I think being the event photographer is a blessing. Whether I'm at an office party, family gathering, or celebrating with friends, my camera enables me to move effortlessly from one conversation to another. If I'm feeling stuck, I can always say, "Excuse me, but I see a shot over there I need to grab."
The camera also facilitates introductions. "Hi, I'm taking pictures for the host. My name is Derrick. Do you mind if I grab a quick shot of you and your wife?" The next thing you know you're in friendly conversation. The role of holiday photographer is much better than standing there with a drink in your hand wondering how long you have to hang around.
I think holiday events are a great time to try the bounce flash technique. Instead of pointing the flash directly at the subject, you "bounce" it off the ceiling. The light is much more diffused, like a cloudy day, and can be very flattering for portraits. One of the reasons that I think holiday parties present a good opportunity for this technique is because they're often in homes with lower ceilings that are painted a shade of white -- perfect for bounce flash.
One drawback to bouncing light is that the subject's eyes can go dark because the illumination is from above. A great trick to fix that is to attach a plain white business card to the flash head with a rubber band as shown in this illustration. It "kicks" just enough light toward the eyes to brighten them up while still getting the benefits of bounce flash.
Generally speaking, I increase the ISO to 400 for bouncing because you do lose some light from the added distance and the surface of the ceiling. Otherwise, you should be able to use Program mode and auto flash. Try it!
Flickr (I've linked you to my Flickr page so you can see an example).
Listen to the Podcast
Now that I have your curiosity piqued, it's time to listen to today's audio show titled, "The Holiday Photographer." You can download the podcast here (28 minutes).