10 Photography Tips for Better Party Photos


Those of you who’ve been coming to this site for a while might already know that I take photos professionally. When I’m not working on Design Instruct, I work as an event photographer, so I’ve covered more than my fair share of parties and events.

In this article, I’ll assume that you’re already familiar with the basics of photography. If not, whenever you encounter a term or concept that you’re not familiar with, check out this overview of Photography-related topics on Wikipedia.

With that said, below are some photography tips to keep in mind at your next social event.

1. Add Depth to Group Photos by Not Shooting Dead-Center

When I first started taking photos of groups of people, I noticed that they tended to arrange themselves into a straight line, shoulder-to-shoulder, as though they were taking a class photo. Or, if people were sitting on a couch, they would always expect me to take their photo from dead center. And, in my experience, these situations often end up in a boring photo (at least in my book).

In a dynamic and fast-paced environment such as a party — with lots of people and not enough room or time to have a group arrange themselves into an interesting configuration — it’s the job of the photographer to make the shot more interesting.

Party photo tip: Group photos

From my experience, a step to one side from the center of the group will impart a feeling of depth to a group photo. This happens because one side of the group will be closer to your lens, thus adding depth and creating a more captivating composition. Try it out!

Party photo tip: Group photos

2. Create Interesting Photo Effects with Jaunty Angles

A jaunty or canted angle (also known as a Dutch angle, among several other terms) is a photography technique that you can use to develop an aesthetically-pleasing composition from an otherwise dull scene. Jaunty angles give your photos a feeling of being dynamic and alive.

Party photo tip: Dutch Angle Example

Using jaunty angles is tricky because it can add a feeling of confusion to a photo if you don’t keep the composition in mind.

However, once you get the hang of it, it’ll add a really great effect of making your photos look livelier and full of fun — and that’s exactly what we want when we’re snapping at parties.

In addition, I find that you’ll often be able to get the best angles of your photo subjects using jaunty angles.

Party photo tip #2: Dutch Angle Example

In a nutshell, I like to pick a focal point in a photo that I want to highlight. Then, I keep that focal point level, tilting the camera accordingly.

For instance, if I find someone’s eyes attractive, I’ll use that person’s eyes as my focal point. I’ll align their eyes so that they’re level, while the rest of the photo isn’t.

Party photo tip: Jaunty Angle Example 2

Party photo tip: Canted Angle Example 3

Sometimes I’ll see photographers just tilt their camera to one side without really keeping the composition in mind, making their photos look disoriented and unsteady. Through my own trials and errors (and there have been many), I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a right way and wrong way to use jaunty angles: It’s not enough to just tilt your camera to one side.

To learn more about jaunty/Dutch angles, check out the following links:

3. Try Using Props

This is always fun. People seem to love this and it often brings the party together. In my experience, props can be anything from a hat, funky glasses or a fake mustache.

Party photo tip: using props example

For instance, In a Halloween event I was shooting, I printed out business cards with different kinds of "smiles" on the back of them. Then I had people hold it up to their mouths as a sort of impromptu, quasi-costume.

Party photo tip: using props example 2

Party photo tip: using props example 3

At first, people didn’t really know what to make of them, so I would say, "Hold it up to your mouth!" And when they start getting it, most would react somewhere along the lines of "Ohhhhhh! That’s awesome!" That reaction is a great thing to capture in a photo.

Another example: I often wear unique glasses in shoots, and sometimes people will come up to me just so they can take a photo with my glasses on them.

Party photo tip: using props example - glasses

No matter what prop you choose, don’t force it. You don’t have to use props. But if you have a good idea, people will love it and your photos will have that little something extra to make them that much more memorable.

4. Take Portrait Shots (Even at Parties)

I sometimes take portraits of people I find interesting at parties. Anyone who looks interesting or unique, I’ll pull them aside and do a quick "photo shoot" with them.

The trick is to make them comfortable enough in front of your lens that they let you capture them in an honest moment. If they’re having fun, it’ll show. If they’re having a bad night, they’ll let that show too. It’s about attitude and emotion, and if they trust you, then you’ll be able capture these things.

