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Nightclub Photography – A Tutorial — 269 Comments

  1. Pingback:A tutorial on photographing in nightclubs. | freelancenorthphotography.com

  2. Hi Dan, thanks so much for the fab tips and your willingness to share knowledge in this fantastic article.. I’ll let you know how I get on buddy..

    • Hi Lee,

      I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      You never did let me know how you got on! If you have a link to your stuff, feel free to post it here in the comments so I can check it out =D)


        • Hi Ash,

          They look a bit dark and a bit flat. Are you following my tutorial? If so, you might want to try boosting your flash power a little (maybe the guide number on your flash is lower than mine) and adding some contrast (either in camera or in post processing).

          They’re not bad though, just a few tweaks and they’ll be great!

          I hope that helps,


          • I don’t have a Speedlight, or external flash just yet. I have to deal with the pop up. But my setting what is use are ISO 800, Exposure time of 1/8, and aperture of around F/4 – F/10, Thanks

  3. Hi Dan
    This article is amazing and really insightful! Iam currently 17 and looking to get involved in night club when i move to uni, the techniques section about the pros on shoot on the edges on the dance floor made alot of sense to me =)

    Also iam currently contemplation whether to purchase a new (cheap) lense, i currently have a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lense with a canon 550D. Do you think I will be fine with the lense i have now?

    • Hi Connor,

      I’m glad you liked the post and thanks for taking the time to tell me =D)

      If I recall correctly, the 550D is a cropped sensor, so your 18mm is only giving you a 27mm field of view, or something like that. The widest I’ve shot on is a 14-40mm (not cheap) full frame camera (not cheap either and total overkill) but I have a friend who still shoots the clubs using a Sigma 10-20mm on his cropped sensor camera. You have to be careful to avoid too much distortion when you’re using a lens that wide but I’d say wider is better for clubs; after all, you can always step a little bit closer to your subjects but, in a packed club, it’s sometimes difficult to step back!

      A wise man never spends money unnecessarily and remember, the final image is more about your vision and skill than your gear; so I might suggest waiting and giving the 18-50mm a go before deciding to buy a chap wide lens in the hope that you get some work.

      If you do decide to go wider, the Sigma 10-20mm is a very good lens, I’ve used it for landscape and architecture work too. I think it can be had relatively cheaply these days because its designed only for use on cropped sensor cameras whereas their new 12-24mm can be used on both cropped and full frames and is a superior lens all round, so the pro’s are buying that one instead!

      Good luck and happy shooting for the future =D)

  4. I’m being engaged to do some club photography. I’ve never done it before so your tips are really handy, thanks.
    One question, do you get model releases for your subjects? And if not, hw does this affect your future use of the images. You mention a colleague who printed a book of club photography, how did he manage the model releases?

    • Hi Chris,

      I’ve never had anyone sign a model release; it would be completely unworkable really. Bish – the guy who made a picture book – didn’t get model release forms either. In all fairness, most of the clubs in Newcastle have a notice up somewhere telling punters they will be photographed and I, personally never take someone’s picture without consent and always delete an image if asked to. I think you might run into problems if you want to upload your shots to a stock site, because they usually require proof of model release (to cover their own arse).

      In most cases, the work I do goes up on facebook and the people in the images tag themselves and hit the like button, so it probably wouldn’t be too hard to contact someone and get a model release if I really wanted to sell the images elsewhere. I’ve never found an alternative revenue stream from this sort of work though! If you know of one, let me know because i have thousands of images ha ha!

      Good luck!


  5. Hi, I am starting out in nightclub photography
    and was wondering which metering mode is best for
    this type of shooting?

    • Hi Luca,

      Center weighted or average/matrix metering both work well. Just have a play and see what works for you (although, if you’re following my tutorial, the camera is in manual – so the metering is irrelevant).

  6. Hi Chris, your blog is incredibly useful, right on the money, thankyou 🙂
    I’m looking to purchase a cheap SLR for general use to aid me now and in the future for my Graphic design studies (and potential career) and possibly to try my hand at nightclub photography, I have a limited budget as buying an SLR isn’t a massive priority of mine and just an interest I have, I have discovered various SLR’s around the £200 price range and I am just wondering if this http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pentax-X5-Bridge-Camera-Optical/dp/B00911YEAQ/ref=reg_hu-rd_add_1_dp SLR would be up to the jobs mentioned and if once purchased I would be able to attempt to try my hand at part time night club photography or would I require accessories? Thanks for any feedback, much appreciated.

    • Hi Ryan,

      Apologies for the delay in reply; I’ve been looking into the X5 for you.

      First off, it’s not a DSLR, it’s just designed to look like one. This bothers me for two reasons:
      1) It doesn’t look like you can change the lens – while the zoom covers a fair range; I’m not sure it starts out wide enough for club shots. And, in any case, if you do find you really like taking photos you’ll want a better lens – in this case that would mean buying a whole new camera first.
      2) I can’t see a hot-shoe adapter to mount a decent flash on there, which I find essential for club work (although David has just commented saying he did alright following my tutorial and using the on-board flash). Again, it bothers me because I like to have as much control over the lighting as possible.

