A guide to nightclub photography.

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99 thoughts on “A guide to nightclub photography.

      • Thanks Dave and Myles. Both of your websites have helped me immensely. I can’t wait for the weekend to practice! Can’t believe it’s bloody Tuesday, roll on Friday!

        Please keep the great info coming, loving it.

        Myles, what’s happening with NPTV? I spent hours watching your YouTube vids last night and I’m dying for more!

        Cheers!
        Matt

      • Thanks David,

        Here’s my first attempts…. http://www.snapout.nl (there’s 2 events I added, one before and one after studying – 15th Jan being after of course).

        Big difference indeed. Not had chance to do any more since due to hospital visits etc – but next week I’m planned for 2 more events (will post on the same site).

        Thanks!
        Matt

      • Good work, I can definately see a good improvement between the two nights. Keep at it and you can only get better!

        And there is nothing wrong witht hat camera. My first was was a 400d and that saw plenty of use in clubs when I started out. Though you will still catch the upgrade bug!

      • I’m a gadget freak anyhow so photography suits me well. Would love to get out of computers and move into photography, just gotta get the kit and do more studying. Not an easy industry to get into really because there’s so many people (like myself) doing it for a hobby/free everywhere. Can never get paid in a club but it’s good practice.

        Cheers again for the advice (and the “like” on my new site).

        -Matt

  1. Hey man, I really enjoyed the article.
    I work as a Locations Scout so I mostly use my camera for location based photography.

    I have a canon t3i and was asked by my friend who DJs at clubs to photograph him for promo material. What type of lenses/flash would you recommend?

  2. It depends on the venue and the style that you want to achieve as to what lenses you use, but I would always have a minimum of two lenses with me when going into a new venue.
    As you are using a 1.6 crop sensor camera, they would be something in the kit lens range, so 18-50mm there or there abouts. My choice would be the canon 18-55mm f2.8 IS.
    Then I would want something wider, my personal favourite here is the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8.

    You may also want to throw a fish eye into the mix for some added creative effects.

    As for flashes, the 430EXii is plenty good enough.

    That kit would be a good set-up to get you started in nightclub photography, just add in lots and lots of practice.

    If you are wanting to do some promotional material for your friend, you may need to thing a bit differently. It’s pretty easy to get great looking shots from relatively cheap equipment when they are being used as small images on facebook or on the gallery in a clubs website. But if you are looking to produce material that is going to be used on posters or larger media you could start running into problems and may want to consider using a full frame body. That then has the added expense of having to go out and buy a new range of lenses.
    You may also want a second flash, which will also mean wireless triggers and stands.

    So hold fire, get plenty of practice in before undertaking promo work and make sure your kit is up to scratch. If it needs doing sooner rather than later, or you don’t have all the necessary kit to do the job right, then I would seriously consider your friend lays out some cash for a professional who has the the kit and experience to do a top class job.

  3. This post was awesome and really helpful, however, I was wondering if you could shed more light (pardon the pun) on how you use flash on and off camera. I too use the Gary Fong lightsphere, but never know when to keep the dome on or off, or when to shoot on of off camera. I have a few questions and hope you can help me out.

    1. When shooting on camera using the LS, do you constantly swivel the flash around to bounce off ceilings or walls or do you just keep it pointed up and forget the rest? Do you ever run into situations where you decide to point the flash directly at your subjects?

    2. Would you ever use the flash off camera with the LS, dome on, and point the flash directly at your posing subjects or would you still bounce the light? Have you successfully used this type of setup to create photos with decent shadows to create dimension or does the LS spread the light too much?

    As you can see…. I need help. Thx

    • Hi. From what you are saying, I think you have a bit of misunderstanding on how the light sphere works.

      Unlike a stofen filter which is used when bouncing the flash off ceilings or walls and therefore making the reflective surface the light source, a light sphere is not used for bouncing light and is used as the light source itself.

      When shooting in landscape orientation, the flash should be pointing up with the LS attached with the dome. When the flash fires, the light is emiting straight up through the dome, but some of that light will be reflected back. Because the lid is domed, that reflected light passes out the sides of the LS, the effect is an almost 360 degree light dispersal. This makes the light source much larger than using direct flash. Larger light source = softer light.

      When shooting in portrait orientation, I tend to rotate the flash head to that it is still pointing at the ceiling.

