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Tips for Photographing an Event

Whether it's your mum's birthday party or your first job as an event photographer, I've got you covered.

Champagne Event Photography

Step one: Hire me. I'm joking (well, only partly). I would always say to hire a photographer who knows what they're doing, so you can relax and enjoy your event and they can get a good job done.

BUT, I know it's not always possible to hire a professional photographer for your parents' 40th anniverary and you want to make sure that it's recorded for posterity. So let me give you tips for photographing an event to make sure you capture the whole vibe, whether it's on your iPhone or on a fancy pants camera.

If you're getting into event photography, you already have your own style and it's what comes most naturally to you. I'm all about the little details, as you'll read in a minute, whereas you might be great at getting posed shots. Whatever your style, below are the basics of what should be on your checklist for an event.

Before the Event Starts

You need to get into action before your event even starts. Not for long, just to make sure you get all those little details that might get missed when you're suddenly overrun by people. Whether it's been you or someone else, there is usually a lot of time and effort that goes into creating decorations and other things that can sadly go unnoticed.

I know it might seem trivial at the time, but these details are what you will treasure 20 years later when you've forgotten what the party looked like. Plus, you'll be so grateful that you took a picture of that bottle of wine that tasted so good.

Don't be afraid to get up close and personal with these details - go as artistic as you like! If you're using a camera on manual mode, open up that aperture as wide as it will go (I am obsessed with using f/1.8 to get that beautiful blur in the background) and you will draw the eye to the detail that you're capturing. If you're using a phone, get down level with what you're photographing and make sure your focus is where you want it.

Although you don't have to spend long on this, don't rush it. If you rush these images, they can end up looking like an afterthought. I tend to get to an event 20 minutes before the guests arrive so I have time to get ready, wander around the venue and take in all the delightful flairs that are often so personal to the host. Snap pictures of what make you smile. That's my main rule with every picture I take.

DJ's laptop and desk

Be on the move

I cannot say this enough. Don't. Stand. Still. For. Long.

The action is not going to come to you. You need to go to it. If you are constantly on the move, then you can't fail to capture great moments. The key is to try and anticipate a moment that you want to photograph.

Mother and son playing

Does it look like someone is about to give a toast? Make sure you get a picture of them and move on quickly to snap a few reactions from the other guests. Has a child just picked up an extremely messy dessert? Grab a picture of them with chocolate all over their hands and face. Did two friends just spy each other across the room? Track them and get a picture of their greeting.

Friends hugging

These are the photos that will capture the truest emotions of the event. People love to look back on those moments to relive the feelings they had at that point in time. To capture these moments, you cannot stand still for long, as the people you are photographing will not be standing still for the entire event.

Another great reason to be constantly moving around is you don't want to be a hanger on. There is nothing worse than an on edge guest who feels as though you're about to pounce on them. If you've taken a few photographs of one group of people, then move on somewhere else. Your guests will be a lot more relaxed if they don't feel as though you're waiting around, desparate for them to smile.

P.S. My favourite time to get photos of people is when they spy the canapés or cake that's headed their way. Be on the move and follow the person who has brought the food out and capture the delight on guests' faces.

Interact with guests...but also don't...

This is a funny one, but it's one that you will get used to.

The best way to get beautiful candid photographs of guests enjoying themselves is to be unnoticed. The majority of people suddenly pose or go rigid if they spy you with your camera, so to get relaxed pictures, move around quietly in the background.

Party guest

This might mean subtly hiding behind other guests to make sure you go unnoticed. Although this might feel annoying at first, it can beautifully frame your subject with the other guests. Just be prepared for people to see you out of the corner of their eye. I cannot tell you the amount of times people have seen me with my camera pointed towards them and they've just legged it in the other direction. I try not to take it personally.

Wear comfy shoes that mean you're not clip clopping around in heels and drawing attention to yourself. They also make it a lot easier to squeeze through small gaps between guests.

However, although you want to make sure you're not getting in the way, you want to engage with the guests, especially if you know them. If you flash them a warm smile, then they're likely to smile back.

Party guest with beer London Pride

If you have a little joke with the event guests, they'll be so much more comfortable with you when you suddenly pull out your camera. Candids are wonderful, but so are photos where your subject is engaging with you!

Don't be afraid to boss people around a little. If you know that everyone posing for a group shot is too spread out, then tell them to move closer together. Ask guests if they would like to have their picture; the worst that happens is they say no.

Black tie party guest

Take a picture of them taking a picture!

This is one of my favourites, although not a necessity. I love to watch people taking selfies or take photos of their friends.

Taking picture of friends at party

If you see someone about to take a picture, just take a sneaky snap behind them.


Let's get down to the technical stuff.

If you want to take pictures of your event on your phone, go for it. Phones are incredible these days. However, this does come with warnings: there might be some loss of the depth of colour; if you are in poor lighting you might have a grainy image.

If you are a photographer, you don't need too much gear as you should be pretty mobile:

  • Camera

  • Flash/Speedlite

  • Lens - I love my 50mm prime lens for events but use what you love

  • SD Cards

  • Back up batteries

Bad lighting can be an absolute pain, but once you get your head around using a flash you can keep your ISO low and make sure you don't get any grainy photos. I prefer to bounce my flash off the ceiling and use a bounce card to still get the catch light in my subject's eyes.

After the event

Once the event is over, you can definitely relax. For me, I just collapse from the delight of my social interaction being over. Nevertheless, your job is not done.

Back up your files.

Can you picture it? You've smashed your job of capturing the event, and then your pictures are lost. They get accidentally deleted or your computer breaks and you can't retrieve the files. Nightmare.

As soon as I can, I pop my SD card into my laptop, check the files, and save them all onto a hard drive, ready for me to edit them.

If you've taken loads of pictures of your party on your phone, please do not leave them languishing in a folder on your phone. Put them on your computer and a USB. Keep your eyes peeled for some ideas from me headed your way on what to do with your prints.

Happy photographing!


Olivia Hill Photography

Thank you for joining me over here! If you don't know me, I'm Livi: a photographer from Cambridge. I love to knit, bake and read - yes, I am indeed a twenty-something-granny.

Although I studied Classical Studies at uni, I always knew I would end up doing something creative with my life and this seems to be it. I have always loved taking photographs, but that passion came alive when I started my photography diploma.

I'm here to give you ideas of what to do with your photos, encourage you to get behind the lens and hopefully excite you about photography.

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