How to Photograph a Red Carpet Event: A Step By Step Guide

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Red carpet photographers usually have about 10 seconds or less to capture a perfect picture, so they have to act quickly and flawlessly. Some red carpet events will also have a step-and-repeat. It’s where each guest steps onto a specific location and poses in front of a backdrop and leaves. Then, the next person walks over and repeats the process.


If you’re a beginner, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will help you take photos like a pro in no time.



Make a Plan Ahead Of Time


Try to plan a few days ahead, not the night before. Weeks ahead would be even better. Having plenty of time to prepare will give you more confidence. Many photographers find it reassuring when they know what to expect.


After you’ve created your plan and mapped out your schedule, go through it with a different mindset. It’s not the most positive outlook, but anticipating potential hazards will help you be overly prepared. That’s always a good thing. Planning ahead of time will help you get ready for the event and prepare for any issues.


  • Charge your camera and power pack
  • Plan for the day and consider the extra time you’ll need to pass the security checks.
  • Take the time to organize and pack all of your gear.


Arrive Earlier than the Scheduled Event Time


At most red carpet events, there will be an intense level of security. There will be multiple security checks you’ll have to go through. Arriving early (even hours early) will give you plenty of time to get past all the security clearances. Then, you can set up your spot and test out your camera gear.


  • Arriving early can help you find a good spot
  • Gives you enough time to get through security
  • Test equipment again


Find Your Spot


When you arrive, you’ll need to set up your spot. If you’re attending the red carpet event with other photographers, then you’ll be assigned a space. For large events, like the Met Gala, the managers may send 6-7 photographers at a time to certain locations, and you’ll have to scramble for the best spot when you get there.  


As the event is unfolding, you’ll be standing elbow-to-elbow with others while competing for the best angles. This is where your zooms lens will come in handy.


On the other hand, if you’re responsible for setting up a backdrop or media wall be mindful of the location and its surroundings. You want to make sure the areas in the background are free of clutter. And if the event is outdoors, then you’ll need to make note of the sun’s direction.  


You’ll also need to determine what kind of background you’re working with. Red carpet events may have a wall or backdrop with logos on it for publicity purposes. Vinyl is a popular choice because the plastic texture is ideal for printing logos and brands, but the light glares can become an issue.


Many photographers adjust the lighting or take photos at an angle to eliminate the glares. (More on that later.) It’s always a good idea to practice taking photos with vinyl backdrops, so you can see what works best.


  • Find your assigned spot (if you have one)
  • Figure out if there is a backdrop
  • Take practice shots


Choose Your Lighting


If you’re responsible for setting up a step-and-repeat, most times you’ll need to install static light equipment pieces. When in doubt, go with ambient lighting. The soft glow will flatter your subject’s faces and help reduce any harsh shadows or glares.


You can achieve ambient lighting with light boxes or umbrellas. They can be rented or purchased at a local photography store. Most of them come with a stand and a fabric cover. The fabric acts as a light diffuser.


There will be some situations where you can’t set up a lighting installment. That means you’ll need to depend on your flash. Professional cameras tend to have a bigger flash that is attached to the top without the pop-up mechanism.


Most red carpet photographers prefer to use a flash reflector to cast the light onto the person that’s walking across the red carpet. It’s called “bounced lighting,” which looks more even and reveals more details.


If your flash continues to cause harsh shadows or glares, you can apply a soft light box. You can choose between hardware and a cover. The cover is easy to use—all you have to do is slip it over your camera’s flash equipment and you’re good to go!


  • Use a flash reflector or light box on your flash
  • If you’re in charge of setting up lights, go with ambient lighting
  • If you can’t afford the light equipment, rent them


Assemble Your Camera Gear

It’s always a good idea to get your camera ready beforehand. Some photographers prefer to assemble their camera gear at a different location before arriving at the event, while others may set it up after they come.


  • Lens: Turn the lens clockwise until it clicks into place.
  • Flash: Attach the flash to a shoe cord, and then connect the cord to a flash bracket. You can add a light soft box (if you have one).
  • Memory Card: Insert the memory SD card into the slot. Sometimes you’ll have to push it in until it locks into place.
  • Power Pack: Charge the power pack and attach it to your camera or flash.

