How to Take Interesting Conference Photos: Composition & Framing

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Taking photos at conferences, events and trade shows is a crucial part of social media and event marketing. But it doesn't make the process any less difficult or daunting. You probably think that investing in an expensive DSLR is necessary. Think again! With so many advancements in smartphone lenses, your phone can capture equally good images. What you need are tips in composition and framing. For this post, I walked around the public areas during Oracle Open World 2015 and also examined several images to create a composition and framing checklist. Here's what to keep in mind when you're on the ground taking photos.

Get up close and personal

There's no better way to capture the spirit and energy of a conference than seeing it in the faces of the speakers and attendees. We're naturally inclined to stay back to snap a photo -- we don't want to intrude or be rude. But you're missing a great opportunity to portray what it's like being there. Remember, events are all about faces (who) and places (in the context of where they are).

Also, if you upload photos to Twitter or Facebook, you can ask your fans and followers to tag their friends and colleagues. That's only do-able if the faces are distinguishable.

Here are a couple good examples. 

So, wouldn't you rather see this?...

Than this?...

Community Next Platform

When you're walking around and feel awkward taking a random photo, ask if they'd like to pose for one. Want my suggestion? Do this on the first day. People are excited to be there and they wouldn't mind it if you simply asked. 

Creative Company Conference 2011

Context

The meaning of a photograph depends on the context in which it appears. What kind of story do you want to tell within that frame? 

Facebook F8 2015 Developer Conference

The first shot of Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's F8 Conference says a whole lot more than the one with just a logo behind him.

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It could be worse... by just taking a photo of a presentation logo or a screensaver. I know, it's a lot to think about when you only have a few seconds. But practice patience and wait to capture your subject with better context.

The Front Row

I've seen event photographers stake out the front and center seat for the best photo opps. Then, they turn around to see what's behind them. Quite clever I must say.

Such Great Heights

Put on that explorer hat and head for the second or third floor. If the conference venue has balconies, you might find some interesting and cool patterns apart from the show floor. Or go the opposite way and consider taking photos from a lower angle. Prime times to get these kinds of images: get to a session early, at the height of a panel or speaking session, or at the tail end when the crowds have left. 

Anticipate and Be Ready

Good photographers take the time to study an event itinerary and, from many years of experience, can anticipate when and where a moment will unfold. The event program book, for example, will note if a Q&A is slated at the end of a presentation. The photographer would get close to where the microphone is. If attendees are gathering for a performance or a noted speaker, direct your attention to the crowd and wait for their reactions.

Also, position yourself in areas where a great deal of traffic will be passing by, as I did during Oracle Open World this year. You may have to wait around, but a fun action shot is worth it.

Business conference
Crowd gathering for a group photo at Wikimania 2014

Overwhelm the Frame

The Conference 2012
flock of chirps

Got a great view of a crowd? Wanna show off your giveaways and tchotchkes? Have your subjects or items fill up the entire screen. A sparse frame doesn't make for a compelling image.

Next: Tips and tricks when taking event photos with your smartphone. Trust me, it's do-able.