Feeling the cool air on your skin and hearing the wind rustle the leaves above while enjoying the company of friends is some of the best parts of outdoor parties. Outdoor parties can be a social gathering, a picnic, a wedding reception, or a celebration. For photographers, outdoor parties pose a unique challenge and set of opportunities. We’ll discuss some important principles to keep in mind while shooting outdoor parties and how to prepare for a shoot like this.
As with any photo shoot, it’s important to show up early or go scout the location beforehand in order to get a feel of the area. Look for places that would create nice backgrounds for group portraits, such as a waterfront, a grassy area, or a bench. As you walk around looking for nice compositional angles and checking the exposure of the lighting, make sure to bring a journal to document your findings. This way, you can review your notes on the day of the photo shoot before the event. This is especially helpful if you have multiple photo shoots per week, as sometimes you can get them mixed up.
If you don’t want to carry a journal around, another option is to take test shots on your camera and save them to your memory card. Before the actual shoot, review the test shots to get an idea of the lighting, notable areas for portraits, and other interesting details. It’s good to bring a gray card and a spot meter when you scout the location. The gray card helps you adjust the white balance in post-production, in case you forget to bring the gray card on the day of the shoot itself. Include the gray card in your test shots in different lighting scenarios. This way, if you shoot in the same spots again during the day of the party – you won’t need to worry about white balance. Bringing a spot meter will help you determine the lighting situation for that time of the day. Knowing this information will help you decide what kind of equipment you’ll want to bring on the day of the party.
One of the greatest pros of shooting outdoors is the endless amounts of compositional angles you have access to. As the photographer, you get to choose what the background of the shot will be. As such, it is important to choose a background that adds meaning and context to your photo. For example, the photo above shows a group of friends having a picnic along the waterfront, with the cityscape in the background. This is a great contrast to the greenery and nature in the foreground of the scene. In addition, by focusing on the people and their social interactions, it creates a contrast with the urban buildings in the background. Be sure to bring some wide angle lenses such as a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens to be able to take photos of large groups as well as include the surrounding elements.
As a photographer, one of the challenges we face is always striving to always be creative. Outdoor parties are a good outlet to test ourselves and to get more practice in this regard. For example, instead of taking a group photo at eye level, why not try lowering the camera to get a different perspective? The photo above is a great example of how looking up at the subjects captures not only a unique perspective but also the surrounding flora to create a very nice backdrop.
Some photographers swear by natural light. By this, I mean that some photographers refuse to use flash no matter the situation. Outdoor parties never have this issue, because there is so much natural light outside. Depending on the time and the forecast, you’ll be able to use the existing natural light to your advantage. The best kind of natural light for portraits is soft, diffused light. This kind of lighting is very easy to work with because it fills all of the shadows on a subject’s face. Natural light is also great for newer photographers because it doesn’t look unnatural like the light that comes from flash. Obviously, this is because it’s “natural light”. Our minds are accustomed to the color and intensity of natural light sources such as the sun and moon.