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I’ve been asked by parents of children to photograph their birthday parties numerous occasions and each time it has been a lot of fun.
Photographing children isn’t always easy – and photographing ‘the birthday party’ presents it’s own unique opportunities and challenges as a photographer.
Birthday Parties present us with a lot of emotion, interaction, color and energy in a child’s party – the highs and a few lows of life are all present. On the challenging side of things – children’s parties can be chaotic places with moving subjects, lots of clutter and often little time for those organizing them to pick up a camera and take a shot.
Here are a few tips on Photographing Children’s Parties that come to mind:
There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a party and realizing that while the camera was out that no one bothered (or had time) to pick it up and take some shots. Give someone the job and release that person from other party duties to just take photos. This way you’re guaranteed to get some shots and will have something to remember the day with. It is also good because it means others are able to relax and enjoy the party and that parents can rest assured that the photos will only be used responsibly.
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One of the most important tips I can share is to get down low when taking photos of children. The biggest mistake I see in party photos is adults taking shots from a standing position looking down onto a scene. While you might take a few shots from this perspective the majority of your photos should be taken at eye level of the subjects you’re shooting.
Having said this – it can inject a lot of life into party shots if you do mix up your shooting angles and focal lengths at a party. Try some shots from standing up high (get on a chair even to accentuate it – this can be great for group shots) but also get down really low and shoot looking up at kids. Also try a range of focal lengths ranging from wide angle shots that take in the whole party scene through to zoomed shots of kids and party elements. Mixing it up like this will mean you end up with a more dynamic and playful series of shots at the end of the day.
Most children’s birthday parties happen inside (at least in part) where lighting can be tricky. In most cases there will be some artificial light which can leave your photos with different types of tinges. The easiest way to overcome this and ensure your shots are true in color is to learn to use your white balance controls. This is the subject for another post but most modern digital cameras have a variety of automatic settings that will give you some easy settings for different lighting situations. Before the party experiment with white balance and get your setting right.
Another way to add interest to the shots is to focus in on the details of the party. I find that many of these shots are best taken before the guests arrive and might include shots of the cake, photos of balloons and other decorations, photos of presents stacked, shots of a set party table. Often it’s good to get in nice and close to these elements – fill the frame with them (to the point where they even become a little abstract). You’ll find that these types of shots look great scattered through an album between shots of people.
Speaking of lighting – you’ll probably need some sort of extra lighting if your party is inside. You can help to eliminate the need for this by increasing your ISO setting a little but unless you have a lot of natural light or an extremely fast lens you’ll probably need to use a flash. If you have a flash hotshoe you’ll probably get the best results if you bounce the flash off the room or walls or if you use a flash diffuser of some kind so that the flash is not as harsh on your subjects (a common problem with many party photos).
In order to capture all of the important moments in the party you should know how it is planned to run. Know when everyone will be sitting down, when the blowing out of candles will happen, when presents will be opened etc. This will mean you can be well positioned for each event just ahead of them happening.
Most of your party photos will end up being candid ones of children and adults interacting with one another around the different party activities. I’ve written on candid photography previously but you’ll probably want to take a couple of types of candid photos during the party. I tend to take quite a few shots from the edge of the party using a longer zoom lens. These shots are largely of kids interacting with each other, playing, eating etc. The other thing to do as the party ‘warms up’ is to actually get into the party and shoot from within it. In these instances you will find a wide angle lens more appropriate and you actually join in the circle of activity (ie sit with the kids, play the games, eat the food) and photograph the children as you do this. At times it might even be appropriate to make taking the photos a game of sorts – getting them to pose and then show them the results on your LCD.
Photographing from ‘within’ the party is fun but it doesn’t just happen straight away with many children. I find that the best shots come as the children warm up to you and their surrounds. So make an effort to meet the children as they come into the party and to be friendly and fun. This might even mean putting your camera away for a little towards the start of proceedings. Also in this I’d highly recommend that you need to be aware of personal boundaries when photographing children. Unfortunately we live in a time where the topic of photographing kids is something that makes many of us think about ways that doing so can be misused and abused. Always get permission of the parents hosting the party before photographing proceedings, always stay with the main group and don’t get into one to one shooting situations, be aware of giving those you’re photographing personal space and being appropriate.
