No matter how much word-of-mouth appreciation or buzz an event gets, memories fade. That’s why the perfect photographer is not only a want for an event planner, but a necessity. We chatted with five photographers around the state to get their tips and tricks on how to capture an event in a way that makes the fete last forever.
ANDREW KURCAN // ANDREW C. KURCAN PHOTOGRAPHER
Candid shots sum up the glamour and excitement of an event perfectly. Shots of laughing, engaged guests enjoying the evening are what attendees become most excited about after the event. Seeing themselves in action, whether it be giggling with co-workers or listening to a speaker, allows attendees to remember how they really felt at that moment in time. This is why photo booths and other event amenities have become so popular. Guests can view themselves enjoying an event. And though these shots happen in the moment, preparation is key for photographer Andrew Kurcan, a Minneapolis event photographer.
“While a great shot is spontaneous, your preparation should be heavily scripted,” says Kurcan, who started shooting 10 years ago and has four and a half years of event photography experience under his belt. Candid photography has become one of his strong suits and passions.
“You’re taking this instantaneous moment, pressing the button and you get this carbon copy of what’s going on around you,” says Kurcan, who also does commercial product photography, portraiture and headshots. “It’s very variant and a really fun medium to play with.”
In order to capture the perfect shot, Kurcan recommends being prepared and enjoying the event, but also remaining an outsider.
“I make sure to take part in the event without crossing [guests]. Read the attendees and if they need to be talked up to get them a little loose.” Kurcan says. “You have to let yourself experience the moment.”
Andrew Kurcan’s Top Five Tips on Capturing the Perfect Candid
1. Plan, plan and plan. Great candid shots are spontaneous, but preparation needs to be heavily scripted. Study a shot list and bring more gear than necessary.
2. Ask the contact to connect you with the event’s technical lead to reveal lighting, where you can access power and any wireless channels to avoid.
3. Strive to be invisible and practice discernment with flashes; guests should be the focus of the event.
4. Find the most engaged participants and shoot them as a moment happens.
5. Try different angles. Get up high or low, shoot from offstage or behind the scenes. Ask the contact if you can scope out the venue beforehand.
RACHEL NADEAU // DE LA VUE PHOTOGRAPHY
Rachel Nadeau’s photography business happened almost by accident. A serendipitous photo shoot with a former co-worker led into a business that’s been around for more than seven years.
“I set out to do graphic design and ended up taking pictures of an ex-co-worker’s daughter. She started referring her friends and they started referring their friends,” says Nadeau. “I literally had a business fall in my lap.”
Years later, Nadeau’s Maple Grove company, De La Vue Photography, focuses on weddings and portraits, and dabbles in headshots and event photography.
“I really like working with people,” Nadeau says. “I really love telling them a story the way I see it. Taking the images and giving their own story back to them through my eyes.”
Nadeau has plenty of experience shooting tablescapes and, for her, the biggest issue is the time constraints many events seem to run into. Hastiness always seems to be a recurring problem.
“While I would love to spend 25 minutes in a reception room getting every detail and everything perfect, a lot of times you’re rushing and trying to do it before guests arrive,” Nadeau says.
To get the most stunning tablescape shot, Nadeau relies on lighting and studies a scene to make it perfect.
“Shooting with natural window light is always a sure bet, but many times evening events have a range of lighting that naturally occur throughout the duration of the event,” Nadeau says. “Pretty golden sun pouring through the windows just before sunset makes stemware gleam. Event lighting really sets a mood and off-camera lighting can make images pop.”
Rachel Nadeau’s Top Five Tips on Capturing the Perfect Tablescape
1. Photograph tables before they’ve been touched.
2. Take safe shots first to ensure you shoot everything, but then have fun. Try new things and get artistic with it.
3. Play with lighting. Shooting with natural window light is great, but lighting can also change during an event.
4. Shoot photos from all angles and distances. Step back to get a good image from the side.
5. Make sure to focus in on the details of the table. Shoot individual place settings from various angles, isolated centerpieces and small touches like menus, gifts, table numbers and more.
CORY RYAN // CT RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY
For Cory Ryan, figuring out the perfect lighting, space and scenery is key to capturing the perfect shot, no matter how difficult the problem solving might be.
“It’s fun being able to walk into a space that might be hard to capture. For example, a tricky room with bad elements, but there’s elements that are really cool and you want people to see,” says Ryan. “I love being able to go into a space and figure those things out.”
Ryan, who co-owns CT Ryan Photography in St. Paul with his wife, Tamrah, studied mass communications with an emphasis in photojournalism in college, and then went on to shoot for newspapers, including the Pioneer Press. Ten years ago, the couple started shooting weddings, which eventually transformed into event and corporate work.
