Photographing your summer events

My husband and I had a small get together last week to celebrate several things: the summer solstice (who doesn’t enjoy the longest day of the year?) our 15 year wedding anniversary, and the fact that our kids were staying with their grandparents for the weekend. I’ve noticed that no matter how late I stay up at night, my kids always wake up at the same time every morning. So having the chance to stay up late and sleep in the next morning is definitely a cause for celebration around here.

I took a couple photos (as I’m prone to do) and thought you dedicated followers of this blog might be interested in a couple of strategies I use when taking photos at a party. My frame of mind when I’m taking pictures for myself is vastly different from when I’m covering an event for a client. It’s my party, and I want to hang out and talk just like everyone else. But the photographer in me can’t just turn off – so when I see a photo opportunity I still want to capture it. So here’s some rules I follow to take great pictures AND enjoy myself at the same time.

Get out from behind the camera. I try to only spend a couple of minutes behind the camera at any given time. I’ll shoot for 3-5 minutes, and then put it down for half an hour. This does two things: it makes me focus on the shots I’m taking during those couple of minutes (do you really need 25 different angles of the centerpieces? No.), and it allows me the rest of the time to actually talk to my guests. The following ideas help me maximize those couple of minutes when I’m behind the camera – so I can fully capture the event without shooting 5 billion photos.

Pick your favorite parts of the party. For me, parties are about three things: my guests, the food, and the decor. So when I’m taking pictures, those are the three things I’m going to try and capture. Good photography is about capturing the feeling of a given moment. And for me, those are the things that recreate that evening in my mind. Think through the elements of a party, vacation, date night, or quiet morning at home with the kids that you most love. Is it a cup of coffee and a freshly baked pastry? The sound of the waves on the shore? A candlelight dinner? Whatever it is, that’s what you should take pictures of. At our party, we roasted veggies on the grill and made fresh salsa. We hung baby food jars with candles in them all around the yard. We had a few close friends over for good food and laughter around the fire. Simple things, but these few pictures contain my favorite parts of the evening.

The light is your best friend. And by light, I DON’T mean your camera flash. If at all possible, shoot without your flash. It will take some practice, but using the available light lends a real sense of time to your photos. I’m having some trouble explaining it in words, so here’s a visual lesson. Here’s a picture of our yard (and friends) in the sunlight. Kind of hum-drum. Here’s the same group of friends and the same yard in the twilight with candles, tiki torches, and the fire. Now it looks like a party! So get creative with the light. Sunset is a great time to take photos, and the light from candles (anything fire-y, really) can make a regular scene look as special as it felt. And again – don’t use your flash.

Get ready for your close-up. Don’t be afraid to get close – I mean really close – to things you are photographing. Obviously, you can’t be so close that the pictures are out of focus, but get as close as you can otherwise. Here’s another example. This is our grill with the veggies roasting for our fresh salsa. Again, kind of a boring picture. It looks like we just threw a bunch of stuff on the grill. Actually, that’s exactly what we did because making fresh roasted salsa is that easy. Just throw it on the grill and then chop it all up. But it doesn’t make for great photography. Here are those same veggies laid on a cutting board and shot much closer. You can see the grill marks and the blackened skin of the peppers. And those onions fill the frame. You can almost taste the roasted deliciousness Now it looks like our salsa was worth celebrating (which it was – we ate it for days). Same boring subject – but photographed up close – lets me almost taste that salsa again.

So there you go. A few tips for taking photos at your party or special event this summer without spending all day behind the camera. If you take advantage of some of these ideas – or have some of your own to share, leave me a comment or tag me on Facebook so I can see. Happy shooting!

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