      You could use it off camera, but I tend not to as I often reserve it for occasions when I want quick results and don’t have the time to set up each shot with that much thought. But I may give it a go now that you mention it and see how it goes.

  4. thanks mate, im doing my first night club shoots and these are very helpful!

    cheers!

  5. Great article! You’ve written this in both a detailed and clear way which is very easy to understand, Kudos =)

    I myself iam looking to get into nightclub photography when i go to university next year, and was wondering how much i should charge? I understand its not black and white but i plan to try and do a couple of free events and build up a small portfolio, then try and get in anywhere if i can. I’ve done alot of research into night club photography but going into it with limited experience, should i charge nothing for one night then try and get a more perminant position if they like me?

    I would be great in the future if you wrote an article about the business side of all this like how much you charge, who has rights on the image (I know its almost always the photographer), how would you recommend getting in the scene etc. Just an idea you seem very experienced in all of this =)

    • The business side of it is the hard part to be honest, it is unlikely to be something that will ever be a big earner.
      Much of it will depend on the particular club and how they value photography.

      Done well, a full set of photos of good quality showing the right atmosphere and people enjoying themselves, watermarked with the clubs logo and put up on the clubs facebook page the next day for people to tag themselves in and share with their friends is a great marketing tool. A lot of clubs understand this, but that does not mean that they fully understand the photography.

      It seems to be a common feeling among clubs that anyone with a ‘proper’ camera can do the job, and quality is secondary to price.

      For this reason I would not suggest doing any work for a club for free, even to build up a portfolio and gain experience. By all means, find a friendly nightclub that doesn’t object to you taking your camera, get some practice and experience. But don’t offer anything back to the club. The moment you start offering your services for free, you may find it difficult to start getting paid at all, or very little. If you do a few weeks of free photos, what is to stop the club taking on the next free guy looking to build a portfolio when you start asking for payment?

      You will likely end up trying to find a middle ground between those willing to work for free and what the job is really worth. Where abouts you end up will depend on the clubs value on photography and the standard that you can provide.

      All the above is purely my opinion, and by no means is me telling you how to go about the business side of things. That is entirely down to you and how you want to work.

      Regarding the rights to photos. If you take it, you own the copyright. That’s pretty much the extent of the legal aspects of it here in the UK at least, I can’t comment on copyright law anywhere else in the world.
      Just keep in mind that a club is paying you to supply them photos, so doing anything to be difficult or to overly exercise your rights etc could see you being replaced pretty quickly.

  6. Googled What to charge when taking nightclub pics and came across this article… Found it to be very useful and very informative. Great photos too, ones I aspire to take… Cheers

  7. Thanks for this! Been a club photographer for two years now, but find these tips and tricks very helpful! x

  8. I’m so shattered, this is super helpful stuff but I can’t view 90% of the image examples and I have a trail shooting a club tomorrow! NOOOOOOOOO :(

  9. HI , Im starting newly in this please guide me wat kinda lens should i buy for start in night club photo <<< i HAVE NIKON D5100 ,,,i want to know which lense will be best for me to start and flash as well

    • Yeah you can. If you have a kit lens like an 18-55 (I am not too clued up on the Nikon kit) I would be inclined to use that for your first time for some flexibility. Then you can see what sort of focal lengths you are using and select another lens to suit if you feel you need to.

  10. Very useful information thanks for sharing. Last time when I searched for ‘night club photography’ I did not find this article but today it’s on first page. That shows how good is your article.

  11. Bloody awesome. First nightclub photo gig tonight so this has helped greatly. I don’t actually have an external flash though, only the built-in one. How much of a hindrance will this be if I’m taking picture of posing people?

  12. Just read this as I spotted it through a link on TP. Really useful page which has taught me a lot for club photography. I was always struggling with outdoor photography at clubs with gardens in. the trouble I was having was getting enough light off the flash (no object to bouce off) etc. I’m only using a nikon d60 and a 18-135 3.5-5.6g lens at the minute. However, I have ordered other lenses including a 50mm f1.8

    • If you have nothing to bounce your flash off, then a simple bounce card works well. It’s one of the reasons why when I designed my business cards I made sure they were plain white on the back. Always to hand with an elastic band that lives around the head of my flash.

  13. Great article and very descriptive! I am looking at doing a shoot in a friend of mines nightclub this weekend coming, but i only have two lenses (and obvs a flash). One of the lenses is a Canon 70-200 F/4 L which is obviously out of the question, and the other is the Canon 40mm STM pancake, would you recommend the pancake as the one lens?

