What’s In My Bag | Essential Photo Equipment for Event Photography

What’s In My Bag | Essential Photo Equipment for Event Photography

It’s taken some time to decide on and settle in to the essential photo equipment I carry for event photography assignments.  The fun part is, with the consistent evolution of technology, I’ve got to stay on my game and always up to date so the challenge to keep ahead of the curve can be constant.  I have bought and returned backpacks, belts, flash modifiers, tripods, ball heads, bags…you name it, I feel like I’ve tried it.  So, when I do come across the equipment that does exactly what I need it to do without sacrificing comfort or compromising the quality of images I produce for events, I’m totally in.  Here’s a few of the essential event photography tools I would never leave home without.
  1. Canon 5D Mark IV w/ battery grip
  2. Canon 5D Mark III w/battery grip
  3. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM: a great standard zoom, all around lens
  4. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM: I love using this lens when I’m in tight quarters and need to capture all of the action or I’m looking for wide shots of the room with a full audience
  5. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM: I get asked to capture portraits on the go, no lighting, just available and this lens, with it’s 1.2 f stop allows me to capture beautiful headshots even when the lighting is not so beautiful
  6. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM: if I was on a deserted island and could only bring one lens with me, this is the one
  7. Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS II USM: it’s very rare that I use this telephone on events however it has bailed me out on a few occasions when I could not get as close as I wanted for those tight speaker shots.  So, if there’s a nice light wash over the stage and I need to get tighter on the presenter, this lens does the job
  8. Lens Shades
  9. Canon 600 EX-RT Speedlite Flashes with omni bounce flash modifiers
  10. Rogue Flash Gels Lighting Kit for white balancing 
  11. Remote flash triggers cause you never know
  12. Eneloop Pro Batteries: serious powerhouses.  I used to use external battery packs to speed up the flash recycle times but these batteries have lightened the load as I can ditch the Quantums
  13. SD Card Reader: When I need to review images.  Yes, the Canon 5D Mark IV has wireless capabilities but this works so much faster for me
  14. Extra Canon batteries 
  15. Swivel Flash Mount cause you never know
  16. Lexar CF cards ranging in size from 64gb to 8gb.  I also shoot to 2 cards simultaneously so underneath the CF cards are SD cards.  Backup, backup, backup!!!!
  17. Spider Pro Dual Camera System with Spider Pro Handstrap: moving from shoulder straps to a waist belt has not only saved my back but made it easier and faster to access my cameras, ensuring I never miss a shot
  18. GLocalMe Mi-Fi: I don’t have to use it very much but it has come in handy when I can’t access the internet or need my own, secure connection.  Awesome for travel assignments
  19. Gaffers Tape: because if I was on a deserted island and could have one tool……
  20. Mints: because everyone should always have mints
  21. Think Tank Airport Security:  for local assignments when I can bring everything I need with me to the event
  22. Think Tank Airport International: for travel assignments this case is just a little smaller than the international which may OR may not be allowed onboard with you.  I’ve heard various stories so why take the chance?
  23. Induro CLT 203 with BHL2S Ballhead: Love this pairing especially for events when you may or may not need a tripod and if you do, you’ve got to move super-fast (not pictured here)



If I could pack more, I probably would.  Because if you have it, you use it.  I would not describe myself as a gear head however I do get a little giddy when shopping online or even more so when I’m in a well stocked camera store.  But truth be known, no matter how much gear you carry, it certainly can’t make a pretty photo by itself so my motto is shoot, shoot and shoot some more since practice makes, if not perfect then certainly pretty fantastic.

The Best-Ever CNA Textbook Photo Shoot

The Best-Ever CNA Textbook Photo Shoot

I know nothing about nursing.  Wait, not true.  My exposure to the medical field is limited to what I’ve learned from Grey’s Anatomy and my experience having surgery to remove some pieces and parts that weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing.  So, really, its a mixed bag of melodrama and what is probably most accurate: practical care.  I had a few overnights at the hospital and surprisingly, it was a very relaxing stay which may have been in part due to the morphine drip I was enjoying but for sure, it was the wonderful nursing staff that made sure I was comfortable, fully hydrated and they threw in the bonus of keeping me entertained when dropping in for a blood draw.  How fun!

