Photographing conferences and conventions safely in the Covid landscape
Last year the COVID-19 pandemic took us all by surprise, leading to a widespread shutdown on very short notice. For me it meant creating more of an online presence with weekly photography tutorials, Instagram live sessions, and trying to create a closer relationship with my community. I am grateful to have had this avenue as it gave my business some revenue when all was in lockdown. I have always had my eggs in different baskets…my diverse revenue streams and client list have always been that way ever since I started doing more headshots in 2016.
Large-scale in person events were cancelled across the board; all the way from the 2020 Olympics to Louisiana’s own Festival International, Jazz Fest, and countless conferences and conventions. I know I lost a ton of business already on the books, more than half of my yearly income, and more that were pending or in the proposal and planning phase. This year, while public health and safety is still a major concern, we have the ability to prepare this time around. If you are planning on attending a conference or convention this year, there are ways to do so while still following public health guidelines. Also, if I am going to be photographing upcoming permitted events, I need to make sure me and my crew are safe as well..it works both ways!
SOCIAL DISTANCING and the VACCINE
First and foremost, try and maintain social distancing while shooting as much as possible. This goes for event goes and photo crews. Limit group photos to ten or fewer people at a time (based on current city/sate guidelines at the time), and sanitize high touch areas between clients. If you allow mask-free shoots, remember that the CDC guidelines say that being within six feet for fifteen minutes (cumulatively) or more is enough to spread a viral load, so keep those moving as efficiently as possible. New Orleans is known for our welcoming “southern hospitality” culture, so if you are attending a New Orleans convention, be prepared for a lot of warm elbow-daps with extra sanitizer on hand before and after! (Weird, but these ARE weird times)
As I write this, millions have been vaccinated and some have even had their second round of COVID shots. This has resulted in a higher number of conference photography phone calls and email inquiries. I think that companies and event planners sense the growing health confidence and are testing the waters.
Many conferences include a headshot booth for their guests at the event in addition to a roaming photographer documenting groups and speakers. The goal here is usually to photograph as many people well as quickly as possible, so efficiency is key in these situations. Photographers, try to do as much prep-work beforehand as possible to avoid wasting time on changing batteries and memory cards during the shoot. Not to mention the aim to cut down on exposure time mentioned above. If the convention you are attending allows group photos, try to avoid the “grip and grin” pose people usually go for when shooting those. These will quickly get repetitive and forgettable. If you let people get used to you, or better yet, forget you’re there, you are much more likely to be rewarded with fun and playful shots. This may or may not work for all event photographers, but I think we have to be open to changing up the way we shoot large groups for the time being. Keep the group shots small, and try to refrain from bringing people too close together if you can handle it.
Much like conference photography in The Before Times, I recommend packing heavy but traveling light. Bring extra gear with you on the trip, but only carry the essentials on your person. These days, that should definitely include hand sanitizer, some alcohol wipes, extra N95 and cloth masks and maybe a bottle of Advil. If you relied on renting gear locally in the past, you may need to rethink that plan; a lot of businesses are nixing rental options to prevent high-touch spread. Normally, I would advise you to opt for a wide angle lens to capture the breadth of the crowd, but that will likely look far more barren than it used to. Due to COVID 19 safety guidelines, most in person gatherings have tighter limits on attendance, and require guests to be sufficiently spaced out. Instead, you might get more mileage out of prioritizing clean, crisp shots of individuals in the crowds reacting to and engaging with the various presentations.
Last but not least, as photographers, we are going to be all over these conferences, even smaller ones. Like you, I welcome the work and really need the additional income I so sorely missed in 2020 – but it has be done the right way. So it is important that we take responsibility to protect ourselves beforehand and protect others at in person gatherings. We also have to be vocal to our client on what we expect from them and the safety of their crowd and our crew. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and try to limit your potential exposure time for a week or two before and after each event to avoid being an asymptomatic spreader. If you want to know more about what I’ve learned working during a global pandemic, email me now or go