As you add your flash, lens, memory card, flash bracket, etc. you can double-check to make sure it’s all in working order.


Make Sure to Bring Backup

A camera dying or breaking in the middle of an important shoot is every photographer’s nightmare. That’s why many professional photographers will bring extra gear. If something happens with their camera, they can reach for their backup instead of tapping out.


If you are thinking about upgrading to a new camera, don’t ditch or sell your old one. Keep it as a backup instead. You can either keep it in a separate camera bag or on hand with you at the event.


  • Backup camera gear will keep you in the game
  • Older cameras can be used as a backup (if they still work)


Adjust Exposure Settings

Once you get your camera assembled and turned on, you’ll need to adjust your exposure settings. Changing your aperture and shutter speed will drastically improve the quality of your images. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could accidentally choose the wrong kind of setting and throw off the entire photoshoot.


The trick is finding a balance. It takes time and practice. There will be instances where you’ll have to increase or decrease the aperture or shutter speed, depending on the location and setting. If you don’t, the photos may come out dark or blurry.


  • Aperture: Wider apertures (F1-F8) mean fuzzier backgrounds. It’s great for close up portrait photography, but not so much for red carpet events. Remember, the background needs to be clear, especially if the backdrop has logos on it. Narrow apertures (F9 and higher) will create a sharper image.
  • Shutter Speed: It can range between 1/1000 and 1/ 2. If you set it at 1/1000 then the camera will take the photo at a very fast rate. You’ll be able to catch a clear image of someone running. Faster shutter speeds are great for capturing people while they’re moving.  
  • ISO: The settings are generally left at 800. But if for some reason, the space is dark or there is a low light setting, then you’ll need to turn up the ISO setting. This will increase the absorption of light.

As you play with your camera, you’ll develop a sense of which settings work best for cloudy days, low lighting, bright sunny days, etc.



Find the Right Angle


Almost all red carpet photographers take photos at an angle because it eliminates red-eye and light glares. The recommended angle is no more than 45%, but there will be times where you’ll have to adjust the angle to accommodate the backdrop.


It’s always a good idea to test the angles out before the event starts. That way, you’ll know which angle works best for that particular setting. For example, a wider angle may work with a larger backdrop and vice versa.


If you’re going to be switching between vertical and horizontal shots, remember to move your flash around too. You want to keep it above the camera to avoid side cast shadows.



Treat Your Subjects with Respect


This may be one of the most important steps on this list. It’s not uncommon at red carpet events to see competing photographers yelling at people walking on the red carpet.


It can be unnerving for some of the subjects, and their discomfort can show in their poses and facial expressions. It could kill the entire shot. If you treat them with respect, they’ll be more likely to connect with you and allow you to photograph them. The goal is to be friendly and make them feel comfortable.


  • Avoid screaming or yelling at the guests
  • Be kind and courteous
  • Respect photographers next to you (if there are any)


Take Multiple Photos


Photographers only have a few moments before the person will move on and start walking down the red carpet. If you wait too long to press the button, you may miss your window of opportunity to capture a good image. So, don’t hesitate.


And don’t worry about filling up your memory card with too many photos. That’s the whole idea. The nice thing about digital photography is there’s plenty of room on the SD card for hundreds of photos. (Bye-bye, film canisters.)


So, the more pictures you take, the better. That way, you’ll be able to present your clients with a large array of photos to choose from. It’ll also increase your chances of capturing the “perfect picture.”



Take Different Kinds of Shots


Since there are only a few seconds to take photos, what should you focus on? Red carpet experts recommend following this order:


  • The hair
  • A good headshot
  • Accessories or dress features
  • Full-length fashion photo
  • Candid shots

When the person steps onto the carpet, you can zoom in and take multiple photos of the hair and the face. Then, quickly take photos of any accessories and dress features while the lens is still in zoom mode. After that, you can zoom out and take full-length photos.


