Complete Event Photography Planning Guide
It’s 7pm, the first guests begin to arrive and grab a drink.
The main influx of people is expected to happen any minute now.
Just as you go to check yourself in the mirror you realise…
I gave the photographer the wrong date, they’re booked for the 8th when I need them today on the 6th!
In the rush of organising I forgot I changed the date and forgot to update all the services attending.
It’s then you realize the DJ is also booked for the 8th.
Suddenly that event – that you were so excited about for months and took as many months to plan – is slowly imploding before it even began…
In my years working as an event photographer I have encountered many unfortunate scenarios like this one and many others.
These unfortunate mistakes threatened to ruin an event my client put so much time and effort into planning.
Seeing an event getting derailed is always regretful to see.
I want my clients’ event to go better than they could ever want and for the day(s) to provide them with many great memories for years to come.
Of course not everything can be accounted for, life is always happy to throw us a curve-ball at the worst moment possible:
No one shows up to your event!
It rains on the day you have an event held outdoors!
The food you have prepared sets off an allergic reaction in one of your guests!
These curve-balls and many others can threaten any event and sour a day dedicated to celebration and happiness.
That does not stop us from being prepared though!
With planning and some foresight we can arm ourselves with a baseball mitt and catch those curve-balls whenever they may strike.
The following guide will provide you with a metaphoric mitt that you can arm yourself with and ensure your next event to be a home run!
When it comes to creating an Event, there is a very simple formula to remember:
Time + Planning = Success With Your Event
A recipe for any great event starts with how much time you dedicate to planning it.
If you begin planning an event a few months before the set date you have much more wriggle room with event services (i.e Photographers, cateers, musicians etc) to lock down that desired date.
Additionally any details or special requirements (custom decorations, clothing etc) will be assured to be completed when required.
If anything gets set back for whatever reason, be it manufactuer fault or shipping delay, you still have time to get it at a later date or seek out a new supplier.
Basically, leaving anything to the last minute is setting yourself up for an influx of curve-balls on the days leading up to and on your event day.
Please keep this in mind:
This guide will be based off of my previous experiences and observations working as an event photographer.
I am in no means an event planner but feel I have garnered a thorough view of event planning and proceedings in my time.
This guide is simply that, a guide.
It should help you go about your event planning and hopefully give you some ideas or valuable insights to avoid any pit-falls you could otherwise encounter.
Take what you want from this guide and of course deviate from it if you feel it will suit your event better.
No event is ever the same so what will fit one event may not fit yours!
With that, let’s begin and go to Part One.
So you have decided to celebrate an important moment in your life with a big event.
Now before you start hiring and buying party supplies in earnest,
Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, your choice, sit down and think:
How big do I want it to be?
Do I want an event that would rival the Queen’s Birthday party at the Buckinham Palace or something a little bit low-key with just close friends and family?
Do I want my house packed to the rafters with everyone rubbing shoulders or do I want my event more spaced out with room to seat everyone?
These are the things you should be asking yourself the moment you commit to the idea of hosting an event as the scale will be your anchor point to which your whole entire event ties to.
With the event scale locked down you can then decide on how many people you would like to invite, what type of services you may like to hire, where the venue will be, food and drink required and the whole myriad of details that are all scale dependent.
At the end of the day what will help you decide is:
• How important this life’s event is to you.
• What you are trying to achieve from it.
• What is your budget allowance.
An example of these factors would be:
If you are celebrating something like an important marriage milestone then that will definitely be very special to you.
You would want all the people that touched your matrimonial life there together as a reminder of how special they are and how they shaped your life up to that point.
Additionally you would be achieving your goal of showing your appreciation to them and how important they were and continue to be in your life.
On top of that you will be celebrating the marriage with your beloved partner and the many years shared.
The budget will serve as the bookend to the event and determine how lavish and detailed you can go.
Bigger budget means more elegant table dressing, higher quality/amount of catering (be it your own or through a service), a wider range of entertainment offered to the guests and venue size/location.
One part where time comes into the budget is the earlier you start preparing, the more time you have to set aside your precious pennies towards the event.
You may not have enough to cover the venue hire cost now, but you may be able to in a few months time for example.
