Being asked to photograph a red carpet for the first time can be a daunting challenge. Perhaps you’ve been booked to photograph a corporate awards night, a glamorous ball or prom, or maybe you’ve got an invite to the Cannes Film Festival. In this post I’m going to talk about what you can do to make sure you’re set for success.
I photograph red carpet events ranging from the smallest screening/corporate events all the way up to the Met Gala, and the same basics apply regardless.
With almost any red carpet event, you can’t just rock up and start taking photos unless you’ve been invited, or accredited. If there’s an event you’d like to take photos of, firstly you need to find a contact and ask them if you can come to take photos. Most of the time PR’s and event organisers will only agree to let you come if you are shooting for a publication or outlet.
Once your access has been agreed, you need to make sure you know the timings of the event. Depending on the size of the event, sometimes there will be a draw for positions (which is exactly what it sounds like, photographs put cards into a hat and draw names at random to determine who goes where), other times it will be first come first serve, if you are photographing as an in-house photographer for an event, it never hurts to ask what time other photographers will be allowed in, so you can get there earlier to ensure you have the best spot.
Before you pack your camera bag, you need to have a think about what your objectives from the shoot are. Are you looking to simply get full length (head to toe) photos of the guests as they arrive? Or will you want to capture more close up detail, perhaps of individual parts of an outfit or close ups of the guests on the red carpet.
If you want to keep things simple, all you will need is a camera and a standard zoom lens (24-70mm or something equivalent) – With this you should be able to capture full length closer up shots. (Unless you’re at a much bigger event where the photographer area might be set further back from the red carpet – In this case you’d likely need a 70-200mm or equivalent to achieve this).
Once you’ve got the camera sorted, you need to work on making sure your photographs are lit correctly. The safest option is to bring an on camera flash (such as a Canon EL-1, Profoto A1 or Godox V1) and use direct flash. Either by using your cameras hotshoe (if you are shooting landscape) or by using a flash bracket (if you are shooting with your camera vertical) – This way you will minimise the effect of distracting shadows caused by the flash by always keeping the flashgun centred directly above your lens, rather than off to one side.
Shooting with direct flash can be effective, but creates a very obvious, and not always very flattering lighting effect. A good tactic is to try and balance your flashgun against ambient light. At a lot of events, organisers will have lighting set up on the red carpet/media wall already, in which case, you should use your flash as a way to fill in any unsightly shadows, rather than as a key light.
Other ways to soften the light from your flash include using a bounce card, or diffusion tool such as a MagMod Magsphere, which helps spread the light around rather than throwing it all directly on your subject, which can help create a softer and more flattering light.
Alternatively, if you have enough space at an event, you can set up your own external light source using a flashgun or monolight with an umbrella or softbox attached to create your own flattering light source. This example image was created using a single Godox AD300pro in a 80cm softbox.
Another important element to consider is White Balance. Often Red Carpets and other media events are lit by tungsten lights, or lights with a more orange colour temperature cast.
If you’re unsure on where to start with setting your white balance, set your camera White Balance to 5500 kelvin, (which is regular daylight) is a good start point. Take a photo without your flash on, if it looks too yellow, lower the number, if it looks too blue, increase the number, until you land on a setting that looks natural.
You can use temperature adjusting gels to make sure the colour temperature of your flash matches the ambient colour temperature, if the ambient light is very orange, you can use a CTO gel to ensure your flashgun more closely matches the ambient light. Read here for an excellent post outlining how to use gels.
Capturing the moment
Now you’re in position and you’ve got your camera set up, it’s time to get to work! As guests that you want to photograph arrive, its key that you get their attention and politely ask them for a photo.
If you’re with a few other photographers, you can try and take it in turns to take photos of each guest, but if it is a busy event (either lots of photographers, or a very short time to take photographs of the talent), then things will likely be more informal, which can lead to raised voices as several photographers jostle to get the attention of the talent. However, it is important to remain calm when doing this, nobody responds well to a screaming maniac (photographers all have their own techniques to try and get the attention of the talent, try to watch what others do and think of your own), if you get a reputation as a loose cannon on the red carpet, you will find it harder to get invited next time.
Eye contact is a powerful tool in creating a strong red carpet image. It helps create a sense of connection between the image viewer and the talent, so it is something you should strive to have in most of your red carpet photos. Once you have the attention of the talent it is time to get the shots you need, as quickly as possible. As a first priority you should get a full length shot of the talent, showing their full outfit head to toe, being careful not to crop out their feet, head, or arms. Once you have got this you can move onto closer shots either focusing on their faces, looking to capture emotion or features of their outfit.
Once you have got all the photos you need, you have to get them out to the world! Depending on the size and importance of the event, photographers will either be sending their images directly from their cameras to picture editors via FTP or more commonly, they will be downloading their photos to a laptop or tablet to edit, caption and then send them off.
Using a software like Photo Mechanic you can download your images off your memory cards, make a quick selection and then do any quick edits you may need (if you only need to crop this can be done in Photo Mechanic, if you need colour correction you can send your files to another editor such as Photoshop/Capture One. Once you’ve finished your post processing it is time to caption the images.
If you are already familiar with who you are taking photos of then this part will be easy. Simply fill in the caption details of your talent, and then send off the files to where ever they need to go! If you aren’t familiar with everyone you’ve photographed, you will either need to use a tipsheet (a handy guide with profile photos of guests made up by event organisers for this exact purpose), or you can do what I do, and use Caption Pro. This app uses facial recognition to quickly identify people, saving you potentially hours in captioning time. Read my full review of Caption Pro here.
Photographing a red carpet event can be a fun and rewarding experience that allows you to showcase your skills and creativity as a photographer, and can put you in front of some of the most glamorous and interesting people, it is also a key skill for working photographers around the world. By following these tips and tricks, you can prepare yourself for such an event and capture stunning images that impress your clients and viewers.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about working at a red carpet event? Let me know in the comments below!