June 4, 2015

How to Photograph a Rand Fishkin of MOZ Presentation

SMX Advanced - Rand Fishkin of Moz

I photograph a lot of conferences and corporate events. Most presenters, and I have photographed a lot of them, stand, or perhaps hide behind the podium. Occasionally, I get a presenter that likes to roam the stage. Wielding a clicker, they move to and fro using their arms to emphasize their points. Movement makes for a more compelling presentation. However, this is not a post about how to present well, nor is it about how to photograph well while presenting. It’s a post about how to photograph a presenter whose presentation style is… well, a presentation style.

In my opinion, there are three essential components to a good photo, so let’s break them down.

1. Composition

SMX Advanced - Rand Fishkin of Moz

Our brains are wired to notify us when things don’t look right. When a photo does not look good, we can tell. Even if we can’t put our finger on it, we know something doesn’t seem right. The photo above is pretty good. Composition is on point! However, the eye is drawn to the grumpy guy in the back. He wasn’t grumpy, he was just as into the presentation as the crowd was. He just has concentration grumpy face at the moment I captured the photo. Maybe if I get bored, I will photoshop him out as it would be pretty easy to do so…

SMX Advanced - Rand Fishkin of Moz

Ok, apparently I was bored. Anyhow, what I like about this photo is how everything is pointing to the right, even Rand is pointing to the right. Using the “rule of thirds” I placed Rand on the left and his arm runs along the line of the top third of the image. Because he’s a professional, and so am I, I will refrain from marking up an image to further illustrate the rule of thirds. My fear is that it would end up ranking well in a Google Image Search. Perhaps with Rand’s permission, I will post a tutorial on how I removed the person who was behind him on stage.

The angles, lines and direction of elements in your photo will become distractions if they are all over the place. This picture is an extreme example of lines and direction, but I felt it illustrated my point well.

2. Sharpness

SMX Advanced - Rand Fishkin of Moz

Nothing is more annoying than a fuzzy photo. Older cameras and smartphones have a harder time capturing sharp images when there is movement, and the lighting is lower. I captured this picture in a conference room that did happen to have a lot of window light from across the room. Prior to Rand taking the stage, I was shooting at a shutter speed of 1/160th. For most portrait situations, that is perfect. Most podium style speakers do not move much, so 1/160th is fast enough of a shutter speed to freeze the action. When your subject is on the move, you might have to increase the shutter speed such as I did after I noticed Rand was going to be on the move. With a shutter speed of 1/250th, I was able to get sharper edges all around my subject, and his face was nice and sharp as well. As if he wasn’t a sharp looking guy to begin with. In the photo above, I could have gone up to 1/350th to prevent the slight blur around his fingers. However, I don’t think it looks that bad.

The reason a photo might end up blurry is due to motion. While the shutter is open and exposed to light, it needs to freeze whatever action is taking place. If there is too much movement while the shutter is open, the elements of that photo that were in motion will be blurry. When I photograph groups, I typically speed up the shutter because chances are someone will end up a bit blurry. In lower light situations where increasing the shutter speed would cause underexposure, I use an external flash and ask the group to hold very still.

3. The Subject

SMX Advanced - Rand Fishkin of Moz

I’m not going to lie to you and say that as long as the technical aspects of a photo are locked down that it will be an excellent photo. The subject has a lot to do with making a picture great. The subject conveys so much of what is happening in the picture. Emotion is a huge part of what we connect with in a photo. You might not find what Rand was discussing to be very interesting, but the photo tells a story, and that fits well with his delivery method of his content. His presentation was very interesting and engaging. Most of the presenters at this conference had fantastic content, however not as many of them were as engaging as Rand was during their presentation. You can see that in the photos I captured of him.

Bonus Tip: Take a lot of photos

You never know what to expect photographing a presentation, so it’s a good idea to take a lot of photos. Once the presentation is over, your opportunity to capture a photo of them in action is over as well. Taking photos of people while they are talking is tough because not every angle of the mouth is going to look flattering. I usually set my camera to burst mode and capture a series of 3-5 photos each time I press the shutter. Doing this allows me to get several photos while the mouth of my subject moves through the speaking of a word. Most of the photos I capture at events end up being used for editorial pieces so typically only one or two photos are needed, but I capture about 20. I also want to give my client options because different emotions come out in photos. Depending on the tone of the article, they might want a more serious looking photo over a moment where the presenter was smiling because they just said something funny. It’s important to have options, so take plenty of photos.

Closing Thoughts

I have two hopes for this article. The first is that people who are interested in taking better photos of presenters will walk away enlightened. The second is that Rand doesn’t use his Wizard-like powers to exile my website to some deep dark place on the internets.

Here are a few other photos from his talk that I found appealing.

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