    • Unless you can beg/borrow/steal something in time, then the 40mm is your only option. I am not sure what body you are using, full frame or crop?
      You will certainly be able to get some shots, but if you get backed into a corner or it’s too busy to get enough space, that’s when you might struggle.

      One important thing to keep in mind is the people in the clubs, the promoters and owners will think differently to you the photographer. It’s easy for us to get carried away and be constantly trying to get all perfect shots. But the customers who wan their photo taken will want it done quickly, they have no interest in having their night out turned into a full on photo shoot. So if you find yourself wanting to move people around too much and creating room so you can compose each shot, they will soon get bored and the moment is over.

      That is why for a nightclub where you have to work fast to capture the moments, a good zoom lens is always preferable to me than a prime. Hope that helps.

      • Thanks for the reply! I do also have a 17-85 USM IS f/4-5.6 lens, but trying to sell that as 1) i rarely use it, and 2) to afford a speedlite.

        And also my camera is a Canon 650D, so 1.6x crop.

      • So the crop factor of your body will give you an effective focal length of approximately 75mm when using your 40mm pancake. I would suggest that if your 17-85mm has not sold by the time this shoot happens, take it with you, try both and see how you get on.

        I would expect you will find the 17-85mm easier to live with in this situation. If it turns out to be something you do a lot of, you may then decide to keep the 17-85mm or invest in something similar with a larger and/or constant aperture.

      • Okay well i will probably just sell the 17-85mm and use my girlfriends 18-135, that whould do the trick for one night. Thanks a bunch!

  14. Hey David, nice guide, but i still cant find answer on my question… Well i know how ISO, shutter and aperture works and what they will give me, but my problem is flush, im not sure where should i point it if i works in some night club… plus, my biggest problem actually is how u make lights like on this one ” http://davidwalkerphotographyblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/63547_430762636993_1732062_n.jpg?w=604
    so i understand that i have to rotate camera or zoom in/out, how you make on this pic, but i always get lights at people faces, so is there some trick or how you’r doing it ?

  15. Hi Aleksandar.

    You are correct in the method for that shot, long exposure and zoom out before the exposure ends.

    It’s a bit hit and miss, and your balance between the ambient exposure and flash exposure are much tighter so there is no settings that will work in all conditions, you will need to try and adjust.
    Drop the iso a bit to reduce the amount of ambient light and increase the flash exposure, you may slightly over expose the subject, but it is the flash that exposes the subject and makes it pop out from the background. Any over exposure you can fix in post processing.

    One tip that may help. If you are using a 5 second exposure for example, release the shutter, hold steady for say two seconds, then zoom out during the remaining three seconds. For this the dj would need to be pretty still and there to be some lighting in the dj stand, but this can help to ‘lock’ the flash exposure before starting the ambient part of the exposure and reduce the amount they overlap each other.

    That is a big thing with this, and any other form of photography. Being able to take a good photo is one thing, but being able to take a bad photo, picking out the aspects that you don’t like, working out what caused it to happen that way and then making the correct changes to get the result that you want is so much more important. Learn to do that, and you can take a photo that you are happy with in any situation without luck playing a part.

    Dave

  16. Great tips. I have been shooting nightclubs for a little bit now, and everytime I get better and better. Thanks for the useful info!

  17. Fantastic article. Never ventured into nightclub photography but I’m tempted to now.
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experiences.

  18. hi david
    i have recently started my own nightclub photo business. I have a 1100d canon with a kit 18-55mm lens. one of the troubles i am facing is how to put my watermark on the photos. The business is run off a macbook pro so any apple friendly software available to do this ?? also should i consider changing the lens i use to a better more appropriate one ? Your help would be really appreciated. awesome shots by the way as well

    • First off, and I only put this as my own view, but I do think you should have all the basics firmly in place before starting in business. You want the best possible foundation for a business to do well, if you start off a bit ‘wobbly’ it may not go as you hope.

      But on to the watermarking. I use lightroom for all my editing and also applying watermarks. The Mogrify plug in will allow you to do this.

      http://www.photographers-toolbox.com/products/lrmogrify2.php

      I have never used a mac, but I know that the above is available.

      For a bit of freeware, Faststone Photo resizer is pretty good for windows users.

      http://www.faststone.org/

      There are none that I can recommend for mac, but a quick google search brings up lots of results.

