Party recipe

There will be many parties in the next few weeks for many of you, so I would like to give you a few tips and reminders for better event photos.

I shall illustrate with a few pictures of an event I shot the other day.

A Recent Party picture

First, your equipment:

  1. Use an external flash. Never the popup.
  2. Aim it behind you – yes, behind you, high so that you bounce off the ceiling, provided there is a ceiling and it is somewhat like white.
  3. Use a “slightly wide angle” lens. I love the 35mm prime (fixed) lens – on a full frame camera, which means a 24mm lens on a typical crop sensor camera.
  4. A prime lens is good as it forces a consistency to your compositions, which will pay off since it also means consistency in your settings.


Then, the settings:

  1. Mode: Camera in manual exposure mode (“M”)
  2. Flash: in its normal TTL mode
  3. ISO: Set ISO to 400 for most venues (800 if it is dark, possibly even higher if the venue is pitch black)
  4. Exposure: Set aperture and shutter speed to a combination of values that gives you an ambient exposure of -2 stops. That is, when you press half way down on the shutter as you aim at an average part of  the room, your meter in the viewfinder points at a value around -2.  A typical combination at 400 ISO is f/4 at 1/30th of a second.
  5. White balance: Set your white balance to Flash. That gives you warm backgrounds, but your subjects will look natural, since they are lit primarily by the flash.
  6. Flash compensation: if your subjects are small in the picture, with a large background, your camera may overexpose the flash portion. In that case, use flash compensation and set it lower: try a value of -1, say.

If you shoot in a very dark venue, you will need to go to a wider aperture, so I recommend fast lenses. I often end up shooting at f/2, or even lower.

Is this present for me?

And finally, composition:

  1. Shoot “grip and grins” like the first one above: people like those. Heads together!
  2. Also shoot “fly on the wall” pictures. “If it smiles, shoot it”.
  3. Use the rule of thirds – “off-centre composition”)
  4. Tilt whenever you like.
  5. And please also shoot the food, the room, the small details.

The above will give you great images. But remember to finish them in Adobe Lightroom: crop, do minor adjustments, and only show your great pictures!

A wonderful smile

Above all: have fun!

2 thoughts on “Party recipe

  1. Thank you for your wonderful tips. I make it a point of checking in everyday.
    I have been tasked by my significant other to produce some photos of the kids tonight so todays post was very timely. One question though. When you say point the flash behind you just how much?
    Again thanks for all you do. I fully intend to get out to your flash workshop at the first one available in the new year. I wanted to attend the one in December but there was just too much going on.

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