers who bring new clients to you.
  • Ask clients to review your services online. According to a recent survey, 90% of people say their buying decisions are influenced by positive online reviews.

Good to know

Carry liability insurance.
And keep it up to date. You may also want to have an attorney set up your operation as an LLC (Limited Liability Company). This affords you many legal protections in the event of disputes.

Do your homework before the event
Where is it? What is the event about? Which parts are the most important? Talk to the client to be clear on expectations. Once you know, you’ll be able to prepare a shot list – the essential images that will be needed from the event.

Bring the right gear – and only the gear you need
There may not always be a secure space to lock up equipment you can’t carry with you, and you could get tired lugging around a lot of unnecessary equipment. Bring your camera, a wide and a telephoto lens, your flash attachment, extra camera batteries and always pack a couple of spare memory cards. That’s probably all you’ll need. A second camera is a nice luxury if you have one because it means you won’t have to switch out lenses on one camera throughout the event.

Focus on action shots
If someone is speaking, wait for the person to make a hand gesture or change expression. Pictures of people simply standing behind podiums are boring. Think in terms of storytelling. A sequence of three photographs can tell the beginning, middle and end of a story. For example, if someone is being presented with an award, you might take a shot of the announcer, a picture of the winner’s surprised face then a two-shot of the announcer greeting the winner onstage.

Get close
A photo of an auditorium full of people is not as visually interesting as two or more people talking together excitedly.

Compositions
For informal and candid shots, try to group people in odd numbers, say, 3, 5, 7 and so on. Groups of even-numbered individuals tend to convey a more formal look.

Shoot in RAW format
This gives you the best image quality your camera is capable of producing and is more flexible to work with in editing software like Photoshop. Yes, the RAW format eats up more memory, but that’s why you brought those extra memory cards.

A few thoughts on equipment
There are dozens of books, websites, photography magazines and other resources to help you decide what camera gear to buy. Your needs may be different from another event photographer’s, so only you can decide which brand or model of camera suits your requirements and budget.

At minimum, though, you’ll need a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera body and at least two lenses, wide and telephoto. Two camera bodies are even better because then you won’t be spending so much of your time switching out lenses while the event is underway.

A set of neutral density and polarizing filters will help you manage lighting conditions outdoors. Indoors, you’ll need a flash attachment at minimum.

Spare camera batteries and memory cards are essential. And you’ll need a water-resistant bag to carry your equipment.

A good, sturdy tripod should also be part of your standard kit. To get the maximum stabilizing benefits from a tripod, you should have some means of triggering the camera shutter remotely. Many modern digital cameras are Bluetooth enabled, which allows a radio signal to pass from the camera to a smartphone. Depending on the brand and model of your camera, you download an app to the phone, which allows you to trigger the camera shutter with your smartphone from distances of up to about 30 feet.

Finally, a computer or laptop loaded with image editing software such as Photoshop will be needed to work on your photographs in post-production. As your photography business grows, digital storage will become an issue. There are many online storage solutions (cloud storage), some of them even free for a certain volume of storage. Google Drive is one example. As a backup measure, though, you might want to invest in external hard drives that can store many thousands of high-definition images. These drives connect directly with a cable to your laptop or computer for immediate access. One advantage of an external drive is you do not need an Internet connection to access your work.

If you enjoyed this article, check out some more great PocketSuite.io content that can help you grow your career as an event photographer. Here’s a great place to start.

PocketSuite has thousands of business owners who all started where you are right now. Our community is always happy to help you ramp up, grow your client base, and achieve your income goals, both within the PocketSuite app and as part of our exclusive Facebook Community Group. PocketSuite’s vision is for any professional to be able to work for themselves and make a great living. It starts here. It starts with you. It starts today. Let’s get started, download PocketSuite now! Feel free to reach out with any questions (we’d love to hear from you)! Text us @ (415) 841-2300.

Download the app