The Business of Party and Event Photography

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All images by Jay Electro Blum. Used with permission.

Photographer Jay Electro Blum lives the life that so many photographers want: he shoots parties, interacts with some of the coolest people, and gets to express his creativity by interacting with people and capturing moments as they happen. Jay was a graphic designer who wanted a big change in life, and so he started shooting parties. At first, the pay wasn’t so great but eventually it got better.

What Jay realized more than anything though is that party photography requires a photographer to have some of the best people skills out there. And those people skills translate well when it comes to getting new business.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

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Jay: My dad was a photographer when I was growing up. What he did looked like a science experiment as he would record exposure settings and take notes in a little journal. He would shoot graduation portraits and weddings but what he aspired was to work with Spike Lee. Eventually he stopped pursuing photography in the mid 90’s.

Years later I inherited his strobe lights and other equipment when taking required photo classes for my design degree at Fashion Institute in New York. Back then I had a Canon 350d with a kit lens that I used in and out of class. I shot horrific photos of drunk art students, part time strippers and other characters around my dorm.

In addition, I was always into documenting events, parties, and documenting nights out and posting them to social media. I also loved taking portraits but hated when people flaked out on a studio sessions. All this was a prelude to party photography where I had unlimited access to people whom I can treat like models and share on social media.

Phoblographer: What attracted you to shooting events?

Jay: Winter 2014 was the worst winter ever. No one had interest in hanging out or making something productive happen. At the time I was doing freelance design work, which was hard to come by. My sole source of income was in Bitcoin for making Photoshop clipping paths of random head shots I received. I was also dating someone who wasn’t supportive of me whenever I held the camera.

Things were quite bleak and I remember saying I needed a change in my life. I needed a resurgence of creative energy and identity. I already had the name ElectroBlum on Instagram and Tumblr. My instagram morphed into a personal photo journal of parties and events.

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During this time I was up all night researching event and party photographers who were capturing DJ’s, celebrities, and people having a wild time. I was looking through complete sets of photos that pieced together a fun night out. I then began researching music scenes in Miami, LA and Montreal.
I came across Rony’s PhotoBooth quite often. His bright exposures were pristine and fashionable and looked like you could paste them into magazines and look books. That’s when I realized this is my renaissance. I am going to be an event & party photographer because this is where it’s at.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got your first paid event shooting gig and how it went for you. What would you have done different?

Jay: My photos were already circulating social media and regulars who went to parties would hashtag #electroblum or shout me out. My name traveled with the same hashtags as the party or DJ that played a set that night.

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Sometime later I received a message from one of the club night organizers about filling in for a photographer who usually handles the parties at Webster Hall. The pay was not much but it was better than nothing and could cover food for the week. I immediately took the offer. It was great to feel recognized.

The only thing I wish I had done differently was purely technical. Program the camera to Auto and keep shooting without losing moments to adjust exposure. The feedback I received really helped me understand what a client is looking for in photos in terms of social media and marketing.

Phoblographer: How much of your time is spent shooting vs editing and booking other gigs to shoot?

Jay: Shooting is the fun part because I am actively piecing together a story for the night while always on a lookout for spontaneous events. In NYC this is from 11pm to 4am.

Editing takes the most time. If I had a MacBook Pro instead of my underwhelming laptop then editing would be more exciting. I could be outside doing that work. Then again, being home allows me to chill in my undies and eat Doritos while editing so I guess editing would be awesome either way.

If a club or venue does not have vibrant strobes or disco lights then I’ll spend some time lifting those colors up and boosting the vibrancy of the lights. Usually I have actions prepared in Photoshop that help with this.

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However, if the lights are synced with the DJ’s set and bass drops then chances are there will be some great ambient light and colors in the photos.

Furthermore, the amount of time editing depends on the amount of single portraits I take. More time may be spent editing and refining images that the client and I like. These images are usually the top highlighted photos on my blog.

Finding and booking gigs is done through craigslist, e-mail and some phone calls. I also keep craigslist open on my phone throughout the day. I e-mail people and venues around the clock depending on notifications I receive on my phone from various scenes in NYC.

Phoblographer: What steps did you take to become gainfully employed by the photography gigs that you do?

Jay: I aim to be a beacon of energy when I am out shooting and interacting with people. This attracts people who want to know what I am about. They ask for business cards which can lead to future work. My “business cards” are cheap hand-cut pieces of paper with my hashtag printed on them.

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If I meet someone at a party who will inquire about future work opportunities I e-mail them my press kit on the spot. My iPhone is a complete studio and office where I am able to edit my business card templates, add type, package PDF’s, and etc. All sent to them near instantly. Your perfectly fancy glossy business card might be used to just to fatten someone’s wallet.

Thanks to craigslist and sites like mandy.com which have saved me more from a high sodium diet. I am nearly Ramen noodle free.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about marketing. How do you separate yourself from a bunch of the other photographers out there. What’s a client getting when they hire you instead of someone like Nicky Digital?

