How to choose the photographer(s) for a conference

April 15, 2009

in Documentation, How to

When it comes to documenting your event through photography (together with video the most powerful instruments) a question I get very often is how to recruit the right photographer. Many variables are involved, from getting a professional one to having a lot of amateurs around to capture different moments and points of view. In any case one of the most significant factors is the creation of a storyboard.

These are the main aspects to consider:

Payed or free?

Depending on your budget the first thing to decide is if you are going to pay for a professional photographer or you’ll rely on an amateur or a volunteer. The main point from a professional is that often (but not always) it guarantees good quality results, specially if she is experienced in that sector and will have high quality equipment. An amateur might be cheaper and volunteers for free and even satisfy your needs. A usual drawback is that amateurs might have less experience covering events like yours (spotting the right scene) or lack the necessary equipment to do it right (high quality glass, a fast lens, the right telephoto or wide angle, etc). With volunteers the limit might be that they don’t do what you want or quality is not enough.

Number of photographers required?

A simple conference with action happening all in one place can be easily covered by one photographer, but when action takes place in different areas simultaneously it will be hard to capture all the images that you want. Apart of the easy alternative of paying for an extra one, I often suggest to have just one official photographer and other satellites that can be amateurs (cheaper/free) or volunteers (free). It is always good to have the official photographer coordinating the satellites to assure that you don’t miss any shot or you can do the briefing yourself, assigning specific tasks (see Storyboard below).

Where to look for the photographer?

If I don’t have a trusted photographer available (ask to friends, colleagues or business partners), I usually ask the venue where the conference will take place to suggest one. The advantage is that she will know the work environment well. A usual drawback of this practice is that the venue might apply a markup on the cost.

Same thing applies to amateurs and for volunteers: the best way to find someone that will do it for free and will be involved in the work is to look for people interested in the contents of your event and make them part of the team. If your conference has an admission fee, make it free for the volunteer in exchange for his documentation work. Make clear from the beginning the kind of output you expect.


This is the most important factor for obtaining the photos you want (apart from the photographer’s ability). A storyboard is a list of all the scenes that you want to capture, often including a detailed agenda of the events and where they will happen. The photographer will use this as a checklist to make his work.

If you organize many events, doing a good storyboard once will save you a lot of time in the future and will guarantee better results.

In the storyboard you should describe:

  • all the events and situations you want to obtain: photos of the speakers, the conference room, the audience, the networking area, banners and signage, etc
  • time and location of each event/situation
  • the kind of photos you want: panoramic, close ups, etc
  • add notes specifying the format, minimum resolution, desired layout, etc
  • add sample images that exemplify what you expect (if you don’t have any, choose photos you like from the web, your competitors, etc)

Sample Storyboard

9.00 AM – Event opening
Where: registration area, 1st floor.

  1. photos of people cueing at the registration booth
  2. attendee getting his badge
  3. staff working

10.00 AM – First conference session
Where: conference room, 2nd floor.

  1. Horizontal photo of speaker with event name in the background
  2. Vertical closeup of speaker
  3. Panoramic photo of conference room from the back showing speaker, signage and participants

and so on…

Technical requirements

In most cases you don’t need to get down to technical details about the camera, lenses, etc but make sure that you specify clearly to the photographer the kind of photos you want, the use you are going to make of them (print or digital), etc. Camera or lens brands are not so important as making sure she understands what is expected and can decide which hardware to use.


Hi-res uncompressed tiff files (300 dpi) will suffice for almost any standard print job and hi-res jpeg (72 dpi) for online promotion, powerpoint presentations etc. It is better to get the highest possible resolution and then reduce it when needed. If you work with a graphic design agency or someone else that will use this photos later, be sure to ask them if they have any special requirements and communicate them to the photographer.


A common mistake is that of getting only horizontal photos while in many brochures you need vertical ones!

Number of photos

It is better to ask for many pictures so that you have more to choose from.


Don’t forget to discuss the copyright issue with the photographer. Do you want exclusive rights on the photos? Does it cost more money? For business use it is always safer to have an authorization form signed by the photographer. If you’re working with amateurs and volunteers or if you don’t care about having the exclusivity of the photos you can always agree on a Creative Commons license.

Digital or film?

For most conferences digital is enough. I love film photography but with today’s digital photography technology you will almost never meet a situation where you have to use film. Besides, the time to get the digital photos delivered to you is much less, you can share them online immediately and your graphic designers can modify the results if needed.

On a further post I will write about photo classification, tagging and sharing.

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