How to Photograph Your Child’s Birthday Party

Children’s birthday parties are so much fun. They’re full of color, energy, emotion and interaction. On the other hand, photographing a child’s birthday party can present it’s own unique challenges and opportunities. Not that photographing kids is easy to begin with, but once you add a birthday cake, a lot of sugar, family, friends, games and gifts; it’s enough to make your head spin. You’ve got to be quick on your feet, quick at focusing and able to shoot on the fly without overthinking it.  Furthermore, you want to enjoy the party AND be in a few photos with you child. So, how do you capture all of these exciting moments that happen within the chaos we call birthday parties? Today we’ll unwrap a few secrets to capturing your child’s special day.

#1. “Hire” a Party Photographer

Designate a friend or family member to be your official party photographer and hand over your camera. You could also hire a professional photographer to shoot the event. Either way, you’re guaranteed to capture the event, enjoy the party, spend time with your child and even be IN the photos. However, be considerate. Ask your “official party photographer” if they’ll take photos during the party BEFORE they arrive. And, when it’s time for your friend’s child to have a birthday, be sure to return the favor.

#2. Have a Plan

If you’re hosting the party, this is your notice to have a party plan that you can share with your party photographer. While most of the photos will be candid shots, there are probably a few “must have” moments you want to capture.  These might include some group shots, cake photos, blowing out candles, opening presents, party games etc. If you know when each of these special moments will happen, you can position yourself appropriately.

Pay particular attention to where your child will be blowing out the candles and opening gifts. If possible, plan your party for the morning or early afternoon to take advantage of natural light in your home.  If it’s summer or you’re having the party outdoors, your options open way up. Also, clear the background of any clutter before you take your photos. This will save you time in post-processing.

#3. Photograph the Birthday Kid BEFORE the Party

Before (or after) the actual birthday party, plan a special birthday photo session with your child. If you are shooting before the party, you can use one of these photos for their invitation. You can even use this time to re-shoot special events such as the first birthday “cake smash.” If nothing else, this can take some of the pressure off of capturing your child in a special outfit on their actual birthday.

#4. Capture the Details

Take photos of your decorations and food BEFORE your party guests arrive. These shots might include the cake, party table, party food, balloons and other party decorations, and presents. Don’t be afraid to physically move the party details into natural light for a few photos if the party lighting is dim. Get in close, fill the frame. Then take a step back and photograph the entire party space. Of course, don’t forget to capture the aftermath of the party either, especially a destroyed birthday cake. You’ll find that these types of photos will help tell the story of your child’s special day. Once you’ve captured the details, refer back to tip #1.

#5. Important People

Make sure to capture both candid and posed photos of the people who attend your child’s birthday party. Get friend shots, parent and grandparent shots, group shots, even individual photos of each child at the party. You can send these types of photos out with your thank you cards. Of course, you’ll also want to get at least one “frame worthy” shot of the birthday kid in their party outfit. Either use a simple background or wide aperture (f/2.8-f/4 to blur out the background) so the focus is 100% on the child.

#6. Candid Camera

Candid shots are some of the best images you can take at a birthday party. Since the majority of your child’s birthday party photos will be candid, we thought we’d break it down a step further.

  • Shoot from a Child’s Perspective: Get down low. The biggest mistake we see at birthday parties, with regard to photography, is adults is taking shots from a standing position looking down. Feel free to take a few shots from this perspective, but the rest of your photos should be taken at the eye level of the subjects you’re shooting. Kneel, sit or even lay on your belly with the babies or children so you can capture the word from their point of view.
  • Mix Up Shooting Angles and Focal Lengths:  When shooting candidly, be sure to capture the event from different angles.  Try some shots from standing up high (you might even get on a chair) to capture the entire party, and get down low and shoot looking up at children. Experiment with your focal ranges as well. A zoom lens is great for party photography, but don’t’ forget to zoom with your feet. You might also try a wide angle or fish -eye lens so you can get up close and personal with your party guests. Mixing it up like this will allow for a more playful and dynamic series of shots to tell the story of your child’s birthday.
  • Continuous Shooting: One of the most effective ways to photograph a birthday party is to use your camera’s continuous shooting or “burst” mode. This allows your camera to shoot a series of shots with little to no lag time and is incredibly handy when shooting children as they rarely sit still for any length of time. If you plan to shoot this way, bring a large SD or CF card because you’ll inevitably take more photos.

#7. Recommended Settings and Equipment (assuming you’re shooting in manual)

  • ISO: Birthday parties are typically held indoors. Therefore, your ISO will vary from inside to outside. If you’re outside, you should be able to stay within the ISO 100-200 range. If you are indoors, make sure your ISO settings are between 400-800. Be careful not to go too high. The higher your ISO, the more likely your photos will be grainy.
  • Shutter Speed: Use a shutter speed of at least 1/160 to keep images sharp and focused. Children move quickly. Using a shutter speed of any less than 1/160  may contain action blur.
  • Flash: Avoid flash if possible. If you must use flash, consider bouncing the light off the walls or using a flash diffuser to tone down the harshness of flash lighting. 


With these tools, you should  be completely ready to capture all the memorable birthday moments. Just remember that it’s your kid’s birthday and have some fun! With a little flexibility and creativity, your birthday party photos will be nothing short of amazing.

Make sure you check out this post on Spring Family Portraits Outfit Guide

Photo Credits: Ashley Sisk

 

 

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Ashley Sisk

Ashley lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children and Kitty Paw. She’s a work-from-home mom with a natural light photography business and a passion for sharing everything she knows. Since leaving the corporate world, she now spends her time chasing her preschooler, nursing her new baby, writing and finding ways to enjoy life. You can find her on Facebook, Google + or on her website.

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