Taking photos in a club venue is widely regarded as a difficult challenge for most photographers, regardless of the level of one’s photographic ability, because of the constant changes in light. Unlike other event photography which typically has a constant light source which translates into exposure – you constantly need to adjust your settings on the move.

Most photography guides will tell you NOT to ‘chimp’ (repeatedly looking over your images as you take them), and whilst it may be helpful in action sports or weddings, it is imperative that you constantly check your images regularly in a club. This is mainly because most venues will be dark which means most lenses will struggle to focus and as your subjects will most likely be drunk, you don’t want them to look miserable or worst have their eyes closed. By providing you with the technical details, this guide will give you the confidence to just go shoot and capture the fun.

About me:

One of my first regular jobs as a photographer was taking photographs of students in Nottingham’s many nightclubs. Most of my skills in event photography and off camera flash were learnt through mastering the art of club photography by learning to control the light in any situation. I currently work with some of DGTL’s clients such as The Columbo Group in London, which gives me access to some of the best venues in the city. In this guide you will see examples of some of my work taken at The Nest.

The intimacy of these venues have given me unfettered access to some of the all time grime/garage legends and some of the best new artists in the music industry with many of the agencies behind these acts constantly praising my work. One of the main perks of this is getting to know some of the acts personally which can lead to some exciting opportunities. Just last month I was invited into the recording studio of one of the artists.  Some of the artists I’ve covered recently include the likes of The Artful Dodger, Shift K3Y, Blonde, Newham Generals, Artwork, Lane8 and Scuba.

The Guide:

General Settings on Camera

  • Typically we aim for a shutter speed of 1/5 to 1/20s. This allows you to capture the ambient light of the club and ensures that the crowd is captured in the whole frame.
  • Using the above range for shutter speeds, I would advise aperture settings of f/4 to f/5.6. For maximum depth (crowd and DJ) use an aperture of f/8.
  • Most venues will require an ISO setting range of 640 – 1000 but feel free to adjust this to your liking. (This affects the intensity of the light – think of the quality of a strobe light).

General Settings on Flash

  • Typically we aim for a flash power of 1/64 – 1/8. However this will largely depend on the distance between the camera and your subject

If you want to light up the crowd, creating a profile view, I like to use a flash power upwards of 1/1 [full power] and point it at 45 degrees with a low ceiling. Then take the image from the side of the crowd on the edge of the dance floor:

  • If you find yourself in a venue with a high ceiling then point the flash behind the crowd to create a silhouette of their hands and heads.

  • The above tips on Flash Power and camera settings will only be applicable to flashguns/speedlites that have the option for second curtain/rear sync often represented by this symbol: 

Advanced Settings for flash:

This is in reference to the use of both high speed sync (the symbol H in the above image) and the use of off camera flash triggers to create dramatic imagery. For example, let us analyse this image I took at the Nest:

By setting the flash to high speed sync [HSS] I was able to use a much higher shutter speed, smaller aperture, and lower ISO to create this dramatic image. Look at the way the shadows fall on his face in conjunction to the highlighted regions. In retrospect the reflection on his headphones was still a little too strong but overall a very nice effect.

Furthermore I set the flash power to 1/16 camera left at a 45 degree angle (i.e. the flash was on top of the righthand speaker, but left of the camera itself). Typically speaking in this type of situation I use a shutter speed range of 1/800 to 1/1000s, aperture f/8, ISO200.

Let’s analyse another image I’ve taken:

In the above image, the use of multiple flashes to obtain an even more dramatic style was instrumental in the process. In this particular situation I incorporated the use of second curtain rear flash to get the moving lights in the foreground. By using one flash on a high power at 1/2 behind my subjects’ head I created a halo effect whilst simultaneously I used a weaker flash power of 1/64 camera left to perfectly light the DJ. Why second curtain? Because I used a long shutter speed of 0.6s. Additionally during the exposure time I gently moved my camera in a circular pattern.

General Examples of where to place your Flashgun/ Speedlite:

Flash on 1/64 Power so as not to blind the DJ (you really don’t want to annoy the talent). ISO1250, f/8, 1/800 HSS.

Flashes set on full power placed on top of the speakers; ISO1000, f/4, 1/100s

Flash pointed to crowd on full power camera right; Additional flash pointed at the DJ camera left 1/4 power. ISO640, f/2.8, 1/50s

Flash on 1/2 power placed directly behind the DJ’s head creating a nice halo effect. ISO1000, f/5.6, 1/60s

Gear typically used:

(Note this article is a few years old, the techniques haven’t changed but the gear has moved on a bit! You can check out our range of stills cameras here and lenses here)

  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 70D
  • Canon 10-22mm
  • Sigma 50mm f/1.4
  • Canon 135mm f/2
  • Yongnou flash triggers YN622c/YN622c-tx
  • 2 Canon 580EX speedlites

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