Beyond the Snapshot: How to Meaningfully Photograph Birthday Parties

My love for photos started long before I ever even owned a DSLR camera. I have always been a “memory keeper” of sorts, documenting special moments in pictures, and reveling in the memories long after the moment was gone. Now that I’m “a photographer,” I spend much of my time perfecting my craft as it pertains to my clients and my niche, which happens to be family and children’s portraits. But here’s the thing: there is so much more that I want to photograph, that I do photograph, and I want to do it in a way that is meaningful. One of those is special occasions for my family, like birthday parties. I love to tell meaningful stories with my photos from special celebrations and moments in life, whether it’s for myself or for a client. In the flurry of a special event such as a birthday party, it can be tempting to just rush through the photos without putting much thought into them, but it’s really quite simple to take those images to the next level. So whether it’s your child’s party or a client’s, below are a few tips for going beyond the snapshot when photographing birthday parties.

Capture the Details

Many birthday parties include quite a bit of planning and attention to detail. While it’s easy to focus on the people and all the activity, be sure to also keep an eye out for the special little touches that personalize the event, and don’t forget to capture them! Capturing the details is a great way to document the full story of a special event.

Utilize Different Perspectives

When I’m photographing a birthday party, I approach it the same way I do any other session: always utilize different perspectives! Shooting from different angles gives variety to your images and helps to tell a better story. Remember to not just snap photos from where you’re standing! Don’t be afraid to get up high and shoot down on the scene, or get low and try shooting up. And for children, my favorite way to shoot is from their perspective. Getting down and taking photos from the child’s level is a perfect way to capture photos with them. This will add so much to your final product! Shooting from the same perspective throughout an event creates monotony and predictable repetition. I love the way shooting from different angles gives a fresh and fun feel to the photos.

Embrace the Candid

For me, one the things I love most about capturing special occasions like birthdays is the candid nature of the photos. It’s rare that you will find me asking the subjects to stop and smile for the camera. My goal is to capture the reactions and interactions as they happen. This is what helps them to “relive” the event later in a meaningful way. Parties are the best for capturing genuine smiles, fun and laughter! When you’re photographing a birthday party, always be anticipating the special candid moments that could be coming, whether it’s a response to a gift, an emotional reaction to a toast, or any other special moment that you can document. These moments are priceless. It helps to know the plan of the party ahead of time, so you can be prepared and in position to capture those special candid moments!

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Technical Tips

Shutter Speed: Utilizing a fast shutter speed will ensure you freeze any motion in your birthday party images. Because of the candid nature of these images, you will most likely have a lot of movement going on, whether it’s children playing games, someone opening gifts, etc. I prefer to have my shutter speed of (at least) 1/400 for this type of event, to help prevent motion blur in the final images.

White Balance: I always utilize custom white balance by using the ExpoDisc, and this is especially helpful when shooting in difficult lighting situations. Whether the party is indoors with a lot of mixed lighting (windows, tungsten, etc.), or outside in a park setting where there is a lot of green cast from overhead trees, utilizing the ExpoDisc is my favorite way to nail white balance every time!

ISO: If you are shooting indoors, don’t be afraid to raise your ISO! So much of the time, we fear high ISO settings because we’re afraid of the grain that may happen. But hear me when I tell you: a little grain is not the end of the world. The best thing you can do is expose your photos well, and that might mean raising the ISO. Embrace it!

Photographing birthday parties is such a special and fun task. These are moments of celebration that will be looked back on for a long time. By taking your photos beyond the snapshot, you can document these milestones in a way that reflects the meaningfulness of this special day!

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