11 Tips for Nightclub Photography

For over a decade, I photographed evening events.  Yet, this year marks my first year as a nightclub photographer.  The following tips involve what I’ve learned so far about photographing in nightclubs.

1.    Definitely use a DSLR camera:  With a DSLR you have better control over exposure.  Because lighting varies in a nightclub, having control over the exposure is a must.

2.    Carry a wide-angle lens or a telephoto lens containing wide-angle: I hate photographing full body shots.  Yet, patrons ask for them.  This is one reason I use mostly an 18mm to 35mm lens.  Plus as I plan on photographing maybe four people, six more people would sometimes get into the shot, another reason to carry a wide-angle lens.

3.    Use an external flash:  Three reasons exist for why I avoid on-camera flash.  For one, the camera takes forever to focus. Then, during focus, it gives out a burst.  Folks think the burst is the real flash.

Second reason I avoid on-camera flash relates to flash sucking up the camera’s battery power.  This explains the need for using a flash containing its own power source.

Third reason I avoid on-camera flash is because external flash is more powerful.  An on-camera flash cannot light up an area that even the cheapest external flash can do.

4.    Ignore the words of critics who hate flash: The problem with flash is people’s overreliance on it.  Too many times images and image details are washed out because of flash.

Also, like photographer Marcus Adkins said, flash can be annoying at times.  Many musicians hate flash going off in their face as they try to perform.

Yet, this does not mean a photographer should frown on using flash.   During my nights, I attempt gaining ambient light. Why gain ambient light?  For one, I love seeing the nightclub lights in my photos.  Plus I enjoy seeing background.  Using flash the typical way won’t gain this for me.

To gain ambient light, one can set the ISO to 400 or 800 when using flash.   Background can be achieved by slowing the shutter speed.  I usually lower mine to 1/10, the lowest I can hold the camera without gaining fuzzy images due to camera shake and movement of the person posing.  Notice I use the word “posing”.  Unless, a photographer is going for an artistic look, I wouldn’t recommend slowing the shutter speed for moving people.

Many photographers bounce the flash’s light.  For this, many use a white bounce card.  Here’s my humble opinion.  Bouncing light works best inside small buildings, or in areas where walls are nearby.  In a huge nightclub, bouncing light doesn’t always work well.

5.    Learn the nightclub’s photography guidelines and stick to them:  More than likely, the photographer’s photos are uploaded to the nightclub’s website.    Seeing folks enjoying themselves encourages more people to attend the nightclub…hopefully.  One of my guidelines is photographing people in the VIP section, a reasonable guideline because VIP photos advertise a service the nightclub offers.
Also, owning a nightclub requires owners to be image cautious.  (Luckily, I don’t work for a place that is image cautious for superficial reasons.)   The wrong photo may invite unnecessary trouble, even a visit from the local authorities.

6.    Carry a thick skin and hold extreme patience:  Twice on two different nights, an incident involved a confrontation from some dude.  One night, a guy asked was I photographing candid shots of his niece.  I wasn’t and I proved it to him by showing images on my camera. On another night, as I photographed dancing people, some guy took it upon himself in letting me know some folks don’t like being photographed.  Both carried a nasty attitude.  (Oh yea, Mr. Informer later posed with his friends for me.)

With me being six foot and weighing 236 pounds, the uncle protecting his niece would have gotten stomped if things got physical between him and me.  A short guy talking trash is the last thing I needed.  Yet, a fight would have gotten me fired.  Plus later on, outside the nightclub, the uncle could have shot me dead. Me avoiding a conflict was a wise choice.

Another thing on thick skin and patience is dealing with rejection.  After asking can you photograph them, some folks will definitely say no.  Like Mr. Informer said earlier, some people just flat out don’t like being photographed. It really isn’t personal.  They just don’t like being photographed. After photographing in bars, photographing house parties and even photographing weddings, I receive far more rejections in nightclubs.

Okay, some rejection is personal.  Through no fault of your own, some patrons just will not like you for whatever reason.  Is that your problem to worry about?  No, just move on to the next patron.

Right along with bars, nightclubs attract the worst kinds of people: troublemakers, phonies, gold diggers, etc.  In order to deal with these people, you definitely should carry a thick skin and hold extreme patience.

7.    Inform patrons the reason you’re photographing them:  Some people worry about where their photos may wind up.  In this day and age, you really can’t blame them.  Usually, when I inform people the photos are going on the nightclub’s website, they usually allow me to photograph them.

8.    Vary the shots:  Not only do I photograph portraits, I also photograph scenery and candid shots.  Once,  the nightclub asked me to photograph patrons waiting in long lines.  Plus some of my shots involving dancing crowds under nightclub lights are displayed in front of the nightclub.

Besides the patrons, I also photograph the DJs, bartenders and other nightclub staff.

9.    Leave shyness at home:  Actually, this is a tip I personally remind myself of every time I photograph the nightclub.   Understand, this is the first time I’m photographing night events sober.  A nice Long Island Iced Tea usually works wonders in getting rid of shyness.  At the nightclub, the only thing I drink is Sprite.

How can I be shy as I attempt photographing nightclub people?  I can’t.  When it comes to approaching people I don’t know, anxieties have to be ignored, especially if a potential photo shot looks promising.

10.    Remember what I tell you about photographing women:  Being a heterosexual male, I enjoy photographing attractive women.  On some nightclub websites, attractive women are all you see.  Yet, remember this: Sometimes, attractive women hang-out with not-so-attractive women.  When it comes to getting a photograph, the attractive woman wants her not-so-attractive friend in the photo with her.  Okay, in some cases, the woman’s friend could be outright ugly.

Usually, I go ahead and take the picture.

Believe it or not, when it comes to views on the website, some photos of attractive women don’t get the many views one would think.  Sometimes, photos of not so-attractive-women get more views.

Personally, I believe always placing the beautiful people on a website leads to false advertisement.  Expecting to see lots and lots of beautiful women like the ones he saw on the website, some douche may be in for a rude awakening when he actually comes to the club.

11.    Edit the photos:  Like I mentioned earlier, the photos usually wind up on a website.  A photographer should at least attempt presenting the photos in the best possible way.  Exposure is the last thing I’m worried about.  Yet, I don’t want to be known as someone who puts out bad product, either.  How can someone know if my product is any good?  By looking at my work on the nightclub’s website.

I truly enjoy nightclub photography.  Being a night person, it’s the perfect photo gig.  Also,  I meet interesting characters, people you never forget.   For the most post part, the nightclub vibe is always positive.

Hopefully, this blog helps photographers who are entering the exciting world of nightclub photography.

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