Always get there early: Event photography is unforgiving of the chronically late

Peggy Farren 2017-06-19
By Tom Tracy
Some of my buddies in the business may think it's overkill the way I like to get to a job super early. But it always pays off to arrive well ahead of a start time at conferences, weddings, luncheons, galas, headshot sessions and all other event photo jobs.

Assuming we know our profession, our gear and how to attack a job reasonably well, there is that one controllable factor — punctuality — that remains an interesting variable, rewarding us when we adhere to it and invariably punishing those who don’t. (The same holds true for our photo client-bosses and their own punctuality issues, but that’s another story).

Looking back over 2017 and the previous year I thought of some real-world examples where I acquired tangible rewards by getting to the job not just on time or 15 minutes early for a quick look around. But rather, more like 30 to 40 minutes early — often a full hour for critical assignments.

One of the obvious benefits of being early is simply that you are not late. That is to say, you aren’t the schmuck vendor who “got stuck in traffic” and who crashes through the front door with five minutes to spare, with everyone ticked off, having missed the briefing, with no idea where the ballroom is, with no idea who’s who.

Some examples of punctuality’s reward:
  • For the past few weeks I’ve been fulfilling a series of recurring orders — prints and a custom photo book — at the behest of a businessman-awardee with whom I spent a good 20 minutes doing environmental portraits of he and his wife, family and friends while we waited for the dinner guests to arrive. It couldn’t have happened without that extra time.
  • I shoot a fair amount of live performance events or podium presentations and the early-bird photographer often gets to shoot the rehearsal and soundcheck opportunities, and even arrange some custom portraits and set-up shots that will be impossible later with an audience on hand.
  • Sometimes the weather or lighting is good when you arrive, but all signs are it won’t last as storms move in or the sun goes down. With the extra time early on, I can sometimes cajole a client into stepping things up and achieving bonus outdoors pictures while we still can.
  • When you arrive early, you learn things, you hear things, you talk to people and it can be important to the job since clients don’t always tell us everything they should until the day of the event. At a retired professional golfer’s 90th birthday party I learned that he would be taking the stage to sing Frank Sinatra songs that night.
  • Which leads me to a final example: If there are any surprise VIP’s or celebrity special guests dropping in, it’s information often held back until event night.
Early in 2016 I got a last-minute call from a colleague seeking a second shooter for a gala-charity ball with members of a well-known heavy metal band from the 1980s.

I went extra early to shoot the ballroom decor & details, and see if any of the musicians were on hand.

They were. I not only ran into Iron Maiden’s drummer but special guest Yngwie Malmsteen, the Swedish guitarist who lives in Miami, was warming up. I was able to shoot his brief rehearsal and have a chat with him as well as arrange a few drumming portraits with the Maiden’s Nicko McBrain before everyone had to go off and get dressed for the gala.


Tom Tracy is a writer, photojournalist and event photographer based in West Palm Beach. He has traveled extensively as a travel & religion writer.
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