    • Very good, I agree with pretty much everything there.
      It’s a job just like any other, stay professional. Turning up, getting drunk and getting too stuck in with the party is not a good way to act, it just makes you a punter who turned up with his camera. Not cool!

  19. Not even sure how I came across this page but I’m glad I did. I’m a wedding photographer in Minneapolis, USA and while I shooting the ceremony and formals always go well for me I struggle when it comes to the reception. This artice was extremely helpful and informative. I look forward to trying out the things you’ve said. Thanks! I would be honored if you would take a few minutes to crititque some of my work. Thanks!
    http://www.facebook.com/dempag

    • I hear that a lot from my wedding photographer friends, the evening reception is always the hard bit. Although this guide is aimed at night clubs, the basis of it down to the balance of ambient and flash exposure. Nightclubs kind of take it to an extreme, but get to grips with it and you can use is in any situation. I love shooting the evening receptions at my weddings!

      The link to your facebook page isn’t working, but if you want to give it another go I will take a look.

  20. Hi, I would like know what can I do when I aim to a subject in the dark but my camera does recognize the subject because of lack of light what can I do to get a good exposure..

    • You need to use a flash with a built in focus assist. When focusing it will project a grid of red light giving something to focus on.
      Alternatively, you can switch the lens to manual focus and go by the focus distance scale. But I tend to only resort to that if using my fish eye which is manual focus only, or if using off camera flash there the assist beam may not be directed where you want to focus.

  21. Thank you so much for this article – it’s fabulous! My goal is to get into wedding photography but before I start my weakness is night shots so I’ve been playing around at dark events to get practice for reception photography and this article is so well written. Your examples are fabulous! I was getting frustrated with my manual settings – everything was too grainy and I was having trouble with getting my lens in focus (even with manual focus point) and the people well exposed since I was trying to capture movement, not posed shots. My settings were ISO 6400, 2.8, 1/5 (I couldn’t figure out why my camera was telling me that any faster shutter speed would be too dark) plus external flash both straight on and bounced up. I ended up using the settings that auto suggested (ISO 400, 2.8, 1/60, flash straight on). They have turned out nice but didn’t capture the atmosphere. I look forward to applying your tips next time! I also imagine that a diffuser will help eliminate the sweaty face look?

  22. Hi, Thanks a lot for this article, really it’s very helpful. but there something that i cannot understand it what is (bare flash)??

  23. Thanks David for this tutorial very very informative and easy to understand.Hope to put it to use in near future.

  24. Thanks for this info David, very helpful. I recently found myself in a dark night club and it was hard to focus on subjects due to lighting, What would you recommend to get round this problem?

  25. Hi David, I recently had a Speedlight Flash, and I shoot it on Manual at 1/32, ISO 200. But there’s no ambient light because the ISO isto low. But hwen i turn the ISO up the subject is to bright, is this because the flash is on 1/32? on Manual. Please get back to me ASAP – Ash

      • I’ve sorted it now, I have a Nikon so I shoot on TTL. But I was looking on a blog which was telling me to shoot on 1/4 Manual. But your tips are much better. I usually have an aperture of f/6 for 2/3 groups, then f/8 for larger

  26. Awesome….such a great place to start. My husband has started an events management company, The Secret Circus. Putting on raves in different venues. I have been taking photos but they have been very mixed. Too much smoke. I’m going to try all your points. Thanks.
    Sarah

  27. hi… I’m doing a 21st with my 5d mk ii 24 105 and 50 mm 1.4 with a 600 exrt and a gf light s.
    it’s a nightclub setting low ceiling and dark interior .. any hints at settings please /…
    thanks Brian..

    • Hi Brian,

      You use the same kit as me pretty much. Flash on camera with a bounce card or diffuser of some description will be flattering which is what I think you will want for a birthday.
      Just follow the tips in this guide and you should be fine. If you have any specific questions let me know.

      • Hi David,

        I am absolutely in love with edm and house music and love being in club atmospheres. I really need some confidence or tips in order to make me want to do club photography! I am so nervous about doing it, considering I dont know much about photography, but I use photoshop and lightroom daily. Can I “an average kid, that is still learning what iso is” become a club photographer! I need honest truth man!