You can be creative with different angles, and if you have enough time you can try to catch some candid moments. Candid shots are quite popular, so it’s always a good idea to try and capture a few.


Full-length or quarter length photos work best for step-and-repeats in front of a backdrop or media wall. That way, the logo backdrop is included in the image.


Practice Makes Perfect

A good way to practice is to do multiple photoshoots with volunteers. Ask your friend or family if they would like to be your models, so you can practice taking photos as if you were at a red carpet event.


You could also arrive at the event extra early and work with the setup until you’re satisfied with it. It’ll give you a chance to do a few quick practice shots before the event starts.


Practicing will help you discover your preferences. For example, some photographers may opt to have a taller flash on top of the camera with a silicone reflector, and other photographers may not.


  • Practice with volunteers
  • Set up mock red carpet photoshoots
  • Arrive early and practice at the location


Finding the Right Camera Gear

Having the proper equipment is important for red carpet photography. If you’re wondering which kind of camera, lens, or flash you should buy— you’re not alone. Here’s some information to help you.


Camera

For professional photography, you’ll need a camera that can create RAW image files. Some people make the mistake of purchasing cameras that only create jpeg files. It may be okay for general purposes, but jpeg format is not ideal for high-end photography.


Popular Choice

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera– The price is a bit high, but this camera is worth it. It has a 61-point AF system with 41 cross-points and can shoot 7 frames per second. What’s nice about this camera s it has a full-frame that produces high-quality pictures.


Lens

There are different sizes and types of lenses, but long and wide zoom lenses work best for red carpet photography. That way, you can zoom in and get a nice close-up headshot.


Popular Choice

Canon EF 24-70 f2/8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens– This is a versatile lens that is often used for high-quality photography.


Lights

Most red carpet photographers prefer to use a flash reflector. It can be handy when it comes to casting light on a person on the red carpet. If your flash continues to cause harsh shadows, you can apply a soft light box.


Popular Choices

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT– This professional-grade flash can produce continuous bursts of light at a high speed. It has a multiple flash system that delivers 5 groups of flashes.


Demi Saucer Articulating Dish-Shaped Flash Reflector– The Demi Saucer is one of the best reflectors on the market. It can be fitted over your Speedlite flash.


Off-Camera Shoe Cord

The off-camera shoe cord allows you to detach the flash from the camera and move it while it remains connected. You’ll need this for the flash bracket.


Popular Choice

Canon OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord– This shoe cord is reliable and it works great with the Canon camera and Speedlite flash.


Flash Bracket

Most professionals use flash brackets on the red carpet because it allows them to rotate the flash around the camera, or hold it at different angles. This is excellent for eliminating red eyes or glares.


Popular Choice

Custom Brackets RF-PRO Rapid Fire Flash Bracket– This particular bracket is curved, so it can fit around the lens. If you want to move your Speedlight flash, all you have to do is twist the bracket around. It’s a great way to shoot vertical and horizontal photos.


Power Pack

Power packs are a must-have at red carpet events. Consistent flashes take a lot of power, and power packs can carry enough energy to support 1,800 flashes.


Popular Choice

Godox Propac Flash Power Battery Pack– The Propac will improve your flash’s performance and allow your camera to flash continuously without delays. And once it’s charged, you won’t have to charge it again for a long while.


Shoulder Strap

If you want to come across as a professional photographer, then ditch the tripod. Yes, really. You want to be able to move the camera around to capture vertical and horizontal images. If you have a hard time holding up the camera and don’t want to set it on the floor, you could invest in a shoulder strap


Popular Choice

Waka Camera Neck Strap (with quick release) – This comfortable adjustable shoulder strap is a sling that comes with an extra underarm piece to keep it in place and provide support. The quick-release makes it easy to grab your camera for photos.



In Conclusion


Red carpet photography can be a demanding job that requires dedication and concentration, but it can also be fun and rewarding. As you master these steps, you’ll develop valuable skills for photographing different types of events.


Keep in mind that every photographer will eventually develop their own preferences. What may work for one photographer may not work as well for another.

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