While the majority of your shots will probably be candid shots you should also think ahead about what type of ‘must have’ sort of shots you want from the party. Consult with parents (if you’re not one of them) about what type of shots they want. These might include some group shots, cake shots, blowing out candles, opening presents, party games etc
It’s amazing to see how a room (and people) can be transformed in just an hour or two when you have a group of children in it. For this reason you might want to consider what type of shots you’ll want to take before the party actually starts. This might include some of those shots that focus in on different elements of the party (see above) but also shots of the birthday boy or girl when they are dressed up and looking (and behaving) at their best. Also take a few shots at the end of the party – they could make a humorous comparison series with your before shots.
One of the most effective ways to capture parties is to learn how to shoot in continuous shooting (or burst) mode when your camera fires a series of shots in quick succession. This is particularly useful when shooting children as they rarely sit still but is also a good strategy for key moments in the party like blowing out the candles (which you only get a couple of seconds of opportunity to capture).
The focus of children’s parties is generally the children – but the adults attending the party can actually present you with some fascinating shots as they watch on. Sometimes their reactions to what the children are doing can be quite fascinating and its worth including them in shots – particularly those adults in the immediate family of the child having the birthday.
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December 19, 2012 08:03 pm
nice article i would like to share it
September 15, 2012 06:37 pm
Very well said to the point, short, interesting and very informative article. I've been asked to shoot kids BDAY party but I don't know how much to charge for that. Anyone can help me?
April 27, 2012 01:33 pm
I really love this school! Thanks Darren Rowse!
I am to shoot birthday (child) party on 31st of May! The tips above are very informative a will be VERY USEFUL!
I love this school!
January 17, 2012 01:53 am
I'm a wedding photographer but one of the guests in a wedding I covered early this year booked me for a kiddie party next month. So this article will be very useful for me.
Portraits by Bukool™
Cebu Wedding Photographer
November 4, 2011 01:30 pm
nice tips as always! for hobbyists like us, this will really help....these would be my guide this weekend as i was asked to cover the 7th birthday of my godchild......
September 13, 2011 11:38 pm
great ideas! I find this article very helpful!I'd also like to add that using visual aids for an event should also be revolutionized. I tried downloading this software that enabled me to make my own standee and I really liked it. I placed the standee that I made outside of the hall where the event is happening and to my surprise, the door where jammed by people wanting to take a picture of themselves with the standee! It looked alive and they were very excited. The event was packed with people. Ill definitely use it again. It ddnt even cost me too much money to do my own standee. I got it from http://www.almostbreathing.com/.
August 10, 2011 12:23 pm
Nice tips! I could use it on my own purpose. Post more tips! More power and regards.
July 30, 2011 03:27 pm
When I took my son's party pictures I also gave the kids a point and shot camera they took some amazing and funny pictures of each other which us adults would not probably catch.
July 19, 2011 06:38 pm
Great article and yes, as many have said, these tips can be used in lots of different situations. Well done on a very comprehensive guide!
July 18, 2011 06:08 pm
I took the following pictures at my boyfriends nephews 1st birthday! It was my first time using a DSLR EVER! I guess I didn't do to shabby.. I had just bought the Nikon D5100 a few days before the party... It was my first time using that camera...
July 16, 2011 02:55 pm
Kids and Parties are two difficult subjects to capture because of the difficulty in making stay still for even a little while and also the lighting conditions indoors in parties
I especially like the tips related to taking shots in Burst mode and also the before and after snaps
July 15, 2011 02:38 pm
awsome post! i am shooting a 3yr olds party on sunday! perfect timing - thankyou :)
July 15, 2011 07:34 am
I wish this article was available back in June. We had 4 birthdays in less than a week. I have some good pics and other were less than good. Color saturation was and issue with all the point and shoots around. Maybe I can take this info and grandson to the zoo and get some Great shots of him and the African penguins.