        Best,

        -Josh

  28. Hi David,

    I’m just started my photography with a basic Canon 1000D w/ EFS 18-55 IS and EF 50mm 1:1.8 II . I always wanted to take shots in a nightclub in which I will be having my first tryout tonight. Was searching through Google and found your guide.

    Just wondering, are those lense mentioned good enough for nightclub photography?

    Thanks a lot for posting this by the way.

    Cheers~
    Melvin

    • Both will do the job, personally I would use the 18-55 as it gives you greater flexibility.

      Ignoring image quality for a moment, the differences you will see with more expensive higher end equipment is the focusing speed and accuracy.
      Camera bodies are pretty simple to understand, as you just expect a high end body to have a better focusing system.

      Lenses are similar in that a more expensive lense typically would have better focusing motors etc, but their maximum aperture also has an effect.
      A lens keeps it’s aperture open to its maximum size for focusing ensuring as much light enters the body as possible, when you hit the shutter the aperture then stops down to whatever you set.

      Say you are shooting at f4. If you have a lens with a maximum aperture of f4 then that is what the camera will use to focus. If you have an f2.8 lens, it will open up for focusing letting in twice as much light then stop down to f4 to capture the image.

      So even if you never shoot at f2.8, a lens with that maximum aperture can still be an advantage.

      • Melvin… Looked at your photos. Looks like you tried to handhold at too low of a shutter (looks like classic handshake to me). You will either need to bring a tripod or shoot in a shutter priority with a shutter high enough for you to hand hold. If you can fix that, you would have some killer club shots! Good Luck!

      • Shutter priority won’t help you here, it will result in zero ambient light and very dull images.
        A tripod has a couple of issues. Firstly, having your camera perfectly still is of no use if your subjects are dancing and moving around. And secondly, if you have the space available to set up a tripod, then that would suggest the club is doing pretty badly and likely to go out of business!

        Assuming your focus is spot on, the only thing that will give you sharp images is the flash. You may need to increase the flash power.

  29. Thank you so much for this killer info! I myself am going to start nightclub photography soon ,m sure this will help me a lot.
    xhers !

  30. Thank you… gives me a good idea of the basics. I am a photography student (getting into this as a total change of career — yes, I’m old) and trying to find my niche. I like portraits but can incorporate my skill of portraits into the clubs. We’ll see. Thanks again for your post.

  31. I have a question/senero for you. I was hired by a dj to cover his coming home event he stated “I want photos of me dj’ing and of event.” So I covered the event and provided photos with my watermark. Using your tips my images came out very well (THANK YOU!!) He was pleased. About 3weeks later he asks if I can reproduce all images without my watermark. I’ve completed my work and I charged under price (which was my fault) He never mentioned he would be using any of my images for promotional uses he then stated well that’s why I wanted images…… Keep in mind he never mentioned this till 3weeks after I provided the disk. What would you do and how would you handle this issue?

    • This is more of a business question than photography, something I try to avoid.

      Essentially they are your photos and you can do as you like with them. But at the same time you really should have worked out exactly what he wanted and what for before taking on the job. Anyone wanting photos will have something that they want them for so that should have been thrashed out before hand.

      Like I say, it’s entirely up to you, but if I were in your shoes I would chalk it up to experience and avoid breaking any bridges. You might not have made what you wanted this time, but keep everyone happy and you should get more work out of it.

  32. Great tips. Going to see if they will improve my club pics. Shooting a huge block party with four deejays.

  33. hello I see here you recommend a full body rather than a crop, Im shooting pics with a canont3i what body do you suggest as next investment? anything canon would help me save on lenses.

  34. Hi David, I found your article at the beginning of this year when I was approached to take photos for Jhb’s premier party venue. Needless to say I was nervous and apart from my wife being an avid photographer and us attending a few Nikon workshop sessions, I never really had much experience. Plus I had to shoot with a Canon 350D which was nothing like the Nikon D3100 my wife has.
    Thanks to your amazing photos and fantastic, easy-to-read guide, I feel more confident about my shots and can see a definite improvement from my earlier photos. I aspire to take your calibre of pictures every time I take the lens cap off.
    Much appreciation!

  35. Hey man,

    This particular article is very simple to go through and kudos to you for putting effort in it. Been doing nature photography ( as hobby ) since 3 years now and I am basically thinking of starting photography at clubs (applying right now) as it helps a bit financially and builds up experience and skill related to portrait shots in very harsh/low lighting.

    So just keep posting my friend and I will keep following it.

    Thanks!

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