Jay: Whoa, I am not starting fights! Nicky Digital has the legendary ‘stache and I got the hair and his stickers just magnetize to the laptops of DJ’s.

Clients are getting a brand when they work with me. What separates me is my style of the image and I guess a lot of it comes from my graphic design background. I always admired 90’s X-Men cards by Fleer, air brushed 80’s movie posters, and surreal ad design. I try and carry all these influences into my work. The goal is to have my clients see their photos and say “these photos look like scenes from a movie”

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I can work with clients on a marketing level that go beyond night life photography. It can be used to market the club or venue. I can envision DJ’s, festivals, and hospitality groups utilizing my work for advertisements. I can construct ad campaigns with exuberant portraits that can be displayed from bus stops to SkyMall Ads. I want clients to know they’re getting a creative asset and a personality.

I feel like I interact more with the crowd in parties and events.

My interactions with people are immediate and intimate; I can construct a relationship with someone in less than 15 seconds to gain their trust and get that perfect photo. The camera gear I use also happens to attract attention. People love the results and that opens them up to do crazier things in front of my camera as the night unfolds.

I see too many photographer logos out there with a leaf shutter in the middle of their name. That tells me that there are a lot of photographers that do not think about branding or having their work stick out. I take advantage of that because clients do not know that they want to pay for a brand. Instead a lot of them look for the amount of followers on your social media and that can define one’s brand.
I do not let numbers define my brand of photography.

“The only thing I wish I had done differently was purely technical. Program the camera to Auto and keep shooting without losing moments to adjust exposure. The feedback I received really helped me understand what a client is looking for in photos in terms of social media and marketing.”

Pepsi, Coke, and Dr. Pepper all share the same shelf. Customers do not look for the amount of their social media followers; instead they look for what’s attracted and relative to their taste. I promote my work, brand image and the experience that my clients’ attendees will have.

For example:

“‘ElectroBlum Cola’ provides 1-on-1 interaction with guest, DJ’s, raver chicks, and emulates studio softbox experiences upon exposure with illustrative colors and next day upload so you can share your photo immediately for all your friends to see!

All that and more with just one sip of ElectroBlum Cola!”

(If you read that like a fast paced commercial then you read it right.)

Phoblographer: What’s one of the biggest lessons that you feel that you’ve learned since you started shooting when it comes to running a photography business?

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Jay: Working for exposure and no pay gets you further and closer to a pay day.

Other thing I have learned was to measure how big a job is in terms of getting paid. And how communicating rates and methods of payment is important. I take in mind that a client is paying me for my creativity, time, and my gear.

Most importantly, the biggest thing I learned was to not let clients dictate what I do. I am strictly against micro-managing.

Here’s an example:

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I once had a client who posted an ad on craigslist with one of Krill Was Here photos asking for a wild and edgy photographer. I got the gig but then it turned weird as I went through an interrogation of how I would need to interact with Harvard graduates and that I couldn’t be too enthusiastic. It was almost disrespectful to me because I was treated like I had no social skills or etiquette with people outside of night life and parties.

It was almost like he presented me with a manual to follow and then he would follow me around during the gig and ask people “How do you think your photo came out?” and that is when I had to pull him off to the side and tell him “You’re ruining my photos and my vibe with people. You should relax and chill out.” As the night progressed I got these Harvard types to open up and I saw them bloom on camera. The results were amazing and I had personally got thank you’s on my Facebook page.

Phoblographer: Networking is a huge part of the party industry and even so in the photo industry. What do you feel you do right that makes you get new clients? And what about social networking?

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Jay: Social networking is amazing because it acts as a hub for people to communicate after a party; although they may have never exchanged words at the actual party. It’s really exciting because it is like an extension of an event where everyone is reviewing the photos, laughing and giggling at their phones and computers when back at work on Monday morning.

I also had local DJ’s, promoters, and people who throw their own parties contact me through FaceBook or DM me on Instagram and are like “Hey, your photos came out great! What are your rates?”

I love to have fun on FaceBook and Instagram by uploading little flash animations videos of myself with news tickers that explain where I’ll be taking photos for the night. I hashtag places in New York, LA, Miami, Vegas and Ibiza and have communications with people from there. Occasionally I am invited to shoot at parties if I was ever in town.

Taking a good photo of someone or a group of people goes a long way. They will like the photo enough to post it and shout you out via-mention or hashtag. Everyone I take a photo of is my promoter. They love using collections of hashtags and also want to be seen.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear you use. What are the most important pieces?

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Jay: Fuji X-T1
Fuji X-E1
Fuji X20
Fuji 18mm f2

An assortment of generic flash guns like Yongnuo, Vivitar and some that don’t have a name.

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An assortment of Flash Diffusers

Polaroid Cube Action Cam

My dad’s old Strobaframe flash bracket

Strobaframe Umbrella bracket and shutter release from eBay.

I usually arrange each camera and bracket based on the kind of event I’m doing. Every piece is important from ttl-cords to the bracket pieces I’ve drilled holes through. For ¼ screw attachments. I have the cameras already assemble before I walk out the door.