Taking photos at a birthday party is one of the occasions where even someone who usually does not take photographs might be called on to be the memory-catcher of the event. A birthday party is a once in a lifetime event, so you must make sure that the photos capture those special memories.
So, how do you take photos at a birthday party? Getting good photos at a birthday party involves:
- Being prepared with the proper gear
- Balancing candid photos versus classic birthday portraiture
- Choosing strong compositions
- Focusing in on capturing emotions
Many minor issues with party photographs can be edited in post-production, but if you are still stressing out, this article gives 21 more tips for taking the best pictures you can! Capturing photos that will be cherished for a lifetime may take a bit of practice and foresight, but it can be managed if you know what to look for before the party starts. Read on for 25 excellent tips for taking photos at birthday parties.
Table of Contents
- Tip #1 Focus on Interactions
- Tip #2 Consider Moments of Standard Portraiture
- Tip #3 Get Down to Their Level
- Tip #4 Shoot Lots of Bursts
- Tip #5 Don’t Forget Head and Shoulder Photos
- Tip #6 Point Flash at the Ceiling
- Tip #7 Indoor Lighting is Better
- Tip #8 Bring Extra Batteries for the Flash and an Extra Memory Card Just in Case
- Tip #9 Better to Underexpose Than Overexpose
- Tip #10 Don’t Fuss with Settings During the Event
- Tip #11 Favor Expressions Over Compositions
- Tip #12 Tell a Story
- Tip #13 Don’t Forget Action Shots
- Tip #14 Go Wide for Dancing
- Tip #15 Direct Flash is Okay for Dancing Shots
- Tip #16 Zoom in from Afar
- Tip #17 Close in for Candle Shots
- Tip #18 Remember to Record Party Elements
- Tip #19 Don’t Forget the Other Guests
- Tip #20 Shoot a Ton of Photographs
- Tip #21 Be Prepared for Unpredictable Movement
- Tip #22 Consider Your Angles
- Tip #23 Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up
- Tip #24 Try Backdrop Photos
- Tip #25 Have Fun
- Taking Photos at a Birthday Party Does Not Have to Be Hard
Tip #1 Focus on Interactions
With other events, you might end up spending a lot of time setting up traditional portraits, the majority of the photos taken for a birthday party should focus on the interactions between guests, especially interactions between guests and the person of honor. When you’re shooting a birthday party, it’s just as important to focus on the “moments between moments” as it is to focus on the major highlights.
A great way to get genuine interaction shots between guests at a birthday party without making people self-conscious of the camera is to invest in a telephoto lens that allows you to remain well away from the guests while still coming in close for the interaction shot. (Source: Adorama)
Tip #2 Consider Moments of Standard Portraiture
The bulk of the photographs taken at a birthday party are likely to be candid and action shots, but there are still several moments during a birthday party that call for standard portraiture. For example, several photos should be taken of the guest of honor with their relatives and different groupings of relatives together (parents with children, grandparents with children, etc.).
Portraiture during a party can be a bit more complicated than candid shots since it requires an on-the-fly assessment of framing, angles, props, height, color, lighting, and other compositional elements. (Source: Pixpa) You’ll often only get a few precious shots at arranged portraits during a party, especially one with young children, so choose your shots carefully and be careful not to overexpose.
Since portraiture forces you to draw the attention of the subjects, be sure to be assertive in arranging the portrait if you must and try to keep emotions light so that this is reflected in facial expressions. If you remain relaxed, it is easier to get your subjects to remain relaxed.
Here are some of the portraits you might consider taking at a birthday party:
- Guest of honor in front of the cake about to blow out the candles
- Guest of honor blowing out the candles
- Group portraits of friends or family members
- Portrait of the party organizer with their décor
- Guests being greeted
Each birthday party will be slightly different, so it’s a good idea to have an idea of the itinerary ahead of time so you know what some good portrait points for the event might be.
Tip #3 Get Down to Their Level
It’s crucial if you’re shooting a children’s birthday party that you get down to their level. It’s easy to tell if an amateur is shooting children because the photos will be shot from an adult height, causing all of the children captured in the shots to throw off the compositional balance of the photos.
Instead, get down on one knee (grab some sports knee pads if necessary) or crouch to get down to a child’s eye level for much better expressions and more flattering angles.
