The challenge of event photography

  • Apr. 18, 2011 1:00 p.m.
John Enman recently officiated as a photographer at the  Annual Femsport Challenge held in Kamloops on Apr. 2.

John Enman recently officiated as a photographer at the Annual Femsport Challenge held in Kamloops on Apr. 2.

A couple of weekends ago I assisted photographers Rick Tolhurst and Ty Korte photographing the Femsport Challenge held at the Tournament Capital Center in Kamloops.  This event was advertised as the Women’s All Strength & Fitness Challenge and after interviewing several area photographers the organizers selected ShotsbyRick Photography to officially document the event.

Tolhurst approached me to be backup for him and Korte in case of unforeseen problems, and also asked me to setup a photo studio for team portraits.

When he asked for assistance I thought that lots of unseasoned local photographers had likely applied for the job.

With modern technology many amateur photographers believe all they need is a new DSLR to match the pros, however they aren’t experienced enough to realize that if this competition was important enough for the organizers to go through a section process for a photographer then it also demanded more than an expensive DSLR and a willingness to try something new.

In my opinion an event photographer’s first goal is to successfully document everything that happens. The second is to compile enough images to be a narrative of the occasion, and then third, and maybe most important, to create photographs that tells individual stories about those that attended, or are the main focus of the function.

I felt that Tolhurst and Korte, and the occasional news photographer, were more than enough photographers on the floor of the event. There were lots of friends, family, and well-wishers, all trying to snap pictures of their favorite athlete and if I was on the floor I would be one more person to block their view.  I moved in when I saw angles that weren’t covered, or to get some pictures I could use for this column; and I also wanted some shots of the two photographers that I could give to them. I saw myself as a back-up in case of problems, but mostly I was there for team photos.

All three of us were prepared with wide aperture lenses in case of limited lighting. As it was, the Tournament Centre had excellent ambient lighting from high skylights and I expect most shooters only used wide aperture when wanting to blur out the background.

Tolhurst carried two cameras, both set at 400 ISO, one mounted with an 80-200 and the other a 28-70mm. Korte worked with only one camera sporting a 70-200 lens. I think his camera is easily capable of producing image files at ISO 800 without any background noise, and I think that’s what he used.

For my excursions onto the floor I used a 24-70 and 400 ISO.

Experienced photographers consider a balance of ISO, shutterspeed, and aperture. Photographers need to know just how high an ISO their cameras will operate at without image noise, and yet still produce reasonably-sized, quality enlargements.   To do that requires some experimenting beforehand.

I know my camera produces sharp, clean, noise-free images that are easily enlarged to 16×20 (or larger) if I stay around ISO 400. That even gives me comfort room for cropping if I need.

When I arrived I immediately started checking for the highest shutterspeed and smallest aperture combination. A wide, background-smoothing aperture is great for portraits, but I wanted enough depth of field to allow for quick moving athletes to be shown. The higher the shutterspeed the better one’s chances are to stop action and I knew both Tolhurst and Korte wanted fast shutter speeds and Korte even mentioned, as he walked to the floor, that he would like to use 1/500th second.

All that aside, I also wanted enough ambient light to illuminate the background in some shots, so when I felt my subject was at peak action or stopped for a moment, I actually reduced my shutter speed to 1/160th of a second.

The Femsport Challenge was packed with excitement; lots of action and the location had great ambience with bright even lighting.

All of which made for great opportunities to capture excellent photographs of the many participants.  Overall it was an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday and by the time the day was over we had loaded over eight thousand images into Tolhurst’s laptop.

These are my thoughts for this week.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me. Email your comments and suggestions to me at or phone 250-371-3069.

John Enman owns and operates Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops, selling an interesting selection of used and new photographic equipment and offers professional wedding photography and photographic instruction.  Check out