Nightclub Photography Handbook

Nightclub Photographer's Handbook

Nightclub Hostess
Welcome! You just found the ultimate guide for nightclub photographers! This handbook for nightclub photographers will serve as your reference and resource for all things nightclub photography. It will show you how to make your nightclub and nightlife pictures look awesome! It will teach you nightclub photography techniques that will make your work stand above the rest!

Nightclub photography is about capturing the excitement of the nightlife and the adventures in the party scene! The photos show the guests having a great time and good photos enable the viewer to share that experience.

This handbook will cover the camera equipment needed, the camera settings you will use, and the shooting techniques to help you achieve professional results.

Camera Equipment for Nightclub Photography

Remember that good photography doesn't necessarily depend on the best and most expensive camera equipment, but the photographer behind the camera. Better equipment helps get great results easier when it's in the right hands.

Digital SLR

A high end point and shoot even the ones that have a hot shoe to attach a flash unit is not adequate for nightclub photography. You need to have at least an entry level digital SLR. Digital SLRs can focus faster and shoot faster with the press of the shutter button. If you have to choose between getting a better DSLR camera body or a better lens, get the entry level DSLR and buy a better lens. Entry level DSLRs are quite affordable and packed with features these days. Learn more about the different camera bodies here.

Zoom Lens

Use a zoom lens because your lens needs the flexibility to shoot wide shots of big groups and close up shots of one person in a nightclub environment. Nightclubs can get really packed and there may be not much room for you to move if you're using a prime lens. The ideal lens for nightclub photography is a fast (f/2.8) zoom lens in the 17-50mm focal length for a cropped camera body. Learn more about lenses to use in nightclub photography here.

External Flash

The built in pop-up flash in your DSLR is not good enough for nightclub photography. Avoid using it at all cost! Get an external flash unit that has a flash head that can tilt and swivel so that you can can bounce the flash off the ceiling or walls.

Memory Cards

Memory cards are pretty cheap these days too. Make sure you have enough when you're shooting.

Black Rapid Strap

An accessory I highly recommend is the Black Rapid Strap to replace the neck strap that comes with the camera body. This camera strap is so much more comfortable to use when doing nightclub photography. Get one for yourself.

Camera, Exposure, and Flash Settings

Camera Settings for Nightclub Photography

ISO: 800 - 1600
You only really have to worry about noise if you don't get a good exposure. Pictures won't have much noise if the exposure is pretty good and consistent. If the pictures are underexposed and you try to fix them later in Photoshop, you'll find that this is when you get a lot of noise.

White Balance: Flash
Nightclubs are typically pretty dark so your external flash unit would probably be the main light source. Having the white balance set to flash would give you accurate colors so that you don't have to spend a lot of time doing color corrections during post processing.

Picture Style Parameters:
Sharpness: +1
Contrast: +1
Saturation: +1
Color Tone: 0

These parameters would reduce the post processing needed on the pictures and they pretty much provide good results straight from the camera.

Exposure Settings for Nightclub Photography

Note that these are just guidelines and not rules on how to get proper exposure in a nightclub environment.

Mode: M (Manual)
Shoot using manual mode so that you can control everything.

Aperture: f/2.8 to f/5.6
Shoot wide open at f/2.8 or at the widest aperture available for your lens when photographing individuals and at f/5.6 for large groups of 3 or more people. Shooting at f/4 works when photographing two people.

Shutter Speed: varies (usually somewhere between 1/2 - 1/40 sec)
It depends on the room lighting and the mood being captured.

Flash Settings

External Flash Unit: TTL
Don't use any flash exposure compensation. Use rear/2nd curtain sync if your flash/camera body is capable of doing it. The results you'd get would be different and much better than from using 1st curtain sync.

Shooting Techniques for Nightclub Photography

The biggest challenge is figuring out how to get the best light possible especially when the club is dark. You have to be able to "see the light" and think on your feet quickly. Follow the light to capture the party of the nightlife.

Focus on capturing the fun of the nightlife

Here's a list of a few things to photograph in a nightclub and some sample nightclub pictures to give you a better idea.

