Taking photos at parties, or any social event for that matter, can be tricky but fun! In this article, I’ll share some of my most guarded techniques for taking awesome event photos. If you’re in charge of taking photos at your next holiday party, Christmas party, birthday party, office party, or any other type of social event, these tips will hopefully help you get better and more interesting event photography shots.
Those of you who’ve been coming to this site for a while might already know that I take photos professionally. When I’m not working on Design Instruct, I work as an event photographer, so I’ve covered more than my fair share of parties and events.
In this article, I’ll assume that you’re already familiar with the basics of photography. If not, whenever you encounter a term or concept that you’re not familiar with, check out this overview of Photography-related topics on Wikipedia.
With that said, below are some photography tips to keep in mind at your next social event.
1. Add Depth to Group Photos by Not Shooting Dead-Center
When I first started taking photos of groups of people, I noticed that they tended to arrange themselves into a straight line, shoulder-to-shoulder, as though they were taking a class photo. Or, if people were sitting on a couch, they would always expect me to take their photo from dead center. And, in my experience, these situations often end up in a boring photo (at least in my book).
In a dynamic and fast-paced environment such as a party — with lots of people and not enough room or time to have a group arrange themselves into an interesting configuration — it’s the job of the photographer to make the shot more interesting.
From my experience, a step to one side from the center of the group will impart a feeling of depth to a group photo. This happens because one side of the group will be closer to your lens, thus adding depth and creating a more captivating composition. Try it out!
2. Create Interesting Photo Effects with Jaunty Angles
A jaunty or canted angle (also known as a Dutch angle, among several other terms) is a photography technique that you can use to develop an aesthetically-pleasing composition from an otherwise dull scene. Jaunty angles give your photos a feeling of being dynamic and alive.
Using jaunty angles is tricky because it can add a feeling of confusion to a photo if you don’t keep the composition in mind.
However, once you get the hang of it, it’ll add a really great effect of making your photos look livelier and full of fun — and that’s exactly what we want when we’re snapping at parties.
In addition, I find that you’ll often be able to get the best angles of your photo subjects using jaunty angles.
In a nutshell, I like to pick a focal point in a photo that I want to highlight. Then, I keep that focal point level, tilting the camera accordingly.
For instance, if I find someone’s eyes attractive, I’ll use that person’s eyes as my focal point. I’ll align their eyes so that they’re level, while the rest of the photo isn’t.
Sometimes I’ll see photographers just tilt their camera to one side without really keeping the composition in mind, making their photos look disoriented and unsteady. Through my own trials and errors (and there have been many), I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a right way and wrong way to use jaunty angles: It’s not enough to just tilt your camera to one side.
To learn more about jaunty/Dutch angles, check out the following links:
3. Try Using Props
This is always fun. People seem to love this and it often brings the party together. In my experience, props can be anything from a hat, funky glasses or a fake mustache.
For instance, In a Halloween event I was shooting, I printed out business cards with different kinds of "smiles" on the back of them. Then I had people hold it up to their mouths as a sort of impromptu, quasi-costume.
At first, people didn’t really know what to make of them, so I would say, "Hold it up to your mouth!" And when they start getting it, most would react somewhere along the lines of "Ohhhhhh! That’s awesome!" That reaction is a great thing to capture in a photo.
Another example: I often wear unique glasses in shoots, and sometimes people will come up to me just so they can take a photo with my glasses on them.
No matter what prop you choose, don’t force it. You don’t have to use props. But if you have a good idea, people will love it and your photos will have that little something extra to make them that much more memorable.
4. Take Portrait Shots (Even at Parties)
I sometimes take portraits of people I find interesting at parties. Anyone who looks interesting or unique, I’ll pull them aside and do a quick "photo shoot" with them.
The trick is to make them comfortable enough in front of your lens that they let you capture them in an honest moment. If they’re having fun, it’ll show. If they’re having a bad night, they’ll let that show too. It’s about attitude and emotion, and if they trust you, then you’ll be able capture these things.
These mini "photo shoots" literally last for only a few seconds. I say "Hi." I tell them I want to take their photo. And if they let me, I let them do their thing in front of my lens.
Taking portrait shots of people you don’t know demands a little more from your social skills than just being able to point and shoot. You’ll be surprised at how difficult it can sometimes be to single out a person from their group of friends, especially if they don’t know you very well (or at all).
5. Always Be Ready for Candid Shots
Candid shots in social events are tricky to capture because bringing a camera into a scene automatically changes peoples’ behaviors and how they conduct themselves. So, it becomes hard to get good, honest, candid moments. This is especially true in environments where people are aware that there’s someone taking photos.
The trick is to let them get used to your presence and then, when the time is right, snap away! I realized this through street photography when I was still in the beginning stages of taking photos; I soon discovered that a big DSLR camera can change the scene and the mood.