It’s also easier to make eye contact or get the attention of a child when you get down on their level, which makes it much easier to capture expressions that are aimed directly at the camera.
Tip #4 Shoot Lots of Bursts
Burst photography is a great way to get plenty of shots to choose from if a party is especially hectic, and you find it increasingly difficult to arrange still shots as a result. Burst mode (also known as continuous shooting mode) allows you to catch an array of expressions, choosing from the best photos for your final shots in post-production.
Burst photography is especially useful for catching any action shots at the party. Even though burst photos are an excellent way to catch the more unpredictable moments at a birthday party, it’s a good idea to think ahead on what you want your photo to capture to get the best range of shots. (Source: HowtoGeek)
Tip #5 Don’t Forget Head and Shoulder Photos
It’s good to get plenty of group photos and solo shots of the guest of honor at a birthday party, but don’t forget to take plenty of shots with a focal length to emphasize the head and shoulders, as this is a flattering focal length for all types of people and can allow you to shoot some good portraiture even without posing the subject.
A few ways to get flattering head and shoulder shots at a birthday party are:
- Soften the flash that you use (bounced flash is best)
- Be aware of ambient lighting
- Find neutral-colored backgrounds so that the focal emphasis remains on the person in the shot
(Source: Digital Camera World)
Tip #6 Point Flash at the Ceiling
One of the biggest mistakes amateur photographers make is using direct flash in inappropriate settings (such as most settings outside of a nightclub). Direct flash creates stark, unflattering shadows and can increase the chance of red-eye and other problems with the photograph’s lighting.
By contrast, a flash that is bounced at the ceiling or a wall rather than aimed directly at the subject has the effect of improving the ambient lighting of the room but keeping both shadows and lighting soft. Some cameras allow you to aim the flash in any direction, while others only have a tilt mechanism to ensure that the flash isn’t straight-on. (Source: Digital Photography School)
Tip #7 Indoor Lighting is Better
In many birthday events, the lighting is likely to be indoor anyway, but at outdoor events, ambient lighting can make setting up photos a little more complicated—either the event is in the evening and dimly light, or the event is in broad daylight, and the entire group is squinting. Try to arrange more important photos at the party indoors, where the lighting is more consistent.
Tip #8 Bring Extra Batteries for the Flash and an Extra Memory Card Just in Case
While you might not end up needing either your extra batteries or a backup memory card during the party, being stuck without either of these things in an emergency can be panic-inducing. When doing event photography, work under the assumption that if something can go wrong, it will eventually go wrong. The best plan of action to avoid getting blindsided is to be prepared for the worst.
Chances are you’ll have plenty of battery without having to swap mid-event, and your memory card can hold several events’ worth of shots at a time. Still, it’s much better to have the backup equipment and know you can take as many shots as you want than to be forced to pick and choose because you don’t have enough space or flash.
Tip #9 Better to Underexpose Than Overexpose
If forced to choose between the two, always remember that it’s much better to underexpose your photos at the moment than overexpose them. The reason for this is that it’s much easier to adjust the lighting in an underexposed photograph that is too dark than it is to adjust the lighting in an overexposed photograph. (Source: Photography Life)
Sometimes it can be hard to get perfect lighting during an action or candid shot, so don’t be afraid to take the photo dark and fix it up in post-editing software later. If you spend too much time trying to adjust the lighting on the photo between shots, you’re likely to miss the crucial moment for the photo anyway.
Tip #10 Don’t Fuss with Settings During the Event
During the party, you’ll want to focus all your attention on actually getting the best shots that you can since you won’t have a chance to repeat many of them. The best way to avoid fiddling with your camera throughout the party and missing important moments is to make sure you have all the settings on your camera worked out well ahead of time.
Tip #11 Favor Expressions Over Compositions
There are certain moments in a birthday party where you’ll want to take a composed group shot or portrait, but many of the interactions in a birthday party are the moment-to-moment interactions that are better captured with candid shots that focus in on the expressions of the subjects. A birthday party is an emotional event, and those emotions will charge the best photographs that come of it.
It’s important to not focus on “happy moments” because the mood of the photos will come across as rather flat (if jovial). Instead, try to capture a more subtle range of emotions expressed during a party—dismay over a detail gone wrong, a conspiratorial conversation or inside joke, an expression of shyness from the wallflower in the room. These are the details that people would otherwise miss themselves.
