Updated: Aug 29
Properly photographing and documenting a children’s birthday party takes a lot of skills. The Photographer really needs to know their equipment and adjust to the fast-moving scene. Unlike photos taken at a studio, where the lighting is ideal, and your camera setting rarely changes. Event photographers have to make adjustments constantly to ensure they get the proper exposure. Anyone can press the shutter button and take a picture. However, it takes a professional to capture a beautiful image that will tell the story of an event. Remember, the event may only last a few hours, but through a photograph, you can remember your child’s birthday party for a lifetime. Here are 15 essential tips you can follow to ensure you take amazing photos at your next event.
1. Prepare and set the scene for your key moments
It is a good idea to prepare a list of moments you want to capture. Have the list ready days or at least hours before the event. For example, the opening of presents, the blowing of the candles, cutting the cake, party games, etc. Where will these take place? How do you want these areas to look? Where will guests be sitting, and where will you be taking photos? Thinking about these questions early on can help you visualize the shots you want to take. These will make your job easier and would help you understand the dynamics of the event.
2. Capture the party details
No, this isn’t about knowing where or when the party will take place, what you should wear, or which of your friends are going? It is about photographing all the details that makes a particular party or event special.
It is always a good idea to arrive early, to take photos of the decorations and food before party guests arrive. Make sure to capture the cake, party tables, party food, balloons, gifts, and all-party decorations visible at the location. 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 activities, be sure to also keep an eye out for the special little touches that personalize the event. Don’t forget to include close-ups of the decorations. Capturing the details is a great way to document the full- story.
3. Include various angles and types of shots
You can shoot the same subject or item from a variety of angles. You will be surprised how different a photo can look by just photographing from a different angle. Here are a few of the different angles you can shoot from:
“Bird’s eye view” is when you get up above the scene and look straight down. This angle is excellent for looking down and seeing all the details of a scene from above.
A “high angle” is not quite as extreme as the bird’s eye view. You just need to be a little bit higher than the person or thing that you are photographing.
A face-to-face angle is taken at eye level to your subject. This is a very engaging angle and helps to establish a personal connection between the person in your photo and the person viewing it. This is a great angle for portraits, though a slightly higher than eye level angle is great for portraits too.
Also known as “worm’s eye view,” this angle is just like it sounds. You get down as low as you can and look straight up toward your subject.
Take Eye Level Portraits for More Intimate Perspectives. Eye-level is the simplest and most common photography angle. This is the most familiar perspective for us.
The close-up is among the most useful photography angles available. There is something magical about seeing a subject up close and personal. This opens up a whole new world of options for you as a photographer. You will be able to appreciate details that are not usually visible.
Use these different camera angles and techniques to crate amazing-looking photographs. It is not all about different perspectives. It is also about making people feel comfortable while you are photographing them. Overall, they will enjoy working with you and will appreciate the final result.
4. Get down to their level
Most professional photographers know that it is crucial to get down to the child’s level to get a killer shot. However, you can also snap some pictures standing up or laying down. When photographing adults, you need to be careful about how you pose them. With kids, you just want to get a genuine expression or a warm moment. Try to get as low to the ground as possible to create an image that feels a bit more connected with the child. Use a long lens so that you can put some distance between the camera and the child’s face.
5. Capture real smiles and genuine emotions
Capturing genuine emotions while shooting a child's birthday party can sometimes be challenging. Posing while saying, "Cheese" does not lead to natural smiles or good photos. However, there are several things you can do to ensure you capture a real and genuine smile. Here are a few of the techniques I use while shooting a child's event.
Try engaging with kids by making them laugh with funny faces and silly noises.
Ask the subjects to share little facts or tell funny stories about one another.
Encourage them to look at one another, make eye contact, and be playful.
For single subjects, ask them to talk about people who are important to them. Ask them who they want to share the photographs with.
Ask some of the subjects in the photo to surprise another on the shot. For example, suddenly lifting them or creeping behind them for a hug. The person being surprised will react genuinely, and the other individuals in the photo will play off their reaction, which makes a very authentic photo.
Capturing genuine emotions does not necessarily mean capturing happy moments only. You can take a beautiful image of someone who is simply crying, genuinely surprised, afraid, etc.
If you want to determine what a person is truly feeling, you only need to focus on their eyes. The eyes can convey true emotions regardless of what the other facial features indicate.
Small talk is particularly important if the person you’re shooting is a stranger. Talking helps you get a feel for your subject’s personality and helps your subject forget about the camera. You can put them at ease by asking questions about themselves; don’t be intrusive or overly personal with your questions but do express a real interest in their responses.
If all else fails, attempt to create posed and carefully planned shots that show the emotions you want to depict in your photos.
