Nightclub photography

Hello DT community, in this blog I am going to share some of my experience working in nightclubs and give you a couple of tips that you may find useful before attending your first gig.

So lets not hesitate and begin.

Broken film camera component repair and maintenance of photographic equipment concept

1.What equipment do I need.

First of all you are going to need a good and reliable DSRL camera, FX or DX, you can use both just remember that if you use a DX format camera it needs to be a higher end one, like the Nikon D7000 series. Basically you will need a camera with a CF and SD card slot or 2 SD slots, the second slot will serve as a backup for your work, to be honest cameras today are very reliable but a second backup is just a sign that you take your work seriously. Your camera should also be able the process higher ISO levels, be good at autofocusing in dark areas and have a good image sensor, most of your photographs are going to be distributed through Facebook or Instagram, so you don’t really need a lot of pixels for that purpose, 14 mp or anything above should do just fine. Normally I convert my pics to 8 mp to save space and since they go up on Facebook it’s not necessary giving a full resolution image, the site will automatically downgrade it to save space. Last not least, you camera should have a custom memory banks, these are a set of camera presets (ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, ecc.) that you pre-program before begging you work to adjust to different light settings or for different situations but more on that later.

After a good camera body you will need a good fast lens with preferably a fixed aperture at 2.8. The best lens in my experience should be a standard 24 – 70 , f. 2.8, I use it almost all the time at gigs, it gives me a nice wide angle range, since sometimes I have to fit more the 10 people in 1 shot and nightclub space is often very limited. If you have the opportunity, you could also bring a wider angle lens, it will give more creative shots of the scene and bring more variety to your work but it is not essential, your prime lens will be the 24 – 70. A fixed focal length lens could also be a good idea but again your prime lens will be the 24 -70.

A good and powerful flash, with a red autofocus assist light, most of Nikon and Canon speedlights already have this build in, you just need to make sure that the option is activated in your camera settings. DSRL cameras already have an assist light for low light situations but the red autofocus assist light of a descent flash is much more reliable, faster and covers a greater area of subjects allowing you to achieve a perfect focus even when trying to do a more creative angle photograph.

So these are the 3 essential things that you need for your first gig, but just to paint a complete picture of how I prefer to work lets also mention the other stuff: a backup battery for your camera, backup batteries for your flash, backup SD and CF cards, good reliable camera bag, a good and comfortable shoulder or hand strap for your camera body ( personally I use a combination of both, it gives me extra security and a better grip on you camera body), some microfiber tissues and if you really want to be prepared a second pair of clothes, being around drunk people could be a bit hazardous.

So more or less this will be the equipment requirements for your 1st and maybe all other gigs, keep in mind that different spaces have different requirements so you may have to adapt in the future.

2.What do I wear.

Man in suit on a black background

Well I am not a very fashionable guy but you will need to dress the part, usually I go for the all black look, it’s elegant and suited for almost every situation. A pair of black pants and black shirt should be more than enough but you could always spice things up, just keep it simple. Some of my best photographs are done when people don’t notice me, being dressed in black in a dark nightclub gives me the opportunity to blend a little bit and take some amazing photographsof people just having fun and being natural but at the end of the day you should decide what works for you.


Silhouette photographer

When working in a nightclub you will need to know how to move around. Usually clubs are pretty packed with people, some of them pretty drunk or holding a cocktail or something. Needless to say that people may not notice you, or bump into you, or even spill their drinks near you and your camera, so you need to keep your camera at a safe positon while maneuvering around the dancing areas. What you need to do is keep your camera body at an eye level or otherwise known as above cocktail level, that way you will avoid all accidental spills and unwanted bumps from other people. Keep your camera as close to your head as possible for to avoid any other unwanted accidents, people are very unpredictable so protecting your camera is essential. For this reason I also prefer to work without a camera battery grip, although it gives a firmer grip on you camera body it also adds a lot of extra weight, if you are doing a 4-5 hour gig, you will manage the extra weight but anything beyond those 5 hours it is just torture on your hands. People are different, I personally prefer to work without a grip for nightclubs but maybe for you it will be better if you had one, just keep in mind that the grip is an extra item, not essential for this gig, at least for me it’s not.