 What I had imagined would be a few nights of impatiently waiting to get the hell out of there turned out to be a relatively decent mini-vacay from the world.  It’s really the nursing staff including CNA’s that can make or break patient care.  So, that much I knew when I was asked to jump on board as the photographer shooting a textbook written for high school and community college students about being a CNA.  

Chicago-based publisher Goodheart-Wilcox had been searching for stock-based images for the book and simply could not find the shots that accurately illustrated the techniques they needed to demonstrate and in some cases the available imagery was simply too generic for their purposes so they chose to take on quite the project and go with brand new photography. Not an easy task considering that we needed to shoot at a location that was or at least looked like a long-term care facility, required access to all of the equipment that CNA’s would use on a daily basis, would need to recruit and schedule the talent and of course, you’ve got to feed people.  Although this was their first time shooting custom photograph locally, GW pulled together the project like absolute pros as no detail was left to chance.  This kind of planning allows us to focus on doing what we do best and in turn the shoot turned out to be incredibly productive and an absolute pleasure to work on.



We covered everything possible.  How to make the bed.  How to turn a patient.  How to brush a patient’s teeth, wash their face, help them dress, the list goes on and on.  Of course, after a few days hanging out with people, you get pretty comfortable, ease up on the formalities and then the funnies start coming.  I love me a good out-take and my library is filled with many a classic moment.  For me, there’s nothing quite like knocking out hundreds of styled shots while giggling along the way.  



Many thanks to the team at Goodheart-Wilcox including Bob and Serg who brought me in on the project, Diane who managed the whole show and made it run smooth like butter, Mallory and Sue who know their miter corners like nobody’s business and my assistant Josh who handles all the other photo-related stuff which allows me to focus on taking pretty pictures.  

Photographing Corporate Events From Every Angle

Photographing Corporate Events From Every Angle

I photograph a considerable amount of corporate events annually and in each case there are a variety of critical moments that need to be covered, from break-out sessions to networking, awards presentations to keynote speakers.  In some cases, the event is arranged so that there are several speakers in a row and from an event photographers’ viewpoint, the key to making the images memorable and compelling as opposed to repetitive and uninteresting, is to cover the speakers from every angle and perspective.

Larger events have more allowance where I can cover the room from one side to the next and front to back while being unobtrusive whereas with smaller events it’s imperative to get the photographic coverage keeping in mind never to draw attention to yourself.  The idea is to simply blend in and be stealth.

Covering speaker sessions, I mostly rely on a longer telephoto, 70-200mm for tighter audience and speaker photos and move to the 24-70 for full-room shots.  In order not miss a beat, I carry two camera bodies with lenses attached using the Spider Pro camera holster which may be the best purchase I’ve made this year to date.  The cameras with attached lenses and battery grips can begin to feel excessively heavy during a 10 hour day but with the holster balancing the weight on both hips, I can last so much longer and without the strain of carrying gear via shoulder straps.  Changing between bodies is super fast and much preferred to swapping lenses using one camera body, not to mention so much safer as I can attest to dropping at least one lens on the ground at a conference when trying to do a lens swap.  Sure, it’s a little lighter but after ponying up the $600 to repair that lens, the dual system is now my go to method.

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I also play around quite a bit with apertures while covering an event.  First, I’ll adjust the exposure settings for a normal depth of field at f/5.6 and move between this number and f/2.8 depending on my subject.  If I’m highlighting the full audience, I’m at 5.6, for an individual audience member, I’m at f/2.8.  That full-stop shift can create a frame around the individual audience member and when I can catch them at the right moment, it makes for an impactful image.

As for on-camera flash, I do carry this on my camera, typically on the shorter lens but rarely have I ever used this in a meeting as it’s distracting and doesn’t give me the reach I need when shooting further into a crowd.  With most corporate events, there is ample available light to simply bump up the ISO, engage the lens’ image stabilizer and play with the depth of field.

Once I get an overall feel for where the camera settings need to be and where I can take them, I start to move around the room so as to photograph the event from every angle.  I’ll move to the front, both middle, right and left sides.  I’ll go directly parallel with the speaker to photograph them from the side.  In some cases, I may be able to move behind the stage and shoot through the stage paneling for a silhouette.  And then it’s on to the middle of the room where if a seat is available, I’ll shoot through the audience members, using their heads and shoulders to frame the speaker….a look I’m very fond of as it captures the speaker from the audiences’ perspective.

