I was asked to photograph a party in wine country last week - but it wasn’t your regular brand of private party. The night was hosted by the amazing Cecily Mendell ( of Cecy J Interiors ) and was the brainchild of marketing genius/all-round cool girl Paige Dunn.
This night, everyone was strangers and their conversations would be prompted and have rules - known as a Jeffersonian party (if you want to look it up or host one yourself!), the idea is to take inspiration from Thomas Jefferson and his famous parties at Monticello where the whole party participates in one conversation. The art of listening, focus on being present, and the propagation of ideas are all things we could use more of in our fast modern society. Ok, so if that sounds boring I forgot to mention the guests were all uniquely interesting, the setting was absolutely stunning, and the food + wine were top notch. Of course I have photographic proof of that!
The party took place at Scribe Winery deep in the Sonoma valley, a gorgeous pre-prohibition era estate. The beautifully preserved and restored property is anchored by the mid-1800’s hacienda, which hosts tastings, farm-to-table dinners, parties, and where their wonderful staff prepare the food - much of it from the garden next to the hacienda. This place is stunning and has fantastic staff and history (not to mention the wine), it’s definitely been added to my list of go-to’s in wine country.
I knew before I arrived that this evening was going to be beautiful, but also a challenge to photograph. Bright direct sun for the late afternoon cocktail hour, followed by a dimly-lit indoor dinner means as a photographer you really have to being paying attention to where your light is coming from. Add to that - I wanted to be nearly invisible so the guests would have a great time and I could get great candid shots. So i’ve learned a few things about event photography for those interested to hear.
Here are my Event Photography tips:
1) Capture plenty of small details. Guests and hosts often don’t have time to check out every detail like place settings, appetizer layout, or venue gardens, but all of these elements help set the mood and tell the story. They may not end up being stand alone images, but they an integral part of the story of the event.
2) Have shots in mind, but be prepared to ditch them. Weather/light is unpredictable for the most part at events. You don’t have time or space to set up a bunch of gear to get perfect light (and it would be intrusive to guests). Example - I wanted to get a few flash shots during dessert but I quickly realized that it was ruining the mood for guests and stopped after a few frames. Also, the walls were an orange sort of wood and the flash was bouncing a color cast that i didn’t love. So i went with a few low light mood shots that totally worked when converted to black white. Happy.
3) Keep in mind which moments are can’t miss and be ready for them. You won’t get everything. It’s impossible and you will stress so badly that you may sacrifice the quality of your work. Know which moments won’t happen again and be ready for those and with the rest of the time, keep your eyes open for nice moments and vignettes.
Kayla Schmah is a commercial and portrait photographer based out of Moraga, California.