I'm tasked with documenting a company event we are hosting in an restaurant. As you can see the place is lighted but I'm sure it's still consider dark for photography. I'm not a professional photographer, I only shoot as a hobby, so I'm not sure what to expect to document an event like this. What are some of the things I should prepare myself for?

  • Is flash an absolute necessary?
  • I should probably gel my flash? And if so, can I bounce off the ceiling or do I need diffuser?
  • What focal lengths would I need to get a good variety of shots? Some really wide 16mm to maybe 135?
  • I don't want to interrupt the activities of the night (speeches, discussions etc) should I aim to shoot very long?
  • Anything else I have overlooked?

I also want to add that, I have access to a Sony A99 full frame camera and the fastest lens of that system (1.4 primes).

Also, I'm expected to produce results suitable for the web only and no prints will be made.

  • 6
    This question is extremely broad. Basically you are asking "How to take event photography from start to finish?". It could easily fill a book. Do you have one specific concern? I think you would benefit from reading event photography books or wedding photography books, then come back here to ask a specific question and not how to "generally do it". This existing question on preparation for wedding photography will basically cover the general "how to prep for event photography?" - photo.stackexchange.com/questions/29723/…
    – dpollitt
    May 29 '13 at 17:48
  • 1
    All those images appear to be using on-camera flash. I noticed red eye in a few, so I suspect that the place isn't all that well lit.
    – Joanne C
    May 29 '13 at 18:51
  • And the flash is a far different temperature than the ambient lights.
    – Michael C
    May 29 '13 at 21:46
  • What do you intend to do with the images? I think that matters a lot in terms of what you need to consider because demands for large prints are not the same for small web shots.
    – Joanne C
    May 30 '13 at 2:50
  • It's mostly going to be used for the web.
    – erotsppa
    May 30 '13 at 2:52


If the light is not enough then you need a flash! If you have a full-frame body that can shoot high ISO with not so much noise then you might not need the flash but generally speaking indoor photography in the night needs flash.

You should point out the flash to the roof IMHO and let the reflection from the walls and roof light the environment.

Focal length:

Depends! If you are interested in people attending the event, then you need a zoom but also, it's always a good idea to have some wide angle shots for indoor. It gives a sense of the size and tells the story of the event. Long story short, you probably need both.

On interruption:

You probably will interrupt anyway! If you have to document the event, then don't bother yourself about interruption. You need a flash and your flash would be interrupting. If you are going to fire your flash every often, then forget about the interruption and stick to your photography duty. In other words, if you think you are going to have a good shot but you are afraid to interrupt, don't worry and take your photo! Obviously this last statement doesn't hold for privacy of the people attending the event.

What else?

I can suggest you three things.

Most obvious: Shoot raw. Secondly,

it would be a very good idea to go to the place prior to the event and study the place, find your spots and plan your photography session.

If you are going to have group photo at the end find a good location for that as well. This is one of the very first things that wedding photographers learn. Finally, depending on the type of event you can shoot your photos with a warm tone (this is a matter of post processing if you shoot in raw). If you look at the commercial photos of restaurant they all have a warm toning to created a sense of friendliness. However this last suggestion is more a matter of personal preferences.

  • Yes. That restaurant is very dimly lit and you will need a flash unless you are shooting with a Nikon D3s, D4, or Canon 1D X , some very fast glass, and you know how to use them.

  • Gelling the flash would be a good idea. If the lights are Tungsten as they appear to be in the link you provided, an orange gel will allow you to use a WB point that will allow both the flash and the ambient light to appear roughly the same color. Another option would be to use a colored diffuser. Gold for Tungsten or green for florescent lights. It is hard to tell from the photos in your link what color the ceiling is. Bounce works great if the ceiling is white or gray. If the ceiling has a color, this will alter the color of the light bouncing off of it. The reason (one of several, anyway) the photos on the restaurant's page look so bad is because the flash is not the same color as the ambient lights.

  • I would worry more about using a fast lens than one with a wide focal range. Since the restaurant appears to be long and narrow, I wouldn't worry too much about a telephoto lens. If I were shooting there I would probably use a 24-70 f/2.8 on a full frame or a 17-50/55 f/2.8 on a crop body. The problem with wide angle lenses, even in cramped quarters, is that facial features get very distorted below about 35-40mm. The ladies don't like it when their noses look larger than they really are. 24mm on a FF (17mm on crop body) is plenty wide unless you need to take a group shot of 20+ people. Even then backing up, if possible, is preferred to shooting with an Ultra-Wide.

  • Now, more than ever, people are used to flashes firing almost constantly at events. Although I prefer using ambient light during speeches, presentations, etc. if the flash is needed then use it to get the shot you need to get. If the host doesn't want the "distraction" of a photographer working they wouldn't have asked you to document the event. If, on the other hand, I'm not the official photographer at an event then I use the flash much more sparingly if at all in deference to the person who is documenting it in an official capacity.