A handy tip:
In your guest plan, allow room for any last minute guests. Be it they discover they can attend the event a day before or you invite a new aquaintance you may have met during the planning stage.
Having a seat or two free with some extra food/drink will help prevent any awkward situations later where your guest is forced to stand in a corner eating while everyone else is seated. (It has happened in my experience!)
Now that you have an idea about how big you would like your event to be you can move onto the next step.
It’s time to start thinking about the actual planning.
Event Time Frame
I hope you have taken a deep breath, because this is when the real fun begins.
Now that you are ready to start planning your event it is time to throw your brain into overdrive and think of all the things you would require for your event.
First thing is to decide when you are going to hold the event itself.
Is it going to coincide with a birthday or anniversary?
Can the date be flexible to allow any scheduling difficulties?
Ideally, it is best to start planning an event 4-6 MONTHS before the date you have in mind.
Yes you read that correctly.
This is the ideal time frame for any large scale or elaborate event, especially if you are intending to hold the event at a hired venue.
Venue’s are usually booked many months in advance and the closer you leave it to your date the slimmer margin you have of locking in the booking.
Now 4-6 months may not be neccassary if you are holding a small family event or something at your home. A time frame of 2-3 months would be more than adequate.
Keep in mind that most services prefer you book them earlier rather than last minute. Even if you don’t have the whole event planned, as long as you have the set date you can start booking whoever is required.
I cannot recall how many emails and phone calls I have recieved when a client completely forgets about booking early.
They get in touch wanting an event photographer for their event.
I say yes I am happy to help and ask when is it.
“Oh its this Saturday”.
In three days time.
With a larger catering firm that could possibly work because they have more staff however smaller services like photographers, DJ’s and entertainers can only be at one place at one time.
When I recieve requests for last minute events most of the time I have to unfortunately decline as I am already booked.
On occasion I am able to cover the event yet I would not ever recomend booking anyone last minute.
Unless of course your booked service had to cancel, in that case do whatever you can to fill in the spot with a replacement.
Asking the service that cancelled if they know someone that can fill in their spot usually garners good results.
They may recommend someone they have previously worked with or know are available.
Another instance why bookings are so last minute is because of impulse decisions or revelations.
You might realise a few days before the event that you would like photography coverage because it will be such a spectacular event.
While thats a perfectly okay thing, it often times leads to disapointment as tracking down an available photgrapher could be fruitless.
This is why I urge you to plan early and try think of everything while you still have time to organise it!
Now that you know the time frame you are working with, it’s suggested you decide on the location of your venue.
Generally larger events are always held in hired venues because they can seat and hold a larger group of people.
They also have larger facilities to accomodate parking, cooking and restroom requirements.
That does not mean a private location cannot hold a larger event.
I have covered fifty+ guest events in regular three bedroom homes with one bathroom and small kitchen.
My client just started preparing the food a few days before the event.
Meals that did not require cooking were prepared a days earlier and kept refridgerated. Cooked meals were prepared during the event day and while guests were attending.
Additionally if you are blessed with a larger home and/or property or know someone that would be happy to accomodate you then you can also have your event in a private location.
It all really depends on your goal and the feel you are going for as you can create formal or informal events whatever the location you choose.
I covered a large 50th Birthday celebration that had full catering and D.J at the clients home.
A pair of caterers took over the kitchen and took care of everything while my client could enjoy herself in her own home.
Likewise you can have the same experience at a hired venue or even prepare the food yourself at the venue.
Many venues like sports clubs and scout halls offer a full commercial kitchen as part of the hire. You are then free to prepare the food at your leisure on site.
So it all comes down to you how you would like to do it.
You can do all the work yourself or none at all!
Before we continue I would like to highlight some of the pros and cons of a private location over a hired venue.
These are just some points to consider when making your decision.
Private Location: Pros
•No time limit
•No venue hire fee or rules
•More Freedom to decorate and utilize space
•Can offer a place to sleep incase of excess alcohol intake
Private Location: Cons
•Limited parking space for guests
•Neighbors may lodge a complaint if excessive noise etc
•Limited facilities i.e Bathrooms, kitchen, seating.