So while maneuvering the dance floor with your camera body raised above drink level, near your head, you will find that a nice hand grip comes in pretty handy but in other situations when you want to take a couple of minutes to rest a comfortable shoulder grip could be a life saver, the question: Which one should I buy?. Well I personally use a combination of both. I actually find this to be a great solution to all of my problems, it gives me greater sense of security, it’s virtually impossible for someone to bump into me and for me to drop my camera, for this to happen I have to also fall down. This of course this is not mandatory but if you want to see how it feels get yourself a combo grip and if you don’t like it you can always convert back to using one or the other, it’s just a personal preference of mine.

4.Working with people.

DJ or singer has hand up at disco party in club with crowd of people

One thing you will need to do is understand how to manage people. When taking a photo of somebody do at least 2 or 3 shots, especially if it’s a large group of 5+. There is always somebody that is making a weird expression or has his / her eyes closed or something, so having the extra shots will give you a better chance of getting the perfect picture. Some of them will also want to see how they look, usually when I am done with the photo and double check it I give a smile with a thumbs up or an OK sign, rarely do I let somebody see the pick, after all perfect nightclub pics are rare so you will need to do some post-processing, it’s better for them to see the final product and not the work in progress. You will also need to give your models some direction, like give them a position where you can get the club lights in the background, instead of just taking the pic next to a boring gray wall, remember composition is essential. Some people may also want to take a photo with the photographer, not really sure why, it has happened to me a couple of times but trust me, just pass on that, smile politely and walk away, don’t give your camera to anybody it’s just to dangerous and not worth it. The final tip I can give to you is to avoid any confrontation if you see something going down, just avoid it, the clubs security is surely on his way, in short try to avoid really drunk people.

5.Camera Settings.

Mode dial, exposure control dial and shutter button on mirrorless camera

Well to close of this blog I am going to talk about what camera setting I use but keep in mind that these are not set and stoned, they vary from place to place and depend on the lights of the nightclub. When going to a new place, usually I get there 30 min. before the gig so I have to opportunity to get to know the place, do a couple of test shots and adjust my camera settings appropriately. In my custom memory banks I use 3 different settings: without a flash, with a normal flash burst and finally with a flash set to rear curtain sync.

The first one is self-explanatory, usually lights in the clubs I work have a sort strobe effect, which means 1 sec. without light almost full darkness and a 1 sec. with light or full darkness with just one projector illuminating a random spot of the space.

Without flash: I set my exposure time to 1/100 sec., f2.8 with a higher level of ISO 1600 (could be more or less), this give me opportunity to capture the natural ambiance of the space and just get the general feel of the people in the space, using a flash deforms a little bit the perception of the space. I like the harsh contrast this type of image creates and that you get a feel for the whole space and not just do normal portraits of people.

Normal flash: You will use it mainly for normal style portrait photography, or in a situation where you want a darker background without visible club lights, it works great for black and white shots. Settings usually vary here, it really depends on how close you are to your subject and on the type of lights that the club has. One thing to keep in mind here is to adjust your aperture correctly, since you will be doing portrait photos of a 2+ people you will need a large depth of field, so you can get everyone in perfect focus, a f. number of 3.5 or higher should be more than enough. If you also have a Nikon or Canon with a Speedlight flash, I usually use the manual setting on the flash but you could also do the automatic one, it’s pretty reliable and for your first gig it will do wonders.

Flash set to rear curtain sync: Well this is the setting where great images happen. So adjust your ISO to 300-400, f-number should be the same as the normal flash setting, set your flash through your camera menu to rear curtain sync (Slow Sync Flash) and your exposure time to 1/3, 1/5 or 1/8 sec. (again it depends on the situation, you will have to do some beforehand testing to get the perfect setting). Slow sync is a feature available on a wide range of digital cameras that enables you to fire the flash at lower shutter speeds, so basically the slower exposure time allows for the club lights to enter into your photo and give a more colorful and just different feel to your work. Using this setting is a bit of a hazard, so you really need to experiment a bit until you get a feel for the work you are doing.

Well this blog is getting a bit too long so I am going to stop here but if you are interested in going into more debt about the custom settings and getting some examples of what to do, what not to do and how to do it or not to do it, please join me in my second blog addition, coming soon. Thank you for reading and good luck at your first gig.

Photo credits: Brostock, Maxim Evdokimov, Vadym Andrushchenko, Sergey Tinyakov, Vchalup.

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great blog. thanks for sharing.


This is good article with detailed tips!

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