Visual Storytelling: 9 tips on how to choose photos for award submissions

After my first experience judging the ILEA Esprit awards in late Spring of 2011, I was inspired to write the following article. What an amazing experience and honor this was for me! I have since been invited to judge again and every year, I learn so much from the experience. As many of you are in the process of writing your award submissions, I wanted to share with you some tips as it relates to choosing photos for your award submission.

In the midst of all the production schedules, scripts and site plans, as a special event photographer, I am always especially curious to see the visual collateral that is Award Winningbeing submitted. To me, this is where it all comes together and how I can really start to picture myself (no pun intended) experiencing the event. Sorting through photos, rating them and choosing the top ones to highlight or publish is part of what I do for a living, but after going through these award entries, I have been wondering…
As an event planner, how do you choose which photos will best illustrate your event, and which to include in your submission from the possibly hundreds of photos produced by your photographer? In other words: how do you “story tell” your event with images?
Obviously, there will be nuances to apply depending on the category that you are submitting for: the Best Event Design-Décor category will call for more décor photos, for example, and the Best Event Technical Production category may have behind the scene shots. Without going into this fine of details, here are 9 tips for choosing photos for award submissions:

1. Read the guidelines carefully: this seems like a no-brainer, but make sure that you are submitting no more than the allowed number of collateral pieces and also, that you are submitting as many pieces as you can. For example, for the ILEA Esprit award, you can submit an additional multi-media piece, which could be video, but could also be a simple photo slideshow done in PowerPoint.

2. Smallest to biggest: You will not be able to show a photo of each and every element of the event. However, make sure that you have some detail shots as well as wide angle images. This gives a sense of depth to your visual story.

3. Closest to furthest: Again to give more visual interest and depth, look for shots that are close-ups and others that are taken from afar. An example could be a close up of a speaker, or a tight shot of the signature cocktail being poured. A far away shot could be a photo from the rafters or, for an outdoor event, from the roof of an adjacent building.

4. Before: Consider adding photos before the guests arrive, such as a wide-angle room shot just before the doors open, or even setup photos or behind the scenes, for example a table full of giveaway bags, or appetizers being assembled in the kitchen. In any case, “Show-Ready” photos, taken minutes before doors are a must because of their huge wow factor: use these high impact photos as “opening shots” for your submission.

5. During: Photos of the event at its peak in energy, attendance or activity. With the right timing, equipment and visual angle, your photographer will be able to capture the excitement of the party (and leave out the rest), whether or not the dance floor or the conference room were ever full at any given time.

6. After: I am not referring to strike photos, but rather to include a “closing shot”. Remember that you are telling a story and so there should also be a conclusion. Wedding photographers are used to do this: they take photos knowing ahead of time which will be used for the last pages of the wedding album such as the couple walking away on the beach at sunset, or the couple waiving from the limo. For an event, it could be a far away shot of the outdoor event with the fireworks going on, or the crowd applauding a speaker. It does not need to be what actually happened at the end of the event, but a shot that summarizes or somehow closes the story.

7. Branding: I am not necessarily referring to a logo created for an event, or even signage, although it could be part of it. More generally, it is about theme elements that show the unique personality of your event. For a corporate event, this would be how the corporate message was illustrated; for a social event it may be colors and textures that were part of the design, and for a wedding, it could be the monograms of the couple, or other elements from the original inspiration board. In any case, make sure that you leave your branding out of it, as this would disqualify your entry. (that happens more often than you probably think..and it’s so heat breaking!!)

8. Be mindful of the sequence: Start with a good, impactful opening photo and end with a closing image. Then add a good mix of the other elements as explained above. The photos could be placed in chronological order but most often are not. Rather, they should be organized based on factors such as orientation (landscape together, portrait together), location (outside then inside), people (empty rooms and details first, then crowd/people photos), activity (décor, then speakers, then food, then entertainment), etc. However you achieve this, aim to create a flow and it will be easier for your audience to grasp your event.

9. Collaborate with your photographer: Lay out clear expectations by mentioning that you are planning to submit for an award, offer a shot list and you can even share this article if you’d like! Why not use your photographer’s professional skills to your advantage even after the event by inviting him or her to collaborate when you are choosing which photos will best tell your visual story.

These tips are meant for choosing visual collateral for your award submissions, however you can use the same guidelines when selecting which photos to post to your blog, website or Facebook Page. A well-constructed visual story is powerful, and will gain you an interested audience and (this is my wish for you) many awards!

Was this post helpful to you? How do YOU choose which photos to submit? Please post your comments or questions below; I’d love to hear from you!

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