How to work with other photographers (whether professional or not that professional) at an event
Although I mostly focus on documentary photography, I occasionally photograph events. I recently returned to my old home, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, and sent an email to my friend Khadir. “Mbak Will,” he wrote me back, “I’m getting married in 2 weeks! Can you take photos at the wedding?” It was fortuitous timing and I was immediately excited.
Khadir and his fiancée Jennifer planned a religious ceremony in the morning and a traditional Javanese wedding ceremony after that. The preparations were a bit harried because everything is centered around finding auspicious timing here in Java. The powers that be decided April the 15th would be the best day and 6am was the perfect time for the Islamic wedding ceremony.
6am? Not my favorite time of day! But, for a close friend. Ok.
Khadir told me he had some other friends who would also be photographing. Sometimes it can be an issue when clients hire multiple photographers, but I had a feeling in a collectivist place like Java, we could all work together well.
Khadir was raised in Indonesia and is half Middle-Eastern. Jennifer has lived in Java for about half a decade and hails from Belgium. And here they had decided on an incredibly traditional Javanese ceremony. They are both beautiful people who look peculiarly alike, and I knew this was going to be a visually stunning and unique event.
Khadir is an artist and we have helped each other with projects in the past, so, I knew I would have the creative leeway to take the kind of photographs I wanted. I hoped to focus on documentary shots and details, and let the other photographers take care of group and posed portraits.
While I was working, I started to think about how important it is to follow a few ground rules when you work with other photographers. I also thought about a few things I want to get better at when I photograph events. I compiled this list of how to work with other photographers at an event, thinking it might be helpful.
Unlike when you see another obvious tourist on Malioboro Street, there’s no need to ignore each other. (And I’m just kidding about that. Why do tourists like to pretend other foreign people don’t exist?) In fact, it’s great to have a brief conversation about what you plan to focus on if you were hired by the bride or groom, and what kind of photographs you take. I did have a chance to say hello to the other photographers at this event very briefly. I really appreciated one of them. He seemed seasoned and he was very considerate of me. He never got in front of my camera as I photographed, and even motioned me in closer a couple times to make sure I was getting photographs. I want to see his work later because I have a good feeling about it.
*Try not to get in each other’s shots
I worked hard not to get into other photographer’s shots, but I must admit it was quite hard during the traditional Javanese part of the ceremony as there were two large processions of people to photograph in a tight space. So, I do have a few photographs with a photographer in them, and I am guessing the photographer in my photographs also has me in his.
*Consider how you can work quickly
Get your photographs but don’t hog one area. If every photographer gets access to multiple vantage points, that will make for the most varied selection of photographs for your client/friend. Even standing in similar places, each photographer will have a unique viewpoint and is bound to have at least a slightly different photograph from the next.
*Be direct (only) if you have to
Since most wedding-goers are excited to witness their friends on a happy occasion like a wedding, many may also want to take photos. Sometimes they even want to take photos right in front of where the photographers are standing. Khadir and Jennifer’s wedding guests were quite polite overall. However, a friend of the wedding couple was tasked with taking photographs with Jennifer’s mother’s phone. Unfortunately, he often didn’t notice the other photographers standing around him and held his arms at 90-degree angles as he took photographs. This made it difficult to squeeze in beside him. Several times he almost knocked over the lighting equipment another photographer had set up. We were working in a tight space so it is understandable to find it difficult. But part of being a good photographer is being aware of what is AROUND the camera, and not only looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD Screen. I planned to mention this to him, but only if necessary. Luckily, as the event progressed, we moved to different locations outside the pendopo (small wooden building) which were easier to photograph from multiple points, so it turned out not to be imperative to speak with him.
Most interactions here in Java are not very direct. People rarely forbid their kids to do things, preferring to let them figure it out on their own. Getting angry in public would be considered embarrassing. I was far from angry, and the wedding couple’s friend was not Indonesian anyway. But I decided it wasn’t worth confronting him since I was still able to get photographs, despite the subtle annoyance that I was feeling.
