16 Birthday Party Photography Tips for Perfectionists

Role of birthday party photography is to help us preserve beautiful moments spent with friends and family. To relive this wonderful birthday experience, there is always a desire to capture them in the form of photo or video. The expressions, emotional release, playful moments and often beautiful moment of blowing out candles and cutting that birthday cake. Thus, there are uncountable things to photograph and capture at a birthday party. Often, photographers end up shooting the whole birthday event in the form of group photography as that is the easiest thing to do. For birthday party this type of photography does not look particularly good. The essence of birthday photography is to use a camera as a storytelling witness of the birthday event and make the viewers relive the beautiful experiences from their birthday party or that of someone close to them.

The essence of birthday photography is to use a camera as a storytelling witness of the birthday event.

To avoid shooting like a hired passport photographer in a birthday party, here are some Birthday Party Photography tips we compiled to help you achieve a superb birthday photography session and give your clients and the celebrant a completely memorable event in pictures.

Birthday party

Alright! Let’s get the party started! Birthdays are important milestones in each person’s life and regardless of the age of the person celebrating, it is important to document the occasion. As much as we want to say you should spend all your time photographing children’s birthdays, there is no reason not to snap away at adult and senior birthday events, either. To make those celebrations pop off of the photo paper or computer screen when viewed you need to know some basics on how to shoot birthdays, here are our favorite 16 Birthday Party Photography tips.

16 Birthday Party Photography Tips for Perfectionists

1. The Master Plan for Birthday Party Photography – Can You Plan the Fun?

The Master Plan for Birthday Party Photography - Can You Plan the Fun

For every photo shoot, including birthday, an organization is everything. Our first and probably most important tip for any party photography, including birthday, is to make a habit of drawing up plans of sights to capture. This will enable you to set goals for yourself and assess your success rate. It is a birthday event photography and there are shots you should plan ahead to deliver a memorable presentation in pictures. You can create a checklist with distinct titles of the planned shots to help you remember e.g. “celebrant with school clique”. Think of the background you want, the props you want in your frame, the mood, etc. if you are planning a candid photoshoot. You may just need to relax the rigor and plan for moments to sneak in and take the photograph.

Make a habit of drawing up plans

Also, because of the running around and plenty of movement, there is a need to adequately plan for the key moments of the birthday celebration. You cannot afford to miss out on such special moments as your client or celebrant is likely to remember and ask you for the photos. You don’t want to appear lost upon such request. To avoid this and even get an edge, get the celebrant, or parent to ask for the moments they really want to see in pictures and maybe the organizer to give you a good grasp on the birthday party agenda and plan of events. This will enable you to look sharp and ready for the whole celebration.

2. Design Your Photo – Do Not Let the Birthday Party Distract You

Design Your Photo - Do Not Let the Birthday Party Distract You

It is quite likely that the majority of the shots you will be taking will be candid shots. This does not mean that you should not have a plan. Consult with the client to know the specific photos they have in mind and draw up your designs to achieve their aim. To get some creative ideas on what is possible with Birthday Event Photography check Birthday photoshoot on Pinterest.

3. Outdoor Shooting Is Always Better – (When It’s Not Raining)

Outdoor Shooting Is Always Better

Is it an afternoon or evening party? Then you are lucky! You can take advantage of daylight by shooting outside. Daylight naturally makes your photos better because of the bright lighting. All you probably have to do is adjust your aperture to suit your taste. Indoor shots can be quite clumsy, crowdy and terribly confusing. But you have a greater chance of having a more splendid birthday shoot with the lighting and space at your advantage. The bright sunlight may just take care of shadows threatening to appear in your photos.

Take advantage of daylight by shooting outside

So, whenever it is possible, do take your shots outside. If it is an evening party and it is indoors (that you cannot help it), you can use the excuse to take few great outside shots of incoming guests and the celebrant as she welcomes them (or whoever does).

4. Artificial Lighting or Flashlight

Artificial Lighting or Flashlight

Lighting as you know is perhaps the life and blood of photography. As I said before, the best shoot would be outdoor photography to allow for natural lighting and escape from shadows. However, if indoor shooting becomes inevitable, then you must be well prepared to cope and deliver top quality still. The first option in indoor photography would be to aim to use artificial lighting such as bulbs, bright chandeliers, etc. This may be good enough to lit the whole venue and sometimes not good enough which makes the use of flash inevitable. The first tip in the use of flash is: do not direct flash or artificial light straight at the subject. It creates a shallow image with red eyes and dark background. You may need to direct it towards a white ceiling or wall to allow the light spread and gain a wider illumination. For all light situations, the light sources must be coordinated to prevent dazzling the subjects and prevent them from blinking in the photos. To achieve this, you will need to get an external flash rotatable in several directions. You may also need to regulate the flash output correction feature to get better results.

