Whether roving the crowd for candid shots, showcasing an elaborate meal or capturing a well-known keynote speaker at an annual conference, these four Texas photographers have got it covered. Specialists from around the state took some time out to talk about what makes great event photography and how to create better photos of food, people and event atmosphere. All four photographers spoke about one common denominator for great shots: Good editing makes all the difference. When two or more photographers cover an event, hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of photographs are taken at a single event. An experienced eye can weed out the average shots in favor of the spectacular. In addition to good culling and editing, each photographer offered a handful of additional tips to set up and capture the best possible photographs at large-scale events.
JAY BROUSSEAU // DALLAS EVENT PHOTO
When Jay Brousseau took his first trip to New York City with his father in 1968, he had the forethought to borrow his brother’s plastic Kodak camera. When his first roll of film came back from the developer, Brousseau knew he was hooked on photography.
“In high school I studied photography and became the yearbook and newspaper photographer. I won a national award for my photography in 1974 and that set everything else in motion—two college degrees [in] photojournalism and commercial photography,” Brousseau says.
After working for a Dallas commercial photography studio, in the 1980s Brousseau opened his own studio near the Design District. Still located in the trendy district, Brousseau and his business partner, Zelman Brounoff, now run Dallas Event Photo, which specializes in large corporate events.
Rather than providing standard group shots, Brousseau experiments with available light and approaches events as if he is covering them for media outlets. When shooting large corporate events, Brousseau takes sweeping panoramic shots, and looks for unusual angles and vantage points to capture the scope of an event.
“I found that I enjoyed it and I brought a completely different set of skills to it than most of what I was seeing in the marketplace,” he says. “The clients responded to it, so I started a company specifically designed to cater to the events market.”
On a recent shoot for Etihad Airlines, Brousseau stood out on the tarmac to shoot the company’s inaugural flight into the Dallas/ Fort Worth International Airport. The flight arrived at night, so he asked security vans and vehicles parked along the tarmac to point their headlights toward the plane to increase the available light so he could get a great establishing shot before shooting the airline’s celebratory event.
“I’m in the communication business,” Brousseau says. “There are so many important elements to consider when shooting a large event. A clear, concise agenda and list of highlights is the most important thing I need before a shoot.”
Jay Brousseau’s Top Tips for Establishing the Scene
» Lighting is key, so know what lighting will be available during the prominent events and whether the timing of the overall shoot should be adjusted to make the best use of available light.
» The show runner knows the ebbs and flows of the show and can point out the best vantage point where the crescendo, the mood of the crowd and the lighting will all be optimal.
» At least one seat in the front row should be reserved for the photographer. That’s the best place to shoot speakers and to turn around and get great shots of the audience.
» Get to the venue early to meet the key people—the show runner, producer and keynote speaker—and to find out where the boundaries and “shooting lanes” are for video cameras. It’s important to respect all the support teams.
» If a big crowd shot is important, find out if the producer can arrange a moment when the house lights are up so the entire audience is visible.
JOHN PESINA // LIVE BOX PHOTO
Expect to wait for the unexpected when capturing candid shots, according to wedding and corporate events photographer John Pesina. The unexpected has become his norm, whether shooting runway shows, concerts or corporate events through his company, Live Box Photo, or when capturing award-winning wedding shots for his wedding photography company, Songbird Weddings.
“I got into [photography] completely by accident. I was working as a designer and someone couldn’t pay me, so they gave me a camera,” Pesina says. With no formal training, Pesina put his knowledge of light to good use with the camera, taking so many photos with the camera that he had to send it in for repair within the year. “I took 82,000 photos in seven months,” Pesina says. “The manufacturer said they hadn’t seen a camera with that much use in that amount of time.”
For new photographers or people who only cover occasional events, Pesina advises trial and error before the event. “You have to practice and you can’t be afraid to fail. That’s how you get better,” he says.
When it comes to capturing the perfect candid shots, Pesina says patience and observation are the secrets to his success. “People think you need to get in [a subject’s] face, but you don’t. Follow the rhythm of a person’s speech, [observe] which way a person likes to face,” Pesina says. “My job is to make it look easy. I’m in the background. But it takes a lot of patience.”
John Pesina’s Top Tips on Capturing the Perfect Candid
» Know your environment, know the people and dress appropriately. Know who you’ll be photographing and when they’ll want to be photographed. Think with the end in mind: How will the person want to feel when they look back at the photos?
» Know your gear. It doesn’t need to be the most expensive equipment, just know how it works and practice until you can change settings on the fly to get the best exposures.