  • Candid pictures of people dancing
  • People dancing in a nightclub People dancing in a nightclub People dancing in a nightclub

  • Bartenders shaking and pouring drinks
  • Bartender shaking a drink in a nightclub Bartender pouring a drink in a nightclub Bartender pouring a drink in a nightclub

  • People taking shots, having fun, laughing and smiling
  • People raising their drinks in a nightclub Babe taking a shot in a nightclub Drinking beer in a nightclub

  • DJs jamming while they're mixing
  • DJ spinning in a nightclub DJ spinning beats in a nightclub DJ mixing in a nightclub

  • Posed pictures of groups of three or more
  • Myrna Star and other babes holding a drink in a nightclub Babes wearing sexy outfit in a nightclub Group picture in a nightclub

  • Posed pictures of couples
  • Jennylee Berns in a nightclub Babes holding a bottle of drink in a nightclub Good looking couple posing for a picture in a nightclub Two hot babes posing for a pictures i a nightclub Couple posing for a picture in a nightclub

  • Portraits of beautiful women
  • Katie Karerra in a nightclub Liliana Benavides at Ana Mandara Hot babe in a nightclub Hot babe in a nightclub Beautiful Sarah Link wearing SF shirt

Stay away from:

  • Ghetto, trashy, or people that are just way too drunk
  • Anyone making disrespectful gestures

Advanced Nightclub Photography Techniques

I'm going to provide tips on how to shoot amazing nightclub pictures and some examples with the settings I used.

  • Pay attention to the light; make sure that there is some light behind your subject
  • You should position yourself so that the light is behind the subject. Use a slow shutter speed and set your flash to 2nd or rear curtain sync. The flash will illuminate the subject while you're capturing colorful backgrounds from the ambient lighting.

    Women dancing the night away Aperture: f/4
    Shutter speed: 1/3 sec
    ISO: 800

    When you take a picture while someone is also taking a picture with their camera, you sometimes end up getting some pretty awesome images. The flash from the the other cameras fired while the picture was being made.

    The dramatic lighting really helped capture the fun of this shot!

    Guy taking a shot of vodka from a bottle

  • Drag the shutter, use 2nd/rear curtain sync on your flash, and move the camera around
  • Dragging the shutter means having a slower shutter speed to let more ambient light in. You would get some interesting light trails by moving the camera around: left to right, right to left, up down, clockwise, counter clockwise, rotate the camera from portrait to landscape, zoom the lens in/out, etc.

    Turn pictures like this:

    Babes posing for the camera Aperture: f/3.5
    Shutter speed: 1/5 sec
    ISO: 800

    Into this:

    Babes posing for the camera Aperture: f/3.5
    Shutter speed: 1/5 sec
    ISO: 800

    As you can see, the camera settings were the same. The pictures were taken just seconds apart. The only difference is that I rotated my camera from portrait to landscape to create a more interesting background. The slow shutter speed let me capture the light behind the subject as I rotated the camera. The flash froze the subject in place.

  • Bounce the flash off the ceiling or wall at various angles when shooting with the flash on the camera
  • The room was pretty dark except for some rotating DJ lights. However, there was a disco ball hanging on the ceiling. This was a great opportunity to bounce the flash off the ceiling and hit the disco ball to light up the room.

    Guys partying in a nightclub

  • Shoot with the flash off the camera
  • I've used a Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash and a Canon STE2 Speedlite Transmitter to shoot with the flash off the camera when doing nightclub photography.

    The Canon STE2 Speedlite Transmitter is a wireless flash controller for the Canon 420EX. It goes on the camera body's hotshoe where the external flash unit would normally go. This means that I'm free to hold or put my flash anywhere as long as the transmitter and the flash are within range of each other and not obstructed by anything that would prevent them from communicating with each other. I find that this technique is more versatile than using a bracket.

    Hold the flash with your left hand and position it at different angles when shooting with the flash off the camera. The flash is pointed directly at the subject and not bounced off the ceiling or wall. By the way, the flash is on slave mode.

    Shooting with the flash off the camera would allow you to create more dramatic lighting. Vary the angle, simplify the composition, and allow the subject to pop out by contolling the light.

    Liliana Benavides wearing a mask

  • Play around with the aperture and shutter speed settings till you get the results that you like
  • The best way to learn is by doing. You would get to see the results right away on the LCD of your digital SLR. If it doesn't turn out the way you had imagined, change the shutter speed and try again.

Photography Resources

Creative Live Courses

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Party on!

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