I am not a professional photographer, but I often play at "event photographer" for family events and sometimes informal work events. I find myself struggling with a desire to capture candid snapshots of the events that is contradicted by a desire to make sure the photos come out as good as they can.

How do people balance these two approaches? I'm afraid that if I ask people to move away from a window with a lot of glare, or to step over into better light, etc. it draws too much attention to the fact that I'm taking their picture and will cause the photos to feel too posed or forced. I love capturing people's natural expressions, but sometimes photos turn out horribly because I don't want to "interrupt the scene," as it were.

Are there any rules of thumb that professional photographers use to make sure they get the best-quality but still natural-feeling photos at events? Is it about the photographer's personality/ability to make people feel at ease? do you try to subtly change things about the setting to improve photo-affinity? Should I even try to get to events early so I can set things up the way I think they should be for optimum photographing? Should I just be constantly shooting and hope I get enough shots at the end of the day that turned out alright?

  • \$\begingroup\$ I also am having trouble deciding which tags are appropriate for this question, so please edit freely. \$\endgroup\$
    – Laura
    Nov 18, 2011 at 19:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great question, I often feel the same way, especially so being new to the whole photography scene. \$\endgroup\$
    – Thanh
    Nov 18, 2011 at 21:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ On tags: there's a number of questions under street-photography that might be relevant, even though this isn't about street. I wonder if the commonality between, say, this question and this one can be distilled to a tag.... \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 19, 2011 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, see photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6836/… \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Nov 20, 2011 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


A few suggestions:

  1. Take pictures constantly - not just to increase the chance you happen to 'grab one', but people eventually forget the camera is there if it's out constantly. You lose being able to capture the moments when the only time they see the camera is that special moment.

  2. I tend not to ask people to move, but I re-position myself. If there is glare from a window, you should be able to move more parallel to the window and reduce the glare. Crouching low or shooting from higher than normal is another way to change the angle of the light and possibly get a more interesting perspective.

  3. I'll ask for at least one or two posed shots during a 'lull' in the 'action'. This way, even if none of the 'natural' ones work out - I've got something. If the subjects are already really comfortable with you, sometimes the posed ones can be the best shots.

  4. Scope out the 'good spots' you think would make a good picture (an interesting background like a rose garden, a particularly well lit area) and keep an eye there for good shots. Lots of people are naturally drawn to the more aesthetically pleasing areas anyway - it's just a matter of catching them when they're there.

  5. Set the expectation that you're not there to embarrass anybody if somebody is acting nervous. Be upfront, honest, and confident. You'll be taking pictures and that if somebody doesn't want their picture taken that it's ok, but you're sure they would like the pictures. Once they're comfortable around you, it'll make your life easier.

  6. Learn to get your posed shots looking natural. Working with people is tough. Be confident and direct them in ways that look natural and good to you, not that feel natural to them - there may be a difference. This was something @JayLancePhotography was talking about once, actually. Position your models so that they look natural. A position where it may look like they're stretching or 'caught' in a kiss or any other pose that looks 'natural' and 'sudden'. It may be rather difficult to get your model to hold this position intentionally for a photograph - it could feel very unnatural. But if it looks natural to the camera, that's what matters. So you shoot for what looks natural to you - you can't just tell your subjects to 'act natural'.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you elaborate on that last point? Sounds useful but I'm not sure what it means practically. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 18, 2011 at 21:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm updated \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Nov 18, 2011 at 21:13

It sounds to me like you are really asking "How does a event photographer produce images that look spontaneous but are technically great?"

The key is not to think of these two things as separate things. With experience, and great equipment, you can produce images that look like they were spontaneous, but have excellent lighting, emotion, framing, subjects, color, etc.

Aside from the obligatory family posed shots, I only usually take a few minutes during the reception that I pull the bride and groom aside to do "posed" shots. When viewing these images, it is obvious that they were not spontaneous, because the b&g are either looking directly into the camera, into each other, or off in the distance. Other then those few shots(which are sometimes the best of the day) the rest of my day is spent putting my equipment and eye in the right spots at the right time to capture emotion and events that will tell the story of the day.

As you suggested, personality can help. You want the b&g to be comfortable with you, and a 77mm lens pointed at them! This all starts with a fun engagement session, where they get a chance to be goofy and become comfortable with you, and they also get to see how great they look in the prints!

To summarize, I don't think I necessarily balance the two types of shots, I try to take almost exclusively "spontaneous" looking shots with the exception of family posed shots, and a 10min b&g session. The rest of the day, I let them ignore me!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your answer appears wedding-centric...but I'm not sure why? (Not that it detracts from good points.) \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Nov 21, 2011 at 22:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rfusca - My answer is answering specifically for wedding photography. The question asked about events. And that is the event I am familiar with, so I went with what I knew :) \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Nov 21, 2011 at 22:39

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