In this article you will be learning about nightclub photography from a guest contributor and photographer, Randal Whitmore. As a New Jersey music photographer, I have experience shooting with mixed lighting as Randal mentions, but the nightclub photography you will read about here are completely different.
Nearly a year ago I began my photography job for my university’s nightclub on campus. It was a great opportunity to not only make some money but also get creative with the images I created.
The main thing you need to remember with nightclub photography is shareability. All nightclubs distribute their images through social channels and websites to have their brand shared around the place, as they will carry a watermark like those in the photos I’ve presented as examples below. This basically means that as the photographer, you have to do what you can to ensure that they are shared amongst friends and friends of friends etc. After all, a great, unique photo is more likely to be shared.
Nightclub Photography Tips
This article will share the different manual and flash settings I used to achieve great images in the low lighting of the nightclub, in addition to extra settings and innovative ideas that can make your photos stand out and get shared. For reference, the camera I used was a Canon 1000D – a great entry-level camera I’d recommend to anyone starting DSLR photography.
Shooting in Low Light
Nightclub photography can be tricky because not only are you faced with low lighting conditions but there are also a range of different lighting systems used, such as strobe, to contend with when trying to get that perfect one-shot photo. The basics you will need are a DSLR camera and a flashgun attached to the hot shoe. Personally I used a basic flash from Jessops, however, investing in brand-matched flashes can have its advantages. Scott uses Nikon & LumoPro strobes.
Here is my primary set up when shooting in Manual mode with the Canon 1000D:
- ISO – 400
- shutter speed – 1/30
- aperture – f/5
- white balance – Flash
- picture style – Neutral
- AF mode – one shot
- single shooting mode
During the night these settings changed, as I wanted to get more creative with my photos. One example would be if I wanted to get an intensely lit background from the house lights then I’d slow down the shutter speed a little bit to capture more light.
The flashgun of my choice was the Jessops 360AFD which is the cheapest option but perfect considering I was on a student’s budget and had plenty of rechargeable AA batteries and chargers. The settings on the flashgun were:
- flash strength 1/8 or 1/16
To get the best source of lighting using this flashgun I pulled the bounce card out and applied the flash diffuser, in addition to tilting it 30 degrees and swivelling it 45 degrees to either the left or right depending on the angle of the camera i.e. if I went for a portrait photo with the body tilted to the left then the flash would be angled to the right and vice versa to make sure the light source was coming from above the subject.
Additionally, I adjusted the external flash settings on the camera body and set it to 2nd curtain. This allowed streaks of light to appear when I dragged the shutter, which I’ll go into a little bit later.
As I said before, original and sharable photos are what you want which can sometimes mean adding different props to your subjects. Anything fun like a small picture frame made of corrugated card with “caught in the act” written on it or any other quirky props you can get people to interact with will add some character to the shot.
Some promoters prefer to have their branding in photos that are more prominent than watermarks. They get these kinds of bespoke printing services from professional printing companies, which basically result in you carrying a giant version of their logo around all night. It can get a bit stressful if you have to look after it all night but make some fun with it. You’ll notice that people want to display in their own way too, especially if they’ve had one too many.
Dragging the Shutter
Without a doubt this is one of the most talked about methods of nightclub photography and if I’m honest it can look really bad if someone is inexperienced with it so be careful when trying it so you don’t bore your subjects with needing to take three photos because you messed up the previous two.
To achieve this you need to have your flash adjusted to the 2nd curtain and your shutter speed a little bit slower, around 0”8 should do it on the 1000D. It works best when there is a nightclub light in the image so try start with one in the frame. Then, after you’ve clicked the trigger button, twist the lens in a direction – anti-clockwise is a preferred method. The result will be streaks of light that stem from the nightclub lights you originally had in the frame. Below is one of the multiple results you could end up with.
Go Away and Practice
I hope a this handful of nightclub photography tips pulled from my experiences has given you some food for thought if you’re considering to test your camera in the nightclub environment. Just remember to get it insured before you go. Sticky drinks are the big problem you need to avoid when shooting in this kind of setting. Other than that good luck!
Randal Whitmore is a blogger, writing about anything to do with design, photography, and other topics surrounding imagery for bespoke printing services.