Photographing a Birthday Party? Take Away Some of These Tips
Birthday parties are great fun. Whoever attended a serious one? You'll want to capture those memories with your trusty camera and really tell a story about the whole event. Perhaps it's your own family or friends or a gig you landed for a new client.
The story begins with blowing up balloons, chopping fruit, to guests arriving and enjoying the whole party (not to mention the one special person, unless it's twins, then there's two!).
There's always that special moment or two you'll want to get just right, whether that's photographing the cake, unwrapping the presents or guests all sharing special moments!
Having said this, they're not the easiest of events to photograph and here's why. Have you ever noticed that when you've gone to pull your camera out or your smartphone, there's a head in the way. Or, wait a minute, someone just opened the door and the only balloon near you just floated in front of the lens.
Whatever the challenge, you've got to be ready, prepared and quick on your feet – sometimes even a zoom lens won't save you when the moment is over in under a second!
1. Shoot Lots of Photos
Did I spell out the obvious? This really is a tip, yes. People move a lot and by people moving, dynamics of the whole party can change – different groups of people mix and talk amongst themselves.
Not only this, people walk outside AND come back in (so sometimes, stand near windows – great for natural light and reflections). By shooting lots, you'll simply have a greater opportunity of capturing the groups, interactions and fun you had envisaged right at the start of the party.
2. Shoot Higher Up
How high? Get on a chair high? Whatever it takes, that's your best bet.
Try this for some different angles and a view that you perhaps wouldn't normally expect to see – that's the key here, making your shots stand out and allowing people to see the celebration from a different perspective!
3. Blowing the Candles – Don't Miss it
Often people dim the lights for some effect and because it illuminates the candles more as well as the birthday boy or girl's face. For a great angle, aim for taking a photo of the top of cake and face, keeping the eyes in crisp focus of course. You might have to exert a little authority as “photographer” here, for a prime spot!
A slower shutter speed here to gather that ambient light but fast enough not to lose focus from hand holding – fo course, you could always use a diffused flash and a sync speed according to how much background light you want in the image (check your ISO (min 400-640 here).
Check out this article HERE for photographing fire.
Most important is to capture the excitement and anticipation on the person's face.
Another tip – try to get others in too – especially if it's light in the room, i.e. during the middle of the day or late morning. Have them gathered around the cake waiting in suspense for the candles to be blown out!
4. Don't Forget the Guests
Remember, it's not all about the birthday boy or girl. Get lots of images of people who showed up and enjoying themselves. What's a party with no guests?
Here, try and get the birthday subject interacting with their guests and show a little what I like to call “backstage” shots – these are often candid but show moments when guests are helping out decorate the final touches, sharing a joke or being given a welcome hug by the birthday boy or girl.
5. Get in Close
This is arguably the most important point (assuming you've got your gear all set up and ready to fire). Without photographing people's expressions and emotions, it's going to look like you're at “another” party and not your “guest's” party.
People are often happy and smiley but grab those other moments too: nerves & shyness, huge great laughter moments, people's faces when they're all toasting drinks in sync, or the adults clinking wine glasses and beer bottles!
Sometimes, not all parties go to plan. Without intruding, try and capture a “panicked” expression: Where are the candles? The best friend's not showing up! The cake got a little squashed! Just some typical scenarios of real parties to try and prepare for too (remember I mentioned telling a story). Here you'll be using some of your portrait skills.
6. Consider Your ISO & Shutter Speed
We briefly mentioned this for the low light “candle-blowing-out” moment; we're looking at often having at least 400-800 ISO throughout the party if indoors. This isn't set in stone because it could be a brightly lit home or even outdoors. Adjust your ISO manually and to whatever the specific situations come up.
Shutter speed – again this varies, but for low-light, you'll be looking for around 1/125th of a second or a little slower if you can get away with it (depends on your lens focal length).
7. Candid Shots Are Real
One of my personal favorites about birthday parties. This gets me excited, capturing emotions, moments otherwise lost and those expressions the family will want to cherish for years to come!
Sometimes you just gotta be sneaky. Get into awkward spaces, use reflections (mirrors or windows) for intimate or otherwise “private” chats, use shapes to frame your subjects – door/window frames, shoot in between people, get low for a quick moment before people notice. Best of all, with candid photography at parties, aim for the element of surprise!
Shoot from outdoors looking in or the other way around. Yes, always get the great smiles, the excitement of people's cheesy grins, the front-on group shots, but don't forget you want a broad range of images and memories too.
8. Flash Can be Good but Don't Overuse it
Sometimes, it's called for – available light is too low, even with the lights on. A flash can really save you and ensure you get the shots you want – not only this is great for taking outdoors if it's a daytime summer party for filling some face shadows.
Sometimes a little diffused or bounced flash is all that's required to put the icing on the cake.
Image by Mircea Ploscar
9. Don't Forget the Fine Details
This just tops off the whole story nicely – these are details like decorations, food, prep, presents, the table – just extras to really bring the whole set together. Even pets can add a great extra dimension to your photos!
10. Put the Camera Down
The last tip for today is to spend some time without your eye glued to following your viewfinder. Observe what's going on and speak with people, socialize and mingle. This will ensure you're enjoying the party too and making yourself and others more relaxed.
- How Being A “Ghost” When Photographing Events Will Give You Better Images by Dzvonko Petrovski
- How to Photograph Parties by Courtney Slazinik
- Getting Great Portraiture and People Shots by Lightstalking
If you’re considering moving into Event Photography,
head on over to check out this Professional Guide: Steele Training Event Photography