Tip #12 Tell a Story
Remember that, as you shoot a birthday party, you are telling a narrative and that your photos and their compositions should reflect that narrative. Taking candid photos is great, but you don’t want your final roll of photos to be dozens of snapshots without any thought put into them. You’ll get much more profound photographs if you think about what moments may occur during the party and put yourself in the position to experience them. (Source: Sessions College)
In many birthday parties, there are a series of narrative beats that are expected to occur—a toast may be given, the cake will be cut, gifts will be opened, embraces will be exchanged. There may be games or other special events. These are all emotional beats in the timeline of the party that need to be captured in photographs to tell the story of the event.
Tip #13 Don’t Forget Action Shots
While they can be somewhat more challenging to capture successfully than some other types of photographs, action shots can deliver some of the intense kinetic energy in your roll of photographs from an event.
There are several moments during a birthday party that can make for great action shots, such as:
- Blowing out the candles
- Raising a toast
- Hitting a pinata
- Embraces or kisses
- Play fighting or horseplay
If you find it difficult to keep up with the hectic pace of the party, burst shot or continuous shooting mode can help you capture a wide array of action shots that you can pare down later during editing.
Tip #14 Go Wide for Dancing
For dancing or any other kinetic activity at a birthday party, a wide-angled shot captures full bodies better and allows for easier framing of the composition. Backing off the dance floor allows you to capture a larger group of dancers, giving the photograph scope. Use fast shutter speed to capture motion effectively and be aware of strobes or colored lighting. (Source: Contrastly)
Because a dancing shot is an action shot, be sure to take tons of photographs from this angle—you’ll want to have plenty to choose from later since you’ll be shooting multiple subjects at once. While you might like the element of one subject in a photo, there may be another element in the photo from another subject that throws off the composition and can’t be edited out.
Tip #15 Direct Flash is Okay for Dancing Shots
While direct flash is too stark and unflattering for most shots, it can be useful in club or dancing situations because many dancing venues have high ceilings that make bounced flash difficult to pull off. A few ways to give dance photographs a sense of motion is to swing or rotate the camera around while shooting to create streaking background lights. (Souce: Fstoppers)
Tip #16 Zoom in from Afar
One way to capture great candid photographs without disrupting a birthday party is to get a powerful zoom on your camera and take your candid photos from the periphery of the party. In many cases, being a “ghost” photographer and taking photographs as discreetly as possible without drawing the attention of the party guest can help set up some of the best spur-of-the-moment photo compositions you’re likely to find during a party.
Zooming in is also an excellent way to get photographs of more reluctant subjects, such as the shy guests at the party. Since these guests may have more difficulty summoning genuine facial expressions if they’re uncomfortable with the camera, photographing these subjects from the fringe can be a great way to capture them without disrupting their fun.
Tip #17 Close in for Candle Shots
Don’t be afraid to assert yourself as the photographer for critical moments such as blowing out the birthday candles, since the lights are dimmed in this situation, and you need to have the best positioning available to capture the moment well. The combination of dimmed ambient lighting plus flickering candlelight on the subject’s face can make this a problematic photo to catch. (Source: Digital Photo Secrets)
Another good idea for candle shots is to have a high aperture, so you’re sure to catch small salient details like the drifts of smoke coming up from the blown-out candles or trim details on the cake itself. There are few moments in a birthday party event where the photographer has the authority to pose and make arrangements during the candle ceremony, so take advantage of it for a good shot.
Tip #18 Remember to Record Party Elements
You must take some photographs of the setting and the decorations as well as the guests at a birthday party, especially since the party organizers put so much effort into making the party look awesome.
Here are some of the elements of the party that should be recorded in photos:
- Buffet tables
- Wall hangings and other decorations
It’s also a good idea to get some general photographs of the party venue if possible. Often people like to refer others to venues that they enjoyed throwing parties at, and detailed photographs can help explain precisely what made a party venue so special.
Tip #19 Don’t Forget the Other Guests
Of course, it’s essential to have a ton of photographs of the guest of honor at a birthday party, but remember that other guests at the party will be expecting to see photographs of themselves as well as the guest of honor. Besides that, the guest of honor will get tired of you continually hounding their steps if you focus all your attention on them.