And last but not least, the full room shots covered from the front of the stage and also photographed from the back of the audience.  Every detail that goes into these presentations needs to be covered including the powerpoint and graphs displayed on the stage screening.  Capturing the speaker with the stage displays puts the images into context that highlights the messages of the conference.

The images that I supply from each corporate event are used to engage followers in social media during the event as well as to promote these conferences and conventions for the upcoming years.  With as much planning that takes part before I even enter the scene, it’s essential to appreciate the details and supply event coverage that reflects continuous audience engagement and speakers that are captivating.  Granted, this may not always be the case as there have been plenty of assignments I have taken on that are a little less exciting and very low-key.  So, I keep shooting, wait patiently, play with angles, change my settings and offer a variety of images that are both compelling and illustrate the essentials of each corporate event.

Retouching for Corporate Headshots and Environmental Portraits

Retouching for Corporate Headshots and Environmental Portraits

These days, it’s critical to have an awesome portrait that reflects confidence.  With social media sites like Twitter and Facebook as well as LinkedIn and company websites, the on-line profile essentially replaces the business card.  We have one chance in the online world to make a fantastic, first impression and having a stellar portrait is a great start.

Corporate headshots and environmental portrait photography are commercial assignments I do with regularity so it helps to have a system in place for retouching the portraits as the post-production process can be very subjective.

Typically, if time allows, my subjects have a chance to select their hero headshot immediately after their session and give me a heads-up on any specific retouching they would like me to do and the requests, as you can imagine, are always pretty consistent.  Make me younger and thinner.  Of course, I’m more than happy to oblige though I do tend to believe that we earn those grey hairs, the few extra pounds and the lines that show that we have been living our lives to the fullest.

When we have multiple portraits to do and are running low on time, I edit the images and upload between 3 to 5 of the best headshots of each person into a web gallery where the client can take their time in making their final selections.  Once I receive their picks, it’s showtime and I have a process that is incredibly effective and produces portraits that are engaging, confident and clean.

Take a look at the before and after samples below and move the slider to see the improvements that are made with retouching.  

  • Before-Example 1
    After-Example 1
    Before Example 1 After

  • Before-Example 2
    After-Example 2
    Before Example 2 After

  • Before-Example 3
    After-Example 3
    Before Example 3 After

  • Before-Example 4
    After-Example 4
    Before Example 4 After


As seen in the samples above, the changes simply enhance the image as opposed to completely changing it except of course in the last example where the background color was modified to match the subjects’ suit jacket.

The retouching for corporate headshots and environmental portraits that I apply are for the purpose of making each subject look their best so I do stay away from making drastic revisions that we see so much of these days.  Simple fixes make us look like our genuine and best selves.

Keep in mind also that although there are plenty of fixes that post-production can provide, there are also a few simple things you can do to look your best for your corporate headshot or environmental portrait as well.  This previous post was written with corporate portraits in mind however many of these guidelines apply to environmental portraits as well so check them out.

Wrapping-Up.  Bring it on 2015!

Wrapping-Up. Bring it on 2015!

This past year was beyond pretty good to Tori Soper Photography.  We (when I say we, I mean everyone that helps me make this possible including my trusted Assistant Whitney, my better half who keeps me caffeinated and of course Charlie Parker, my four-legged companion who is excellent company during the long hours of post-production) managed to stay consistently busy and completely out of trouble which is quite an endeavor.  There were  several larger projects for both new and returning clients that included everything from environmental portrait cover shoots and corporate lifestyle assignments along with a handful of larger conventions over at McCormick Place and I got back to doing some on-location product photography which admittedly I have missed doing.

As the year comes to a close it does get quiet and this brings with it a much appreciated breather and just enough time to consider the invaluable changes made over the past year and how I want to move into and position myself for the following year.  A few key ingredients of this years’ successes evolved from both the actual photography itself as well as what goes on behind the scenes to make sure the phone keeps ringing and the inquiries keep coming.

It can be incredibly easy to fall into and rely on a formulaic approach for creating environmental and corporate portraits and of course it can work for all purposes, cash flow, client satisfaction, etc. but at some point the style needs to evolve.  And I am at that point.  I consider my work to be clean, approachable, somewhat still and almost classic  but I would like to push it and experiment even more.  We started doing this a few months back  with more varied lighting and utilizing available light, incorporating candid portraits with the subjects looking off camera and shooting outdoors.  I want to get those shots that make the viewer feel that they are seeing this person in the photo as they are, not as I want to present them.