July 14, 2011 06:47 pm
Hey Darren, I have shared your photograph tips on birthday party with my photographer friends. Now, they apply these tips on birthday and other occasions . Thanks for sharing.
July 13, 2011 02:49 am
I am a novice photographer, I recently photographed at b'day party. Some pics were good but in most pics the people were blurred or shaken. I observed that it was bcos people were moving and not stand still. But we can't have people to standstill for eg while cake cutting process. Even the noise was more.
I was using Canon Xsi/18-55mm lens and in manual mode
Please let me know how to click in such situations.
July 13, 2011 12:35 am
Especially if the birthday party is mainly indoors I think it is important to use a variety of lenses. I recently photographed a baby boy's first birthday party:
....and used four different lenses: 17-50mm f/2.8 105mm f/2.8 macro 50mm f/1.8 80-200mm f/2.8
During the birthday cupcake eating action I used two cameras one with the 17-50mm and one with the 80-200mm in order to get the whole scene in context and also to be able to get up close and show the mess!
July 12, 2011 06:52 pm
Thanks for this post, hopefully I'll b prepared for my sons bday
July 12, 2011 09:35 am
Rose, I really like the first shot that you linked to ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/25768367@N03/3810259472/ ). The light is nice and soft, you're at her eye level, and it's a tight shot without background distractions. It's also seriously cute.
July 12, 2011 09:27 am
#5 "party details" is one that's new to me - great idea. If you have a macro lens take it along for these shots. As you say, having a designated photographer is important.
You also mentioned bounce flash. I photographed a party last year and used a mixture of daylight and bounce flash: the Canon DSLRs with E-TTL II do a very nice job of mixing the two in Av and Tv.
You can adjust the balance of daylight and flash: exposure compensation alters the brightness of the areas lit by daylight and flash exposure compensation controls the amount of light coming from the flash. When I photographed the party the flash nicely lightened the areas that otherwise would have been in shadow, and few people can tell that flash was used (this is an ideal result in my book).
Click here to see the party photos. I put the wide shots first in order to set the scene, then the closer shots follow. It was a dual party for a father and son, and a very special occasion because the father knew that he didn't have long to live. Eight weeks later I had the honour of taking photos at his funeral. The family wanted photos so that his small children could see them in the future.
July 12, 2011 08:46 am
Hey Great Post - ironic that I just shot a childs birthday party on Saturday (I nominated myself which was lucky as the little girls mum's camera batteries were flat) and it seems I was instinctively doing everything right so your post is reassuring. One mum even commented to me seeing me squatting on the floor with my camera shooting kids playing pin the tail on the donkey "oh thats a good idea getting down on their level"
July 12, 2011 05:45 am
I would like to add that although it is important to have "some" scheduled shots, they are generally disruptive to the festivities, not to mention herding all the kids! I would suggest just being part of the activities without being intrusive, and shoot from a distance with say, a nive f2.8 70-200mm for good blurry backgrounds. Keep your eyes open and look for natural candid shots...capture the fun!
May 6, 2011 12:01 pm
Last year I took some excellent pictures in my kids party. But my pictures looked more beautiful as it was in daytime and the location was amazing as well. Thanks for sharing the pictures. you definatly have got some good skills.
April 3, 2011 10:45 pm
Thank you! I'm shooting a dear friend's kids' party today!
March 30, 2011 04:08 am
Wow, I liked so many of the tips on this page. Getting adults into the pictures was the stand out idea for me though. So many times the adult just takes pictures of the children. Kids are great in the photos, but the adults can offer priceless expressions themselves.
March 6, 2011 03:10 am
I like to take a lot of "random" shots. one example is, I once took pix of a pile of forks it turned out grate
December 29, 2010 05:57 am
Thank you so much for your wonderful tips.I amazed.After Reading your article now i am very excited about my kid forthcoming birthday.Your tips are very useful for me.Now i will keep your wonderful tips on my mind.I also will focus on photography of my kid birthday.I think photos are the wonderful memory. So photo should be wonderful.Thanks.
