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How to Capture Awesome Nightclub Photography – 5 Easy Steps

Introduction to Club Photography

Nightclub photography is becoming increasingly popular, with a lot of young photographers using it as their way into finding their first paid photography work, while enjoying themselves at the same time. I often walk straight into clubs with no photo pass or anything, just a camera slung round my neck, and nobody ever asks any questions – it’s a great way to start getting more experience.

Step 1 – Technique and Equipment

You’ll find that you’ll start to employ a lot of techniques from low light photography, night photography, light painting and slow sync flash, as you’re often left to make do in low light. As far as gear goes, if you want to actually come out with some good photos, you really need to have an external flash, but you can get away without one if you’re doing basic slow sync flash.

Here’s the kit that I use:

  • A camera body, preferably a newer one as they deal with high ISO a lot better.
  • Wide aperture lens, preferably f/2.8 and below, with the lens hood on (we’ll get to that).
  • A wide angle lens, so that you capture a lot is cramped conditions.
  • An off camera flash with a diffuser if you’ve got one.
  • A transmitter for you flash would be ideal if you want to up your game.

Step 2 – Setting Up Your Camera

When I walk into a club, the first thing I do is go to the places that I’m going to be spending the majority of my time shooting and find out what settings I’m going to use. Because the lighting is fairly controlled, I can set my camera to manual and set up different exposures for different situations and then save them to my custom dials.

A great way to ensure that you include enough ambient light is to set your camera to aperture priority with your ISO set and your aperture wide open and see what it tells you. I did this about half way though the night as it just confirmed my beliefs that it would be around 1/13. If you’ve got custom dials, I strongly suggest you look up how to set them on your camera as they can come in very handy (it’s easy to do), but if you don’t, then don’t worry, just keep your camera on manual. The two different places I might find myself shooting are in the crowd and at the DJ booth, so I adjust my camera for those.

For the majority of my shots, my ISO is set to somewhere around 1000-1600, my aperture is almost always completely open (which will be f/2.8 for most of these photos), and my shutter speed ranges anywhere between 1/8 to 1/50 of a second. The ISO and aperture deal with all the ambient light whereas the shutter speed is used to freeze the motion, with the help of an off camera flash.

Step 3 – Different Photos To Take

There are five main shots that I like to take:

  1. DJ photos
  2. Crowd
  3. Venue
  4. People
  5. Staff

Starting with the obvious, you’re going to want to take photos of the DJ, especially if they’re a big name act and not just the house DJ. The way this differs to the rest of the club is that there is usually more lighting so that the DJ can see what they’re doing, which can often ruin the shot. For the photo below, I set my camera to f/2.8, ISO1000, at 1/25 of a second and pointed my flash upwards at quarter power without a diffuser cap, but the little white reflector sticking out. This shone enough light onto the subject while giving them the dark eyes I was looking for. The slow speed and wide aperture allowed some ambient light onto the DJ’s shirt which helped to make it more interesting.

When you compare that you a higher budjet production of a dance music festival, you have a lot more light to play with and you’re not bothered by the small table lamps which are lighting up the equipment. I had so much more light to play with, my ISO was on 1250, aperture was set to f/2.8, but my shutter speed was set to 1/1000 as this DJ was prone to faster movement than this. I’ll move on to more creative photography for DJ’s in a bit.

Crowd shots is something the promoter is going to be looking for as it helps them to promote their night, so you’ll want to make sure that you get as many of these as possible, particularly during the headline act. If you’ve got a flash then it’ll likely come in quite handy if you’re taking photos of small groups of people like in the club that these photos were shot. The light would be lost in larger clubs, but there would be a lot more lighting to help make up for that. Have a look at the photo taken below which used a flash, and then move on to the photo I took without to see the difference. This photo was shot at 1/13 of a second to allow the light and smoke from behind to creep through.

