Six tips for party pictures
By John O’Connell
Formal occasions like weddings, corporate galas and special family events are best assigned to professional photographers. They have the skills, experience, training, cameras, lenses and lighting equipment — and assistants — to reliably produce high quality images you’ll love for a lifetime.
But let’s say you’ve been asked to take pictures at your non-profit organization’s awards-night dinner or you plan to be the parent-photographer at your child’s birthday or graduation party. The stress may start weeks before. “What if I don’t do a good job?” you fret. “What if my camera stops working?” you worry.
Here are six tips to help you not only survive the responsibility of the party shoot, but produce an album you can be proud to share.
1. Make a list of the pictures you MUST get. Know who the organizers of the event are. You have to have pictures of them. Who are the honorees, the special guests, the visiting officials? All these people should be on your list of must-get shots. At the kids’ party, your son or daughter will want pictures of all their friends.
2. Look for the happy shots. Award presentations, blowing out the candles, the toast, people having a good time are all appropriate.
These pictures will be widely shared and long preserved, on social media and in keepsake albums, online and in book form. So you want to take flattering pictures. Don’t take pictures of people in embarrassing poses or doing things that they wouldn’t want memorialized.
3. If you want people to look friendly and glad to be at the event, look that way yourself. Ask nicely when you take “table shots,” be approachable when a VIP asks you to take a particular picture, show couples the image you just took of them to get their approval; take it again if they ask.
4. Try to be unobtrusive at children’s parties if you want to get candid pictures of kids having fun. Use a long focal-length lens (100, 200, more) so that you are not interfering with their excitement. Anticipate the moments you’ll want to preserve in your album and be ready, with focus, exposure and angle all set.
5. Prepare your equipment. Have extra batteries for your camera and flash. Take some test shots when you get in the room where the party is being held. While a professional most often shoots on manual exposure, don’t feel compelled to do that if you’re not ready. Don’t be ashamed to turn the exposure dial to P or even the green full-auto. But after you take all the MUST shots, why not experiment with some shutter priority, aperture priority or scene pre-sets. Just keep checking the back of the camera to see how they came out.
Is the white balance right? Most of us leave the white balance on Auto, but see what lights are in the room and consider adjusting your white balance setting to match the kind of lights used, e.g., fluorescent, spotlights. If you’re in doubt, leave on Auto and adjust in photo editing software (Lightroom, Photoshop or other) after the party.
A strobe or on-camera flash attachment provides better lighting than a pop-up flash. A flash that slides into the hotshoe of your DSLR has a longer and wider reach, i.e., your subjects can be further away from you and you can have bigger groups of people (think table shots) and your flash can still light them sufficiently. But read your flash’s manual so you know how to get the most and best light out of the device. One trick I’ve used is to get softer light on a small group or individual is to point the flash-head up at a 45- to 80-degree angle and stick a white card (like a business card) above the flash lens so that the light bounces off the card and shoots a softer illumination onto the subjects.
I’ve had a camera stop working at an important event. I was glad I had my trusty compact camera with me. It’s more than appoint-and-shoot with a fine sensor so the pictures came out fine. So it’s good to have a back up camera when you are responsible for taking the pictures.
6. After the shoot, be ruthless when you edit the pictures and make decisions on which images to include in the album. Crop away needless parts of the image, sharpen where necessary, brighten shadows and darken hot spots. If you take 200 pictures, use only the best for the album. People will love looking at 30 excellent, happy images; no one wants to look at an additional 150 so-so shots just because you took them.
And try to have fun at the party. You’re most likely a guest, too, so mingle and enjoy yourself!