One of the fun things about writing a blog is how one lovely discovery leads to another.  Back in May, when I profiled Poppy & Bean creator Colleen D'Agostino, I asked her about the headshot she provided for the post. "Headshot" isn't really the right word--the photo captured Colleen's essence and beauty more like a painted portrait.  The talent behind the camera turned out to be Aileen Bannon, a good friend of Colleen's, and a former architect turned freelance photographer who now also works as a staff photographer for Urban Outfitters.  Aileen has many arresting images of interiors, restaurants, musicians and more on her website,  But I particularly like how the image above conveys the quiet magic of a relaxed outdoor dinner with friends.  Capturing such moments is not always easy.  So I asked Aileen to share with Style Maniac readers her tips for taking really great party pictures. My favorite: "Shoot from the hip." Here's Aileen's advice on how to do that and more:

1. PREPARE: A lot of work goes into having a dinner party--from the food to the decor and beyond. Why not photograph the things that set the scene? If you're cooking yourself, take photos of a sizzling pan, prepped ingredients, the finished plate with garnishes. You can even snap a photo of the glass of wine you sip while playing chef for the evening. Take photos as candles are lit, decorations hung, flowers arranged. This is a great warm up with the camera before your guests arrive.

2. JUST ASK: The guests are here--now is the perfect time to get a few posed shots. Everyone is mingling, saying hello, hugging, smiling and happy to have arrived. Ask singles, pairs, and groups to get together for a shot. With everyone's busy schedule these days, it's rare that we get these opportunities to see each other. Photos can preserve these times and create something to look back at for fond memories.

3. BE SURPRISED: Sometimes, a camera always out and about makes the shy people uncomfortable. The camera can also call attention to only those who love the spotlight. I've found taking candids helps with balancing these extremes. This is where you can be a little sneaky and take some risks. Turn the flash off, and set your camera to low light settings. Try both close-ups and wide views. Also, try "shooting from the hip". This means don't look through your view finder. When you see something interesting, don't think about it too much. Just point and shoot! You'll get plenty of surprises and interesting perspectives using this method. This is where I often find the real photo gems.

4. HAVE FUN: These tips serve as a suggestion. I can't emphasize enough to try things out. Experiment! There are no real rules here. Remember, it's about having fun. Even if it means putting down the camera from time to time so you can fully soak in the wonderful evening. Don't forget to attend your own party.

--Aileen Bannon

Photo courtesy Aileen Bannon Foto. For more about Aileen and her work (including a recent gig shooting U2 in concert) visit

Aileen Bannon Foto Facebook Page, Tumblr and

"Use the good china for breakfast."