However, there will always be moments when people forget you’re there, even if it’s just for a split-second, and they’ll let themselves go a little bit.
Be ready for these pockets of candid moments and capture it with your camera.
6. Always Look for Action Shots
Look for the action! People dancing, people clinking their drinks, food being served, and so on. This all makes for interesting photos.
A photo will always be still. That’s what makes it special. It’s literally just a split-second of light captured in your camera. However, that doesn’t mean that a photo can’t be lively!
Be mindful of the movements of the party. Where are people walking around? Where are the people dancing? Who is the liveliest group of the party?
7. Shoot in RAW Image Format (If You Can)
This is more of a suggestion. You don’t have to shoot in RAW format to get good photos. In fact, it’s more work for you during the post-production stage if you shoot in RAW format.
However, with the changing light conditions of a party and its fast-paced nature, it doesn’t hurt to be able to make adjustments that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do with the JPEG image format. Things like white balance and exposure are very hard to correct (if at all possible in the first place) in JPEG format.
I know many professional photographers who don’t shoot in RAW for the events they cover. They just try to capture everything in-camera and it works for them.
But for my personal shooting style, I’ve found that taking snaps in RAW gives me a little more flexibility and a bigger margin of error that allows me the opportunity to compensate for my terrible technique later on.
8. Hand the Camera to Someone Else
Sometimes, letting someone else take a photo can add great dynamics to your photos. If your task is to document the party, then what better way than to let someone else’s perspective take over for a more rounded view of what happened? After all, two pairs of eyes looking through the viewfinder are better than one. (Of course, you must trust this person to not drop or break your equipment!)
The beauty of letting someone else take photos is that people will react differently to the person behind the lens.
For example, ask a really pretty girl to take photos, and you might get different reactions from the guys at the party. Have a very tall person take a few snaps, and you’ll get a different viewpoint.
And it’s not even just for the people in front of the lens. Sometimes, if you hand your camera to one of your shy friends, it will force them to interact with people and change the dynamic of the party for him or her!
I’ve found that I take pictures a certain way. I stand in a certain way. I frame my subjects in a certain way. I hold my camera in a certain way. Therefore, my photos are pretty distinct from someone else’s work. If you hand over your camera to someone else who might do things differently, the photos will also be a little different and maybe you’ll even learn something that you wouldn’t have if you had stuck with your own way of taking photos.
9. Observe the Party as a Whole
Capturing the party on camera isn’t just about the number of photos you take. It’s about a feeling. It’s about the moments that people share.
Sure, maybe not everyone will know each other. Not everyone will interact with everyone else. And it’s very easy to think that an event is just made up of these small pockets of closed-off groups of people.
But you have to realize that everyone at the event has one thing in common: they are at the same place looking to have a good time.
Thus, one of your tasks as a photographer is to connect these groups of people into one cohesive gathering.
I think a lot of photographers make the mistake of thinking that they should just snap away and hope for the best. However, you won’t really capture what happened at the party if you think about the photos as a series of disjointed, isolated moments.
The party happens as a whole and therefore you have to treat it as such.
10. Have Fun!
If you’re not having fun, the people you choose to put in front of your lens won’t have fun either, and it’ll show in your photos.
As the photographer for an event, you’re one of the few people (along with the host) who has to constantly move around the party to see and interact with partygoers. This makes you extraordinarily visible.
You have to make people feel at ease and welcome at the party. You can only really do that if you’re having fun as well.
So remember to put on your happy face and be friendly.
Bonus Tip: Listen to the Music!
If a party has music playing, listen to it. I always think of the music as the heartbeat of the party. It gets faster as more people get excited. It slows down and mellows out as the night comes to a close. It’s the rhythm with which I choose to work.
Therefore, I like to pay attention to the DJ. I pay attention to breaks in the beat. I listen to the choruses, the verses, and the moments in a song that gets me excited because, chances are, the rest of the party will feel the same way.
And when that beat drops, when the chorus comes in… I shoot away because I know people will be doing something awesome!
‘Tis the Season
As I like to say: In parties, people will come and go, the music will fade, and the lights will dim, but, at the end of the night, one thing will always remain: our memories. Make them count.
As the holidays get into full swing, we’ll all be coming together in our respective houses, offices and clubs to celebrate with each other. We’ll throw and attend some very cool parties, be with family members we haven’t seen all year, and the cheer and merry-making will just spread like wildfire even if we try our hardest to deny it.
This is the most wonderful time of the year for a lot of us. What better time of the year than now to take photos?
Happy holidays from your friends at Design Instruct.
More Photography Tips
If you want to read more photography tips, check out the following articles here on Design Instruct: