How to Take Better Party Pictures!

How to take stunning party photographs

There are party pictures; and there are party pictures. This is why you need to know how to make yours stand out from the crowd.

This series of tips is for compact digital camera users who want to make sure that everyone else ogles at your pictures. The first few tips are about your camera, the rest are tips about technique.

Tips to Make Your Party Photography Distinctive

1. Know Your Camera: You’re not at that party just to take photographs! You’re there to have fun! Now, where’s the fun in trying to figure how your camera goes into rear-curtain sync with a slow exposure while the rest of your pals are on the dance floor? My suggestion to you is to take a few pictures with the techniques that I’m about to describe even before you go to the party so that you’re already familiar with them.

2. Your Flash is Your Friend: Most parties aren’t lit all that well and you’re going to need the flash that’s on your camera to light up almost every scene. Knowing how to use your flash along with the existing light, is the first step to in creating stunning party pictures!

3. Stay Away…: Going really close to your friends will usually end up with them looking like they were lit by the light from an atom bomb’s explosion. Stay at least 5-6 feet away from them to ensure that they retain that pearly complexion.

4. …But Not Too Far Away! If you go too far away you’ll end up seeing only the whites of their eyes, despite the use of your flash. Most compact digital cameras have a tiny flash that can illuminate objects at a maximum of 12-15 feet. Each camera is different, so experiment with yours to find the best distance to take pictures at, and maintain that distance.

5. Use Red-eye Reduction Mode: To make sure that your pictures are memorable, you need to make your subjects look good. Nobody likes their eyes looking like they’re a deer caught in a car’s headlights! Software like Picasa and Photoshop Elements have tools to remove red-eye from your party photographs gone bad, but why bother when all you need to avoid it is to push a button?

The Crowd at The Gatsby Village6.Turn the Flash Off; Sometimes: Sure, the flash is your best buddy at a party, but if there are coloured strobes or lasers, you could get some amazing effects when you turn your flash off. If you’re at a club or a disco and there are a lot of coloured lights, you will most probably be able to get some really good photographs using the ambient light alone. Wait till your subject is lit up with one of these lights and press the shutter, or get some really good silhouettes. Show your friends these pictures, and you will have to watch your feet as their jaws drop.

7. Zoom out: Most low-light photographs come out better when your camera is zoomed out fully. This is because the pictures show less shake and end up looking sharper. This also ensures that you don’t cut off somebody’s head or feet by accident.

8. Try Slow Shutter Speeds: Use the night exposure mode and set the flash to rear curtain sync. You’ll need to hold the camera steady in this mode because the shutter will stay open for a while before the flash goes off. The payoff is that you’ll be able to see things which would otherwise be too dark. You can get really artistic with this mode. Try moving the camera around to get some streaks of light, but make sure that you have the picture framed as you want it when the flash goes off. You’ll end up with some really amazing shots of your friends swirling in a sea of lights if you do this right! (Hint: this is really great on the dance floor at discos & clubs) you can also try this mode without the flash if there’s enough ambient light around you.

9. Use a Higher ISO: Your camera can be set to be more receptive to light. Setting a higher ISO ensures that you can take pictures with a faster shutter speed so that there is less shake. You have the disadvantage of more noise though, and with older compact digitals this tends to be quite a problem. However, you can always turn a disadvantage into and advantage by using it creatively. Think of the noise as a photoshop filter that adds a gritty texture to the photograph and take pictures with that in mind.

10. Try Different Angles: Try taking pictures from high up, and from low down. Try taking a picture of the entire room from as close to the ceiling as you can get, try taking a picture through the fish tank, or through a book shelf, there’s no limit to where you can position the camera to get a different view of the party.

11. Find Uniqueness in Every Party: Try to find something unique at each party, say a funky decoration, lamp, rug or maybe just a great balcony with a view, and make sure that it plays a key part of some of your pictures. If it is something that your host takes pride in and they like the way you’re showing it, you’ll be invited to every party that happens for the rest of your life…

12. Take sequences: Take a sequence of pictures that relate to each other. It could be a sequence of people with a cigarette in their mouths, or one with different people standing next to the same lamp, or sitting in the same chair from the same camera position. This will give people something to look at and compare the different reactions that people have alongside something that does not change.

13. Use multi-fame capture:. If your camera can take more than one picture in a row, take some pictures of people dancing or laughing in that mode. Make sure that the camera does not move too much so that the effect is heightened. Seeing a progressive sequence in the midst of a lot of still photographs makes for some interesting viewing.

14. Put New Batteries In: This may sound really duh! but very often you’ll find that having new batteries in the camera, spare batteries, or freshly recharged batteries in the camera bag can make all the difference when that new band comes on and you find that they’re really cool, or when one of your friends decides to convince you that David Blaine is just a glorified party magician.

15. Free Up That SD Card. You never know how many pictures you’re going to take at a party! You may find that you have space for only 10 pictures and you’re about to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger…’s PR manager! A good practice is to delete pictures from your flash card when you transfer pictures to your computer, and to transfer pictures frequently.

16. Have Fun at the Party. Remember, the party’s not worth taking pictures of if you’re not having fun… so put the camera down for a while or let somebody else have a go at it while you take centre stage. (Added Bonus: you can laugh at the other pictures when you’re showing off your art pieces).

Remember that with party photographs, anything goes, so don’t be afraid to explore new settings on the camera and new ideas in your mind…

Note: Photographs have been used with permission of their respective owners and copyright remains with them. Please click on the images to be taken to their respective flickr pages.

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Published: March 6, 2007 | Last Updated: July 22, 2021

9 thoughts on “How to Take Better Party Pictures!”

  1. i hate to take pictures using flash and thats the main reason i cant take much of night pictures as i dont have a tripod. The recent ones you see in my flickr was taken keeping my camera on the table.

    I will certainly try the tricks you have explained here on my next party outing.

  2. Slow-sync flash is a real stunner when used well. The trick is that you should not let blur affect your photo-taking. Make use of blur to emphasise the movement of people and the vibrance of the party. Of course, camera shake when its not wanted will always be a nuisance, but you can then increase your ISO as long as you’re OK with the increased noise levels.

    Happy Shooting!

  3. thanks for the article. it would be much appreciated if there’s a printable version for all your articles. last time i tried printing, it had a very weird result. just a thought. 🙂

  4. Thank you “Anonymous”, its always great to hear that people do think that what you write carries value, its great to hear from you.

    About the printing, I’ll look into the matter and see what I can do about it. Thanks for the heads-up though!


  5. “Use red eye reduction mode.”

    I disagree. Never ever use red eye reduction mode. Because it emits a light to reduce red eyes before taking pictures, it is both annoying and it ruins the spontanity of your photos. The occasional photo with red eyes is easy to fix anyway, and many photo programs have specialized functions for this.

  6. Hi Steve,

    Welcome to Beyond Photo Tips. I agree with you in part. Red eye reduction mode is annoying, especially in the dark, and may leave some people with a surprised expression. However, I have noticed that many point and shoot cameras have a tendency to have red-eyes in every shot; no matter where the subject is looking.

    If your camera is not like this, and you know how to remove red-eye from a photograph with software like picasa, then go ahead and disable the red-eye reduction option.

    Thanks for the opinion, Steve. Very useful.

  7. Use a flash bracket – so that the flash is to the side of the camera – ie off centre, and then try to bounce the flash off the ceiling / not direct – and this way you eliminate red-eye in the original image. Then a softbox over the flash – gives a more natural light look. Then shooting RAW helps to fix white balance issues – which there are usually plenty of under the lighting of most parties.

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