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Shooting Events With Unusual Gear And Working With What You Have

By Lauchlan Toal on November 30th 2015

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.

Teacher Singing

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.

DJ and Dance

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.

Hockey Wide Angle

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.

[Rewind: How Kevin Jairaj Balances Wedding, Celebrity, and Sports Photography]

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!

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Terms: #Fisheye Lens

Lauchlan Toal is a food photographer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. When not playing with his dinner, he can be found chasing bugs, shooting sports, or otherwise having fun with photography. You can follow his work online, or hunt him down on the blogs and forums that he frequents.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. norman tesch

    i think the best lens for the job is the one that you are use to and know its limits. its not always about shooting what everyone else does or shooting the lenses everyone else says you have to have.

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  2. Derek Schwartz

    Oddly, I’ve found some latitude in gear on a large format project I’ve had recently: shooting direct positive BW paper in my speed graphic. With an effective ISO of 1 (not a typo), you can hit exposure times in the multiple minute range indoors. This means I’ve had to improv ways to mount the camera, figure out ways to ensure its really secure and stable but stealthy, and then even guard it while the shutter is open to avoid people walking into it.

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  3. Dave Haynie

    I have done them all… you use the tools you have.

    I have shot plenty of events with my full frame Canon, when that’s permissible — and usually, when it’s paid :-) I have shot events using my Olympus OM-D system… there are times with a very stealthy camera system is exactly what you want. I routinely shoot at public events without credentials, when they’re happy to let you in with a camera as long as it’s not “professional”… my current one for this is the Fujifilm X-S1.

    Even job mandates certain tools, whether photography, construction, or electronic engineering (several things I’ve been doing lots of these last few months). Take those that you own (or buy new ones — but LEARN THEM before you’re on the spot) that are optimized for the task at hand, factoring in what’s possible and what’s going to work best.

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  4. Greg Geis

    I have a full frame camera, a 16mm 2.8, a 24-70 2.8, a 50 1.4, and a 105mm macro. Am I qualified to shoot a wedding? Probably not, but it’s probably not for the lack of a70-200. We were thrilled with our wedding pictures from a photographer with a D300S and a 50mm 1.4 with an eye for how to use it.

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  5. Pierre-Yves Roth

    I got the authorization to bring my SLR to a little gig. My D90 is a good camera, but can’t handle very high iso, so nothing really good came from my kit lens 18-105mm f3.5-5.6. So I switch to my 50m f1.8, had a lot of “sorry, sorry” while moving through the crowd, but ended up with pretty good shots.

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  6. Ralph Hightower

    I photographed a concert by the Trans Siberian Orchestra in 2012. I used the gear that I had, a Canon film SLR with an 80-205 f4.5 zoom lens and Kodak TMAX 3200 film pushed two stops to ISO 12,800. Yes, grain is obvious with the push developing. But from what I’ve read on blog posts and seen on videos, lasers can fry pixels on a digital sensor. I didn’t have that problem shooting film.

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