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adventures, photographing political events

MichaelVMichaelV Member
edited March 2015 in general photography
The political events I have covered up until now were supplied with theatre style lighting.  Very powerful industrial sized lights where no flash is needed.  However, now I am venturing up to New Hampshire where I am going to encounter a different situation.  There will be impromptu events and events in catering/banquet/dining halls similar to that of a wedding.  I have no idea if I can setup off camera flash units.  In the event I cant I am prepared to go on camera with my Metz 76 or my Quantum X5DR.  The Metz 76 is a powerful flash unit and one that is chosen by the cruise lines for bouncing off their high ceilings.  The ETTL on the Metz 76 is very good and accurate.  The ETTL on the Quantum unit is a different story.  Best to use the Quantum on manual with a different technique where you fix the flash power and adjust the exposure with shutter speed.  Sounds a little complex, but its not.  

My next NH visit will be Friday night for Rand Pauls event at a resort banquet hall.  I will be deprived of the awesome theatre style lights and will have to do it with my flash units.

BTW, here is a sample from the Metz 76 and the Sigma 120-300.  Mind you, only a sample shot to test the ETTL.  ETTL works very well with the Metz.  On the Metz you need the correct module otherwise it doesnt work well BTW.


If I call the event coordinator, they usually give me bad information.  They will say I can take this this and this and I cant take that that and that, but when I get there other people break the rules and take more gear than what they told me over the phone.  So these events are going to be the stuff the trunk type where I put a range of gear in the trunk and see what happens when I get there.  



  • I don't know if this is the right place for this, but I would be very interested in hearing more about your work - how long as an event photographer, are you full time, pricing, etc. Non-wedding, event photography is what I like, and just getting started by volunteering as much as possible.

  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    Someone like Neil is in the major leagues.  Gigs every weekend during the summer, teaching courses at B&H, websites with a huge following, etc.  As for myself, I am in the minor leagues trying to find my way into the majors.  It may happen in time, but for now photography is not my day job lets say.

    For yourself, I would suggest taking a comprehensive course at a community college or reading a comprehensive book.  Books can get boring and you find yourself droning off not absorbing the material.  Courses on the other hand force you to pay attention.  I would also find photographers on Craigslist who need an assistant.  Its actually hard to become an assistant to a photographer because everyone is very picky.  A lot of photographers expect you to know their work.  I do assistant work all the time over the summer just to see how everyone else is doing it.  A type of espionage so to speak.  

    Getting business, the business end of photography, is the most challenging.  You have to develop connections and attract customers.  Actually, the business end is more important than the photographic end.  I would say you have better chances taking the nursing course at the local community college than the photographic course career wise.  If I had answers about the business end of photography than I would right now be enjoying some champagne at a destination wedding or preparing to teach a packed classroom at B&H.  Right now, Im preparing for my day job so your answers will probably be as good as my own on the business end.   
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    Here is a video of Ted Cruz in NH.  This took place over the weekend:

    Notice how the lighting here is typical room lighting and you see some flashes going off.  The only way to photograph this is bounce flash or diffused flash through something like an umbrella because if you utilize direct flash the speaker will get annoyed or thrown off.  Soon you find someone tapping you on the shoulder and escorting you outside for disturbing the conference.  No more invitations to the conference for you.  

    There is no way to utilize a big zoom to  capture the speaker with the available lighting unless you really raise the ISO.  Even raising the ISO may not be enough because you need more shutter speed with the zoom...1/60th isnt going to cut it with the 120-300mm or the 70-200mm and 1/60th wont freeze the speaker's movement.  So it does need a flash kicker to freeze the action and allow us to use a lower shutter speed/lower ISO.  The challenge here is how do we not disturb the speaker.  

    When I visit NH this weekend, this will be the challenge.  Well, is it a challenge?  I like to make it look like one if it isnt so we have a better show;)   
  • Thanks, Michael. I am leaving full-time work in 3-4 years, and am looking for something to keep me busy. I have seen in an earlier post that making money as a photographer in this day and age can be really tough, because everyone has a good camera. I can only imagine how tough it is to try and make some sort of living as a photographer. It's almost the same as trying to make it as a musician, which I was for a number of years.