•Pets may need to be rehomed for duration of the event (especially for large events).
Hired Venue: Pros
•Generally ample parking
•Less risk of property damage
•Better facilities suited for bigger groups
•Seating for all guests
•Larger rooms to hold all guests during speeches etc.
Hired Venue: Cons
• Have to be finished and out of the building at set time to avoid penalties
•Restricted liquor license or no B.Y.O (not every venue)
•Booking preffered date may not be possible
We have the location set, now it is time to think about decorations to give ambience to the event.
Decorations are a capstone of all events.
While your guests and venue are the body of the party, the decorations provide the soul.
Without decorations the event will feel like any other gathering, a casual get together over a once in a lifetime event.
The decorations should be treated like icing on a cake.
You do not want a cake with too thick a layer because then it will be tasteless (apart from the sugar rush in your mouth) and excessive.
The event could end up covered by a gaudy sheen of regretful decorations.
Balloons are always great but instead of inflating an entire bag and have them dangling sadly off of chairs and the walls, why not purchase a helium canister and have a balloon or two per table?
Places like the Look Sharp Store have canisters for sale at a low price or any Party Hire company can also provide them.
While visiting them look for other supplies that can help decorate a table or ask about getting a custom printed banner or napkins made for your event.
Think about things that relate to the theme of your event.
I covered a birthday for a gentleman that was a big James Bond fan.
He had a formal dress code to suit the theme, plenty of toy pistols for photo shoots and since gambling was a theme in the films, all the tables had poker chips and playing cards as part of their decorations.
To top it all off, he hired a professional Card Dealer to run games of Black Jack as part of the entertainment.
It really helped sell the idea of the event and the guests had such a great time with everyone getting very competitive and excited.
A well planned event can act as a door-way to another world if you follow a theme.
With appropriate music, ambience, attire and maybe a Martini or two (shaken, not stirred) to help you ease into it, your event can truly be an experience and make it one you will never forget.
Hence your decorations
The event is starting to come together and take shape in your mind yet you have come to a major concern:
I won’t be able to do this by myself
If you came to this conclusion then congratulations.
The sooner you realise you need help creating your event the quicker you will go about asking for -and hiring- help.
A group of family members and/or friends is a great place to ask first up.
You will be surprised how often they will be happy to help and offer advice on different things relating to the party.
•Your sister may know a great florist or even do floral arrangements herself,
•Your dad could organise a whole lot of chairs
•Your best friend could offer to compile the guest list or sort out seating plans.
Remember every person in your life has their own experiences and group of contacts that can help you with your event.
While their help may cover a lot of areas, there are some professional level tasks that they may not be able to cover however.
How far you plan to go with their help is entirely up to you and your budget.
Here are some recommendations for services I consider worth hiring to ensure a successful and stress-free event.
I bet you’re very surprised I put that one down. Thats a joke of course.
I have said time and time again about the importance of having great quality photos of your event and everything to do with it.
A few photos taken on your phone during the event is simply an insult to yourself.
Think about all the time spent planning it, all the people that will be there and everything that will happen during those momentous hours.
After all that you will have a few blurry selfies with some of your guests and maybe a badly lit video or two.
Think back to the last event you attended.
What kind of photos do you have from it?
The reason I am so adament that you hire a professional photographer is that we understand events and we understand the value a proper set of photos will give.
In five years or even twenty you will want to relive that event or maybe even stumble across the photos and with the flick of a page you will be transported back to that time.
You will remember the stunning cake and the memory of its delicate icing will whisk along your tastebuds.
You will see your best friend wearing that rediculous hat that had you all in tears when they made their big entrance.
And lastly you will see the biggest smile on your own face, as the power of those memories help you forget your daily life for a moment and appreciate how far you have come.
All these things and many more can happen thanks to some photos.
The investment may seem hard to justify today but in the future you will affirm to yourself it was well worth it.
I am still waiting for a telephone camera to achieve the same feat.
I will put this down as a very optional luxury to consider.
Photobooths work two fold as a great way of getting photos of all your guests (if they choose to enter the booth) and as a way of offering great entertainment for them.
