The Basics of party photography

I had such a great weekend after being asked to step in as photographer for a friend of a friend, who had been let down by a professional on the eve of her 21st birthday party! My friend was aware I have been looking for photography gigs to build up my portfolio and kindly put my name forward and I jumped at the offer. I have never been recommended by anyone before, so this was a special moment. Not only was I honoured, but I was excited to finally get a chance to try out my new equipment.

I have recently upgraded my kit from the cannon EOS 400d to the EOS R6 and this kind of event was a perfect way to test it out. I have been very fond of the 4000d and have been reluctant to upgrade, I have always found it so beautifully simple to use with familiar settings that I could navigate through simply. But like with all technology, it was becoming tired and I needed a new challenge. I had not had much practice with it, and I was nervous that I could pull it off without looking like a complete amateur, but I did not let that stop me from trying.

In this article I have included some of my favorite images of the night and  the type of photographs you should also include when photographing an event like this along with some tips I have picked up my journey so far.

So, here is how it went…

I have photographed a few parties in the past, so I just worked with the experience I had from these and on the day, I packed up my new canon R6 complete with the 50 mm lens dressed smartly to ensure I looked professional and arrived early as I suggested to capture those “pre party” images that play a special part in the make-up of the memory book I would give them at the end.

I had been told the evening was in celebration of the birthday girl turning 21 but I had no idea how extravagant it was going to be.  The theme was casino and there was black-tie dress code for all guests. Situated in the grounds of her parents stunning home fitted with an outside bar, undercover dance floor, gambling tables and even a cheese and wine room with fur blankets and heated benches; it was spectacular and I didn’t know where to start snapping first. Victoria, the birthday girl, and her boyfriend Lewis where there to greet me and I was able to capture some lovely candid images of the final preparations. 

The Pre-Party

The “pre party” photos are a super important part of the agenda. With so much time and effort being put into an occasion such as this, it is a real shame not to take some appreciation photos of all the challenging work that was put in to make this party amazing! By arriving early to a party, you can capture some special images of the decorations, flower arrangements, food spreads and the cake before the guests take full advantage of what is on offer.

It is also nice to incorporate some getting ready images for the guests of honour as the excitement builds and the plan comes together. These moments and memories are just as important to remember. It also provides the perfect opportunity to get some nice shots of the main character of the event. The celebration after all is all about her and just like the photography rule of “following the light” in this instance follow the birthday girl!

The birthday girl

It’s her birthday and she should be in every picture! Almost.

Seriously, just like a bride at her wedding the birthday girl should be your main focus, her dancing her laughing her looking absolutely stunning in her dress, these are all images you want to get in the plenty. She going to spend hours going through your photos choosing the right one as a profile photo on her socials, so give her plenty of choice. Include flattering lighting and angles and ask her what kind of images she wants for the posed ones.

Party time

After the guests all started to arrive and the prosecco was flowing it was fun to watch everyone get into the spirt of the night. Getting to watch old friends reunited together after 2 years of lockdown and postponed reunions made this night feel extra special.

The happiness was contagious and there was a lot of love, which made for some lovely images and keep sakes. With everyone having fun on the casino tables I took a step to the side lines and floated around taking photos of the activity around me, this is a clever way to incorporate the guests have real fun! If you can give yourself some height this will give the group more depth and a wider focus area can be obtained.

One thing I have noticed whilst photographing events like this is that it really helps to match the energy. It goes without saying that it would be highly inappropriate and unprofessional to join in with the drinking, but I have learnt over time that if you introduce yourself to the guests early on and blend in with the crowd then the photos will look less staged and awkward, and the guests will be more inclined to let you take their photo all whilst feeling more comfortable.

The Group Photo

With that being said, the group photo is one of the most important images you can capture, and in this instance, I wanted the love and happiness to shine through. I will often wait till the middle of the evening where everyone has exchanged pleasantries and the shyness has subsided and if there is a dance floor, then this is the perfect place to capture the best kind of group image. You will sometimes find the dancefloor-type of lighting creates a great atmosphere for that shot.

With everyone on the same level, I asked everyone to group together keeping the birthday girl as the focus. You need to choose your moment wisely for this image, if you take it too soon it can look staged and ridged and if you leave it to late in the night the guests can appear disheveled and not comply with having a photograph taken as well. We have all been there, we know what it’s like. I find shooting auto for these images especially when the lighting is kind is the way to go. You can capture those still shots quick and easily before the group rearrange themselves for the 20th time.

The cake

There was a break in the dancing when it was time to present the cake, and for me the opportunity to capture the famous “reaction” style photo. Victoria had not seen the cake and it was a total surprise, so it was lovely to be able to capture this moment. I had asked Victoria’s mum to let me know about 5 minutes before the grand cake revel, this allowed the group to arrange themselves into position and I was able to work out the best place to capture the entire process without blocking the view of the guests and get a good stance in order to capture it all.

For these images I opted for an aperture setting of 1/80 at f/10 to keep the cake in focus with a slight, flattering blur of Victoria’s reaction. I am really pleased with how these images turned out and so was the birthday girl.

The lovers

We all know the first photo a girl is going to look for is the one of her and her dearly beloved so be sure to take some romantic images. Luckily for me the was a lot of chemistry between these too, so capturing candid moments of pure love was not so hard at all; however, take care when taking a posed shoot of a couple and make sure you spend a few extra moments to ensure the moment is really picture perfect.

Let a girl know if her strap has slipped on her dress or if a bow tie or collar isn’t fixed right. Your client will really thank you for this. The smallest outfit or make up malfunction can make or break an image. And we want these one to end up in a frame.

So, there we have it.

As I said before there comes a point in an evening such of this where inhibitions start to slip, and the last thing people want is a camera in their faces documenting their every move. Once I felt I had captured the important images I confirmed this with the party and said my goodbyes. It is always important to ask your client if there are any images that would like you to capture, usually there are some images with different family members friends that are requested but I had managed to get these at the beginning of the night and I thanked the hosts I made my way out the door.

I really hope this little recount has helped anyone starting out on their photography journey, with events like this is really a case of fake it until you make it, and we all have to start somewhere, right? Just by know what type of images you should be taking is a good place to start and practice makes perfect so don’t be afraid to play around with your camera settings!

Thank you for taking the time to read.

Happy ClickASnapping!

Sarah Flutter

Amateur Photographer

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Laura Captain
    April 27, 2022 at 4:00 pm

    Congrats on the gig Sarah, this article and the photos are awesome. I especially love the cake reveal photo with the birthday girl. A very nice, enjoyable read and it makes me want to start photographing local events as well.

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