    The books don't bore me, and I experiment with things I read about that I find tricky but eventually useful to know how to handle. I will be taking a 3-hour lighting seminar next week which I am looking forward to. Right now, I am trying to get as much experience as I can by responding to calls for volunteer photographers. It also gets my name out there - maybe - and I feel I'm doing something worthwhile for charitable causes. Responding to ads for assistant work could be possible, and I will look now and again because you just never know.

    I might be getting more work through the Chamber of Commerce in my town. If it gets to be much more, I then have to decide if I start charging a nominal fee. Maybe a gift card to a nice restaurant for my wife and me. Who knows? Obviously, I'm not going to take anything from the charities, but for private organizations, maybe someday. But I need to be happy with the product I turn out, and I don't feel I'm quite there yet. Self-criticism I think is a good thing in this.
  • Think more along the lines of the people who are in charge of the events.  Think of the wedding organizers.  These are good contacts.  However, once you are in front of everyone, most notably, think of how you sell and present yourself.  
  • You don't have to tell me this, as it may be a bit too much info, but in the instance of the Ted Cruz and Rand Paul events, who or what organization gave you the gig? Did they contact you because they knew your previous work, or did you seek them out? Again, if it's TMI, I understand.
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    Ive been a Republican my entire life.  Ive attended events, done lots of volunteer work for these campaigns and know a lot of the people.  The people who work these campaigns keep coming back election season after election season and for some that is their full time job.  I am on every mailing and email list.   So just being around and involved in these things gets you this exposure.

    Another question to ask is how do these photographers make it into these weddings.  A lot of the time the priest or rabbi will make a suggestion.  So if you know your church or wherever you go to worship if at all the religious leaders are a good way to getting gigs.  Especially the Rabbi.  If you are in good with the Rabbi, you are in! Just dont let the Rabbi down...  Dont let anyone down and remember the people that feed you the work will be around way into the future.  They will not go away so make sure to treat everyone right.  Birthday cards, holiday cards, etc.  Make sure to consider them.  The guy who ran the Bush-Quayle campaign in 1992 is still around and currently working on campaigns.  A good example of someone who feeds the work and is around decades into the future.

    So think outside of the box, network and connect with the people who are routinely involved in these affairs.  
  • Great suggestions, and thanks so much for all the information!
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    This weekend is Senator Rand Paul.  I took this picture btw.  image
  • I am right now up in New Hampshire and as soon as I got to the hotel on Friday I knew I made a mistake.  Instead of loading the Sigma 120-300 into the trunk, I had loaded up a bag which looked similar which is the Sigma 180mm.  Luckily, I had the Canon 70-200 2.8 II, but I really enjoy that extra 100mm and I feel the Sigma is a little bit better in lower light than the Canon.  

    Here is a picture of me taking a photo of Rand Paul with the Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 24-105mm Art and the Metz 76-5.  The Sigma 24-105 was the star of Saturday as we went from the hotel to the coffee house to the vineyard.  The Canon 24-70 did not have the extra reach which I needed and the 70-200 would have not been wide enough at times.  The Sigma 24-105 is the perfect compromise lens for these times.  The Metz 76 has a guide number of about 50 at 24mm zoom and 76 at 105mm zoom.  I kept the flash-head to 24mm as I wanted the widest dispersal bouncing off the roof. I also kicked back the flash 1 stop from a switch on the adapter.  My experience is these non-Canon flash heads seem to overexpose more often than not.  Kicking back the flash 1 stop resulted in excellent exposures.  When I go to political events, I oftentimes wear these high visibility shirts so the politicians know where I am.  They then can turn themselves in my direction for a better shot.  A lot of photographers will wear black, but I go the opposite route.


    Rand has no problem seeing where I am standing and so he turns so I can grab a good shot:

  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    Rand Paul covered 6 different locations in 2 days.  There was probably about 300 miles of driving involved.