Party photo tip: portrait shot example

These mini "photo shoots" literally last for only a few seconds. I say "Hi." I tell them I want to take their photo. And if they let me, I let them do their thing in front of my lens.

Taking portrait shots of people you don’t know demands a little more from your social skills than just being able to point and shoot. You’ll be surprised at how difficult it can sometimes be to single out a person from their group of friends, especially if they don’t know you very well (or at all).

Party photo tip: portrait shot (woman subject in black and white)

5. Always Be Ready for Candid Shots

Candid shots in social events are tricky to capture because bringing a camera into a scene automatically changes peoples’ behaviors and how they conduct themselves. So, it becomes hard to get good, honest, candid moments. This is especially true in environments where people are aware that there’s someone taking photos.

Party photo tip: candid photos

The trick is to let them get used to your presence and then, when the time is right, snap away! I realized this through street photography when I was still in the beginning stages of taking photos; I soon discovered that a big DSLR camera can change the scene and the mood.

Party photo tip: candid shot

However, there will always be moments when people forget you’re there, even if it’s just for a split-second, and they’ll let themselves go a little bit.

Be ready for these pockets of candid moments and capture it with your camera.

Party photo tip: candid shot of partygoer

6. Always Look for Action Shots

Look for the action! People dancing, people clinking their drinks, food being served, and so on. This all makes for interesting photos.

Party photo tip: action shot dancing

A photo will always be still. That’s what makes it special. It’s literally just a split-second of light captured in your camera. However, that doesn’t mean that a photo can’t be lively!

Party photo tip: action shot fireworks lighting

Be mindful of the movements of the party. Where are people walking around? Where are the people dancing? Who is the liveliest group of the party?

7.Β  Shoot in RAW Image Format (If You Can)

This is more of a suggestion. You don’t have to shoot in RAW format to get good photos. In fact, it’s more work for you during the post-production stage if you shoot in RAW format.

However, with the changing light conditions of a party and its fast-paced nature, it doesn’t hurt to be able to make adjustments that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do with the JPEG image format. Things like white balance and exposure are very hard to correct (if at all possible in the first place) in JPEG format.

I know many professional photographers who don’t shoot in RAW for the events they cover. They just try to capture everything in-camera and it works for them.

But for my personal shooting style, I’ve found that taking snaps in RAW gives me a little more flexibility and a bigger margin of error that allows me the opportunity to compensate for my terrible technique later on.

8. Hand the Camera to Someone Else

Sometimes, letting someone else take a photo can add great dynamics to your photos. If your task is to document the party, then what better way than to let someone else’s perspective take over for a more rounded view of what happened? After all, two pairs of eyes looking through the viewfinder are better than one. (Of course, you must trust this person to not drop or break your equipment!)

Party photo tip: group shot taken by amateur photographer

The beauty of letting someone else take photos is that people will react differently to the person behind the lens.

For example, ask a really pretty girl to take photos, and you might get different reactions from the guys at the party. Have a very tall person take a few snaps, and you’ll get a different viewpoint.

And it’s not even just for the people in front of the lens. Sometimes, if you hand your camera to one of your shy friends, it will force them to interact with people and change the dynamic of the party for him or her!

I’ve found that I take pictures a certain way. I stand in a certain way. I frame my subjects in a certain way. I hold my camera in a certain way. Therefore, my photos are pretty distinct from someone else’s work. If you hand over your camera to someone else who might do things differently, the photos will also be a little different and maybe you’ll even learn something that you wouldn’t have if you had stuck with your own way of taking photos.

9. Observe the Party as a Whole

Capturing the party on camera isn’t just about the number of photos you take. It’s about a feeling. It’s about the moments that people share.

Party photo tip: event as a whole

Sure, maybe not everyone will know each other. Not everyone will interact with everyone else. And it’s very easy to think that an event is just made up of these small pockets of closed-off groups of people.

But you have to realize that everyone at the event has one thing in common: they are at the same place looking to have a good time.

Thus, one of your tasks as a photographer is to connect these groups of people into one cohesive gathering.

Party photo tip: dancing in a social event

I think a lot of photographers make the mistake of thinking that they should just snap away and hope for the best. However, you won’t really capture what happened at the party if you think about the photos as a series of disjointed, isolated moments.

