Birthday Photography Tips

When you are young, one of the most special days of the year is your birthday. Whether it’s a home party or a special day out, being creative and flexible is the best way to catch memorable birthday images. Children can be temperamental at the best of times, so always be ready to capture the smiles when they occur.


My, How You Have Grown!

Photograph of a child with the birthday cake

Children grow fast; one day they cannot walk or talk, then it seems like the next day they can run and have conversations with you. Track each birthday and remember to catch details such as the candles on the cake, balloons and presents. Photograph your child sitting next to the cake. Use natural light by a window for the best effect, and a large aperture (f/2.8-f/4) to blur out the background. Choose a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second and upwards to avoid blur and for multiple shots use continuous shooting mode. This is important as children move around quickly. Use an external flash (with a diffuser) to fill in any dark spots.


Capture Expressions

Three young girls outdoors merry, celebrate a birthday, give gifts

Children are full of energy and joy, especially on their birthday. Keep an eye on them and take photos while they are playing with their friends. A zoom lens of 24-70mm is ideal for this kind of indoor image. Turn the mode dial to AV (Aperture Priority) mode, select an ISO of 100-800 and a wide aperture of f/2.8-f/10 for a blurred background. Use flash to freeze the action. Consider using a separate flash, which is more powerful than the built in flash. This is important especially if you are photographing the children from a few yards away.


Get in Close

Birthday girl blowing birthday candles

The best time for a close-up photograph is when the children are sitting down opening presents or blowing out the candles on their cake. Take a few photos from the side and focus on the child’s face. Use a shallow depth of field to keep the background out of focus. You want to keep the shutter speed at 1/160th of a second to keep everything sharp, but also capture some of the smoke trails coming from the candles. Use a higher ISO setting if you are indoors as there is less light.


Cherish Memories

Portrait of happy boys on birthday party blowing at candles on cake

Don’t just focus on the birthday boy or girl; makes sure you take pictures of the other children too. Watch how children interact with each other, and include siblings as well. Capture moments of them having fun with each other. If you are in your home the light may be fairly low; you’ll you need to push the ISO up to 400 and open the aperture to f/2.8-f/4 to let light in. Find interesting ways to frame the images; height differences between children are interesting for composition. Remember to include elements of the party in the photo like balloons, decorations, and gifts.


Surprise! Surprise!

Birthday Girl eating a cupcake

Candid shots are some of the best images you can take at a birthday party. Certainly, people expect the obvious shots of the birthday child with the cake. You should try to capture a shot of each child at the party as well. Use a telephoto zoom lens to focus in on the children inconspicuously – set the aperture to f/4 to blur out distractions, and use a reasonable shutter speed of 1/125th of a second to keep things sharp. Remember if you are indoors use an ISO of 400 or higher so you have sufficiently fast shutter speeds. Use the spot metering mode and meter on the child’s face.


Recommended Settings

When photographing birthday parties, most of the time you will be indoors, so make sure your ISO setting is at least 400-800. Try not to go higher as the images may get too grainy. Be sure to use shutter speeds of at least 1/125th of a second to keep the images sharp, as children move around quickly and unexpectedly. Flash can be used to illuminate the child’s face, but be wary of over-use. Some flash images can look harsh and unnatural, or overexposed.


Recommended Equipment

A variety of lenses are useful for birthday photographs. Telephoto lenses of 300mm help to keep you in the background so you can get candid shots. A standard 50mm lens is very versatile and can give clear shots with a similar perspective to the human eye. In addition, you can usually get good close-ups with a 50mm lens.



Photographing a child’s birthday is a great way to remember the child at that point in time. It is amazing how much people change as they grow, and you want to be able to look back years later. When working with young people it helps to be quick on your feet, quick at focusing and able to shoot the images without over thinking them. The approach is to let the child be free, and work with what they do. Letting the child feel comfortable is the first step in getting great birthday photographs.

Attila Kun

Attila is the founder and editor-in-chief of Exposure Guide. He is an avid photographer, graphic designer, bedroom DJ and devoted Mac addict. Attila got his first DSLR camera, a Canon 10D, back in 2003 and he has been hooked on photography ever since.