Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to photograph several events. Everything from a small corporate meeting to comedian Seth Meyers on stage.

Recently, I was asked to photograph one of the protests in my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI, for my client, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. Just a few days prior, the city had a night of rioting that impacted the heart of downtown. It’s at this protest that I discovered a key attribute to any good event photographer.


Know your surroundings

No, I don’t mean you have to wait in line for that photograph. But you should know when the right time to take that important photo is, and where to take it from.

At the protest, there were about 15 other photographers and videographers present. We were all photographing the entire event, but most of us knew an important moment would be coming that needed to be captured.

The police chief was set to come out and greet the crowd in some capacity. I wasn’t sure what exactly was planned, but I was ready for whatever situation was presented in front of me, going with an all-purpose Olympus 12-100mm f/4 lens.

Know when it’s your time to shine

When the police chief finally came out and spoke to the crowd, he took a knee for nine minutes with his sergeants and the county sheriff. They all shouted “I can’t breathe!” over and over again, and took turns yelling it into the loudspeaker.

When he first came out, nearly every photographer surrounded him. They were all in each other’s way, trying to get the shot.

But instead of me standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow media members, I stood back. I took wide photos showcasing the back of the crowd and the chief speaking to them. I knew that he’d be out there for a while. So I knew I had time.

I probably waited a good five minutes between the time he came out and the time I finally went up to snap my photos. And when I did, there was only one other photographer there with me getting photos. I had the ability to move around freely and shoot from different angles that other photographers weren’t able to get to.

What resulted were several close-up and wide photos of what was going on.

And when the chief took the loudspeaker and yelled “I can’t breathe!” into it, I was right there to capture it, where everyone else was trying to get photos behind me.

Sometimes the best photos aren’t the ones that are taken first. Instead, event photos should focus on capturing emotion and telling a story. So next time you’re at a public event with other photographers present, don’t rush in. Stand back. Then see the opportunities open in front of you.