  • Shoot RAW files. To get the best results you will likely need to adjust white balance for every shot individually. Skin tones are the most difficult thing to correct for in such a shooting environment, and different people have different skin tones. Have at least one extra set of batteries for everything (camera and flash).

  • If you can, get the flash off the camera. In these shots I used an off shoe cord and held the flash in my left hand about a foot to the left of the camera. Make sure there isn't a wall or other object to catch the shadow thrown by the subjects off to the opposite side from the flash. The first shot used more flash and less ambient light with no bounce. In the second shot I dialed the flash exposure compensation back and bounced the flash off the ceiling to catch more of the ambient light. The weird color in the background is the stage lighting for the band playing on that end of the room. Both shot in the same room on the same night. I had a plain white diffuser on the flash that night, but wished I had brought an orange instead of a green one. The organizer of the event told me the hall had florescent lighting, which it did for set up and clean up. During the event the overhead florescent lights were turned off and only the tungsten lights were on. What appears to be florescent lighting is my flash reflecting off the silver colored grids in the fixtures.


Banquet 2

  • Only because they get bonus points at DxO Mark. My friends who shoot with all of the Nikon pro bodies say the D3s is slightly better than the D4 in terms of noise, and has about one more stop of usable ISO than the D800.
    – Michael C
    May 29 '13 at 23:15
  • 1
    Hmm... Not sure I buy that. Scale the D800 to the same resolution as the D4 or D3S and I think you'll find very comparable results at high ISO. Also, FF are not the only options here as there are some APS-C options from Nikon and Pentax that also perform extremely well at high ISO.
    – Joanne C
    May 30 '13 at 2:31
  • Scale anything down to lower resolution and the noise will improve, but not the sensitivity. If the same amount of light is falling on two sensors, the one with the larger pixel wells will catch more photons per pixel. I've yet to see a camera with around 4µm do as well as cameras of the same generation with 7µm pixels. While it is true that 4 of the smaller pixels will catch the same number of photons as one of the larger pixels, they also generate 4 pixels worth of noise.
    – Michael C
    May 30 '13 at 2:39
  • 1
    Scaling down, though, helps to drop out the noise and that's where the algorithms will come into play, of course. At any rate, I have seen very little evidence that the D800 scaled to the same resolution is giving up anything particularly noticeable over it's more expensive cousins. The point being, he doesn't need to drop close to $10,000 on gear to take pictures in a restaurant, without flash, as cameras like the D800, K-5, D700, D7000, and similar are very much capable of doing this too.
    – Joanne C
    May 30 '13 at 2:47
  • It's also important to understand the target destination. Is he going to print 24x36" canvas wraps or is he going to put 800x600 pixel web shots up?
    – Joanne C
    May 30 '13 at 2:49

I would certainly say that it appears to be dark in that restaurant. I would highly recommend a flash unless you are using a very high end camera (and even then it would be a good idea.)

You aren't going to have much luck bouncing off the ceiling since the ceiling appears quite dark, so you'll need to use either diffusers, reflectors or soft boxes on the flash to prevent harsh shadows. I don't think gelling the flash should be necessary as the light appears to be incandescent rather than florescent. Michael Clark pointed out that an orange gel might be helpful to match the background lighting.

The focal length needed depends on what sensor size you are shooting on. For full frame, covering the 24 to 70mm range should work pretty well. If there are any presentations during which people will be seated, a good telephoto would also be a plus to have. If you are shooting on APS-C, adjust accordingly based on crop factor.

As far as deciding how far to shoot from, there are a few different philosophies. You don't want people's back's blocking the shot, but if you can get the shot from a distance, then you will be less obvious and in the way.

Play around with the flash power to get a good balance between room lighting and fill lighting too. The best balance point is going to depend largely on the capability of your camera, but I'd try to shoot with the room lighting having the most impact on the feel of the photos I could since it looks like an interestingly (if dimly) lit place. You want the flash to fill in the faces, not overwhelm the existing lighting, unless you can't get a sufficient exposure without using the flash as the majority of the lighting.

Other little things, be sure to bring extra batteries and have a comfortable camera strap. A decent monopod would also be a decent investment. Wear comfortable shoes with good support. You'll be on your feet a lot and holding the camera a lot. Depending on the size of your camera, it can take a toll after a while if you aren't prepared for it.

  • 1
    Using an orange gel on your flash will allow you to match the color of the incandescent lights in the room, and is most helpful in most banquet halls that have decorative light fixtures on the walls as well as the ceilings. Otherwise the subjects in the foreground are the right color but the background has an very orange cast to it.
    – Michael C
    May 29 '13 at 21:44
  • @MichaelClark - thanks for pointing that out. For some reason tungsten and incandescent didn't click for me.
    – AJ Henderson
    May 29 '13 at 22:27

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