November 15, 2010 11:26 pm
Thanks alot !!! will be photographing my first kids birthday and am very excited !!!!
October 28, 2010 09:21 am
This is not only helpful information to the party hosts, but also for those of us offering children's party entertainment. I do not photograph, but I'll keep in mind as I advise my clients and potential partners.
Judah Flum, Community Enterprises
Bring A Story To Life Parties
September 14, 2010 10:36 am
I recently shot my niece's 5th b.d. party and have gotten great feedback from the guests. I used a hotshoe flash bounced off of the walls and the natural lighting. Reading these tips actually made me feel pretty good, since I don't typically shoot parties and I just intuitively did most of the tips! 16 of the better shots can be seen at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=211286&id=316165678115 If that link doesn't work go to www.damephotography.com and pick the "celebrations" album.
May 21, 2010 09:07 am
Great article with a lot of good advice. Another good tip, where possible, is to have a consultation with the parents beforehand, ideally at the venue so you can take a few test shots and work out any lighting issues and how to overcome them. I did a party in a really badly lit hall recently and the photos were quite noisy due to using a higher ISO than I would have liked but as I shoot in RAW I was able to reduce the noise in post processing.
My best advice is to always shoot RAW if unhappy with the lighting. Also, if you miss a shot, like the blowing out the candles moment and you have a shot of already blown out candles instead DO NOT STOP THE PARTY AND ASK THEM TO DO IT AGAIN! It is highly unprofessional and ruins one of the best moments. Invest in some retouching skills and fake the flames if you have to!
May 12, 2010 08:49 pm
This is really a gr8 tip. I take some snaps yesterday on a Birthday party. I have to use flash to freeze motion and make image sharp. is there any way to achieve the same result without using flash?
If i increase shutter speed to freeze motion, image became dark, if i use ISO, it pickup some noise.
Mostly birthday party organize at night so is there any way to snatch better photos without using flash?
Thank you for your time.
February 18, 2010 06:24 am
Hi i am looking to start to learn how to scratch on my cdj 1000 can any one give me some tips please
January 6, 2010 01:23 am
Very useful quick tips.... thanks ya
December 19, 2009 07:07 pm
Thank you, have a birthday party today and would be using you tips and other suggestions.
Thanks Darren and to other helpful comments.
November 15, 2009 02:01 am
Thanks man..Darren you are becoming my role model.. :)
October 15, 2009 04:43 pm
wonderful tips, excelent article, My daughters birthday party coming soon!!!
October 10, 2009 03:58 pm
Awesome tips. I was asked to shoot a kids party recently and the results were terrible. I knew much of what I did wrong as I was taking the shots, but it was too late to do anything about it. I'll definitely be rereading this article again before the next party. Thanks!
August 12, 2009 05:11 am
Great article. I made some notes for the next party!
August 11, 2009 12:06 pm
I shot these photos at a dear friend's daughter's 1st birthday party. Didn't have your tips beforehand, but I'm pretty pleased with the results.
August 11, 2009 01:04 am
I read those tips a day after my boy's birthday and realised that i needed these very tips for the party, however, next time, i shall surely apply them
August 8, 2009 10:07 am
Great tips! I'll apply them using my Kodak C813 and hope it turns out very well.
August 8, 2009 03:58 am
These are some great tips... and dont forget to add something about postprocess because if its a little different it'll stay in people's memory even longer (ie. try black and white - but you might want a second camera for that...)
August 8, 2009 02:17 am
thanks DPS for the wonderful tips.. i'll be attending a family friend birthday party next week and your tips is very helpful..
August 7, 2009 02:44 pm
Wow Darren, your tips always come at the perfect time! My daughters' joint b-day party is next week, and these tips are fantastic for making the most of the opportunity. Love the tip about getting some abstract close-ups of cakes etc! Cheers!
