Your Association Conference Needs a Professional Photographer

by | Last updated Mar 13, 2017

Your Association in the Best Possible Light

A Professional Conference Photographer for your Association Event

Photographer George Pfoertner puts his background in photojournalism to good use capturing key moments in meetings and events, so that companies and associations can utilize the images in the future. In a world where getting a message across via image is essential, his role has become increasingly vital.

“Any company that wants to show who they are, needs good photography,” said Pfoertner. “More is done on a visual basis than ever before. Word of mouth is one thing, but to see something is very impactful.”

For the past two years, Pfoertner has photographed the National Shared Mobility Summit, hosted by the Shared-Use Mobility Center and held in Chicago October 17 – 19, 2016. He is one of several professional photographers i3Events works with on behalf of their clients.

“My training was in photojournalism, which is pretty much a frying pan into the fire scenario,” said Pfoertner. “I feel my photojournalism background really helped me, though many photographers may not have gone that direction. You rely on what you’ve learned to propel you forward.”

Pfoertner approaches each event the same way, by being as professional and accommodating as possible and by being specifically being attuned to what the client wants. Clients need to ask themselves what the end usage will be, where the images will be shown, how they want the event to come across, and what they want him to capture. Pfoertner needs to be apprised of the key people to be photographed and what should be emphasized during the event.

“In the instance of a conference, it’s a lot of speakers, a lot of talking heads and panel discussions,” said Pfoertner. “Since there are likely many of these going on at any particular time and in different places, I go to each location, see the speakers and try to photograph them with proper sightlines, really looking to capture an emotion when they are speaking.”

Pfoertner tries to avoid blinking eyes, odd expressions or microphones in front of faces – mindful of good, clean photography as only a professional can be. He photographs not only the speakers but also the people who are listening, showing audience engagement.

At the National Shared Mobility Summit, there were many breakout sessions where Pfoertner needed to capture images without being disruptive – walking around the perimeter of a room rather than through the middle; being mindful of sightlines, clean backgrounds, proper exposure and color temperature; and managing challenges, including different lighting schemes in the same room.

“This was held at a hotel downtown, and the main room had floor-to-ceiling windows, but they also had florescent, canned lights up above,” said Pfoertner. “At the beginning of the day, they had the curtains shut so I only had one color temperature to worry about. As soon as they opened up the curtains, I suddenly had this flood of blue daylight coming in, plus everyone was backlit because the entire panel had their back to these huge windows.”

He needed to find the proper sightline to cut down on the glare and determine the proper exposure while waiting for a compelling image. He managed the shoot by going to the side, compressing the five people sitting at the table into one shot, and capturing a speaker leaning forward and speaking into the microphone.

“You have to figure that clients are going to be using these images throughout the year for a number of different things, for their upcoming promotions, certainly promoting the next summit, and using them for any type of press releases, their website, social media posts, and any other type of public relations outlet,” said Pfoertner.

Though Pfoertner is an independent contractor, he considers himself an employee of whomever is hosting the meeting or event, with every client his boss for the duration of the assignment. This particular two-day conference, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day, included a meet-and-greet social evening at the end of the first night, breakout sessions, a display room where people showed what their companies represented, and food trucks at lunch – all moments he documented.

“There is a lot to having the proper equipment at these events,” said Pfoertner. “Typically, I carry two cameras, one with a longer lens – an 80-200mm, F2.8, and then a wide-angle zoom – a 24-85mm, F2.8. Those are fast lenses in the sense that they have a very shallow depth of field, which allows me to work in very dark environments. I also have a camera with a sensor that can handle very low-light situations and still give images a smooth quality.”

The higher-end cameras professionals use aren’t cheap, running from $6,000 to $8,000 for the body alone – a sizable investment. “I roll in with a backpack of $15,000-$20,000 worth of gear in it in terms of replacement value,” said Pfoertner. “You need to have a couple of flashes and at least one camera, with a backup as well. There is nothing worse than going to an event and having someone knock into you. Your camera goes flying and your flash and lens wind up in different places so you can’t continue to shoot.”

It isn’t just the photographer’s time at the event with his considerable equipment that clients are paying for; it’s the post-production time, which often takes as many hours as the photographic shoot. Pfoertner estimated that for two days’ worth of shooting, eight hours a day translates to 12 to 14 hours’ worth of post-production time.

“This particular conference was difficult, in that there were both low-light and mixed-light scenarios, and many different locations with both daylight and artificial light. You’ve got to know how to handle and weave your way through those challenges,” said Pfoertner. “When people are speaking, they are very animated, blinking and looking around and they can be very fast with their hands. It can be very difficult to catch the right moment, so you shoot a little heavier. At this particular conference, I shot more than 2000 images per day.”

Pfoertner then weeds the images down to ten percent – approximately 300 to 400 images that are presented to the client. He color-corrects images, straightens them, crops them and delivers the most compelling shots that capture the occasion in a way that makes others want to attend future events.

“The biggest piece of advice I can give is to be comfortable with the photographer you decide to work with,” said Pfoertner. “Learn who they are by doing a bit of vetting. Look at their website and get a read on them through conversation. You obviously want to hire somebody who had some experience, but it’s also a matter of your budget. Don’t be surprised at the expense involved.”

For smaller associations or those on a tighter budget, it may be worth considering a less expensive photographer, perhaps one who is still learning the trade. Another option is hiring a photographer only for the most important moments of a conference, such as the keynote speakers or an awards ceremony.

“If you’re an established association or one that is on solid ground and needs to promote itself really well, it’s worth the dollars involved,” said Pfoertner. “But there is nothing wrong with shopping around for the right photographer. It’s like getting a car.”

Many photographers are willing to negotiate a bit so that it’s often not a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. Maximize the amount of photography you can get for the available budget.

“The Shared-Use Mobility Center wanted to capture all of the people at the summit because many came from across the country and even around the world,” said Pfoertner. “There were several hundred people, and breakout sessions where you had people from Seattle, Denmark, Austin or Germany, all talking about this particular topic.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it makes sense to hire a professional photographer such as Pfoertner to capture moments that promote both your association and your conference in the best possible light.

To Contact George for your next event, visit his websiteHere is a look at George’s photos from two recent i3 Events Client Conferences. 

2017 MES Conference

The 2016 Shared Use Mobility Conference.