6. Take Candid Shots
Candid shots are one of my favorite styles to shoot when photographing a kid’s event. Children will always show you their true emotions and are not trying to impress anyone; they just want to have fun. Consider the following when taking candid shots.
Wait for the emotion: When you zero in on a person to photograph, don’t simply press the shutter and move on. People will usually smile, laugh or make some other expression if you keep your lens on them for long enough (particularly if they’re interacting with other people).
Use a long lens: The easiest way to get candid photos without making people feel self-conscious is by using a long or zoom lens. An added benefit of shooting with a long lens is the ability to throw the background out of focus, making your subject pop. When using a longer lens is a good idea to crop tightly. Another benefit of using a zoom lens it’s that it is far more flattering to subjects than shooting them with a wide-angle lens that could cause distortion. An additional advantage of using a telephoto lens is that it allows you to crop tightly and avoid including unnecessary background distractions.
Go where the action is: It should go without saying, but the livelier your surroundings, the better your odds of finding great moments to photograph. Birthday parties are great for shooting candids. Kids are running around, family members are greeting each other, and someone is always kissing and lifting the birthday boy/girl.
Anticipate the action: If you’re lucky enough to know a “spontaneous” moment is about to happen, take a minute to prepare yourself beforehand. By establishing your framing, pre-focusing, and making sure your exposure is correct, the odds of nailing the shot go way up.
Shoot a Lot: Things evolve quickly, and everything changes from second to second. One moment someone smiles and the next moment the smile is fading away. To get the picture you desire you’re going to shoot a lot. Shoot hundreds! And then edit them down to a reasonable amount later.
Don’t Make Eye Contact: Truly candid shots are often those where the subject isn’t looking directly at the camera. To make a staged portrait appear more candid, have your subject look away from the camera rather than directly into it. Focus their attention out the nearest window, into the eyes of their companion, toward the ceiling or down to the floor, anywhere but your lens. The goal here is to make the shot feel as though you just happened upon your subject.
Don’t forget to be sneaky with your camera and look for candid moments to capture. Be ready to snap photos quickly as these moments are brief.
7. Photograph the Guests as well as the Family
Take some time to walk around and observe the party. Guests are there to enjoy the party and celebrate. You could either ask groups of people to pose for you, or step back and capture unplanned moments. I like to do both. This is also a great time to get some portraits of your little one’s friends. A cute idea would be to include pictures from the party when you send out thank you notes.
8. Take Close-Ups to Capture Unique Expressions
While getting groups of people in each shot can be fun, getting in close can make the viewer feel like they’re right there with them. Kids make great expressions during moments like lighting the candle on the cake, opening presents, or playing party games. Also, use a zoom lens to capture a chat between guests to show people connecting at the event. To ensure you get beautiful close-ups try the following.
Try to take pictures somewhere near an open window so you get natural light with soft shadows.
Open the aperture as far as it will go. On my lens, its f/1.4, but you should open it as far as it will go on yours.
Have a reasonably fast shutter speed so you don’t get motion blur.
Hold the camera very steady, ideally using a tripod if you have one so you don’t get motion blur.
Move as close to the subject as you can while being able to maintain auto-focus. If you have manual focus and know how to use it, then you’ll be able to get even closer.
If you don’t have manual focus on your lens or you don’t know how to use it, then use your zoom to get even closer.
9. Use Flash to Fill in Shadows
Flash is often used as the main source of light in situations where the scene is too dark. For example, at night, inside a restaurant, at a party, an indoor event, etc. Fill flash is a technique in flash photography to get an even exposure in photographs in high dynamic range and difficult lighting situations. You can use your camera’s built-in flash or use an external flash also call “Speedlight” to fill the underexposed or shadows. Don’t forget to keep it subtle. The last thing you want is for your subjects to look unnatural due to excessive light. Consider using a diffuser or dialing the flash power down for a more natural result. This will also prevent squinting on your subjects. Please note that a camera flash can be an immensely useful tool. It can also be an immensely frustrating one.
10. Capture the Traditional Must-Have Shots
When photographing a birthday, there are shots you must take. Clients expect them, and you should know them. It is essential to have a conversation with the host the day before the event. You should ask about the order of the event. Make sure to know what special moments they want you to capture. Here are the most popular ones.
i. The Cake: It is not going anywhere until the end of the event. So, you have plenty of time to get the shot right. Play with angles, move around, and take a bunch of shots.
ii. The Birthday boy/girl with Parents: As a photographer, you cannot forget to capture this image. It can be easy to forget to take one of the most important photos, with all that is happening around you. However, capturing this image is a must.
iii. The Birthday boy/girl with Grandparents: If the grandparents are present, you will want to be sure to snap a pic with them in it. Having a keepsake of them celebrating their grandchild's Birthday is a moment you do not want to forget.
iv. Blowing Out the Candle: Get down to the little one's level, so you are sure to tell the story from his or her perspective. Try to get a few shots before, during, and after the blowing moment.
