When you’re a photographer at festivals, dance events, or many other social gatherings, there is so much to consider before you snap a picture. From knowing your camera, knowing the venue, understanding the lighting, understanding the people, and even doing you research into who or what you’re photographing. If you’re doing this as an attendee or if you are a hired professional, you will want to know these and more.

What is your role?

I’ve attended events and also been invited to events as a photographer, regardless I’ll bring my camera because if I’m going for fun, it’s for passion, and I will bring my additional passions along to share the experience. Bringing my camera with me, allows me access and conversations I would never before have, while being careful not to overstep bounds. Bringing an actual camera, others are much more willing to have their picture taken.  No matter how good your cell phone is, even if you have additional lenses mounted on it with a special case, and even if you have a gimbal stabalizer for video, those around you will be much more open to photographers with a dslr/mirrorless camera with a detachable lens. Even pocket cameras are looked slightly more favorable than a cell phone, but not by much.

Depending on the role at the event, what I do during and afterwards with the photographs changes. If I’m being paid to take pictures, it’s usually with some direction on which parts to make sure I photograph, with half the event at my discretion. I’ll on average shoot half the time, and dance the other half except where there is something I’m instructed to capture (live music, performances, DJs, teachers, etc).

Photo from my LG G5 at Burning Tango 2017

If I’m not being paid then I’ll usually take pictures when I want, less than half the time, and I’m not trying to make sure I get every shot or every important moment.  If I want to have dinner and miss something, go to a class, meet with friends, see family, I don’t feel guilty. My goal is the capture the moments when it feels right and not be forced.  This is also my thoughts when it comes to being paid at events, but try to go above and get that shot I need of the subject I need to capture.

Afterwards, my editing style and effort changes if I’m paid or not, and the requirements. For my own stuff, could be a month later when I get some pictures up, or could be that same week. All depends on how much time I can commit to it. If I’m being paid, it depends on what the contract states and usually can get things done within a week and posted. I have  made my own presets that I use, and change bulk editing depending on my camera settings and feel I’m trying to get, but I do have my style that I like. Extra time for better white balance between every photo doesn’t usually happen unless I’m being paid, because over a multi day weekend festival, I could have around 6000 shots, and after culling down a couple times, hopefully be under 600 captures of those unique perfect moments. Out of those 6000, chances are there will be over 2500 that could be posted up, but would include those moments before and after that amazing shot. You don’t need to post 5 pictures of that one moment, just the single one is needed.

Realistically the time I put into editing ranges from 1-4 hours for each hour of shooting at the event. 1 Hour more when I’m shooting for myself, and 2-4 hours for when I’m being paid. Those extra details and time does bring about better overall quality, but will result in fewer pictures in the end as I’m trying to get the best of the best and focus on those.

Photo from my D5600 at Portland Tangofest 2017

Regardless on what I task myself to do, in the end I put out something I’m willing to advertise as something I’ve done. I’ve also built the options to if people wish, can purchase the photos from me for their own prints, or order through the photo hosting service. We as photographers offer a value, a service, and it’s not just point and shoot, there is knowledge and skill that comes with offering professional photography, and so should be compensated somewhere, no matter your role at the festival.

Location & Lighting

When you’re at the venues, you’re looking for the best lighting possible to photograph those attending.  Sitting in the seating area is usually darker and where most will take photos who aren’t you. If you want to take pictures, you will wander, find those corners, or sections that the lighting hits the face just right to get a good shot in focus.  Sometimes there might be just a single location where this is possible, which is a bummer, but that is the spot you want to be.  If the lighting is good, during the day, windows, and such, the opportunities are amazing; however, if you are at an indoor venue at a hotel and such, the lighting could be dismal no matter where you go.  At which point I can only hope you aren’t being paid to take photos in those conditions.

If you’re being paid to take photos, you need to make sure you are in communication with the organizer or someone in charge to make sure lighting is adequate. You DO NOT want to use flash, as such there needs to be enough lighting, if it’s super dark or dinner mood lighting, there at least needs to be points or sections of good lighting. Lack of communications will lead to fewer pictures, being looked down as a professional, and hurt those who do keep their due diligence in expressing these things.

Photo from my D5600 at Connect 2017

If you’re not being paid, there is little you can do, and little need to express it, outside of your own mumbling. You can mention things to someone in charge, but chances are it’s not going to change in the middle of whichever event/dance/class is going on and MIGHT be changed afterwards for a future one. Realistically I take it as a sign that I’m going to put my camera down and just enjoy myself. A nice full frame, an F 1.4 lens may help in those situations, but no matter what it will be a struggle, and if you’re getting frustrated, then best to step back and enjoy yourself.

Photo from my D5600 at Portland Tangofest 2017

Finding the spots you want to use with the best lighting and capture away.  What are you trying to acquire is up to you and your style. Some dances you are trying to freeze the action, sometimes you’re wanting to see the whole environment, but I’ve found holding onto the enjoyment of those who are attending is much closer and personal, so that is what I choose to capture more than anything else.

What are your tips and thoughts on taking tango or dance photography, either being paid or as an attendee?