When you’ve not got a flash, you can rely on the club’s lighting a lot of the time, but you will want to turn up your shutter speed as movement will be detected a lot easier without a flash. The photo was shot the same as the one above, only I turned up the shutter speed to 1/50 to freeze the motion. The photo below is one of the reasons I enjoy taking photos at live music events – the lighting allows you to get a lot more creative.

Venue shots are important because they’re used to promote nights over Facebook so try to include a few of them. I’ll go into more detail about how to take these photos so that they’re a little bit more interesting, but for now we’ll focus on exposure. This photo used a flash, but it was diffused and bounced off a wall so it’s well hidden. Again, the photo was shot at f/2.8, ISO1000 at 1/40 of a second.

Photos of people are fairly important as promoters often use this to promote their night again, by watermarking the images and tagging the photos so that people can see them. I don’t have an ultra-wide angle lens but these are typically used to capture as many people in the photo as possible while providing a cool fisheye effect. I personally think that this is a little bit over used and doesn’t look very original anymore. Again, ambient light is key here so keep the settings much the same, and if you don’t want the photos to look flat, point your camera upwards and use a diffuser on it to act as a light box.

Lastly, if I know the staff want photos, or it’s a particularly special occasion, I’ll try to take photos of them too. This is good for when someone wants to become the face of the night and not a name, and you’ll often find this happens with much smaller nights. The settings you might use are much the same as the other photos, depending on the location, but you have much more freedom to play around as you can take them pretty much wherever you want.

Step 4 – What to Watch Out for

This is a small list on how to look after your gear in a nightclub environment:

  • Drinks. They get spilt by drunk people all the time so watch out for anyone who’s had too much to drink, and keep the lens hood on your camera to protect from any splashes.
  • Thieves. Nightclubs are probably a bit worse for people stealing stuff so either keep everything on you where you can look after it, or keep it somewhere that you know is safe, like in the DJ booth or with the promoter.
  • Loud music. Pick up some earplugs at the beginning of the night as you’ll likely be subjected to a lot of bad/loud music which will damage your hearing before long.

Step 5 – Ideas For Different Styles

Context is important in anything you take a photo of, and this can be done pretty simply by following the rule of thirds and including some background detail to a photo. Again, I know I’ve been banging on about this, but if you want it to work, you’ve got to include some ambient light. Contrast that with a flash like I’ve done below and you’re onto a pretty good thing.

Slow sync flash allows you to capture the movement of a subject without producing a blur which takes away all the detail. I’ve written a whole blog post on it which can be found here, but it’s pretty simple to get your head around. Play around with the shutter speed to match the speed of movement of your subject and you’ll soon come up with some cool photos. Again, this works better in more exciting lighting as it produces a more interesting effect, but if the lighting is particularly dull, try and use the lights from the DJ mixer to produce some light trails.

Black and white photos are really good at producing a certain mood and they’re very useful if the lighting isn’t very good. The style of music which was being playing the the photo below was very bass heavy and minimal, so using black and white worked really well.

— — —

How to Capture Awesome Nightclub Photography - 5 Easy StepsThank you for reading my post, if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.

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Lightroom Presets (v6) by SLR Lounge

I do 98% of my processing with this package, here's why:

    • Over 300 presets to instantly transform your photography
    • Simple video tutorials to make amazing adjustments easy
    • Get that 'professionally processed look' in seconds

Enter 'expertphotog' at the checkout to save $15!

Check Them Out Now!


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5 thoughts on “How to Capture Awesome Nightclub Photography – 5 Easy Steps

  1. Libby

    Moore tangible proof that it’s not all about what I call “The Magic Settings”. Ok, I robbed that phrase from Thom Hogan. It’s about adapting to light and being able to draw from rapidly evolving action. Good post.

  2. Kyra Sophie

    My sister is having her 30th birthday this weekend and its going to be a big party with a lot of people – so she hired me to take some party pictures. therefore I need to get an external flash – I’ve got a Canon 500D, so can you recommend me a good flash for it?



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