I have noticed photobooths bring out the inner child in most guests and they’re always laughing. I captured plenty of great candid photos while observing the guests around the booth.
There is a big draw back to these machines which is the cost.
They can easily run to a thousand dollars for the hire and most just take a digital image for you to later acquire.
Some offer instant printing with a token pre-purchased and given to each guest.
I have worked a few events in my time where the photobooth hire cost was hundreds more over my charge.
This left me questioning why don’t I just become a robotic photobooth man since it obviously is seen as having a higher photographic value.
I urge you not to consider this as a better option over a photographer and not for the obvious reason.
A photobooth will only provide chest high shots of the guests that venture into it.
They will not and cannot sprout some legs and get photos of everything else happening at the event.
They wont get photos of your guests dancing or interacting around the venue or of you speaking with them.
No photos of your carefully prepared food or the table arrangements or the venue you booked months in advance either.
A photobooth is a great accompaniment to your event photographer as together we can get a great range of photos.
Just do not make the mistake others have done before you in thinking a photobooth will take care of all your photo needs as unfortunately it won’t.
If you so choose, all your food and serving needs that be taken care of by a quality catering service.
They are trained chefs and waiters that can provide whatever food you require and take care of all the serving and table service you require.
You can hire them to work at your venue if it dosen’t offer those services already or even to your own home.
With food being such a major element of any event, maybe letting the proffesionals handle it could ease a lot of stress.
Music for any event is vital.
It is the rythm in which the event dances to and creates the atmosphere.
Depending on your musical tastes, you could hire a D.J or even a live band that plays covers of all the popular classics and hits.
A D.J can solve the problem if you do not have an adequate sound system in your home or if the venue is lacking any P.A equipment.
Quality D.J’s provide their own gear with turntables and speakers to ensure the venue is pumped full of sound.
They usually request your favourite songs so they can add it to the mix and take care of all your musical needs.
If you want to go even higher then nothing beats a live band.
These are professional musicians who can play all night long and really pump up the excitement of your event.
Nothing beats live music and the added advantage of seeing a band play adds an extra element that a D.J cannot match.
If you want a live band on a budget then why not ask a local band to play for your event? Almost everyone knows someone through a friend or along the grapevine that plays in a band.
They are always looking for somewhere to perform and many times the chance to play to a crowd is reward enough.
They won’t be as rehearsed nor professional as a paid covers band but if you want to support local music on a budget there is no one better.
This is all up to you and your theme as the vast array of entertainment available for hire is staggering.
Think about what would benefit your event most.
Be it the entertainment that comes from a human or from machine hire, it is all up to you and the venue size.
Remember the previous touched upon things like a photobooth, D.J and live band.
These will all entertain your guests so do not feel the need to hire another form of entertainment simply because you feel you should.
If the theme calls for that extra entertainment to fully capture the feel or if you have some budget left, by all means indulge yourself.
Now that your event is well on its way towards completion it is time to invite the guests and prepare for any curve-balls.
The event planning is coming along great.
You have a general overview of what you would like your event to be and who has been hired to help make it the greatest possible.
Now it is time to start inviting your guests and confirming seating, catering numbers and requirements.
This can be done as soon as 3 months before your event. In regards to larger events like a wedding, it is not uncommon to send out invitations a year before the event.
Remember the sooner your guests lock in that date ahead of time, the higher chances are that they will have that particular date free.
Tips for selecting an event day:
•People generally go away on public holidays for extended breaks so your event may clash with a prepared holiday.
•Public holidays usually incur a surcharge from services so inquire before hand incase your budget gets affected by the price rise.
•Before setting a date talk with any special guests or key members of the event to ensure they can make it on your intended day.
Nowadays it is very popular to create a Facebook event page as it is very easy to change the plans and correspond with the invitees.
The problem with them is that they are so common now people are not as commited to them nor do they take them as seriously.
It is very easy to just click “maybe” when receiving an invite to delay a proper reply.
Another concern is even with a guest list of 95% attending, you may end up with an event with only half the number expected attending.
An even extremer case happened to a client of mine where only ten people attended from an expected a hundred or more.