The party happens as a whole and therefore you have to treat it as such.

10. Have Fun!

If you’re not having fun, the people you choose to put in front of your lens won’t have fun either, and it’ll show in your photos.

Party photo tip: photographer having fun

As the photographer for an event, you’re one of the few people (along with the host) who has to constantly move around the party to see and interact with partygoers. This makes you extraordinarily visible.

You have to make people feel at ease and welcome at the party. You can only really do that if you’re having fun as well.

So remember to put on your happy face and be friendly.

Bonus Tip: Listen to the Music!

If a party has music playing, listen to it. I always think of the music as the heartbeat of the party. It gets faster as more people get excited. It slows down and mellows out as the night comes to a close. It’s the rhythm with which I choose to work.

Therefore, I like to pay attention to the DJ. I pay attention to breaks in the beat. I listen to the choruses, the verses, and the moments in a song that gets me excited because, chances are, the rest of the party will feel the same way.

Party photo tip: Listen to the music!

And when that beat drops, when the chorus comes in… I shoot away because I know people will be doing something awesome!

‘Tis the Season

As I like to say: In parties, people will come and go, the music will fade, and the lights will dim, but, at the end of the night, one thing will always remain: our memories. Make them count.

As the holidays get into full swing, we’ll all be coming together in our respective houses, offices and clubs to celebrate with each other. We’ll throw and attend some very cool parties, be with family members we haven’t seen all year, and the cheer and merry-making will just spread like wildfire even if we try our hardest to deny it.

This is the most wonderful time of the year for a lot of us. What better time of the year than now to take photos?

Happy holidays from your friends at Design Instruct.

More Photography Tips

If you want to read more photography tips, check out the following articles here on Design Instruct:

  • Mark

    hey Ike, cool article but did you purposefully leave out any tips on settings, like iso, aperture and shutter speed? I’m an amateur enthusiast and love to take shots at events, but always get blurry out of focus shots, with too much or too little flash exposure. I’ve experimented quite a bit, and have become better, but would love to hear your thoughts! cool thanks man

  • Mark,

    To be honest, I did purposely leave out tips on camera settings. The way I approach exposure basically boils down to this question: “what do you need out of a photo?” If you know the answer to that question, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. There is no magic number. It is about what you want as a photographer.

    You must remember, the camera is just your tool. It’s just like a pencil to an illustrator. Or a hammer to a carpenter. Or a brush to a painter. And just like everyone else, you have to learn how to use your tool. Learn its quirks, its strengths, and its weaknesses because at the end of the day, photos are just as much about the photographer behind the lens as it is about the subject he chooses to put in front of his lens. Photos will never be about the camera (even though camera manufacturers would want you to think so.)

    But if you really want to know my thoughts on settings, it’s this: “f/8 and be there.”

    Merry Christmas! πŸ™‚

  • Nice photos, thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for sharing this.

    In my spare time I’m a event photographer and I found this very useful!

    Greetings from Romania.

    Long live the internet.

  • DS

    I really liked your article as I think it’s more about the approach of taking pictures (like you have mentioned it above) than the camera or its settings. Most of you’d say camera is important too, yes it is, but if I have the most advanced camera in the world but no artistic approach I won’t be able to caputre those moment as brilliantly as someone like Isaac. Thank you very much Isaac.

  • Ike –
    another way to add depth would be to play around with the flash. i’m a big fan of playing with light and darkness and shadows.

    another good way to take party photos so that it dont appear boring (ie when people arrange themselves together) is to make them do crazy shit. sometimes i dont even wait to ask – snap before they get the chance to finish re-arranging themselves and then snap again after they’ve arranged themselves.

    paying attention to the dj is good too: thats why dj shots are great to summarise the party athmosphere. in front of the dj booth when there’s loads of people dancing is the best spot for a photographer.

    what do you think of these party photos i took?




    ps: for party photos the camera DOES matter. the better looking and bigger the camera, the more people want to you to take photos of them. i was at a VICE party once with all these photographers – you could tell which photographer got the most attention.

    happy new year!

  • The camera I used to shoot with was a Nikon D40 and I used the on-camera flash. I used that camera at events for so long. People don’t care. The only people who care about their cameras are photographers.

