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Guest Column: The Case for Event Photography

From conferences and trade shows to incentive trips and galas, here's why event planners should invest in photography.

By Joe Szurszewski November 14, 2017, 7:15 AM EST

Photo: Joe Szurszewski

Events by their very nature are ephemeral. One moment they exist, and the next they are gone in a shimmer of light, color, and applause. Your attendees will take home happy memories, but as an event designer or producer, you need something more tangible. You need to visually document the creativity and hard work you put into each event.

When an event is photographed at all, this is the usual rationale—creating documentation so that you can submit your event for an award or land your next client. You are preserving your work to make the fleeting more permanent, and this is a perfectly valid reason to hire a photographer. But I’d like to make a stronger case for event photography, one based on R.O.I. and your future success.

I am an experienced event photographer and have shot a multitude of events, from national conferences in gigantic convention centers to small meetings in that little bit of hotel ballroom beyond the last accordion wall. The one thing these events had in common was that their planners wanted to maximize attendance. Maybe it’s an annual association conference with members paying their own money to attend, perhaps it’s a corporate incentive conference where salespeople need to hit big numbers to earn a hosted vacation, or maybe it’s a nonprofit fund-raiser that wines and dines prospective donors. Whatever the financial motivation, increased attendance is good for you and your client’s bottom line.

Simply telling potential attendees about your event will have limited success. But if you show them how great your event will be by featuring dynamic and engaging photos from last year’s event, they will be motivated on an entirely different level. They will see for themselves why they should spend their money to be there, or why they should work harder to hit their sales targets. They will imagine listening to a celebrity keynote speaker, and they will picture themselves enjoying an epicurean dinner on the beach. Put simply, strong event photography is your best marketing tool for future attendance.

The documentary rationale for event photography has led to it becoming a commodity like name tags—something you need but don’t think about too much. As long as there are enough of them, most event producers don’t worry about where they get their name tags. Photography is different. In any given situation, there is an infinite number of amateurish photos that can be made, but only a very few compelling ones. An experienced event photographer knows how to deal with dark and windowless meeting rooms and how to handle the mercury vapor lights in convention centers that change color 60 times a second. We anticipate dynamic photos of speakers because we’ve shot hundreds of speakers in action, and we know how to capture engaging shots of attendees interacting with your created environment because we know how to tell stories visually.

Put simply, strong event photography is your best marketing tool for future attendance.

Another reason event photography has become commoditized is because good photography looks effortless. A good photograph pulls you into its own world so that you live in the moment it was taken, skipping past any realization of what the photographer had to do to make that photograph. But a lot of work goes into looking effortless. You don’t see the tens of thousands of dollars invested in the latest equipment or the constant learning and practice necessary to use it. You don’t see the intensive research and preparation that go into each event, or the many hours spent in post-production to polish the final photos. A good event photographer must be equal parts artist and technician, able to interpret and reinforce the event designer’s creative vision while navigating an ocean of technical challenges.

When you hire a professional event photographer, best practices suggest you consider them a member of your team with whom you might want to have a long-term relationship. The more they know about your business and what you need, the more they can help you. I have an association client for whom I have shot nine national conferences in nine different cities. Our relationship means that I understand their business and their attendees, and I know exactly what they need to successfully market their conference. They in turn use my photos in magazines, on the web, in email, and in direct mail pieces to drive conference registration.

Another client sends me to its incentive sales conferences. Because of our relationship I know that these conferences are a significant factor in company sales and that increasing the number of qualifying attendees adds to their overall success. So after each event they distribute my photos to all of the company’s salespeople. The photos show attendees enjoying first-rate entertainment, incredible dinners, and alluring locales. The message to the sales team is clear: Achieve your goals next year and you, too, can enjoy this incredible event.

I could go on with examples, but it all boils down to a simple point. If you want to improve event attendance, you owe it to yourself and your client to hire an experienced professional who can amplify your event with engaging photography.

Joe Szurszewski is an award-winning photographer based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He specializes in covering meetings and events.

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