Photography – it’s one of those arts that almost everyone wishes they had picked up at some point in their life (also see playing the guitar or, for me anyway, ballet). For some people, wanting to be a better shutterbug is more about a desire to capture life’s special moments without having to hire a pro to follow you around every single day of your life. This is especially true at parties, where people are often at their most fun and magical shots are just a flutter of the lens away. But how do you take your party photos from blurry mess to photo album ready?
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way since I started actively trying to up my photography game a few years ago. Though I personally shoot with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) – aka a fancy schmancy camera with manual settings – this advice is easy to apply whether you’re rocking a point and shoot, a camera phone, or a professional gadget.
Watch your light
Lighting is the single most important aspect of a good photo – after all, photography means “writing with light” (don’t you just love that!?) For daytime events, you’ll want to hunt down soft light. Harsh shadows from the sun just aren’t a good look for anyone. If it’s an overcast day, the dispersion of light provided by the clouds will be good enough. If not, try taking your photos inside by a window or under a covering that can break up the light. For example, look at the photos of my sorority sisters below.
In the one above, direct sun is seriously hiding their gorgeous faces! In the one below, the tree branches hanging above them have provided just enough shade to keep the photo bright without casting scary ghoul-like shadows. Asking them to move was totally worth it for the photo, even if they laughed at me for yelling, “Get under the tree!”
At night, lighting can be even more difficult. In fact, it’s kind of the bane of my existence. If you don’t have a camera with which you can raise the aperture (make the lens opening bigger) and ISO (how sensitive the camera is to light), you’ll need to work with the room’s ambient light – from overhead lights or what have you – or work your on camera flash. You can also make the lack of light work for you: one of my favorite shots (below) was the result of just going with the flow and capturing the dancing partygoers masked in shadows.
Go where the action is!
Part of why I love party photography is how much fun everyone is having, and how special it is to capture it! To get those photos, you have to stick your neck out (sometimes literally – see the next story) and follow the action. For the shot below, I stuck my head and camera into a bouncy castle! The risk of having my noggin bounced on was well worth the end result – doesn’t my friend Mercedes look like she’s having so much fun?
Catch people off guard
Everyone knows the “deer in the headlights” producing effect a camera can have on partygoers – they stop acting like their cool, natural selves and start forming forced poses before you have a chance to click the shutter. The remedy for this common issue is all about your subjects’ comfort levels. You need to make them forget about the camera. I’ve found this is usually easiest when you shoot from a distance – like in the photo below of my friend Alane at my sorority’s philanthropy barbecue last year – or when you wait to take the shot until people have gotten used to you being there.
People are also more willing to forget about the camera and let loose when they’re dancing! The photo of my friends below was taken during an impromptu DP (dance party) – they didn’t see me since they were so busy having fun! Look for these moments whenever you can. Practice makes perfect!
Try fun angles
All posed group shots are not evil: sometimes you just need to look for a fun angle to add depth to the photo and mix up the monotony of the head-on pose. My favorite way to achieve this is snapping away while friends pose for another person’s camera, like in the shot below of some friends at a party. You can also just tilt your camera and play around until you find an angle you love!
Don’t be afraid to get out and party yourself!
My friends know that it is a capital-R RARE occasion to see me get out from behind the lens. But do it, and often: the more fun you have, the better your photos will be. Don’t stress about the process and remember why you’re having the party in the first place – to have tons of stinkin’ fun!
*Important note: if you’re at a lemon & lime event, it’ll be so fabulous that you’ll want to take a million photos!