    The reason that photographer with the big camera got so much attention was probably because his camera was the biggest and easiest to see. That’s the only reason. Or he might already be a famous shooter.

    Also, it really is about the attitude of the photographer taking photos at parties. You can’t expect people to react to you. You have to give them A REASON to react to you. And it’s not enough to just have a camera. You have to have the personality too.

    I looked at your photos. They’re good. Keep shooting.

  • Hey thanks for these great tips. Its like an wiki of how to photograph parties. I will definitely use these tips.

  • I’ve used your photography tips over the last few days and it made a noticeable. Thank you! – Jeff Ellis

  • Hey, thanks for the link! Very nice site you have here! I’ll be sure to follow!

  • T

    Thanks for the tips bro

  • Jiyoung

    Hi. I really enjoy your posting. Can I use flash when I am in the party? I always worry about the angle of flash(90 or 45 degree…) and about that it might bother others. Also, I want to take picture of whom I totally don’t know.
    Can you give me an advice how to approach to a person? (for example, street shot)

  • Jiyoung,

    The best advice I can give when it comes to flash is to ask you what kind of photos do you want to take? Bouncing your flash towards the ceiling or onto a wall gives you a different kind of light than if you pointed the flash directly at your subject.

    As for taking photos of people you don’t know, in a public space (i.e. a party, the street, a park, etc.) you are free to take photos of anyone you want unless they object. If they don’t want you to take their picture, usually they’ll say something. Also, always smile at your subject if they look back at you. It shows that you are non-threatening and that you won’t use their photo in a malicious manner. If they ask you to delete it, then you should just delete it. Taking photos of people can be very intimidating at first but you will get more comfortable doing it as time goes by.


  • pavlova

    hello bro what about, shooter speed, aperture, flash power inside a party with low light, and different lightning.??????

  • Katie J

    Thank you so much for this!! I have a big passion for photography, esp. event/street photography, however am just learning. This post will help me when I cover my work’s Christmas Party (dinner/dance for approx. 150 ppl) next month! Loved your photos as well πŸ™‚

  • Jacquie

    Is your flash on camera?

  • Brian

    Hi thank you for these tips. I find focusing in very low light difficult. How do you overcome this. I too would like to know aperture settings etc.

  • Focusing in low light will very very hard without the assist lamp. Most speedlights/flashes have this feature (the red or green light that shines on your subject). However, the trouble with those focus assist lights is that if you use too many autofocus points, you camera will still have a hard time focusing on what you want to focus on when you are shooting in extremely low light conditions. Try using only the center autofocus points of your camera.

    I tend to set my aperture between f/6 to f/9 to keep everything sharp while still letting in enough light from the background to set the context of the photo. Check out my photos at http://www.facebook.com/yestothenight to see what I mean.

  • I am a also amateur photographer. The pics I take usually look great and everyone comments but I do struggle with the settings at times. I prefer to shoot in natural light but have been asked to take photos at a indoor party with fluro lights. I am a bit nervous about the flash. I saw you mention to use the f/8 which is great thanks. My flash is just the one built into the D90. Do you have any tips? Your article was excellent and made me feel alot more confident. Thanks.

  • Bernadett Pava

    Thanks Isaac for the tips and guys for the comments, helped me a lot! Amazing ideas!!

  • I am going to shoot an imtimate engagement party at a pub that is not well lit. The couple is decorating with mason jars filled with votives to add to the lighting. I HATE flash and shoot in natural light 99% of the time…. am I going to be able to get good photos in low lighting with candles and if so do you recommend me shooting in AV, M, P, or TV etc? and you said f/8 is a good setting? what about ISO etc?

  • Isaac


    Without a good light source, you’ll have a tough time focusing in low light. However, if you’re intent on shooting without a flash, you’ll need to get a really fast lens (i.e. f/2 and below) and you’ll need to raise your ISO and maybe even slow down your shutter. It all depends on what kind of photos you want to get, however.

    Also, you don’t need to HATE flash. Flash is good. It all depends on how you use it. There’s some very creative ways to use a flash gun. Try it out! A good place to start strobist.blogspot.com

  • Isaac


    Why are you nervous about the flash? Flashes are just light sources. It’s all about how you use it and what kind of photos you want to get. Try it out!

