Parties are one of the most popular events for taking pictures, but do they look any good the next morning and would you want to keep them as a record of a happy event? Nigel Paterson provides some advice on how to take better party pics and still have fun.
Most party photographs are, well, snapshots. They are fine if you want to have something which reminds you that, yes, at that date and time you were at a party… somewhere… with somebody, who you might remember if only the photos had been any good.
It doesn't have to be that way. Here are some ideas which will go a long way to helping you produce stunning images and have a good time partying too. Here are ten tips to getting better party photos.
Tip one: Keep iT simple
Don't take along too much gear. Sure, you can get fancy with fast aperture prime lenses and distort everyone's face with an ultra-wide, but carrying around a bagful of lenses and other equipment is tiresome and, unless you're getting paid to shoot the party, don't do it.
On the other hand, most compact cameras aren't suited to shooting parties either – mainly as direct flash isn't very flattering, for a start. My recommendation is a D-SLR fitted with a wide-to-short telephoto lens, a separate flash unit and an off-camera flash lead or a remote trigger. A compact camera which will accept an off-camera flash – such as a G-series Canon PowerShot or a Ricoh GR-series model – is a lightweight option.
Tip Two: Avoid Red-Eye
The ghoulish red-eye effect is caused by illumination from the flash bouncing off the back of the subject's retinas and back into the camera. It happens a lot at parties because the room lighting is usually more subdued so everyone's' eyes are wide open.
It is easily avoided by moving the flash away from the lens which, of course, is impossible with the fixed flash in a compact camera. An accessory flash usually sits far enough away from the lens to prevent red-eye. And even if it's on the hotshoe, you'll never get red eye with bounced flash.
Tip Three: Flattering light
Fitting an accessory flash unit to a D-SLR and simply blasting away might not result in red-eye, but the images still won't look all that great either.
A flash gun is effectively a small, point source of light, producing very flat, harsh lighting, often with dark shadows adjacent to the subject. If possible, bounce the light off the ceiling, use the reflector now built into some flash units or use an accessory device to soften the shadows such as a Lumiquest.
Tip Four: Move That Flash
Taking the flash unit off the camera and using it remotely is a big step towards getting more appealing looking images. A TTL cable for your flash makes this easy. The toughest challenge is operating your camera with one hand while holding the flash in the other! In general, I find having the flash held high and slightly forward of the camera – so the direction of the light coming from the flash is slightly down and a little from the side – provides consistently pleasing images, especially if the light is also being bounced off the ceiling or a reflector.
Try not to have your flash pointing straight up at the ceiling because light coming only from directly above will cause unusual and unflattering shadows. If possible, step back a little and point the flash up at an angle to the ceiling. This also may mean zooming in for a single person portrait which isn't a bad thing either. The classic portrait focal length is 85mm with a 35mm-sized sensor or around 50mm with an ‘APS-C' format D-SLR, but you can go longer if necessary, especially in a bigger venue.
Tip Five: Try Something Unusual
Putting the flash under the subject results in an eerie look which is perfect for horror-themed dress-up outfits. Turning the flash off and capturing some long exposures with a wide-angle lens often gives some really nice blur as subject's move around and can be very effective with dancers.