“The great thing about starting with journalism, especially fresh out of school, is the variety,” Ryan says. “It’s all over the board and gives you the foundation for other things.”
While problem solving is what Ryan enjoys most about scene shots and photography in general, the most important advice he can give is being a part of the event itself. “The best photos happen when you feel a connection with your subject,” Ryan says. “Whether you’re photographing a conference on crop rotation for farmers, the wedding of a couple you adore, an expo on insurance sales or a college graduation ceremony, be present, be excited and learn from the scene happening around you. Being interested and engaged with the event translates to better photography.”
Cory Ryan’s Top Five Tips on Establishing a Scene
1. Communicate with the event planner beforehand. It’s important to know what they would like to use the photos for and if there any specific details in mind.
2. Study the light. Pay attention to its feel, color temperature and intensity. It can change over the time of shooting. This can determine what kind of flash to use or if natural light will work.
3. Know your equipment and technique inside and out. This will allow you to focus your attention on capturing the people and space no matter how the event evolves.
4. Listen to what’s happening around you; use your ears instead of your eyes. There’s nothing worse than seeing a great moment unfold and missing the opportunity to shoot it.
5. Invest yourself in the event. The best photos take place when you feel a connection with the subject. Being interested and engaged with the event leads to better photography.
JUSTIN GRADDY // GRADDY PHOTOGRAPHY
Food photography is all about the preparation and quick thinking. Dishes can lose their shape, colors can change and, most importantly, guests need to eat. That’s why planning is imperative when shooting mouthwatering morsels.
“Photos need to be well thought out and well planned,” says Justin Graddy, co-owner of Minneapolis-based Graddy Photography “There’s food prep and a time limit. You have to shoot [dishes] within the first couple minutes they’re out. You have to work fast and know what to envision and execute to get the final product.”
Graddy knows what he’s talking about. The company has been nominated for a plethora of awards from publications such as Minnesota Bride, The Knot and Minnesota Meetings + Events.
“It’s been a great ride,” Graddy says. “We’ve obviously been blessed as being recognized as one of the most leading talents in Minnesota. It’s upped our game to the next level … We know we have to do the best job we can possibly do.”
To get that perfect photo, wherein guests can remember the taste of food and how it perfectly paired with the wine served, takes work, a lot of it hidden in the wings, but Graddy revels in that challenge.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into it,” Graddy says. “Respect the chefs and their space, but do your best to document the process in a photojournalistic manner. You have to have the talent to know what to expect to catch the right moment.”
Justin Graddy’s Top Five Tips on Capturing the Perfect Food Photo
1. Study your foods while conceptualizing the shot. Try and pair your surroundings with the appropriate meal. Be sure to highlight the main ingredients and shoot from multiple angles.
2. Be prepared and quick. Some dishes may not hold up for very long or may become dry. It’s typically ideal to have planned out the next food setups before they’ve left the kitchen.
3. To give photos a more personalized feel, pair the dishes with a drink and utensil.
4. Don’t be afraid to get in the mix of the food preparation.
5. Enjoy the process and success of the shoot. Give yourself a pat on the back at the end of the day.
REBECCA HICKS // REBECCA HICKS PHOTOGRAPHY
Portrait photography can feel uncomfortable, awkward and stuffy. To combat those emotions, Rebecca Hicks, who owns her own photography company in Mound, does her best to relax guests.
“I try to make people feel comfortable,” says Hicks. “Some people might not feel at ease, so I usually joke around with everyone so they leave thinking it was more fun than they thought it would be.”
Hicks started shooting in 2000, when she began taking pictures of her daughter. Eventually, her friends wanted pictures of their children, and a business blossomed from that. Her work first focused on portraiture and then expanded into headshots, weddings and corporate events. In order to shoot a portraiture session that guests will enjoy, Hicks provides tips for her subjects to prepare. “I always send out a sheet so people scheduling can send out to attendees so they know a photographer will be there,” Hicks says. “I tell them to bring ChapStick, powder, to wear something flattering and solid colors. They can feel confident with themselves and feel good so when they get there, they’ll want to have their picture taken.”
From ChapStick to natural lighting and behind-the-scenes-work to spontaneous moments, it’s clear that preparation and planning are what make a successful photographer stand out from the pack in every facet of shooting. Take it from the pros: Confidence and talent are key, but being prepared is what makes photographers shine.
Rebecca Hicks’ Top Five Tips on Capturing the Perfect Event Portrait
1. When shooting formal group shots, keep subjects away from walls to avoid shadows.
2. Use a flash diffuser light; harsh light is unflattering.
3. Be professional and dress to blend in.
4. Know your audience and the reason they hired you. Have a list from the client on shots you must get.
5. Always bring backup equipment. Whether or not you have the right equipment, the event will continue without you.