    I dont think I got the most ideal shots, but the best shots I could muster on the fly.  Unlike the usual wedding where the events are predictable, you never know whats going to happen from moment to moment here.  Its almost like an athletic event of sorts. While everyone is sitting Im bending and contorting trying to get these shots.  Someone took a cell video of me and it was a youtube moment.  Seeing my emotions going from happiness to grief and moving about the room while everyone is sitting still in place.  Sometimes Im on the floor while other times Im standing on a chair.  I know, looks real funny, but it has to be.

    Here is how I set it up.  First, the entrance.  The speaker makes their entrance into the building and the room.  He starts to shake hands.  This is a key moment.  You want to be standing on a ladder or a chair with a tele-zoom.  It will be madness if you try to fight it out in the crowd around the speaker.  Once the big speech is coming than that is the time to move around the room from front to back.  When all of the general shots are taken than start focusing in on the speaker.  The speaker rambles on and out comes the questions from the crowd.  I usually go to the floor where I take some shots while the person asks the questions.  Sometimes the speaker will do some aerobics with their arms while speaking which creates a dramatic moment.  Finally, upon the speaker exiting is the next moment of drama where you can get some great handshaking shots.  If there is any programs handed out its good to get a shot of those and, of course, the entire venue from the outside. There might be some cool table setups or a display where you might finally be able to use that macro which has been collecting dust in the bag.

    I like getting the speaker to look into the camera so I wear the loud high visibility shirt.  I want their attention to be focused upon me.  A trained speaker will know what you are there for and purposely try to look in your direction so you can get that good shot. 


  • Ive always wondered the value of the Canon 135mm 2.0.  Well, I found out the value of that lens this weekend.  I could not use flash at one point and so I turned to the fastest lens in my bag which is the Canon 85mm 1.2 II.  It was a very good choice, but it got me too close to the speaker to be comfortable.  If I had the Canon 135mm 2.0 it would have made for a better experience where I could use 2.0 and be a comfortable distance from the podium.  Many times people speak of the 85mm and the 135mm in terms of portrait lenses, but there is another use and that is for these low-light occasions where flash cannot be used.  

    When Rand Paul was at the dinner, the only light available was fluro and incan room lighting which was simply not good enough for a 2.8 lens like the 70-200.  The 135mm would have been awesome for this occasion.  So if you do a lot of photography where people are up on a podium or making speeches it might be a good idea to have the 135mm.  
  • I was out tonight photographing Henry Paulson.  I think I should have pushed the ISO and speed a bit more:imageimage

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Those two photos look great though, reduced for web size. Maybe there is softness when you look at it at 100% resolution?

    Your skin tones are good as well. That can be tough with the unpredictable nature of lighting at events. 
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited April 2015
    There is softness and that was caused by my lack of shutter speed.  You can see his hands blurring a little bit.  I had it set at 1/320th not wanting to push the ISO, but I should have pushed the ISO and turned up the speed.  I think I should have turned it up to 3200 iso and tried for a higher speed.  He seemed to want to flutter around his hands during the entire speech.  I call this "aerobics".  There is a tendency for some speakers to want to exercise in front of us.  In those moments Im finding that 1/320th isnt enough to stop their motion surprisingly.  Next time I will push the ISO higher and opt for a higher speed above 1/320th.    

    The shots I got will be "good enough" for most, but still I can see in hindsight what I should have done.
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited April 2015
    Im going to have two events coming up.  I might be photographing Jeb Bush on Thursday night and there will be a much larger event up in NH with all the Republican gang.  I do photograph Democrats but it seems like there is only one right now which is Hillary Clinton and she isnt very available.