Do not direct flash or artificial light straight at the subject

A small attachable lightning diffuser, also known as “bouncer” may also be employed to scatter the light. It is plugged onto the reflector of the system flash and the result is a very soft light that diffuses shadows.
So as a good tip to achieving very great birthday photography; get your lighting right. Make your pictures clear and rid of common lighting flaws. I also suggest reading our guide on how to get good lighting for indoor photos.

5. Shoot Several Photos

Shoot Several Photos

Well, this really shouldn’t be a tip, but for the sake of not missing the best moments: shoot plenty of photos. Not all your photos will be awesome, and the worst part is when a key moment was just captured once or twice only to find out that it was blurry, something wrong appeared in the frame or some other evil thing just affected the photo and it cannot be used. Painful, isn’t it? The easiest way to avoid this is to shoot several pictures at each opportunity. Shoot the same subject several times from multiple sides. Take pictures randomly; the reactions of guests, the busy face of the organizing friend or sibling, friend, the cute smiles, etc.

One of the best ways to capture all these moments is to learn how to shoot in a continuous mode (burst mode). This helps especially during the special moments such as blowing out the candles when you have little time to capture whatever is going on. So, keep shooting and don’t assume you have shot just enough till the party is totally over and it is practically impossible to shoot again.

6. Experiment with Shots and Perspectives – Be Innovative

Experiment with Shots and Perspectives - Be Innovativ

There is a wide range of perspectives and angles you should always try out. Be innovative rather than traditional. Experiment! This part of photography is what makes you look crazy but passionate. Climbing on chairs or tables, squatting, lying down, bending and twisting in awkward positions all for the sake of getting different angles on your subject.

For example, if you have a great number of attending guests, you can ask them to assemble in such a designated manner to depict the number of years of the celebrant. An ideal perspective for such a shot will be from a great height, meaning you might have to get to the rooftop. The keyword in experimenting with shots and deviating from the traditional postures is to DARE yourself to greater lengths.

Get into a freestyle mode!

7. Get Close – Get Involved!

Get Close - Get Involved!

With the availability of a zoom lens, there is much temptation to be comfortable at any distance to shoot. Sometimes, it is laziness, sometimes it is shyness or not realizing the need to. Whatever your reasons are, the beauty of a moving close to a subject and getting a close shot far outweighs such excuses. Think about the beauty of capturing a hearty laugh by the celebrant in your photograph. The clarity and expression of emotions that flows.

That is the real deal. You need to get involved by moving up close to the target. Don’t be too shy. I would suggest you avoid using the flash as much as possible and garner as much ambiance as possible. Search for subjects and capture them in a candid shot. Getting real close shows your level of interaction and makes it look less like just any picture but a story where we can see the subject and not the four corners of a photograph. It comes alive, natural and exciting.

8. The Candle Blowing Tradition – Don’t Miss This Photo

The Candle Blowing Tradition

If you miss these moments in your photo shoot, then, your clients could as well forget they hired a photographer or just do another celebration. Now, it is not just the moment where the candles are blown out and everybody screaming that you should capture. It is usually exciting to capture the moments just before it happens. The anticipation on the face of the celebrant, the admiration of guests, the cake and so on. This builds up the story of the whole scenario.

Here, you certainly have to take a whole lot of photos and as suggested earlier, it is best you shoot in a burst mode. Try getting a vantage position just before anyone else and in case it is just too crowded, you can use your job designation to gain a prime spot. Use a slower shutter speed as it helps to gather ambient light but fast enough to retain focus. It is much better to use a diffused flash and a synchronized speed to determine how much background light you want.

9. Don’t Forget the Guests

Don't Forget the Guests

It is very important to keep in mind that the guests are also part of the birthday party. As much as you want to get every piece of the celebrant, do not miss out on the guests that have attended – this is very important unless it is a very large and scattered crowd. Take several photos of the guests. You can also try out some “backstage” or “red carpet” shots with them. Taking pictures as the guests are being welcomed will also bring the memories alive. The hugs, kisses, screams and running to each other’s arms or the calm handshakes and pats on the back.

10. Did You See That Expression?

Did You See That Expression

When it’s your birthday you will be spun up a little tight with energy and excitement. Children in particular but even if your day marks your 30th, 50th or 100th, you know deep down inside that the day is something special regardless. As a result, there are going to be those simple moments that can pop into play when you least expect it.

As a photographer, you need to keep a keen eye out for these ‘expression moments’ as they can occur at just about any time. When someone unexpected arrives at the party, as a gift is being opened or at that precise moment when a food fight breaks out. You’ll want to capture that story within a story and expressions will give you something special to document the celebration – even if all you see is a bright smile peeking out from a face covered in icing!

11. Invade Their Personal Space

Invade Their Personal Space

If there was ever a good reason to get so close inside the action that you almost become part of the event yourself, birthdays are a good one. Zoom in tight on such scenes as the candles being blown out on a cake, or hands tearing at wrapping paper on a present for different party perspectives. Confetti in mid-air, tight face shots and much more are well worth getting up close and personal for.

