New Year’s Eve has often been called amateur night, however when it comes to capturing the big event, you better have some chops when it comes to your photographic skills. From mixed lighting and fireworks to party host expectations, you’ll need to have the following techniques down pat.
Get the Details
If you’ve been hired to shoot a private party make sure you have a pre-party chat with the host and have a detailed check list on hand.
Many New Year’s Eve parties are black-tie and some are more casual. Find out if you’re required to be dressed to the nines as well.
Are they hosting an all-nighter and expect you to hang tough until 6 am the next morning? Be sure there’s a clear start and end time.
Not every photographer wants to work this holiday, so be sure to raise your rates to a premium to match the specialness of the occasion.
Major Events & Guests
Ask if they’ll be any major toasts or special guests that they want captured.
In addition to your camera you’ll want to have on hand:
- Speedlite (for High Speed Flash Sync techniques)
- A Medium Range Zoom Lens (28mm – 80mm) and Longer lens (80 mm-200mm for firework shots)
- Tripod and Remote Shutter Release — for photographing fireworks)
- Extra Memory Cards
Capturing the Atmosphere
Using a High-speed Sync Flash
Try the Rear Curtain Sync mode to capture moving subjects and use longer shutter speeds. The result is a flash-frozen subject along with light trails and motion blur ghosting. This technique is perfect for people dancing and will bring out the party feeling in your pics. Make sure you practice using it well before the party.
Panning & Blurring
To really exaggerate the excitement of the evening, try techniques such as panning while you release the shutter to get a blur effect. Zooming in on a subject while you snap or dragging the shutter will also give you some nice creative images.
Use a high ISO (like 400 or 800) for flexibility and versatility. To keep digital noise down, use a minimum of 100.
Keep An Eye on the Food and Beverage
No Food Shots
People often make the worst expressions when chowing down on the evening’s spread of cocktail foods and other accouterments. Skip anybody in mid-chew and be aware of plates of half eaten food in each shot your take.
In posed crowd shots, people holding drinks in their hand make for a busy and mess shot. Shout out a quick “drinks down” please before snapping the shot.
Experiment with Angles
As soon as you arrive make friends with the DJ. He’ll be your best friend when it comes to capturing the zeitgeist of the party. They often have a table behind their booth that’s perfect for getting up high to get some nice full crowd shots. Request he makes an announcement for the crowd to turn towards the camera for a few shots.
Low angles add drama.
A technique often used in movies, extreme angles add the illusion of motion and capture the animated atmosphere of a party.
This will be the most challenging because you’ll have to guess ahead of time where the firework will explode.
Keep it Steady
Use a tripod and a remote release device (cable or RC unit) to ensure that your camera is rock-solid when releasing the shutter.
Use “bulb” mode to hold the shutter open from the moment the firework takes off to the moment the last fire trail disappears (maybe 4 to 5 seconds).
Now’s the time to whip out your 80 mm-200mm lens. You’ll need to use fairly long shutter speeds so you’ll want to set the aperture between f/8 and f/16. Again, you’ll need to know where the fireworks will explode since you’ll be zoomed in.
Overall, don’t rely too much on posed photos. New Year’s parties are all about being in the moment and capturing the fun. Most importantly, be unobtrusive as possible to allow the guests to cut loose.