Taking Pictures at the Party

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I can hardly believe how fast this year has gone by!  Wasn’t I just complaining about the unforgiving heat during a wedding I photographed on a cloudless +35C day?

Now, here I am bundled up in the +1c cold and snow, with new snow tires mounted on my car. Gosh, there is even an advertisement on television about what wine to bring to upcoming Christmas parties. Yikes!  Don’t get me wrong I like Christmas, and everything that goes with it, but I am not ready for winter’s snow yet, and neither is all the stuff in our yard that will get covered and damaged if I don’t get off my-lazy-whatever and pick them up.

Even though it seems early the Christmas season is coming up fast and that means photographic opportunities as we join family, friends, and co-workers at all the year-end festive events that are going to begin in December.

Photographer friends are going to dive in, digital cameras in hand, happily filling memory cards with candid photos.  The act of picture taking has become so easy and so much fun as photographers rush over to take a picture, look at the LCD, and quickly slide back to show others those tiny images.

For many photography has become more about the process of picture taking than it is about creating art, or even documenting the party; it is more about standing in front of people, taking lots of quick snapshots, than it is about making memorable photographs.

Most images made in this fashion never become more than space-taking files stored on computers that after quickly being looked at, laughed at, or smiled at, are tucked away with good intentions to be used in some fashion in the future, but after that initial viewing they loose their value because there are too many, and very few are good enough to give to others anyway.

How should readers approach photography at the next party?  Yes, readers should continue to make candid photographs of people having fun, but, perhaps, they should also think about making pictures that tell a story, capture an exciting moment, and importantly, flatter the subjects.

Most people don’t mind seeing a picture of themselves being silly or having fun, but they don’t like pictures that make them look stupid or unattractive.

My approach is to take a moment to look at the room in which I intend to make photographs, make a couple of test shots with longer shutter speeds (my favourite is 1/60th of a second), to include some ambient light when making exposures using the on-camera flash so as not to end up with brightly lit faces surrounded by a black environment.

I suggest taking group shots with two or three people. Get them to position themselves so they are squeezed together with a tight composition, and include only a little background or foreground. Don’t shoot fast, steady the camera, and select a shutter speed that includes the ambient light. Fortunately most modern DSLRs easily allow ISO sensitivity that is 1600, and some go a lot higher.

Shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second, or less, doesn’t always work for children playing in the snow during the day because moving subjects will be blurry, but, with limited lighting moving subjects will only be exposed when the flash goes off.

Lighting everything with complicated studio equipment would be great, but that would ruin the party for everyone. The occasion would become more about the photography than about the fun and festivities.  I use an on-camera flash and make adjustments as I go. I want to join in on the fun, not act like a photojournalist.

Family and friends don’t mind having their pictures taken as long as its enjoyable and I want pictures that show them having a good time. So, along with those quick candids I make posed portraits with smiling faces, and if I select some pictures to give away later I want people to like the pictures taken of them and honestly thank me.

I always enjoy everyones comments, John

My website at www.enmanscamera.com

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