August 7, 2009 01:59 pm
Wow- this article couldn't have been timed better for me! My youngest child's first birthday is this Saturday, so I'll be sure to try out these tips. Thanks, Darren!
August 7, 2009 10:41 am
An excellent post about children party, I have learned so much with your articles, every week
a read it with great pleasure, thank you so much by your articles,
Everaldo Leocádio From BRAZIL .
August 7, 2009 07:41 am
Thank you Darren, I know the weekend is coming when I receive your email.
Great tips as usual, keep them coming.
August 7, 2009 04:34 am
Very good article. I wanted to comment on your first piece of advice, designating someone to take the pictures. This is excellent advice for any type of event. Too often, we think that we can organize and run an event and take all the pictures ourselves. I have found out the hard way that it just doesn't work out.
What I will do many times is ask someone (or more than one person, if it is a large event) to take the pictures and give them one of my memory cards for their camera. Then, when they are done, they just give me back the memory card and I have what I need. Of course, if they want copies, I will get them copies.
Thanks for a good article.
August 7, 2009 03:37 am
Oooh...thanks for this! My son's first birthday party is this weekend--could not have had better timing.
August 7, 2009 03:16 am
good photos. special snaps for the special day!
August 7, 2009 02:29 am
I love your article on how to photograph a birthday party.
August 5, 2009 12:08 am
Great suggestions Darren.
Related to your point about shooting candidly, anticipation is important. It allows you to be in position, exposure preset and ready with the right lens. Then when those screams and hysterical moments occur, you will nail them.
August 4, 2009 07:13 am
Great post! Looking forward to using some of these tips next month when my son turns 1. Thanks!
August 4, 2009 05:01 am
amazing info, and just at the right time. It is my sons 2nd birthday party at the end of the month and I will be reading through this post a few more times and taking notes and preparing myself for the party.
August 3, 2009 08:18 pm
Great points. A while a go I photographed my cousins kids party and used a lot of these things that you have mentioned. You can get some great pictures by adding the camera as a 'game' and then showing the LCD. Kids seem to love it.
Also 'volunteering' as the designated photographer and creating a personal cd/dvd out of it can and most likely will be one of the most memorable birtday gifts you can give especially for the mother
(unfotunately most often), since she has slaved and suffered to make the bday a roaring success and missed everything that has happend.
Heres two picks i took at the party. They arnt very "birthdayie", but defenetly illustrate the emtional swings that happen in kids parties.
August 3, 2009 07:46 pm
Awesome tips...very useful post.
August 3, 2009 01:56 pm
Very nice... great points. I always forget to get down low and go go GO.
August 3, 2009 01:06 pm
Being a photographer that just recently started a business, all your articles are very VERY helpful! Thanks so much!
August 3, 2009 12:47 pm
These photo tips can be applied in many different settings...not only in B-day parties...
An excellent, and instructive article... thanks DPs
August 3, 2009 12:42 pm
Whoops, wrong link, here it is: http://vimeo.com/5407932
August 3, 2009 12:19 pm
Very nice writeup. I just shot video of my daughter's 1st birthday party last month using very similar techniques and was very happy with the results ( http://vimeo.com/5784270 ). I agree with the comment about using natural light when possible (helps to use a fast lens of course), but bounce flash can give just as good or better results depending on the situation.
August 3, 2009 07:45 am
Thanks so much for this great article. I've often wondered about the best approach at a kids party and I've always hated how my pics from the past never really came out that great. Now I've got some good strategies to use with my own kids as well as when helping other parents for their kids parties. Great info!!
August 3, 2009 06:22 am
Great tip, as usual :)
When I shoot a party, I rarely use flash (and I know I'm being weird about it) because I love to catch the actual light and ambiance of the celebration.
I'll try to show an example for what I mean - Although not taken during a birthday but a New Year's celebration, but I think shot like this would be ruined with a flash - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2008/12/2009.html
Anyway, fun read and the example photos are awesome :)
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