Ideas for Photographing Your Next Dinner Party

  • © Miana Jun

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    Try to shoot details like the food before it gets dark.

  • © Miana Jun

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    Move away from the party so you can see the scene and look for contrast.

  • © Miana Jun

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    Don't be a afraid to put things together to "stage" a photograph.

  • © Miana Jun

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    Bring unexpected elements, like handwritten recipes or flowers into your photographs.

  • © Rebecca Weiss

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    Take candid photos before the meal when guests are enjoying cocktails.

  • © Miana Jun

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    If you're the host, photograph in increments of time so you can also enjoy the party.

  • © Dennis Kwan

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    Try to go unnoticed so you can photograph guests while they're relaxed and themselves.

  • © Rebecca Weiss

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    Use a shallow depth of field to focus on individual guests.

  • © Miana Jun

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    Encourage guests to take photographs as well, and share them with the group.


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By Brienne Walsh

May 14, 2013 - Spent all day cooking and setting up your home so it looks like an editorial spread from Gourmet? We asked three professional photographers to give us tips on how to photograph the evening so that you can share the memories with your guests—and your Instagram followers.

From lighting to setting up the shots, they offered sage advice on how to capture professional looking—and unique—images from the moment your guests arrive to the moment they leave, hopefully stuffed and a little tipsy. (Check out the slideshow above for full screen photos.)

Tip #1: Use Daylight

© Miana Jun

“I try to arrive early to a party so that I can see the full picture in the daylight,” says Miana Jun, a Brooklyn-based photographer. “Then, I shoot details like the food before it gets dark, so that I don’t have to use a flash. A flash makes food look overblown and inedible.”

Tip #2: Look for Contrast

© Miana Jun

“When I photograph a party, I try to move away so that I see the setting from the outside,” says Jun. “Then I look for contrast—a brightly lit patio set behind a dark lawn, or the interplay between the light and subjects. Seeing it from a distance allows me to get a sense of where I will get the best quality of light and shadows in closer shots.”

Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid To Stage

© Miana Jun

When Jun is photographing an event, she’ll often re-arrange details or add things—mason jars and candles, for instance—to create the illusion of a more detailed shot. “A fuller shot often looks more beautiful,” she says.

Tip #4: Bring in Unexpected Elements

© Miana Jun

Although her photographs for the Cooking with Flowers cookbook by Miche Bacher were staged, Jun thinks that using some of her techniques for the shots could work for a real life dinner party. Draw elements from the kitchen—unique china, a handwritten recipe or the flowers you bought at the farmer’s market. Arrange them together to brighten up what otherwise would be an ordinary food image. “Shoot them using the best available natural light,” she suggests.

Tip #5: Choose the Right Moment

© Rebecca Weiss

“Let’s face it, no one wants to be photographed while they’re chewing on food,” says portrait photographer Rebecca Weiss. She suggests taking candid shots while people are having cocktails before the meal starts so that you don’t end up catching people with their mouths open mid-bite. After people have had a drink, the images look even better. “The alcohol loosens everyone up a little bit, so they’re less stiff in front of the camera.”

Tip #6: Imagine It’s A Movie Set

© Miana Jun

Part of what makes an event photographer great is having an intuition about where the action will be at any given moment. “It’s about listening and floating around the space,” says Jun. “I give myself permission to be a voyeur.”

Granted, she can do this when she’s a hired photographer at a party—if you’re hosting a dinner, however, she suggests that you use the camera in increments of time. “Take shots for twenty minutes, and then put the camera down,” she said. In those twenty minutes, be especially attentive to shots you might not be able to get later in the meal.

Tip #7: Be Invisible…And Patient

© Dennis Kwan

“I camp out paparazzi style in a spot where no one will notice me,” says Dennis Kwan, a wedding photographer. “Then, I patiently wait for someone to finish a joke, or end a story, and capture people’s reactions with a long zoom lens.” Not realizing that they’re being photographed will allow guests to be themselves — and not feel like they have to pose for the camera.

Tip #8: Play With Focus and Depth of Field

© Rebecca Weiss

Weiss suggests playing around with depth of field—focus in one a lively guest, but still include elements of the setting. “Capture individuals in focus, but leave the softer edges in the final image—a full wine glass, or a couple embracing in the background.”

Tip #9 Get Your Guests To Chip In

© Dennis Kwan

If you’re the host, chances are you probably don’t want to spend the entire evening taking photographs. The best way to ensure that every moment gets captured is to ask all of your guests to take photographs. Then upload them onto Instagram or another social media site with a unique hashtag so that they are all compiled in one place. “It creates a community for people to comment and talk about the night even after it’s done,” says Kwan.

Related: Photographing Food With Directional Light

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