Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Party Portraits

If you're a photographer, chances are, your friends and family have become very accustomed to seeing you with a camera.  As a matter of fact, if you're like me, then they might even think there's something terribly wrong with you, or perhaps wonder if you're sick (mentally or otherwise) if you show up to any gathering and don't have a camera with you.  I've been toting a camera around with me everywhere I go for so long now, that I've sorta become the de facto staff photographer for any social gathering.

This is actually a good thing though, because its a low pressure way to experiment with different techniques while not worrying about actually pissing off upsetting paying clients.  Sometimes though, you might feel that slight pinch from your friends and family expecting top quality work (since you're a photographer) but really all you want to do is snap a few photos of the event and have a good time.  Ever happen to you?

I digress.

Shooting social gatherings is actually quite similar to shooting wedding receptions (at least in my mind anyways).  They are fast paced, there are a few folks around feeling better than you (cough, cough, bourbon and coke) and there are generally a lot of people moving about and having a good time.  Now since you're a photographer and they expect you to get some really tasty shots of everyone in attendance, what do you do?

Since a lot of parties are usually indoors this time of year (at least in my neck of the woods ...its freezing out!) you're going to need some good light and its probably pretty clear to you that setting lights up on stands is not a good idea with this type of crew.  If you have one of those new cameras with high ISO, then you might get away with shooting natural light, but you're still running a risk on some blurry images and not enough depth of field.  You could always use direct, on camera flash ...but you're better than that!

Increasingly, my favorite technique for these kinds of scenarios is using the flash on camera, but bouncing the flash off nearby walls.  If you aren't already doing this, you might be surprised at what a nice quality of light you can get, and you can just about always bet there's going to be a white wall or door in someone's house or in a worse case scenario, a white ceiling.  Even beige or gray colors can work and it takes little to no effort to park someone close to a wall, point the flash away from them and towards that wall and voila, you get big, soft, directional light!

All of the photos in this post were shot with that exact method and you can tell by looking at the shadows on the subjects, that the light is quite soft, and doesn't draw attention to itself.  Any wall when hit with flash will make a HUGE light source and if your subject is in close proximity, we know that the closer a light source is to its subject, the larger the apparent light size is in relation to it, and therefore softer.

With all of these images I shot in Aperture priority mode, with my aperture wide open as much as my 18-200mm zoom would give me and set my ISO to 800.  I used these settings to ensure that my shutter speed wouldn't drop below 1/30 of a second (which I know I can hand hold comfortably when using flash) even though I knew that the flash would "freeze" my subjects.  This setting also allowed me to pick up some ambient light in the room which balanced out the shots nicely.  Since this room was lit with incandescent lights in a vaulted room with white ceilings, I didn't even bother adjusting my white balance (left it in Auto) because I knew the ambient and flash would balance moderately well.  These images may appear a little warm, but honestly, I prefer this when shooting people.

While I will admit that I don't expect to win any awards for these photos, this is an incredibly easy way to get nice lit portraits indoors, and since it is Christmas time, I tried to park most of my subjects in front of or near the Christmas tree.  This was quick and easy for me, plus it gave my friends a few nice portraits for the holiday season, win win!

I hope you try this out during the next holiday party you go to.  You'll be surprised at how easy this is, and your friends will love the "professional" looking portraits you cranked out for them with little to no effort.

If anybody has any questions about these shots or how I took them, please feel free to ask.  If I don't know the answer, I can always Google it! :)

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