Event photography is something of a nebulous genre, encompassing everything from sports to weddings to everything in between. However, most people would agree that for typical event work, there are a few workhorse pieces of gear that you can’t live without: a good full frame camera, a 24-70 f2.8, and a 70-200 f2.8.
What if you don’t have these “key” pieces, though? Should you avoid shooting events until you have the proper equipment?
Yes…and no. But mostly no.
As a high school student, I managed to fill pretty much all the school photography positions: yearbook, student council, and newspaper. This gave me many opportunities to shoot a variety of events, like concerts, sports, and assemblies. The best part was, there was no pressure at all since it was unpaid work and I only needed a few good photos. This gave me room to experiment with different techniques, strategies, and equipment.
Of course, as a high school student, I couldn’t afford to buy equipment that didn’t affect my paid work. Instead, my event kit was a Nikon D5200 crop camera, Sigma 12-24mm lens, Sigma 105mm macro, and Nikon 55-300mm lens. Not exactly the “ideal” set-up, and pretty similar to what many beginner to intermediate photographers have.
There’s something really great about having limitations, though, you start finding creative solutions. Instead of being able to take the exact photo you imagine, you have to work around your limitations to get a shot your gear is capable of, and sometimes that ends up being better than what you imagined. This isn’t actually surprising – if you don’t have experience with all the possible shots, then your imagination is the real limitation.
For example, the Nikon 55-300 is a slow lens. When shooting events, often the lighting would grow quite dim. Rather than pumping the ISO up to 25600 and having a magenta mess, I looked for opportunities to shoot at low ISOs and have highlights carry the image.
With sports, I tended to use my 105mm f2.8 for most shots, since it was my fastest long lens. However, during a period of inconsistent focus accuracy, I decided to put the 105mm in the bag and shot a period of hockey with the 12-24. As it turned out, this yielded a very interesting look, almost like what you’d see in a video game.
One final example is when shooting a concert at We Day. With the 12-24 and the 55-300, I was able to perch at the very back of the theatre and capture both shots of the whole stage, as well as close-ups of the performers. As a bonus, from this vantage point, the microphone was never blocking the singer’s face. Had I been in the pit with a 24-70, the photos would have a completely different aesthetic. Not better or worse, but different. And sometimes variety is what keeps things interesting.
If you don’t have gear that’s suited for events, but want to try it out anyway, do it! There’s something very enjoyable about wandering around and trying to capture the facets of an event. Even if you only have an 18-55mm lens and basic camera, you can still find opportunities to take beautiful images.
Now, would I recommend going to your first paid gig with this kit? No. While you can get quite unique photos from unorthodox or basic equipment, there’s a reason why everyone suggests the same gear. If you need consistent and reliably good images in unpredictable conditions, there’s no substitute for top-notch equipment. A 70-200 f2.8 will have your back whether you’re shooting sports, weddings, or conferences. But if you get the opportunity to shoot an event without any responsibilities, or you have a minute to try your own thing, pull out something new. You never know what kind of photos you’ll get.
If you are looking to get the most out of your basic gear, be sure to check out our foundational Photography 101 where we teach you how to use entry level equipment to capture great images. Check it out here.
Have you shot sports with manual focus lenses, covered a wedding with a fisheye lens, or otherwise made the best of what you have to capture unique event photos? Be sure to share in the comments!