A guide to first-rate event photography The event you spent so much time planning went flawlessly: The lighting was perfect, the tables were impeccable, and the food won raves. Aside from your good reputation, what is the most important marketing tool you'll take away from this spectacular event? Your photographs. Read on to learn how you can help ensure that your photos will be picture-perfect - every time.

GET SPECIFIC "Sometimes people have a habit of saying, `You're the photographer. You take the pictures,'" says Tom Gregory, owner of Orlando, Fla.-based Universal Convention Photography. "But the more information a photographer can have about what the client wants, the better the photos are going to come out."

Orange, Conn.-based photographer Gregory Geiger of Gregeiger Co. agrees, adding that event planners should "send the photographer a couple of the lists of the `happenings'" during the event. "Prepare a `must have' shot list and a `would like to have' shot list," Geiger says. Photographers Nadine Froger and Jean-Jacques Pochet of Sherman Oaks, Calif., say that providing these lists ahead of time is helpful so that you don't have to go over them on site at a time when you may be too busy to worry about sharing your thoughts with the photographer.

While preparing your lists, consider how you will use the photos. Are they for your personal scrapbook or your professional portfolio? Will you submit them to magazines for publication? Lisa Hurley, editor of Special Events Magazine, dismisses the notion that all photos are equal.

"People often say, `Oh, my photo should be on the cover of your magazine!' But photos for covers have a different set of rules," she says. "They need dead space above and on the sides of a strong central image so we can make our logo and cover lines prominent. They are also often large-format photos to begin with - rarely 35-millimeter - so that they don't degrade when blown up to cover size."

WHY GO PRO? With the increasing quality of digital photography, it's easier than ever before for an amateur to take great pictures, especially for personal scrapbooks. When photographing your own event, however, it's likely "your mind's eye will edit out some of the details - a pillar in an awkward position, draping that is crooked - that the camera will pick up," Hurley says. "A good photographer will help stage the shot so extraneous details don't detract from the event's design."

A good photographer also will know what questions to ask beforehand. What is the lighting situation? Is the event enclosed? Am I shooting with available light? Do I need to provide lighting? These are just a few of the questions photographer Ron Jaffe of Playa del Rey, Calif., asks his clients before shooting an event.

A professional also might provide guidance as to what background will photograph best. "If you're doing an event on stage, you'll get a better shot with a light-colored background rather than solid-black curtains," Gregory says.

WHEN EVERY MINUTE COUNTS Event photographers often schedule several events in one day, so it's imperative that you set a schedule and do your best to stick to it. If you think an event might last longer or begin earlier than scheduled, let your photographer know ahead of time. Beverly Hills, Calif., wedding photographer Joe Buissink, whose fees are based on seven-hour blocks, says, "Rather than having me work three hours of overtime, if they book me ahead for 10 hours, it might save them as much as $1,000." Likewise, if you believe you'll need the photographer earlier than the estimated start time, say something like, "'Don't schedule anything beforehand in case we need you earlier,'" Jaffe suggests.

Also problematic are vendors who run late, shortening photographer's time. Geiger suggests adding penalty clauses to vendor contracts for causing delays.

GET IT IN WRITING Unless both parties sign a contract, a photographer retains all rights to photos, making it illegal to reproduce them without the photographer's consent. "Being informed on copyrights is essential," Froger says, especially with the widespread use of the Internet as a means of distributing images.

If you expect ownership rights to be a problem, consider negotiating a buyout, transferring all rights to you. Other options are available, such as partial buyouts, so be sure to discuss your concerns with your photographer. Most important, detail your agreement in a written contract.