    There are some light diffusers you can buy for your built in flash. I used to use one until i decided to get a dedicated speedlight. The photos in this article were all taken with a speedlight.


  • Samantha Milligan

    Hey! I’m an event photographer from England and I read this post and was wondering if you could take a look at some of my stuff? Your opinion would be awesome πŸ™‚ Thanks!


  • Srini Vasan

    First of all, WOW!! that’s an awesome article, Thank you.
    Further, I’m quite good at outdoor photography, but i am not that good at indoors and parties, you had mentioned that we could use f/8, but when i used even f/16, i got blurry and shaken images, albeit without flash. Will flash help , if yes, camera flash or speed light, if speedlight, on the subject or bouncing off the ceiling or wall. I have to cover a major party soon, it has more of these disco lights, your suggestions would be very valuable

    Thank you

  • Srini Vasan

    Oh, my bad, I misunderstood f/8 to be shutter speed of 1/8, what is the shutter speed that you recommend?

  • Sahar

    then raise your shutter speed … 60 is about right for most scenarios

  • Paul Noiz

    Hey thanx for sharing your experiene!
    I have a difficult time getting quick focused shots, what could I do to get abetter feel in how to handle the cam or is it just taking looots of pics till I get it done more quick/accurate?


    Its so interesting and enjoyable taking snaps at events. With digital camera, Laptop or a Desktop Computer and a printer you can make handsome money very easily, trust me. Just have confidence and work harder, understand your target then remember you are there for business. Instead of printing their photos, upload them to their facebook albums, but this will cost you internet bundles even tho cheaper than printing. thanx

  • Jeanette

    Really great article!

  • Rich

    Your brief section on the “Dutch Angle” needs revision. I see far too many …… well I’ll call them photographers… Using a tilted camera thinking it makes art. Most of the time it just makes them look amateurish and untrained. Personally I hate that type of shot 99.9% of the time. And that’s bout how often it should be used, 0.1% of your shots.
    Otherwise your information is useful and fun. Myself, after 30 years of photography it still isn’t old. Good thing too is that the classes I taught 20 years ago are mostly relevant.

  • Rich

    A typical camera syncs it’s flash at 1/60 to 1/90 of a second. Much of the time if your flash is a TTL metering type it will set the speed for you.

  • Thank you for sharing your opinion Rich. Other readers that arrive at this article can see a different view point, which enriches this article.

    However, Rich, we won’t be able to revise that section based simply on the reason you used, which was: “Personally I hate that type of shot 99.9% of the time.”

  • Rich, I agree that tilting a camera can make some shots look amateurish. But if you read the section again, you’ll see that I make a point to emphasize “composition” when doing a dutch angle. Dutch angles aren’t just about tilting a camera off the horizon. There’s a lot of composition that goes into it. And if a photographer figures out how to pull it off properly, it can be a good tool to use for certain situations.

    I appreciate comments from experienced photographers such as yourself, Rich. Especially given your experience in teaching in the medium as well. If you’d like to share something about photography with our readers, we’d be more than happy to hear some of your ideas! Cheers! We’d love to hear from you.

  • k. williams

    I really feel what you say- I get it -especially the part about what remains are the photos—-

  • hannah

    Great article! There’s just some equipment advice i struggle to find on the internet… I’m just using a cheap rip-off speedlight, and it works fine, but I want a softer effect… Is there somethign I can use to put on my speedlight, some sort of cheap mini-softbox? Do you use anything like this or always direct flash?


  • Yvonne

    I recently did my first photoshoot for my hairsalon. Since it, there has been the post analysis of what I could’ve/should’ve done! Loved reading ur article , gave me great ideas.. So much so that I’m going to further my own photography interest & go & enrol on a photography course so I can take my own photographs next time ! Then I know exactly wot to do in order to achieve the photo I want!! So thanku very much..

  • Reda

    Great great Web Site this is helpful !

    I have learn a lot from you thank you !

    I have a question, i have been locking for a while to how to do this kind “script” maybe or curves ?


    You knows that true Dark color and gold skin ?Anyone knows ? ’cause the dark stil dark but the skin change goes to goldness

    Please i’m stucked ..
    Cheers from Belgium.