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Now, what went well? And what are some ways I could have improved?
*Being assertive while still being myself
Since women are often conditioned to be more submissive, assertiveness is something I struggle with. However, I am constantly reminded that assertiveness is very helpful when shooting events, especially when working with men. Exuding confidence makes it easier to get the photographs you want, and not make subjects feel uncomfortable. This is something I always strive to get better at, and I think it’s a process. However, I think working within your own personality type is valuable. You don’t have to change who you are to be a good photographer. For example, I’ve noticed that I work slowly and sensitively (if you’d like to work with me, click here), and I really pick up on my subjects’ feelings. I like to ask questions when appropriate and reassure them when I notice they are uncomfortable.
For example, as I walked into the room where the bride was getting her makeup done, the makeup artist apologized that the room was messy. She may have been taken aback that I was there to take photos; I am not sure if Indonesian photographers normally take behind the scenes shots or not. She told me, “The makeup is not done yet!” I assured her that I was there to take photos of the process and wasn’t concerned with how the room looked—mess was to be expected! I asked the makeup artist questions about the makeup process and style. She started volunteering details about the process and explaining that Javanese traditions were special and should be treasured. As a result of building this rapport, I felt very happy about the resulting photographs.
*Despite the need to work quickly, be intentional about framing shots
When looking at my images, uneven lines, stray wires, or unattractive patches of color behind photo subjects really annoy me. Although focusing on how my subjects look is important, I also want to be aware of whether my photograph is level. It’s something I continually work on. Sometimes I wonder if maybe the buildings aren’t level! But, I know I can be more intentional about doing my utmost to make technically good photographs that also show my subjects in the best light.
*Thinking on my feet more
I could have thought on my feet a bit more at this wedding. In fairness, I had been at the event since 6am, and was hot and tired by 1pm when all the speeches had ended. At that point, guests, many in matching family outfits, were milling about waiting to take photographs with the bride and groom. I had a lighting setup I wanted to try in a lush corner of Khadir’s garden. I noted after the fact that I could have had my husband help me direct interested families to come over to take portraits while they waited to take photographs with the bride and groom. Everyone was looking beautiful, and many families were in matching outfits. Later, Khadir and Jennifer could have given them to their guests, who are mostly their neighbors, and I could have used them for my portfolio. Luckily, I did take a couple photos of people but the idea to do family portraits only occurred to me later.
*Being more precise about desired outcomes
I’m about to share an embarrassing fail that I almost decided not to write about. Although I’ve been photographing for years and years, I still forget things sometimes. This Javanese ceremony was a challenge because although I prepared by watching some YouTube videos, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. There are a succession of actions, which all have meaning behind them—included eggs, rose petals, water, pandan leaves, an ox yoke and other things. I wasn’t sure who would be walking from where, which ceremony would come first, and where the bride and groom would be standing. I am not sure anybody did because I asked a few times but never got a straight answer. In the middle of the Javanese portion of the ceremony, they moved the foot-washing station, so I think things just flowed a bit organically.
Anyway, all this to say, after photographing in very low-light in the pendopo building, we quickly moved outside and I forgot to readjust my ISO setting. I remembered this only when I started editing the photos in Lightroom and noticed that they were quite grainy. (If you’re a fan of grainy photos, check this out.) At least I was there to document the ceremony, I just felt disappointed that the images weren’t perfect.
Some good news…
Luckily, I readjusted my ISO and shutter speed when I set up an off-camera flash to do a few portraits. I was really happy with the way the light turned out. With the lush tropical flora and the incredible outfits on the bride and groom, I felt all the aspects of the photos worked together to create successful images. Although the bride and groom had been in the pendopo taking photographs with their guests for more than an hour, I had to ask them to take a few photographs because I knew the way they looked could not be easily recreated, and we would regret not having a visual record. Two weeks later when they looked at the images, they said thank you, even though they were exhausted at the time.
Have you ever photographed an event? Were you working with someone else? What things were you proud of? Was there anything you thought you could have done better? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear about your experiences!
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