Photographing Birthday Parties

bullfrog1I’m getting close to the age when my kids just want me to drop them off at a party.

Then they don’t want to see me till it’s time to pick them up.

Fortunately I don’t get invited to too many parties where parents just drop off their kids.

I’m not too comfortable with that especially if it’s a pool party.

For my circle of Malaysian friends here in the US, there is no such thing as just dropping off the kids.

Parents and close friends are expected to stay.

For one thing, there is never a shortage of food at these kinds of parties.

There may be a shortage of beer, but never food.

A Prince in Disguise?–The birthday girl seems reluctant to find out as she holds a giant bullfrog. Her mum threw a great party by hiring an exotic animal handler who brought all kinds of reptiles: turtles, boa constrictors, stick insects, scorpions and a big bullfrog.


Nothing Doing–These two guests don’t want to have anything to do with the bullfrog either.

boa_mealThe Malaysian mindset is if your guests leave hungry, the host loses face.

Children’s parties can be a blast depending what is planned by the hosts.

A few years back we attended one that I still remember very vividly because of the pictures, naturally.

I kept equipment to a minimum using just available light.

There were some situations which could have benefited with some fill-flash.

The only trouble with flash is it does ruin the spontaneity.

Every time the flash goes off, everyone tenses up.

In the end, it’s a compromise.

A lot of times just paying attention to the backgrounds and the tones will alleviate the extreme contrast.

I made sure to shoot so that I was facing the shade avoiding the sunlit areas for my background.

Feeding time–The animal handler teases a guest dangling him over his boa constrictors.


Not a Birthday Without Cake–It’s useful to ask where the cake cutting will be. Turn off the lights, take a light reading before hand. Then when the real moment arrives, all you have to do is get in position.
I tend to avoid using the flash in these situations, often raising the ISO. because flash usually ruins the ambience. Warm candle light illuminating the birthday girl, What more can you ask for? Since candlelight doesn’t carry very far, what isn’t lit is no longer clutter in your background. Expect slow shutter speeds.ISO 200 1/30 @ f2.8 zoom set at 50 mm.
If you know your equipment and your own hand-holding capabilities for your particular lens, you will like the available light pictures  better. I shot a lot of frames because I expected to have motion blur on my part as well as hers. At f2.8 depth-of-field is very shallow, that’s why you have to shoot more in these instances.


Shooting tight–With a wide angle, getting in close is the key because the extra field of view introduces a lot of clutter.


  • Canon 1D ISO 200
  • 80-200 zoom, and
  • 17-35 zoom

Sorry I don’t recall the scientific name of the bullfrog, but it was real.

So were the scorpions and the boa constrictors.

7 thoughts on “Photographing Birthday Parties”

  1. Well Shane… you’re a braver soul than I am. I don’t think I would have left my camera on a tripod with kids running around. With my luck, someone would surely knock it over. If the birthday girl is nice and sharp then I would say you did well. The rest of the kids are incidental and don’t need to be.

    What is your gravatar? I can barely see it.

  2. The last party for a 6 year old that I attended was almost a carbon copy of the screen shot above. I was fortunate to have time to set up my tripod and pop on my 50mm 1.4 lens. The birthday girl was nice and clear but the rest of the kids suffered from “OB” or Over Bokeh.

    It was a lot of fun and a learning experience for me. I typically hand hold for this type of shot but I thought that I would go the extra mile and make an impression with the tripod. When the kids started running wild, I grabbed my stuff and ran for cover!

  3. Thanks about the gravatar Peter…I just updated my account to link up with my new business e-mail as well. I had been using that gravatar on my personal e-mail for about a year now.

    I see what you mean with the shutter speeds. I have not shot a birthday party yet, so cannot speak of what settings I have used, & am not sure what I would do without flash. I guess try to squeeze in with my 50mm 1.8 if it was wide enough…if not, rely on the wide angle 2.8

  4. Hi Jason,
    Thank you for visiting my blog and more importantly taking the time to leave a comment.

    I wouldn’t say that I’m rock steady. Just because I’m not moving when I make the picture, doesn’t mean the people in the picture aren’t moving.

    Best way I can make this point is to show another picture from the sequence. I actually raised the shutter speed from 1/30 sec to 1/40 sec and you can see, it wasn’t enough to arrest movement.

    I’ve circled the 2 girls so you can compare the sharpness/motion on the birthday girl versus her friend on the left.

    In the end, it’s a combination of knowing your own limitations (how much coffee you’ve had or how low your blood-sugar is) and increasing your odds by shooting a lot during critical times like low light–something that comes with experience.

    Yes, this birthday party was different and a whole lot of fun. Better than most I attended. I wish I had kept the contact info of the animal handler so I could give him a plug.

  5. That birthday party looks like a photographer’s dream! I never heard of parents hiring an exotic animal handler before.

    Everything at ISO 200? Wow. You have a very steady camera hold technique.

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