  • Michael Anasakta

    Isaac, what a great response. By way of your article and this response you have inspired me to go to the party tonight and have a great time capturing the atmosphere. Thanks so much.

  • Toni

    iso should be set to what setting? I’m shooting a new years party tonight…best settings for this would be appreciated. btw loved your article!!! πŸ™‚

  • Peter M

    Excellent article! I’m doing event photography for a while now, but there were several good points. For example, when I’m with friends, I often give them the camera and it’s interesting what comes out. On a professional engagement giving my several thousand dollars worth of gear to a stranger – would not have crossed my mind. I guess you choose people who look like they won’t smash your gear : ) Also have to say that I always cringed at dutch angle shots, but yours actually look good, the angle adds tension and life. Got to practice that.

  • Peter M

    I made an observation.

    Often when you see comments that contain phrases along the lines of β€œI have 30 years experience”, the comment is generally negative.

    Am I wrong?

  • Hi!

    Thanks for this, it reinforces that I my attitude and personality helps me get better photos. That’s the easy part for me, it’s the technical aspect I still struggle with. My clients are happy with results but I do not nail every shot consistently. Here’s a link to my event galleries from last year. http://eddiebphotos.smugmug.com/Events/2013

    A few quick questions I have are:
    1) Are you always using on camera flash? (Nikon D7000, Sb-700, Gary Fong Collapsible lightsphere, usually 18-105 or a 35mm/1.8) I can’t go off camera in these events as I need to be mobile.

    2) Is your flash on ttl or m? I think this is my biggest area to get down better and quicker)

    3) Do you use rear curtain sync on your flash?

    I get the results with editing in Lightroom (exposure and noise reduction are my 2 biggest edits). Anything come to mind off the bat that I’m missing?


  • Eddie,

    To answer your questions:
    1) Yes I always use flash. Most of the time, I don’t have any modifier on it. I don’t bounce. I like being in your face with the light.
    2) I shoot ttl. I do not use rear curtain.

    However, the thing to keep in mind is that there is no magic combination of exposure settings. All you really have to do is ask yourself how you’re going to get a certain shot. If you want consistency between shots, then you’ll have to set up your camera so that it takes a consistent exposure no matter the lighting condition. (I have the same camera and flash as you.)

    For instance, you can have a manual setting with a certain shutter speed and aperture but you have an auto ISO setting.

    Or you can have an aperture priority mode with a set ISO and a set maximum flash sync speed.

    It just takes a lot of practice and reflection on how you want your camera to perform when you’re out there shooting.

    They key is to not let your camera get in the way of how you shoot. For all intents and purposes, the camera should feel like it isn’t even there.

    You can see my snaps at http://www.facebook.com/yestothenight

  • Leasa

    Hi Isaac loved your article you sound so passionate about your photography like I. However I am only a beginner and I have a task coming up my friends 18th and whenever I’ve taken photos at night with my DSLR at night my photos never work out, I was just looking into buying a flash for my Nikon D90. Do you use an attached flash? Thanks πŸ˜‰

  • I do use a flash. I use the SB-700 from Nikon. It works just perfectly for my needs. When you buy a flash, you should invest in some high quality rechargeable batteries as well. You’ll save a lot of money and be a little friendlier to the environment.

  • Hey Isaac, Thanks for the great advice, now I have something to try out for my next gig. I love to experiment, but sometimes I feel it is a little dangerous to do so, because what if it come out a total failure and your client isn’t happy.

  • Picture Perfect

    Great Info! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with fellow photographers. I’ve been shooting for a while so I didn’t learn much but, I love the platform you created to help those in need. Keep it up…

  • Dion Martin

    Hi Isaac, do you have any tips for using the built in flash of an SLR?

  • Dangelo Jerez

    hey Isaac! this was a really good post and I really enjoyed how you shared all this creativity with all of us the dummies of photography tricks and tips.

    Thank you so much for such good ideas and tips!

  • Michael Siregar

    Very nice article, thanks for it! πŸ™‚

  • Boon Kee

    I have done a few freelance event photography work but i find myself very difficult to put on a smile or give instructions on posing or taking a photo. What to do in these situations?