All due respect to Johnny Cash, Chris Savas is the man in black. Savas is a towering figure at events—his 6-ft.-1-inch frame is a huge advantage getting cameras over obscuring heads. But more than that, Savas, owner of the Marietta, Georgia-based Chris Savas Photography, stands tall through his work. He’s photographed presidents, rock stars and actors, but his shots of everyday attendees are often just as captivating. (Full disclosure: Savas is the principal photographer at Connect events). Here, Savas discusses his more than 30 years in the industry and shines a spotlight on some best practices planners should keep in mind.
When and why did you start photographing events?
Over 25 years ago, when I was a public relations and advertising photographer, I noticed that those industries were changing. I recognized that corporate events needed professional quality photography, so I shifted gears and I began working with large corporate events. I enjoyed working with event planners— they knew they could rely on me to deliver the kinds of quality images that they needed—and I still do. Lately the biggest change has been their social media needs. I now make sure my clients get images throughout their events that they can post on their social media channels, as my images are much more impactful and useful than those taken on a cell phone.
What are the most important factors event planners should keep in mind when hiring a photographer?
I hate to say it, but you get what you pay for. When you source your photographer on the web and look for the cheapest price, you are not going to get the kinds of images that a professional event photographer will deliver. Keep in mind that wedding photographers are not event photographers! I hear about it all the time from clients that call me to shoot their event because the previous person did not deliver the money shots, let alone know what they were doing. Events are the most complicated and technical assignment a photographer can have because we are running and gunning in different lighting situations, tight schedules and turn-a-round times while working with the event team and keeping the attendees happy. Only a professional can function in this very demanding occupation.
How do you work with event planners to meet their budgetary needs?
This is the $1 million question, or because of budget cuts, the half-a-million-dollar question. Everyone in the event world is doing the best they can with less. What I do is work with the event planner to give them what they need at a fair price that works for everyone. This is a dance we all have to do now. I hope I don’t have to hear or read another story about achieving event ROI, which often neglects to mention that ROI has to work for BOTH sides of all events. Events can’t cut so far back on the food and entertainment and deliver dull educational sessions and still expect attendees to keep coming back year after year.
What are some of the newest technologies that planners should be aware of and consider asking their photographer to implement?
My wife says I’m a techno-masochist because I’m always the first to try out the newest photography technology. I was there three years ago when drones first hit the market. I was there to record in 360-degree stills and video for social media. I created special rigs to mount GoPro cameras on lighting grids to get interesting angles for the big money shots. And my best service that everyone loves is delivering celebrity photo opps to attendees via an iPad delivery service, of which I was also an early adopter. This is a win-win for everyone because the celeb doesn’t have to be subjected to cell phone photos, the attendees get a high-quality photo delivered immediately to their phone that they can instantly share on social media, and most of all, the event planner doesn’t have to find a way to get attendees their photos after the event through a download gallery. I’ve done it all and the iPad system is the best.
What are some of the biggest photography trends you’re seeing at events?
Social media rules. I still need to shoot for marketing purposes but the appetite of all the social mediums is something the photographer has to be able to deliver now. There are many ways to do it and it depends on what and how much social media content is needed during the event. If it’s a one-off shot for Twitter here and there, I can do it on the fly, but if the planner needs all the photos to be available, I have to have a dedicated person doing the post production throughout the show.
What are your favorite aspects of shooting events?
First of all, you’d better like people. Being a people person is what drives me. I like to connect with the attendees to put them at ease and I enjoy taking images of people having fun. In my years of shooting all kinds of events all over the world, I have met interesting people and been behind the scenes of places the average person doesn’t typically have access to. I know when I’m out there working I’m representing my client, so I always make sure I do so with professionalism and dignity.
Chris Savas, owner of Chris Savas Photography, is a veteran photographer whose career has spanned over 30 years. For over a decade, Chris worked as a photojournalist and in the advertising world before dedicating his career to shooting conferences and events. Besides his reputation as a well-respected event photographer in the U.S. and abroad, Chris is also known for photographing celebrity talent, from well-known political figures to film, sports and music icons. To learn more about Chris, visit chrissavas.com. You can also reach Chris at 404-386-1033 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.