Photographing a birthday party? Our top tips!

Photographing a birthday party can be so much fun! You have the excited birthday kid, the happy guests full of family and friends, the cake, the decor, the presents, and the natural interactions and connections to capture! Sounds fun, right?

But as fun as they are, there can be a few challenges when trying to photograph them. There are often lots of people in one space with elbows and body parts interfering with what you’re trying to capture, kids running in and out of your frame, Uncle Bob with his camera jumping in front of you for the money shot, kids shying away from the camera, crazy colours, bad light and tight space.

Not to fear, as we’ve got you covered with our TOP TIPS to help bring the fun back!

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  • The blowing out of the candles….the big event! Treat this like the first kiss at a wedding, meaning BE READY! Get all set up, take a few shots, make sure your setting are right and steady yourself wherever you are. Then, shoot, shoot and shoot some more! Continuous shooting mode works really well for this, and if there’s any time to take multiple shots in a second, this is it! Also, don’t be afraid to suggest where the birthday kid/cake should be set up. You’re in charge of producing beautiful images, so part of that might involve a gentle suggestion of where to put the high chair or to have the child sit, so that you can get a really great, evenly lit shot.

  • Always make sure to grab a few shots of the decor and the cake - especially if it’s a first birthday. It’s likely that a lot of thought was put into all of the tiny details, so make sure to spend 5 minutes or so grabbing 5-10 shots of the set-up and details.

  • Although the birthday boy/girl and the parents are going to be your main subjects, try and remember that there’s often other action going on that’s worth capturing too. Maybe it’s guests interacting, pets wandering around amongst gifts, big siblings hiding in the corner…..take a few moments to look around and see what you can document that the parents might not have a chance to see. These are the types of images we love to include in a gallery as they are total surprises.

  • Kids parties are usually full of bright colours from balloons, decor, play centre slides and ball pits, to roller skating rink lights and disco balls. Don’t be afraid of the crazy colours and colour casts or be tempted to make all your images black and white. Part of a childhood party is the colours, so be prepared to embrace them!

  • Take photos of people taking photos! As this is a momentous occasion for everyone involved, it’s likely that the parents and maybe even a few guests will have their phones out taking photos. One great way to show the action in a unique way to take a photo of the phone screen while another person captures the action. It’s also a good way to help you decide what’s important in the scene. When does mom pull out her phone? THAT’S the moment you better make sure you have documented.

  • Parties don’t always take place in ideal lighting situations. You’ll often have to work with mixed lighting or a combination of going indoors and out, so WATCH YOUR SETTINGS! Be prepared to work with overhead lights and lamps on, and push your ISO and/or use a flash if necessary.

  • Mix up your shooting perspective and focal lengths. Climb up on a chair and shoot down, lay down on the floor and shoot up, come in tight to capture the details, and stand back in the corner to capture the entire party scene. Shooting from different angles gives variety to your images and will help to tell a better story.

  • If you’re trying to get a shot of all the guests (if they all happen to be in one room), consider getting up high. Shoot from an upper deck if guests are outside or the top of a stairwell if it overlooks a main room in the home.

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  • Don’t put your camera away once the candles are blown out. Even after all of the major action is done, take a few moments to show the aftermath as there’ll be a rich story there without you having to look too hard. Cake mess, wrapping paper, popped balloons, finger prints…all are generally readily available as the party winds down. These types of images make an excellent way to finish off a slideshow if you’re making one.

  • Know the party plan in advance. What time are the guests arriving? What time are the candles being blown out? Entertainment happening? Food being served? Presents opened? Party finishing? Knowing all of this in advance will give you plenty of time to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time with your camera settings adjusted to capture the action.

  • Always think two steps ahead! Try not to be reactive where you run around chasing the action and hope for the best. Instead think ahead so you can capture the natural reactions and interactions as they happen such as the response to a present being opened, the smile and hug shared when a guest arrives, or a reaction to a toast being shared. Anticipate the moment and be set up and ready for it!

  • If you’re asked to combine a family photo session and a birthday party, we recommend doing the family session portion first, before guests arrive. This way you’ll all be able to actually focus on family portraits instead of your clients trying to be present for the photos and trying to make sure their guests are having a good time. You can capture family groupings, the birthday girl/boy getting dressed, fun giggles before the guests arrive and all of the details before the real business starts to happen. If this is the route you go, it’s really helpful to suggest to your clients that they tell all their party guests to arrive on time, so that you can make sure to have everyone in photos before it’s your time to leave (as often you’ll leave as the party is still going on).

  • Usually the best photos from a party are the candid, natural, documentary ones. But oftentimes when people see a camera, they will pose or smile and say “cheese.” Parties are also a time where whole families come together and Aunt Jill will want a family shot (especially when they see a professional photographer walking around!). You should take these photos too! Smiling faces at the camera are part of the whole party story, just make them quick! Let the kids say “cheese,” make your picture, then follow them for the natural shots. Let Aunt Jill gather her family members, tell them to squish in tight with the party as the background, take your picture and move on. Don’t spend a lot of time looking for the perfect backdrop, or posing them, as that’s not what you were hired to do. If they want more than a quick group shot, they can book a family session!

  • Some kids can be quite shy in front of the camera. If you notice they’re hiding from you, put your camera down for a bit. Get down to their level and get involved in the play. Once they warm up to you, try picking up the camera again. If this still doesn’t work, back away and give them space and grab your zoom!

  • Remember that you don’t have to show what you don’t want to shoot. If a past client asks you to cover a party maybe you do it, even though it’s not in your standard wheelhouse. Just because you have the images, doesn’t mean they have to be made public, especially if that’s not the type of business you’re going after.

  • Lastly, if there are a bunch of people at the party you don’t know, don’t forget to introduce yourself! If you’re in business, bring along a stack of business cards as you never know when this one event will lead to more.