The venue had been hired and garnished with tables full of food.
Coolers full of drinks were left to thaw as no one drank their contents.
A happy birthday was sung full heartedly by ten voices when a thundering chorus of a hundred was expected.
It was a very heart-breaking evening to experience as the event was brimming to the rafters with heart and attention to make it specatular.
I do not wish it to happen to anyone and want to give you some advice to help avoid such a scenario.
Instead of just making an event page, make one alongside your actual invites.
Write them on invational paper, it can be found at any dollar or stationary store for a bargain and send the invites out to all your guests.
It may seem like a hassle getting all the addresses but if you have already gone to so much trouble organising the event, this is a simple task.
People receiving a physical invite will take much more notice and commitment over an electronic invite.
Alongside the mailed invites you can remind your guests on the event page that R.S.V.P-ing via the invite is essential to reserve their place.
You will be surpised how a simple thing as receiving a physical invite motivates people.
In the written invitation remember to put a field down for any special dietary needs or allergies. This information can be then passed onto the caterers or whoever is organising food to ensure your guests stay safe.
Let your guests know you will have an event photographer there (if hired).
Another tip to ensure a great turn out is reminding your guests via the event page.
A couple weeks before the event and then a few days before it works well.
Also keep the event page active!
Post silly images relating to the event or ask if everyone is ready, if they got their outfit planned etc.
You want your guests to be excited for your event, and the more you get them excited the higher the chances are you will get a full turn-out.
Life has a tendancy to throw multiple events at us at once, so helping your guests choose your event over another is a key to success.
Your event is planned and the guest are invited. Congratulations!
Before I leave you I want to throw in some parting tips and ideas to help keep that event running smooth as possible.
• Wherever you hold the event, make sure you have a basic first-aid kit available with painkillers, scissors and adhesive plasters.
•If holding the event at your home, clear away any valuable ornaments or picture frames that may be knocked over accidentally.
•Check your medicine cabinet for any medicines you do not want being seen or other personal items.
•Inform your neighbours a week before the event you will be having a party and let them know about the possible noise and traffic this may entail.
•Have plenty of tupper-ware available. If there is plenty of food left over, jokingly hand out some packed tupper-ware to departing guests. This will help avoid any wastage or ruined diets due to over eating for the next week.
• If hosting at a venue have someone be a time-keeper. Atleast thirty minutes is required to pack down the event including all decorations. It pays to keep this in mind as you may incur a penalty for staying over time.
•For any events held outdoors see if you can borrow or hire some gazebos/shelter incase of rain. They will also provide a great shelter if you are having a day time event during summer.
•If you need to change the date of the event for any reason, inform all hired services as soon as possible. For obvious reasons it is best to avoid this scenario but life is life and it happens.
•Clear away any rugs or carpets that may cause a tripping hazard for you or your guests.
•If there is a cake cutting or similar event, before making the trip with the cake, clear a path by shifting any chairs etc to ensure the journey is a safe one.
•Paper towels are your friend and will be handy in most situations. Purchase an excessive number for any eventuality.
•Let you event photographer know of any important events or guests you want particular attention beforehand. This will ensure you receive the photos you are wanting most.
•Got a wine spill on the carpet?
Have some carbonated water handy, either store bought or from a Soda Stream machine and pour it over the stain
. The chemical process should help break down the stain overnight.
(Precaution only! Obviously the best method is if it never gets spilt in the first place.)
Did I leave anything out? Let me know!
These are only my personal experiences from years as an event photographer however they should come in handy with your next event.
If you got to the bottom of this guide I commend you on wanting only the best for your event and to ensuring it is everything you ever dreamed of and more.
If you would like to know more about my photography service then please check out my Event Photographer page to read more.
My website contains plenty of information about Pass The Salt Photography, my photography services, and what makes me unique.
If you know someone who may find this guide useful or is looking for an event photographer please feel free to share my page.
Remember I am more I am more than an event photographer so for whatever photography requirements you have I am here to help.
Get in contact with me to find out how I can help.
So without further ado, I hope your next event is a spectacular one and I hope I will be there to capture it for you.
Here’s a toast to your successful event!