How to photograph a party

How to photograph fancy dress party

At the end of the day (or maybe late the next morning after coffee), you want gorgeous, glossy bright party photographs like something out of a magazine – smiling happy people all in focus, naturally in off-the-cuff poses doubling over with spontaneous laughter or posed groups, formally casual  – every shot well framed and lit with a renaissance glow.

Remember that party? You will, for years, through the one photo that makes the desktop or becomes a “framer”, sitting on the shelf to glance at as you pass by, smiling, remembering the occasion, and that particular time that brought those people together.

I asked some of indieVenue’s top photographers for suggestions on how to capture the essence of a party, and add some tips of my own.

Eva Bradley, Hawke’s Bay photographer, gives her 5 top tips:

  1. Dedicate your photographer.
    If you want good memories you need someone with good gear and understands that it’s their role to ensure those memories are captured. And while a few creative horizon lines and blurry shots might add to the ambience, preferably put the camera in the hands of someone who’s also not planning on having too many drinks in their hands as well!
  2. Use flash…but properly
    Parties are usually at night, so you’ll probably need to use flash. Flash can either kill the mood of your party pics or take them to a new level (if you have an external flash that can point away from the subject and ‘bounce’ off another surface, you’ll still light your subject but get great background ambient light too).
  3. Engage with your subject matter
    Have a good time with your camera! Don’t be that guy that tells people to stand still and smile. Do something goofy, make them laugh, then take your shot.
  4. Spray and Pray
    If you’re not 100% confident with your camera (and even if you are!) take LOADS of rapid-fire photos then you’ll have plenty of great moments among all the ones that need deleting.
  5. Call a professional
    Memories matter, right? Special events are worth the investment.


Robin Cranford talks about responsible photography. “One of my favourite times for shooting occurs about half an hour into the event. The guests have a glass of bubbles and a chance to mingle with friends. Everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves.  Just be careful to avoid photographing someone while they are eating the canapés.

On the flip side, once the event has been raging on for an extended period of time, it is often best to put away the camera and join in.  People rarely appreciate their drink fuelled, crazy antics caught on camera.”

Daniela of Azul Studios recommends using a wide lens in a party decorated with fairy lights to create lots of fun and special effects. She suggests zooming in and out while taking a photo and focusing on an important object or the birthday boy/girl.

Wellington photographer Jo Moore says: “I use a couple of lenses when shooting a party. I like to blend into the walls a bit to get the candid, laughing shots and a lens in the range of 200mm is great for this. For group shots I use a 24-70mm. Remember that lots of parties are very low light so you need a lens that can produce a fast shutter speed with a large aperture to capture the moment.”

Personally, I’m not so good at being a fly-on-the wall and I love to shoot where dressing up and being photographed is part of the event. For that a photographer needs to step into the fray to be part of the occasion. This doesn’t work if you are holding an i-phone. Think paparazzi with a serious SLR and a sycophantic attitude.

If people have made an effort to look gorgeous, they want acknowledgement!  Take advantage and don’t be shy to ask people to pose, take your time to set them up and get your lighting right.

A trick is to bring them in to the camera. Crouch low, look up and introduce your subjects to the lens – challenge them to look through right through to the back of the camera and bare their souls. Get a shot that does them credit and let them know how to get a copy of the photo afterwards.

Although everyone has a camera in their pocket, it is pretty rare for great party shots to come from someone whipping out their i-phone for a point and shoot.  There’s a time and a place for phone photography, and it’s probably not when there are lots of people, dancing lights and shadows, heightened emotions and a couple of moments during the party you really want to capture.

If it is an important event, dedicate a professional and get the gorgeous, bright, glossy, party photographs that make you go Oooo! – in a good way – when you open them over your coffee the next day.



December 21, 2016
Another great post Cris. My particular favourite, Eva's 'Spray and Pray'.
Lynette Breen
December 21, 2016
Really useful, practical advise. Thanks for the great tips

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