Why photograph an event?

What are you trying to achieve when you pick up your camera, and head off to photo an event? One answer I commonly hear is “to get some photos I can sell.”, which I think is the worst possible answer. Firstly it gives you no insight onto when to press the shutter, and secondly, in my experience, it results in less sellable photos on your memory card at the end of the day.

If you can banish the selling question from your mind, and then ask “why I am taking these photos?” you may be surprised at the results. I know I was.

Formula 1 cars leaving the starting line
Photo by Oh-Barcelona.com

After some trial and error, I have come to realise that I take photos at events for 4 reasons. Sometimes I combine the reasons, but I have had more luck with picking one for the day, and sticking to it.

So my 4 reasons to taking photos at an event are:


Documentary photos are intended to provide an accurate record of what happened during the event. Who did what, when, and how did it look. They should include all the important moments, and clearly show what really happened. If I was going to take documentary photos at a car racing event, I would have in a mind of what photos I want to get: The line up just before the start, the start itself, the first corner (where lots of overtaking happens), the pit stops, the exit from the pit stops (which can change the race order), any crashes, collisions, or cars going ride in the gravel, the winner crossing the finish line, and the winners on the podium.

These photos are enough to show all the important individual events that happened on the day. Perfect for selling to a newspaper or website that is covering the event as a news story.


Memory photos are much more personal, they record a special event in the life of a person, a family or a team. Here I am more worried about if the photos will bring back memories of the day, rather than making them factually accurate. For the car racing event I would choose one of the drivers, maybe it is his first big race. My photo list for this shoot would be totally different from the one I would use if I was taking documentary photos. I would want some photos of the driver before the race, showing the apprehension on his face. Portraits of his friends and family there to support him. A group shot of the team coach giving the drivers last minute advice before the race. A sequence of shots of him getting in to his racing suit, and getting into the car, the line up, showing where he is in the starting order. Several portrait style shots of him during the race (from whatever vantage points are available). The driver crossing the finishing line. His reaction post race.

A shoot following this line of thinking would result in a set a photos that would be invaluable to this particular driver, his family, and friends. Books or albums of photos like these seem to earn a big place in someones heart.


When someone is competing, or performing in an event they have spent a long time training and preparing for, the become obsessed with how well they perform on the day. This is the opportunity for another type of photography. Analysis photography is concerned with recoding exactly what happened at a very low level. The participants in the event will want to gather the photos, and work out what they need to change before their next event. While doing this sort of event I would once more have a different shot list. A shot a few seconds after the cars have started. Showing the car and the other cars nearest – to show good or bad the start was compared to others. During a difficult corner, several shots showing what part of the road the car is in, allowing the driver to compare the line the took with the line they wanted to take. A sequence of shots in the run up to an overtake, as well as during and after overtaking – the driver and his team can use these later to work out what if there are any opportunities for technique improvement.

These photos are great for anyone who is trying to improve, and wants more information to drive the direction of their training.


Probably the hardest of the 4 different styles. Art photography is about trying to capture photos that have their own aesthetic value. Great lighting, nice composition, a decisive moment, good colours and so on. For this style, its worth having an idea of what are the iconic images associated with this sort of event. With car racing, looking down the straight at all the cars on the start line, the start lights just about to show the beginning of the race. The first few seconds of the race, with the dust and exhaust fumes showing behind the pack of cars, Two drivers, one battling to overtake the other while turning round a tight curve, the sun shining across the photo with a beautiful golden hue.

These photos also have the widest audience you can sell to. Anyone who loves the sport will want to buy these photos. Sponsors will love them for their websites, and glossy magazines. However the standard of photos needed to succeed in art photos is very high, so be prepared to have to spend a lot of time working on your skills first.

As long as you have a clear idea of why you are taking the photos, I’m sure you will produce a coherent set of photos. A collection that work well as a group, and that will have people telling you how they wish they could get photos as good as yours.

What reasons do you have for taking photos when you get to an event? Tell me about them in the comments below.

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