v. The First Bite: Nothing says "birthday" like a kid covered in frosting, so please do not miss it! Get in close when the little one is diving in.
vi. Opening the Presents: Depending on the age of the child, this moment either moves along at a snail's pace or is over in the blink of an eye. Either way, the key to an awesome shot is to be prepared.
vii. The Portrait: Get that special portrait in early, when the light of day is still soft, and the child (hopefully) isn't yet overstimulated. This is the "beauty shot" of the day, so make sure the star has their outfit of choice.
viii. The Details: The story is in the details. You should arrive early to ensure the details have not been disorganized. You should photograph the cake, the food, the main table, the guests' tables, presents, balloons, etc.
ix. The Cake Smash: Let's be honest, if it is a 1st birthday party, the cake smash is a 1-year-old's rite of passage. Because a baby never knows quite what to do with the cake and watching all the wires connect when they have a taste for the first time is so much fun to watch. So, take plenty of pics!
x. Hitting the piñata: This is one of the busiest moments at a birthday party. Kids are super excited, and their little bodies are filled with adrenaline. Choose a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second or higher to avoid blur.
11. Pose Subjects for Better Compositions of Key Moments
Sometimes, people gather in ways that aren’t ideal for photos. It’s part of your job to ask folks to move one way or another so that the photos look better. Most people will happily comply, and the hosts will be really happy when they see great photos. When photographing one subject remember to use the rule of thirds. Portraits with the person smack in the middle of the frame feel a bit average, boring even. Using the rule of thirds, as you would for any of your photography, place the subject off-center to add interest.
12. Be patient and be ready for mood swings
Being a child photographer is not an easy task. Children are very unpredictable. I cannot even predict the behavior of children in my immediate family, not to mention the reaction of a child that will be seeing me for the first time. Be patient, give them some time to get used to you and your presence. Put the parents’ minds at ease that you will not take off once your time is up.
Children might get very moody if they are tired of being photographed. They might want to do something different, like play another game or move to a different location. If you feel that you haven’t gotten enough good pictures, talk to the parents and see what other approaches you can take. Act a little silly to cheer the child up. That last giggle you capture could be the best photo of the day.
13. Get to Know Your Subject and Learn How to Interact and Connect with the Child
If possible, try to get to know the child before the photo session. Determine what the child likes, find a common ground, be their friend. Let the child play and enjoy himself/herself, while you get ready for the shot. Do not be another adult to dictate to them what to do. Make them laugh by being silly. Ask the parents to stand right behind you, then when you are all set, either call the child yourself or ask the parents to do it for you. As soon as the child looks, focus instantly on the closest eye and take a picture. Remember, even without a smile or a giggle you can have some emotional, sensitive, and touching images. It is important to build a bond with a child to obtain the best results.
14. Timing is everything
Life doesn’t wait, it happens fast. Keep your camera turned on and with you at all times in case you stumble upon a good moment to photograph. Capture the moment as it happens because it will not wait for you.
Shoot continuously, timing is key when capturing that perfect moment. But that doesn’t mean that the perfect photo will happen when you’re expecting it to. For example, capturing smile on a kids face right after they open a gift can speak volumes. Posed photographs are not as natural as candid shots. So, make sure you’re shooting continuously. You never know what moments you’ll capture that you might otherwise have missed. Take in your surroundings, look around you. Try to predict where the best photos will happen, what angles will be best to shoot from and how the lighting will affect your images. It’s one of the hardest things to learn, but after plenty of practice it will start to come naturally. On occasions you want to make absolutely sure that you get the shots you want for your photos. Using the burst shooting mode on your camera can give you an added layer of security by providing successive photos that are more likely to capture the right elements.
Most of the time, people make the mistake of hiring a friend only because they own a DSLR or doing all the photography by themselves. These are not great ideas keeping in mind how important Birthdays are.
There are several reasons why you should hire a professional photographer. Let me share a few of them with you:
You will be too busy dealing with other things during the party
You can’t be everywhere capturing everything at once
You can actually be in the pictures!
A pro photographer comes with high-end equipment
Professional photographers know what they’re doing
It takes the stress off of you
The image quality will be higher
A photographer has an eye for details
Everything is temporary except the photos
You will thank yourself later
Congratulations, you made it! Now you know that capturing amazing images at a child’s birthday party takes a lot of skills. It is not as simple as just pressing the shutter button to get an astonishing and properly exposed image. I guarantee you that if you follow these 15 tips. You’ll be able to quickly photograph those precious fleeting moments and wow everyone with your newly acquired skills.
Are you looking for more inspiration on capturing the right moment? Check out this one-minute post about getting creative with Photography. You will learn three simple tips that will improve your photography skills by simply getting creative!
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