One of the keys to approaching this is having the flexibility to shoot in whatever location we want with access to power not being an issue.  I have done many a location scout searching for the best environments to set-up for our assignments and spend as much time looking for outlets as I do scouting the scene.  But not anymore.  I finally found a reliable solution to powering our equipment that does not weigh as much as a small child and packs more than enough power.  These 3.5 lb battery packs from Photogenic have proven to be worth every penny and have completely opened up our options.  Outdoors?  No problem.  Wasting time taping down cords with an excessive amount of gaffers tape?  Not anymore.  Now we have the mobility and the freedom to shoot anyone, anywhere.

Chicago Commercial Photographer

Chicago Commercial Photographer

And of course, there is the business end of things.  The joy of my life that is e-mail blasts, marketing calls and postcard mailers that I have been outsourcing is all being brought back in-house as I love devoting my time to this.  As the saying goes “half the money I spend on marketing is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”  So, rather than outsourcing, I may as well give it a go on my own as I have a feeling I may very well know what I am doing at this point.  The e-mail blasts, postcards and PDF portfolios have been given a refresh along with the website which will have several new images to show as of the new year.  The list of potential clients that I believe my work is a solid match for is made and the schpeel is a-go.  Now it’s time to get this all on the schedule so in most cases it’s just a matter of pressing send and making a run to the post office.  The key here is make small blocks of time devoted to the rest: social media, blogging (which I kinda love) and the phone calls and attempt not to overwhelm myself by over-committing.

And finally, whether it is this coming year or 10 years down the line, the commitment that I will always carry along with me from year to year is the objective of never giving my clients a reason to worry and the promise to make my work consistently ambitious.

Playing with Lighting for Environmental Portraits

Playing with Lighting for Environmental Portraits

I love it when I have the chance to do a shoot where we have creative control.  We were able to make this happen on  a recent portrait photography assignment when we headed over to the Gatorade Corporate Offices in Chicago for a photo session with the former NFL wide-receiver, Martin Nance. The University of Michigans’ Ross School of Business was looking for final images that were a little more gritty and high-contrast. In order to achieve this, we departed from the cross lighting that I often use in my corporate lifestyle and portrait photography and played with side and key lighting, emphasizing harder shadows in-camera and high-grain achieved through post-production.

We started with full body shots of Martin and modified the lighting as we pulled in closer for 3/4 and tighter head shots. Using 2 soft boxes with grids (to prevent spill) on each side, we created a frame of light around the edges of his face with a strong shadow featured in the center. To illuminate the paneled wall behind him, we had two reflectors with 20-degree grids and barn doors powered down by about 3 stops on camera left and 1.5 stops on the camera right. Finally, on a floor stand to camera right and behind our subject was a reflector with a 30-degree grid and barn doors, powered down by one-stop, illuminating both the floor and the right side of Martins’ jeans.

I’m a big fan of lighting diagrams and you can make your own here.

Chicago Commercial Photographer


The modification we made here was to move the backlight that was being used as a skim to the front of the set and to the right of the camera in order to illuminate the Gatorade cooler while also lowering the backlights on their stands.  This is the shot that was approved as the Hero image for The University of Michigan.

And coming in closer, these were my personal favorites.  We toned down the back lighting by both powering down the strobes to the lowest settings and moving to a higher speed on the camera.   And yes, that’s a SuperBowl ring, Steeler’s 2009!



Mistakes can also prove to be valuable.  As I was playing with the dials on my camera, I accidentally set the speed to 1/300th of a second which is the point where the mirror on the camera no longer syncs with the strobes but in this case it created a cool vignette.  I caught Martin while he wasn’t posing and it proved to be my favorite image from the entire photo shoot.

In post-processing, I pulled my favorite RAW selects from the session and enhanced the vibrance and clarity along with contrast in Photoshop.  Following this, I used the Topaz Labs Adjust 5.0 plug-in which has a variety of pre-set filters ranging from classic, stylized and HDR modifications which allowed me to make local and global adjustments to the images.  For this, I went with a lighter detailing filter which enhances the shadows and highlights, creating more contrast while giving a bit of a boost to the details…i.e. grain.

It’s always a pleasure to have the assignments that come through with so much creative control and a subject who is incredibly generous with their time.  Thanks to The University of Michigan and of course, Martin Nance.  Stay hydrated!