A group of friends pose holding sparklers, facing the camera with their faces illuminated by the sparkler light.

Party photography

How to Take Creative Party Photographs

One of the best things about the holiday season is the line-up of parties and events that bring together friends or family for a chance to laugh, dance, relax and catch up. Whether you're going to a small gathering with your friends or a lavish Christmas celebration with the whole family, knowing how to photograph the fun and festivities in a creative way will help you create memories to cherish forever. With these useful tips and techniques you'll get great party photos that everyone will like and share.

1. Choose the best camera settings for an indoor party

Parties often involve low light and moving subjects, so it’s important to make sure that your camera is set appropriately for shooting in this kind of environment.

You don’t have to use flash, but you’ll need to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to deal with movement. Set a shutter speed of around 1/160 second or 1/250 sec at a minimum, and make sure your aperture is relatively wide open (lower f-number). Turning your ISO up to a moderate or high setting, such as ISO 3200 or ISO 6400, will also help here.

2. Angle your flash correctly

If you do use flash, make sure that it’s set up in a way that will flatter your subjects. If you’re using a Speedlite flashgun, instead of pointing it directly at whatever you’re trying to capture, angle it towards the ceiling so that the light is bounced towards your subjects. Not only will this produce a more natural illumination, but your subjects will be more comfortable with this too.

The Speedlite 470EX-AI, the world’s first flash with Auto-Intelligent Bounce, takes care of selecting the optimal bounce angle for you by assessing your surroundings and automatically tilting the flash head to bounce at just the right point on the walls or the ceiling – allowing you to simply focus on getting the shot.

If your camera is Wi-Fi equipped and you can get hold of an external flash with wireless capability – or if you're not using wireless but you have an off-camera shoe cord – then you can position your flash off to one side and trigger it remotely.

3. Diffuse the light from your flash

An alternative way to get great results from your flash is to use a diffusion cap or a small soft box over the flash head. This will spread and soften the output of the flash, helping you to get more naturalistic skin tones while freezing the action.

4. Try candid photography

Posed images certainly have their place, but if you want to capture natural expressions of joy at a party, shooting candidly is the way to go.

A longer lens, such as the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM, will help you to frame more distant subjects, and allow you to shoot without it being too obvious that you have your camera pointing at anyone in particular. For the same reason, you should turn off you camera’s AF assist light.

Rather than using your camera’s flash when shooting candidly, it’s better to use a wide aperture and a moderate-to-high ISO setting to keep subjects sharp and focused.

You don’t have to use flash, but you’ll need to make sure your shutter speed is fast enough to deal with movement.

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5. Learn how to capture a brilliant bokeh effect

Whether it’s a sea of twinkling Christmas tree lights or a simple candle, the festive period is full of pretty lights that can turn into beautiful glowing globes in the background of your pictures, with the right setup. The Japanese word ‘bokeh’ is used to describe the aesthetic qualities of these out-of-focus highlights.

Blurred background highlights can be big and abstract-looking, or smaller and more clearly defined, and you can even get creative and make the blurred highlights star-shaped, heart-shaped or Christmas tree shaped – find out how in the video above.

The effect is easiest to achieve when your lens is set to your widest aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/2, which allows you to be very selective of where you’re focusing so you can make your subject stand out against a blurred background. But you can also get pleasing, blurred highlights using smaller apertures such as f/5.6. Enhance the effect by increasing the distance between your subject and the background, or standing closer to your subject.

6. Lower your shutter speed to capture motion blur

While faster shutter speeds will help you to capture moving subjects sharply, an alternative approach is to use a much slower shutter speed to create movement in the scene with static subjects.

Set a shutter speed of around 1/10 sec or 1/20 sec if you're shooting handheld, and make sure a static (or relatively static) subject is clearly visible in the scene. It's useful if your lens has Image Stabilizer, as it will help to keep your images sharper at slower shutter speeds. Some cameras have built-in IS, in which case the camera's image stabilisation will work with any lens.

If you’re using a tripod, you’ll be able to use far slower shutter speeds to achieve this effect. Trigger the shutter using a wired or wireless remote release, the Canon Camera Connect app or the self-timer mode.

A woman throws her arms back amidst trails of light

7. Capture light trails on the dance floor

By controlling when your camera triggers the flash during the exposure, you can capture colourful light streaks that convey the spirit of the party in a creative way, while keeping the subject sharp. Select a slow shutter speed of about one second, and choose between first-curtain or second-curtain sync mode in your camera's flash options menu.

First-curtain sync is the default option on most cameras. It fires the flash at the start of the exposure, and records any blur in front of the subject. Second-curtain sync fires the flash at the end of the exposure, recording trails of lights and other details behind the subject.

8. Focus on the smaller details

Remember that images of festivities don’t always need to be filled with people. Focusing on the smaller details, be they baubles dangling from a tree, dinner table centrepieces or other items that encapsulate the celebration, can still be effective in conveying the mood and sense of the occasion.

If you can’t get close enough to your subject with the lens you’re using, consider a macro, such as the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM, Ca non EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM or Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. A relatively wide option, meanwhile, like the Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM (for EOS M cameras) will enable you to get close while still allowing you to capture more of the environment to give context.

Written by Matt Golowczynski

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