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How to Take Great Birthday Party Pictures

Birthday parties are near the top of the list of events where taking pictures are as important as the event itself. Cameras were made for moments like this! They’re full of activity, emotion, and many wonderful memories.
To help you get great shots of those memories I’ve put together a few tips. While this article is mainly written for a child’s birthday party, many of the tips and techniques here can be applied to many types of parties and events. Read on to learn more.
Prepare and Plan
If your planning the party, you’ve probably chosen a theme, venue, the food, cake and made many other decisions to create an exciting day. Take a moment to also prepare for the pictures:
  • Charge your batteries (and back up batteries if you have them).
  • Check your memory card. Download images to make space, or get an extra memory card.
  • Start thinking about the key events that will take place that you want to get pictures of.

Warm Up the Crowd
Help the guests relax around you and your camera by chatting with them a bit. Joke with them and have fun. Introduce yourself if you don’t know them. Ask a few questions, like "what have you been up to today". If the kids feel they know you a little bit, they’ll loosen up and that will help you get better pictures.

Shooting Tips

Child's Perspective
Get down to the child’s level. Pictures look much better when shot from their level instead of looking down at them. This is one of the most important things that will help you get great shots (that and moving in closer to the subject). There are times to deviate though, so experiment. For example, when there are many children gathered around the birthday child opening presents, getting a shot from high above the group can look pretty cool.

Wide angle vs. Zoomed In
Generally, zooming in and filling the frame is much better. You may want a couple wide angle shots that show the whole scene. However, shots like that often lack a definitive subject or point of interest. So, my recommendation is to focus your shots on individuals or small groups. If something is in the frame that doesn’t need to be to convey what you are telling in the shot, remove it! You can do that by zooming in, changing your angle, or moving the object.
Get a shot of the cake, if it has candles, shoot it with them lit. If you have a tripod, or other way to support the camera you may want to turn the flash off for a nicer picture lit with ambient light.

If you’re shooting from above the cake, get directly above the cake (on a chair if you have to). If you are over, but not directly above, the cake will look distorted in the final image. So square up as best you can.

Better yet, angle the cake by resting the bottom of the back half on something so that it sits at a downward angle toward you. Then try a couple different compositions and angles to see what looks best. Watch the background for clutter. Maybe zoom in on some detail, you don't have to include the whole cake in the shot.
Blowing Candles Out
If you want to get the candle light in the shot, use slow-rear sync or night portrait settings to help balance the light. The flash will help freeze the subject. Pre-focus by using a half-press of the shutter, when the perfect moment arrives press the button down the rest of the way. This is where knowing your equipment helps, if there is any shutter lag (delay from pressing the button to the time the picture is taken) it’s good to account for that. This is also a good time to do some anticipating or directing. If you sing “happy birthday” have focused locked and ready to shoot after the song ends. If not, then do some directing by asking the child to blow out the candles when you say “go!”

Dealing with Clutter
Birthday parties can have lots of clutter. Watch your backgrounds and see if you can plan on placing the birthday child strategically for the candle blowing, cake eating, gift opening, etc. to minimize background clutter and distraction from being in the frame.

Lighting In addition to considering what places are best for minimizing clutter, also take the lighting into consideration. If the child is partially engulfed in strong sunlight streaming in the window, and part of them are in shadow, it will be very difficult to get a nice picture. Consider closing blinds temporarily or placing the child where there is not a mix of strong light sources.

Shutter Speed
Keep an eye on your shutter speed. Birthday parties can have a lot of activity; your shutter speed may need to be higher than you think. If you are using a point and shoot, consider a sports mode with the flash on. Also, consider using burst mode for key shots such as blowing out the candles or opening presents.
Opening Presents
In addition to the “above” shot mentioned earlier, try and get a coupe of all the children gathered around from a good angle where you can still see the birthday child’s face.
Politely ask children to move aside so you can take a picture. Get in close and capture expressions as the presents are opened.
Time the opening of the gift. I like to snap the picture when the paper is partly ripped off or the present partly pulled out of the bag, revealing what it is. Often I take the shot when the child’s arm is extended at the end of the ripping action. This helps to capture the feeling of the action in a still image.
Watch for special moments when children look on together, or a child handing a gift to their friend.
Getting some shots of the decorations, cake, party favors, or crafts the kids worked on adds interest to your collection from the day. Stage them so you have a pleasing background and try a couple of different angles to see what works best. Often, it works best to get these shots in before the guests arrive. You may want to also get some detailed shots from AFTER the party, when the entire scene will look quite different.
Don’t forget to get shots of the kids having fun and laughing. Read the “The Decisive Moment” to prepare you for capturing the best moments of all the fun. Focus on the birthday child, but don’t forget to get shots of their friends too.
Candid Shots
You could stage one or two images, but look for the best candid moments and your pictures will look much better. Again, focus on the birthday child, but don’t forget to get pictures of their friends too. Keep an eye open for moments when the birthday child is surrounded by or interacting with one or more of their friends..
Planned Shots
Some shots you may want to stage, if they didn’t occur naturally. For example, one of the whole group of friends. Also, don’t forget to get one of the child’s parent(s) with their birthday boy or girl. Other staged shots would be details like the cake, decorations, signs, game or craft pieces. Small details that will help tell the story. Picture the scrap book page if that helps, and try different things.
Don’t focus only on the kids. Adults looking on in amazement, or their reactions to the events taking place makes for some fascinating shots. Try different focal lengths isolating them, or including what they are watching. Particularly make an effort to include family members of the child having the party.

Shot List
If it helps you, make a shot list. Writing down your ideas and reviewing them, even if you don’t pull the list out at the party, is still better than winging it.
Share Your Pictures
You worked hard to get all the shots. It might be fun to share the pictures with the parents of the children who came to the party.

What tips do you have for capturing a birthday party?
What special shots do you try to get?
Share your comments below!



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