Shooting Corporate Events
Every genre of photography comes with its own challenges, and draws upon different aspects of the photographer’s skill set and experience. The carefully sculpted lighting and deliberate posing of portraiture have to give way to more flexible lighting styles, and a more “photojournalistic” shooting method when covering corporate events. However, that’s not to say that we have to give up all control over quality, and settle for mere “snapshots” of events; with a bit of creativity, it’s still possible to produce high-quality results with a minimum of equipment on-location.
Recently, I covered a pair of guest speakers at a corporate event: the Rev. Dr. Paul Smith,
who was a friend and associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his longtime friend, basketball legend Lenny Wilkens, who also knew Dr. King. They spent an hour or so talking about their experiences during the start of the civil rights movement in the US, and shared a number of personal stories and anecdotes from their lives.
I was asked to document the session, and produce a number of images for use on the company’s internal associate news web site. I had about 15 minutes to get ready in the conference room before they arrived, and needed to turn around the images within an hour or two after the end of the session, so that they could be posted online by the end of the work day.
Like most corporate offices, the dominant lighting in the conference room is from overhead fluorescent fixtures, and, as is typical for fluorescent lighting, it was neither very bright nor very flattering (overhead lighting causes “raccoon eye” dark eye sockets). Plus, fluorescent lights are greenish. Nobody looks good with green skin.
OK, I know I’m going to need flash to bring the light levels up, but it’s a big room, so I’m still going to need to balance it with the ambient light, as I’m working on-site with relatively low-powered battery-powered flashes instead of heavy AC-powered studio strobes. So, the first order of business is to gel my flashes to match the ambient light color, so that I don’t get odd color casts from mixed lighting. To match the green fluorescent lights, I velcro a green gel onto each of my flashes, and set my camera to the fluorescent white balance setting.
Since I’m not sure exactly where the speakers are going to be standing (beyond “at the front of the room”), I need to make sure I’ve got plenty of light wherever they are. I could just put a flash on my camera, but I don’t want to limit myself to on-camera direct flash, as the “flat” lighting that results tends eliminate all of the shadows that provide shape to facial features, which isn’t very flattering, and I want to make sure that these people look good!
I pull out two light stands, a couple of shoot-through umbrellas, and a couple of speedlights with radio triggers, and gelled both strobes green to match the ambient fluorescent lighting in the room. A portrait sitting allows you the ability to precisely fine-tune your flash lighting, and position your subject precisely; event speakers, on the other hand, move around a lot, and I need to be able to blend in some ambient light in addition to my strobes in order to ensure I don’t lose anyone in shadow if they turn the wrong way. Gelling the strobes to match the color of the ambient light lets me keep all the light sources similar in color, so that I can set my camera’s white balance once, and keep the ambient light from causing any weird color casts in the shadow areas.
I set one light stand up about a third of the way back on the left side of the room to serve as my “main” light, aimed across the front of the room at the far corner, so that it “feathers” across the area where I expect the speakers to spend more of their time. That way, when they’re on the right side, I hit them with the center of the beam, and when they’re on the left, they catch the less-intense edge of the beam, keeping the overall intensity closer to even across the width of the room, partially compensating for the falloff due to distance. I set the flash to 1/4 power, to keep my recycle times reasonable.
I set up the second one on the right side as a mirror image of the first, but dialed down the intensity by 2 stops to 1/16 power. That way, the second strobe will provide just enough light to fill most of the shadows without calling attention to itself.
One more thing: I chose to use shoot-through umbrellas on this job for a reason.
In addition to spreading and softening the light that falls in the direction they are aimed, shoot-through umbrellas also bounce a lot of light all around the room, providing a fairly high level of indirect fill light everywhere. This gave me the flexibility to also take some audience photos, as well, without having to move the lights at all.
As you can see, you don’t have to settle for poor-quality images when covering corporate events. You just need to be able to adapt your lighting technique to the conditions in the venue, and have the experience and knowledge to recognize what needs to be done, and then do it.