Jeff Cable is a master of event photography whether he’s shooting a Bar Mitzvah or the Olympic games. A photographer for Team USA, he’s captured the last six Olympics in Beijing, Vancouver, London, Sochi, Rio de Janeiro, and PyeongChang.
Cable also covers events, including weddings, closer to home in the Saratoga, California-region where he’s based. From photographing a young man being hoisted on a chair during a Bar Mitzvah party to elite swimmers torpedoing through the water, each assignment requires a slightly different set of photo gear. But there are some pieces of equipment he turns to again and again.
Cable recently gave Digital Photo Pro a peek into his camera bag to reveal what he feels is the best gear for event photography. While every photographers’ needs will obviously be different, he says he never leaves home without the following ten must-have photo tools for events.
1. Canon EOS R6
What appeals most to Cable about the 20-megapixel, full-frame Canon EOS R6, is that it’s “immensely customizable,” allowing him to set up the camera exactly the way he wants it for a particular event. His favorite feature though is Canon’s face/eye detection in the R6, which he says is “so good, it’s ridiculous.”
“The key to shooting an event is to get everything as sharp as I can and, most importantly, the eyes,” Cable explains. “I feel that 30-40 percent of my thought process in the past was about getting it tack sharp on the eyes, via focus and recompose or whatever. With the R6, it just locks in. My hit rate used to be 75%, now it’s about 95%. It’s game changer.”
2. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens
Cable owns the EF mount version of Canon’s 70-200mm f/2.8L lens rather than the RF version so he can use it on his DSLRs and, via the Mount Adapter EF-EOS R, on his Canon EOS R6 mirrorless camera.
“It’s such a sharp lens that it’s hard to improve on it,” Cable says. “Clarity-wise it’s unbelievable. The adapter is only 100 bucks, and it lets me use the same lens on my R6, Canon 5D Mark IV or 1D X Mark III.”
He prefers zooms to prime lenses for event photography simply because they’re more versatile.
“I love zooms and that lens has been my money maker,” he notes. “Almost every portrait I shoot is with it. With that lens, if I’m shooting a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah, I don’t have to be in their faces and can stand in the back and get what I want. I find the focal length of 70-200 is almost everything you need. I know a lot of photographers have multiple cameras on their side with different lenses but that’s not me. I only like to have one camera and one lens on me at a time.”
3. Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT Flashes
When Canon released the original Speedlite 600EX-RT flash nearly a decade ago, it was a revelation to event photographers. With a built-in radio transmitter, the 600EX-RT allowed you to wirelessly trigger over a dozen Speedlite flashes in a nearly hundred-foot range. And unlike the infrared tech in older models, you didn’t need to be in direct line of sight to remotely fire the flashes.
Nowadays, Cable says he brings six of the current version flashes – called the Canon 600EX II-RT – to events such as Bar Mitzvahs or weddings and sets them up on light stands discretely around the reception area or dance floor. Despite the frenzy of activity during these events, his images now come out consistently well lit.
“Reliability is the number one thing I like about them, he said. “And the second thing is the way they speak to each other through the radio. Once I switched to these and learned how to use group mode, I look at my images now and the difference from before is like night and day. This is the way they’re supposed to look.”
4. Powerex Pro Rechargeable Batteries
To power all those remote flashes, Cable uses Powerex Pro high-capacity rechargeable batteries
“They hold 2700 milliamps, and I can shoot a four-hour party and I literally won’t have to change the batteries,” he says. “They’re incredibly reliable. People will spend $500 on a flash and then get crummy batteries. Little things do matter.”
5. Manfrotto Alu Master Air Cushioned Light Stands
Another lighting staple, these Manfrotto aluminum light stands come in packs of three that snap together for easy transport. As mentioned previously, Cable places the stands around the room and puts a bare flash on each of them during a party so he can wirelessly light up the entire scene.
“I have no assistant; they are my assistant,” he says. “Sometimes, when I work with a second shooter, we’ll put two flashes on them, with one on my radio frequency and one on theirs for double the coverage.”