» Learn to anticipate and be patient. Wait for the perfect moment to snap a photograph when someone is speaking or laughing. Anticipate where the action will take place and be prepared to capture the shot.
» Be invisible. Blend in. Pesina says he never eats or drinks with guests because the photographer’s job is to document the action, not celebrate.
» Take as many photos as you can, but when it comes to editing, ask yourself, “What does this photo say?” When the evening ends, you may end up with 60 to 70 photos of a similar thing. Cull it down to the best of the best.
ANN MARIE D’ARCY // D’ARCY PHOTOGRAPHY
To really learn a subject, try teaching it every semester. Ann Marie D’Arcy is a Houston-based event photographer whose client list includes companies like Telemundo, BMW and the Texans, as well as hundreds of couples through the wedding side of her business. When she’s not shooting events, she teaches a photography class at the Houston Center for Photography and has received a Carol Crow Fellowship for her portrait work.
Depending on the client, D’Arcy says she can take standard corporate headshots in front of a backdrop or she’ll provide a headshot booth at events for clients who request it. She has also become known for thinking outside the box and giving clients something a little different when they’re updating their corporate portraits.
D’Arcy says a key to memorable photographs is keeping the individual’s backstory in mind. For corporate clients, she has set up portraits with a cityscape in the background or taken photographs from a kneeling position to give a subject visual gravitas. She compares event and portrait work to music.
“I want to make sure my client is covered if they need certain shots—I call it ‘playing the standards’ like a musician— we have a basic shot list of what the client needs and then we riff off that,” she says.
Of all the areas of photography, D’Arcy says portraiture is one of the more difficult skills to master because subtleties of light and color make a big difference in the finished product.
“You have to understand light; it’s not luck at all,” she says. “When you’re getting started, you have your ‘lucky shot’ that encourages you to keep trying photography … but at some point it’s not luck anymore. It’s skill and forethought and knowledge of lenses and lighting and thinking about the backstory of the photograph.”
Ann Marie D’Arcy’s Top Tips for Portraiture
» Work as a second photographer or do an apprenticeship with an experienced photographer, because there’s so much involved in creating a good portrait.
» Use a prime lens to soften the background and create a crisp photograph.
» Consider the subject and decide on an appropriate scene. Should the person be shot in front of the company’s building, a cityscape or something related to their profession?
» Change the angle. Shoot from higher or lower than the subject to change perspective. Shooting from below makes a person seem larger than life. Shooting from above is good for shooting more than one person. If more than one person is in a staged portrait-style photograph, have people face different directions or have some people sitting and others standing. Take one photo of everyone looking at the camera, and then ask the group to talk among themselves. Take another photo to capture a more casual atmosphere.
» Use an appropriate prop related to the person’s life or work so the person can either sit or stand in relation to it.
FOOD & TABLESCAPES
JODY HORTON // JODY HORTON PHOTOGRAPHY
Jody Horton started out as a documentary filmmaker and part owner of a print publication. While also working as a writer-editor at the publication, he was introduced to food plating and the storytelling around food.
“There’s a natural process [to food photography], from harvesting to the point of creation—breaking down ingredients and the natural end-story [of plating and eating]— there’s an arc of something happening,” Horton says.
Horton’s first work as a photographer was with restaurants and—occasionally—caterers, photographing their food. From there, his photos were featured in print ads for clients such as Jack Daniels, Whole Foods and Whataburger, and his editorial work has appeared in magazines including Food and Wine, Bon Appetite, Texas Monthly and Garden and Gun. Horton has garnered a number of awards for his photography.
Not all Horton’s food photography is styled in the confines of a studio. He also photographs cooking, food and dining outdoors. To create great photographs of food, Horton says perspective and light play a major part in success. Keeping the human element in mind also helps.
“The main reason [food photography] is compelling beyond the essential is that when it comes down to it, what’s interesting is working with people who are passionate about what they do,” Horton says. “A pizza maker, a wine maker, people who have chosen [careers involving food], not because they think they’ll get rich or it’s what they studied in school, but because it’s their passion. That’s compelling.”
Jody Horton’s Top Tips for Food Photography
» Pay attention to the contrast between the food and the plate, and the plate and the surface. Each element should be distinct, but the focus should be on the food.
» Orient the light for best presentation. For example, food plating works best when the light source is behind it.
» Add an element of action and a human element to each photo. As an example, photograph hands drizzling sauce or performing some action with the food.
» Decide on a focus point for the photo and draw attention to that point.
» Shoot in natural light, or at least keep the light all one temperature. Indoor light from light bulbs has a different temperature than outdoor light and will give food photos an orange tinge. Turn off indoor lights or move away from the indoor light source when shooting in natural light.