Tips & Techniques » Have a Blast Taking Party Pictures
A 'party' is defined as a social gathering, typically involving eating, drinking and some form of entertainment. As a verb, 'to party' means enjoying oneself at this event. I’ve come up with some tips on how you can both photograph the gathering and partake in the celebration. You may be a friend of the person for whom the party is being given, or a hired professional.
Here I’ve outlined some pointers describing how to create fantastic, lasting visual memories of celebratory events.
|Capture party-goers when they are relaxed and acting silly.|
Seize those marvelous and momentous expressions
Whether it is the tearful surprise or gasps of joy when opening a present or the intimate looks of love at an anniversary celebration, always be prepared to capture those memorable facial expressions. Your goal is to immortalize these brief, momentous reactions. Be prepared for those critical moments—have your lighting assessed, plan a position allowing good sightlines, determine what ISO you need and use the right lens (likely a wide one).
The type of party dictates your shots
All party photography has the same purpose: to capture a story-telling pictorial of the revelry. But the type of party matters. If it’s a child’s birthday party, it’s extremely important to shoot the party from a child’s point of view. Even if the child has a frightened expression when the candles are lit, take the shot! Of course, most children are elated with the candles glow, so shoot their jubilation. (See later tip on capturing candlelight.) If it’s a celebration of many years of marriage or an engagement party, concentrate on the adoring couple. And make sure the party-goers are included, with candids that reflect their reactions to the celebration.
Speaking of candids
Candid shots feature subjects that are unposed. Actually, the word 'candid' means “free from reservation,” which is precisely your goal when securing this type of shot. Sometimes, at parties, these can be tricky to take, as many folks get stiff when a camera is on the scene. Party attendees may fear that they will be photographed conducting themselves in uncharacteristic or unflattering ways. To get real, honest-to-goodness candid shots, I always feel it’s important to interact with party guests and to become one of them. It makes them more comfortable when they get to know you, and as a result, you become just another guest in their eyes. A sensitive and skillful photographer is usually a people-person, and this becomes apparent when you engage in conversation with guests. They get used to your presence and forget the camera; resulting in a tacit permission for you to snap away.
|Candid images capture true character, and are often a vast improvement over starchy, posed portraits.||Candid photos of children are easy to take, as they don't censor their behavior in front of the camera.|
|Avoid the typical – not everyone has to be looking into the camera during a group shot.|
Get some unique group shots
Add dynamism to your shots by eliminating the standard line-up or dead-center photo composition. If possible, find a location that will add punch and pizazz to your photo, such as a staircase. Or create a crazy shot of the guests all sitting on a table or standing on chairs. If it is an outdoor affair, perhaps there’s a location that will encourage the party-goers to get silly and excited, like a swing set or boat dock. Use your imagination and think out-of-the-box for group shots, and these will translate into memorable pictorials. And, don’t worry if not everyone’s looking directly at the camera. The photos depicting people in the assemblage interacting with each other can add some mirth!
|Candles may not provide enough light to shoot by, so other sources of illuminations may be necessary.|
Get those cake candles aglow
We all know shooting in a low-light setting is challenging, but it can result in dramatic photos of flickering flames on a cake or the warm glow of candles placed festively around a room.
First….TURN OFF YOUR FLASH! If you’re shooting with a DSLR and have several lenses, use the fastest one (lowest aperture possible, like f2.8). You have to permit usage of a larger aperture to allow more light into your camera. An alternative way to compensate for low-light shooting is to amp-up your ISO setting. (ISO is the sensitivity of the image sensor in digital cameras; also known as ASA or light sensitivity in film cameras). However, try to keep your ISO under 800 to quiet the noise (graininess) that results. As is often the case, candles alone don’t give off enough light. But if the aforementioned methods still don’t provide enough light, you could consider adding some extra illumination from other sources, such as a dimmed light in the room or lamplight bounced off the ceiling.
In addition, if you’re working in manual mode and slowing down your shutter speed, which can increase camera-shake, you may want to use a tripod and/or a remote shutter release to eliminate those not-so-good vibrations. If you have access to a Vibration Reducing lens or body, switch it on, which will allow an additional 1-3 stops of low-light exposure.
Now, if you’re using a Point & Shoot (P&S) camera, many models offer shooting modes which aid photographers in taking great images. Most P&S models have settings for bright/dark light, motion, landscapes or portraits, but the more advanced ones have settings for capturing fireworks or candlelight. So, it’s always a good idea to read your manual and practice, practice, practice using different modes prior to a party shoot. Especially when you know a cake shot or candle décor photo will be appreciated.
Don’t forget the decorations
Party planners spend much time decorating, sometimes with unique themes, so don’t leave the décor out. A group of balloons can be a great addition to a party pictorial, and a colorful one at that. Many hostesses take pride in their displays of culinary delights, so don’t forget colorful food shots, including people eating these gastronomic delicacies. You can also take a shot of beautifully wrapped presents in a clever grouping. With all that’s going on, the recipients sometimes overlook this detail.
|A lot of work went into decorating and preparing– so be sure to take photos of the décor.||Focusing on the small details, like these glasses, can make for unusual images.|
|A close-up of a happy birthday girl, her enjoyment is obvious in her expression.|
Take multiple shots at different angles and vantage points
Move yourself and your camera around—don’t be stagnant. Look downward at a child on the floor opening a present and grab a shot as the child looks up at you with delight. Or get down on the same level as the child surrounded by packages, let’s get the paper ripping! It’s always wise to change your position often, and the results can turn out quite dramatic and dynamic.
Rochelle Riservato is a journalist & photographer who has a degree in marketing and advertising from SUNY Farmingdale. For the past three decades she’s worked for many local and national publications. She was recently the recipient of an Outstanding Journalist/Media Presenter Award from the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers (NYSAFLT). Her photography has been showcased at Gallery 128 in Manhattan, The D&H Canal House Museum, and several Kingston, NY galleries. She photographs weddings, actor portraits, events and family portraitures. Her artistry can be seen at www.photosbyrochelle.com and she can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.