    Going into this event Im going to practice a bit more with my Oben monopod.  I originally got the monopod for my trip to Italy to get around the "no tripod" rules they have in place over there.  In Italy there are a lot of cathedrals and other places where they forbid the tripod so the monopod was my go-to tool.  In fact, the monopod did not provide a great stabilizing solution.  It helped a little bit, but even a cheap tripod is better than a monopod.  However, using my Sigma 120-300 I am finding the stabilization to be good for handheld work, but I just need a little more to get the photos sharper and the monopod may provide that extra edge.  I also need to increase the speed above what I believe I will need pushing the ISO.  The Canon 5D Mark III combined with DXO Prime provides excellent noise reduction and I think I can be confident at ISO 3200.  Good enough for the pixel peepers in the photo forums and if its good enough for them, its good enough.  When I get above ISO 3200 is where I think the noise will really start to creep in where the pixel peepers will be tapping the screen.

    There are great benefits to using a flash and one of those benefits is stop motion.  However, absent a flash, its difficult to find the right speed/iso combination especially when you are photographing people doing aerobics in a cave or these spastic speakers at the conference hall if you will.  It is a bit entertaining when I look at the photos later to see the karate motions. It seemed more fluid at the time, but still photos tell all;) 
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited April 2015
    Ive learned that flash gear of any kind during political events is not needed or desired.  The people speaking do not want flash in their face.  Usually if they are speaking at a podium they have strong theatre style lights shining on them especially if there is video going on so the flash isnt needed.  Also, you have to be very mobile around the room and doing that with flash can be difficult.  The rooms are also usually the high-ceiling variety where few flashes can bounce.  So the lenses which win out the most are the 2.8 aperture telephoto type and the fast primes under 135mm.  You can get away with a 24-70 2.8 or a 16-35 4.0, but in some places they dont provide the theatre style lights and a fast prime might be the only alternative.

    The bottom one of Jindal's face I was fooling around with the Sigma 120-600mm Sports.  The aperture was at 6.3 and the ISO 3200. This was right at 600mm handheld. 

    Here are a few highlights from this past weekend:

    #FITN in Nashua, NH 2015 by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, NH 2015" />

    #FITN in Nashua, NH 2015 by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, NH 2015" />

    #FITN 2015 by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Governor of Florida Jeb Bush at <a href=#FITN 2015" />

    #FITN in Nashua, NH by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">US Senator of Kentucky Rand Paul at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, NH" />

    #FITN in Nashua, NH by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">US Senator of Texas Ted Cruz at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, NH" />

    #FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire" />

    US Senator of Florida Marco Rubio

    #FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Governor of Texas Rick Perry at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire" />

    #FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Governor of Texas Rick Perry at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire" />

    #FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Carly Fiorina at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire" />

    #FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire by Michael Vadon, on Flickr">Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal at <a href=#FITN in Nashua, New Hampshire" />
  • I have always tended to enjoy the Velvia look which is sharp saturated images which pop, but that kind of imagery does not portray natural accurate skin tones. When I process photos, Im going to post in two styles which are Velvia and Astra/Provia. The Astra/Provia results in a flatter more natural look which is more accurate.
  • Im not a fast learner at times, but I do learn eventually.  This time I was actually able to get to the stage when he came out.  I knew from observing him in the past that he would try to shake hands with the crowd.  This makes for a great picture.

    Believe me, this was not an easy shot to get.  After these big events, I find myself taking Ibuprofen more frequently.  Its maddening.  I had to rush up to the stage, bend over and contorted.  I had to move quick and couldnt hang out over the stage without some security coming over.  This was taken with my trusty Canon 5D Mark III and the Canon 70-200 2.8 II.  I have found this lens sitting in my bag and, in fact, when I went into the conference that lens was left in the trunk in favor of my trusty Sigma 120mm-300 Sports 2.8.  However, 120mm was not wide enough for what I had to do during the event.  I ran out through the crowd, massive security and ticket line to retrieve the 70-200 and then had to find my way back in all the time trusting the security of my equipment to some photographer I just met.


  • At this particular event, they gave me all access except for backstage.  It was fun going up to the highest point in the theatre and being able to choose where I could shoot. 


  • In the first few seconds of the video you can see me up in the very front row, in the middle near the stage.  I wear a high visibility yellow shirt and a beige vest.  The reason why I wear the shirt is so I can find myself in the videos and so people will remember me from event to event.  They may forget my face, but they will never forget my shirt.    

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