Birthday parties are a great time for capturing:
- Intergenerational family portraits
- Portraits of friend groups together
- Candid photos of relatives and friends interacting
If you’re at a kid’s party, be sure to put your focus on photographing the children. However, it’s still a good idea to get a few portraits of parents and children together or a few candid photos of the adults conversing just to get a more well-rounded sense of the event.
Tip #20 Shoot a Ton of Photographs
If you end up as the primary photographer at a birthday party, be prepared to shoot hundreds of photographs throughout the event. The more pictures you take, the more photos you have to choose from during editing, and the better chance you have of capturing a special candid moment. (Source: Expert Photography)
Be sure always to be moving through the party cruising for new angles and shots—the dynamics of the party will change over time as the event proceeds, and groups of people will move around. Keep a rough idea of what parts of the group have been photographed and who you haven’t taken any shots of, and seek them out—if you accidentally leave out someone, someone is bound to point it out.
Tip #21 Be Prepared for Unpredictable Movement
Parties are a lot of fun, and kid’s parties are especially boisterous, but that means trying to catch action shots as people run around from one end of the venue to the other. If you’re photographing
an adult birthday party, alcoholic beverages can result in a variety of movement from dance-offs to
Pratfalls.Be sure to keep a close eye on where the most action is at so you can snap an action photo at the perfect time if the opportunity comes up.
Tip #22 Consider Your Angles
Many photographs of people are more flattering if they are taken slightly at an angle versus being taken straight on, and angles are also a way to interject creativity into your shots. If you have access to balcony areas or other high spots, an aerial shot is a great way to get a wide shot of the entire party at once. Likewise, overhead angles are an excellent choice for photographing table displays and other birthday party décor. (Source: Digital Photography School)
When photographing children at a birthday party, steer away from using a high angle in every photograph—instead, try some photographs of the kids at a worm’s eye view or face to face. You’ll end up with much more expressive and captivating birthday portraits this way.
Tip #23 Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up
While ghosting around at a party as the photographer is a fantastic way to get candid photographs, you can’t be afraid to assert yourself and pose people or order them around to get the composition you want. While some party guests might be reluctant to queue up for photos, a few moments of inconvenience is worth getting the perfect setup.
It’s also vital that, if you’re taking photos professionally for a birthday party, you communicate with your client to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
To put you in a better position to decide which photographs and moments have to be captured, you need to know ahead of time (and sometimes during the moment):
- Who distinguished guests are
- What kind of events will be occurring during the party
- What kind of shots the client expects
Tip #24 Try Backdrop Photos
If you want to get some professional-looking portraits of all the children present at a birthday party, a birthday backdrop can be a great way to stage photos. Backdrops are a great way for the photographer to be able to set up a perfectly arranged area with props to do classic portraiture. Backdrops are an especially good idea for theme parties.
A backdrop for a birthday party photo can be as elaborate or as simple as the photographer and party organizer want it to be. Especially in hectic children’s parties, a “photo area” can be a great way to organize kids to pose calmly for head and shoulder shots.
Tip #25 Have Fun
While you might be stressed out if you’re being paid to take photographs at a birthday party, you must relax as much as you can while photographing at an event, as your nervousness and impatience can quickly transfer to your subjects if you let it. If you have plenty of appropriate gear and you have some idea of what you’re walking into ahead of time, a birthday party should be an entertaining event to photograph.
Remember, if you approach your subjects with a sense of excitement and fun, your subjects will likely mirror your energy, and this will end up reflected in the resulting photos. It may be difficult to strike a balance between hanging back to catch candid photos at a distance and manipulating subjects into framed compositions, but it becomes more natural the more often you take on the role.
Taking Photos at a Birthday Party Does Not Have to Be Hard
Even if you are not experienced at taking birthday party photos, it can be relatively easy to get great photographs at a birthday party. Most of your subjects are having a great time, there are plenty of exciting things to photograph, and natural social groupings make it easy to move from frame to frame as you track the event. The more relaxed you are, the better your photos will come out.
Stay focused, and do not get nervous. With just a little preparation and knowledge about how composition and lighting work best in event photography, you can take fantastic pictures no matter who is blowing out the candles.