You’ll never really be able to describe that twinkle in the eye of a senior opening a gift if you don’t zoom in tight and snap it. Look for these little things to blow up into your frame as they will actually become bigger things long after the birthday party is over.

12. Smile, You’re On Candid Camera!

Smile, You’re On Candid Camera!

Nothing says we are having a genuinely good time like candid photos. When we are talking about candid we really mean photos that are not staged and are as real and raw as the moments they occur in. While you may think this is a lot like capturing expressions, it really isn’t. Candids can encompass a whole lot more such as a scene as it unfolds. The randomness of candid photos can tell a story all their own in a jumbled, confusing and somewhat chaotic way. That’s what makes’em so much fun. Plus, some of your best candid captures may result from situations outside of the immediate party zone.

Ground Zero will be great for a lot of photos but hovering just outside of the main circus tent is a lot of other little birthday stories you’ll miss without looking at them as candid photo opportunities. These are probably the most exciting, storytelling and captivating shots that capture the emotional moments of the party. Shots that the subject(s) know nothing about. The expressions on the faces and where they were at the time being well captured as beautiful moments in the four corners of your photograph.

You may have to be real sneaky about it, getting into unusual positions in a stealth mode. More like a spy photographer. The element of surprise is your best resource for candid shots as it makes it so real. For candid shots, you will have to use a wide aperture with a shallow depth of field to get the best result. (Please take note that you should also take group photos/posed photos and that for this kind of pictures, you may have to adjust the aperture to dial more suitable.)

Some of your best candid captures may result from situations outside of the immediate party zone

The point about candid shots is to make the whole party look like it flowed on its own rather than a pre-planned photoshoot event. You may want to get photos of people interacting, playing, joking, laughing, etc. The expressions of these moments uncensored make the family treasure the photographs forever.

13. Catch The Other Memories, Too!

Catch The Other Memories, Too!

Sure, we are not going to lie about this. If the birthday happens to be yours, the day should be all about you. That means you should be the focal point of the majority of the photos taken. However, and this is important for a child’s birthday more than anything else – the birthday party is a good opportunity to capture memories for those in attendance. Even if all it does is confirm for someone a few years later that evidence exists that they were there.

You have to remember that there really won’t be a lot of other adults present for the entire children’s birthday party, so you can snap some shots of other kids playing at the birthday event. Other children’s parents may appreciate you for being the person on site with a camera. This can lead to new business!

14. The Dreaded Timeline Photo Set

The Dreaded Timeline Photo Set

If you have been documenting your child’s birthdays, or you have repeat gig with same kids, you will know the importance of that one or two special and purposely staged photos of Junior sitting with his birthday cake. You probably have a photo album already with the same pose taken over the past eight or nine birthdays. Junior will get to a point where the whole thing will appear silly but for you, you will have collected a valuable Growing Photo Album with a nice picture from each birthday. You are creating far more than a book of memories with this special photo set.

You are creating an ongoing collection of photos showing how Junior has grown from one year to the next and beyond. They grow up fast. Don’t miss it.

15. The Gear, The Settings, The Fun


Well, it is a birthday party so you’ll want to have a few pieces of equipment with you to capture all the fun and now you know how to shoot birthdays. Take along two of your most reliable cameras and a handful of lenses for different settings. A telephoto (300mm) lens and a standard (50mm) lens should be obvious choices. You can add extras if you plan on doing some crazy effects that you’ll need a photo editing service to tweak into perfection. (Check our guide on how to choose the best camera for your needs)

The telephoto lens lets you roam around and capture the candid frenzy of activity without stepping into it yourself. The 500mm lens will give you the versatility you’ll need to capture pretty much anything else going on as well as some excellent close-ups. If the party is indoors you’ll want to have ISO settings in the 400-800 range to keep things sharp and shutter speeds of no less than 1/125th of a second will freeze action where you want it to be in your frame.

16. The Fine Details – Before and After Birthday Party

The Fine Details

The inanimate details of the party are also worth the shots. The decoration, properties used, stage (if any), the entire room, seats, etc. You might even want to get a good number of shots before guests arrive and the whole scenery is messed up or thrown out of the arrangement. It is better to use focal lengths between 50 and 100mm, which have a close focus and can easily pick out the details. Overview shots can also be interesting to get the whole picture in perspective.

While you may want to end photoshoot immediately after the party, it can be an icing off the top to also include some shots of the scenery after the birthday party. The way things turned out after the party can add some memories and laughter to viewers, especially for those who attended and it will round up your photography story around that Birthday party.

Other than that, snap away and don’t forget to grab a piece of the birthday cake before you leave. You’ve deserved it!

16 Birthday Party Photography Tips for Perfectionists

Leave a Comment