If you’re a photographer, you already know and appreciate the importance of capturing important moments. Getting behind your camera offers you a front row seat so some of the most prominent and personal moments in peoples lives. What about your own life? If you’re like me, there are way more photos of your family and friends, than there are you! Its ok to put down the camera. Seriously, set it down, back away and give up some of your inner control freak. So when is a great time to start practicing this? Birthday parties for children are particularly problematic for photographers. Our children, particularly. It makes sense you’d want beautiful images of the your child, your family, and every little detail of the party you painstakingly planned, but with a little help from our friends, and some photography equipment, there is a way for you to fully enjoy the party – in front of the camera. Here are some tips from the pros.

1. Set up extra early

Get your party set up the night before. We’re sure you’re busy, but a little advance planning can go a long way. Set up your decorations and furniture the night before so all you have to do is put out the food, dress the birthday boy or girl, and get some great detail shots. Samantha Covert, a photographer in Nova Scotia says, “I try to be as organized as possible the day of the party, and delegate as many tasks that I can so I’m not stuck running errands and not documenting the event. I take images of all the details before the party starts, and also try to get a few birthday portraits before the party as well…it takes the pressure off getting “perfect” pictures during the party, so I can enjoy myself, too.”

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2. Hand it over
Set up your camera settings and then hand the camera over to a friend of family member who has some photography skills. You can ask a loved one in advance and I bet they’d be honored you did. If you’re dealing with pretty consistent lighting, manually your exposure settings and you should be good. Or, you can always set your camera to one of the presets like Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority based on what your needs are. If all else fails, set it to Auto and  remind yourself there are always things that can be done in post processing. Kellie Bieser, a photographer in Ohio recommends, “Have someone else take the pictures! I want my face to be a part of their memories…not stuck behind a camera. I would much rather be focused on my kids tearing into their presents and having fun with their friends than composing the shot or setting my white balance.” Other photogs agree. Shey Detterline, of Maryland: “Don’t forget to live in the moment and be involved in the photos yourself as well. Make sure to take a test shot to ensure proper exposure first, and then hand over the camera to a trusted friend or family member to make sure you are in some photos as well with the birthday child!”
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3. Use some extra equipment
Kate Luber, of Oklahoma recomends an interval timer. “I have a Canon so you have to buy an extra piece of equipment to do it but it’s awesome. Put the camera on a tripod in the corner and forget it. Sure, you get more toasters than keepers but you’re in the shot and people forget the camera is even there.” Sure, you may have more wide group shots than photo journalistic or editorial shots, but you’ll be in them. And you won’t be worrying about camera settings, lighting, and getting that great candid shot of your son smashing his cupcake. You’ll be in it. You can always move the tripod around as the party progresses as well.
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4. Trade services

Get a little help from your friends. Photographers love to trade services. This is the perfect time! Put your feelers out and see who may be interested in a photo trade. Get to know other local photographers  – this will help your business in other ways too. You’ll want a trusted photographer or two in your corner if you come down with the flu the night before a wedding! Lauren Sanderson, a photographer in Alabama says, “I swap with a friend of mine who is also a local photographer. She photographs my kids’ parties and I photograph her’s. It makes everything so much less stressful and I get to celebrate the day being 100% present… and bonus, I’m actually in the pictures!!!”

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5. Manage your expectations

As important as it is to remind yourself, its ok to put down the camera, its also important to remind yourself that its ok if you don’t capture everything. Photographers think in small details because our jobs depend on it. That antique bracelet you wore on your wedding day – we needed to remember to capture an image of it for you. It only makes sense we’d feel a strong pull to capture every detail of our own lives in this same microscopic way. At the end of the day though, it isn’t about the images, its about the memories. If you absolutely have to shoot, at least, some of the big day, pick the most important things. Amy Schuff, of California says, “The thing I most want to photograph on my child’s birthday is their face when they blow out the birthday candles. It’s one of their most favorite parts of the entire party. This is a wonderful moment for photography too! Turn off the lights, let the candles be your guide and shoot their sweet giggly faces as everyone sings them Happy Birthday and they get to blow out their candles.”

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Capturing important memories is not nearly as important as creating them yourself, but with some good tips and a little planning, you can definitely have the best of both.

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