      Having said that, ‘proper’ DSLR’s are on their way out and these bridge cameras are getting better and better. Combine that with the fact that most club promoters – and indeed punters – aren’t as fussy as I am about image quality and this camera may well be suitable for your needs.

      It has a manual mode, and it as shake reduction systems to enable you to use it with slow shutter speed, it does macro as well as telephoto; so it’s a pretty decent first camera for the price and you may find that it covers everything you need for your graphic design work.

      I hope that helps! I’ve never used a bridge camera, so my opinion can’t be considered as gospel, but you did ask for it! =D)


  7. thankyou so much for this tutorial, i was asked last minute to fill in for a mate at the club night he runs and i have never done anything remotely like club photography before and yet got some really good photos out of it!

    started off with the settings you recommended but had to adjust like you mentioned to suit the particular venue. wish i had a speedlight but got away with the built in flash!

    thankyou again!!

  8. Hi, thanks for your commentary it’s great to see someone else’s thoughts on these things. Here’s my question …. I hate to be carrying multiple lenses round and love prime lenses. So far I’ve been using a 50mm prime which is brilliant but sometimes just a bit close up. So I’m wondering if a 35mm lens will be better for tight spaces. Basically my concern is warping people with lens distortion…. Do you have a preference?im using a full frame camera. Thanks!

    • Hi Chris,

      Everyone has their own style. I know a guy who shoots clubs with a 10-20mm lens (yes, there’s a fair amount of distortion there) and I know someone who shoots on a standard 18-55mm kit lens. For me, my Canon 17-44mm f.4 is the go-to lens for nightclubs and similar events (I rarely encounter distortion but that comes down to technique really; I’ll often shoot loose and crop in post if I’m having to use the widest end of the lens).

      I can see the appeal of a prime though; they’re usually great in low light and they’re pretty unobtrusive too. Personally, I wouldn’t want to take a quality prime lens into a nightclub environment and I like the versatility of a zoom for when you can’t ‘zoom with your feet’!

      Having said all that, a 35mm prime on a full frame camera would be pretty great, so I’d say go for it. If you like using primes, then feel free to use me as an excuse to go buy another one ha ha!

      The only thing that would worry me about a prime is if the client says “can you get a shot of the whole room to show how busy it is?” or, “can you get some close_ups of the celebrity DJ even though her security team won’t let you anywhere near her?” well, then you need a zoom (or ninja skills) in order to say yes.

      I hope that helps.


  9. Hi Chris,

    I’ve been photographing in nightclubs (selling the god awful keyrings) for around a month now and I have no real problem selling enough keyrings as drunk people will buy anything but I’m only doing it to be better at photography and I’m annoyed at the lack of quality of my images. I’ve got a song a230 with a kit lens and a sunpak pz40x external flash.

    I’ve had trouble getting the auto focus to work especially in bad light and to get the exposure right I’m sometimes having to put the shutter speed so slow its just comes out as a blur.

    Could you give any extra tips?

    (Although I must say what you’ve posted so far has been very helpful and I look forward to trying it out next weekend).



    • Hi Ollie,

      You’re the 2nd person to call me Chris now, what’s going on? Have I misspelled my name somewhere on this site? I’m pretty sure ‘Daniel’ doesn’t look anything like ‘Chris’!

      Ha ha, drunk people will by anything, that’s true! I remember I used to work as a promoter when I was younger, handing out flyers for nightclubs and the beggars and rose-sellers were making way more money than me!

      Okay let’s see what I can do about ‘extra tips’! Your basic kit sounds okay and I’ve seen people produce good images with worse, so I’ll see if I can help.

      The focus problem and the long shutter speeds you mentioned are most likely both to do with the kit lens, which, no doubt, has a low maximum aperture (or high minimum depending on how you look at it). I imagine it’ll be upwards of f/4.5 depending on what zoom you’re at? This means the camera isn’t getting enough light to focus with because the aperture blades ‘at rest’ don’t provide a big enough hole to capture all the available light and, similarly, it’s struggling to make use of the light you do have when it comes to making the exposure.

      I’ll talk about getting the exposure right first and then go back to your problem with the autofocus.

      You can deal with the underexposure in a couple of ways: The best long-term solution would be to use a better quality lens with a 2.0 f-stop number – but if you’ve read my post, you’ll know I advise against using top-quality kit in a nightclub unless you have the proper insurance (I don’t actually know any insurer that would pay out for damaged caused where alcohol is involved, especially if you’ve been drinking yourself…).

      The next thing to try, in order to get more light in, is a longer shutter speed. Now, you mentioned you’ve tried that and are having to go to such long shutter speeds that you’re getting blur. Well, I still advocate long shutter speeds to make the most of ambient/background lighting, and a bit of blur or light trails isn’t necessarily a bad thing in club photography but you shouldn’t really need to go longer than 1s – remember though, it’s really important to set your flash to ‘Rear Curtain Sync’ or ‘Slow’ when dragging the shutter. This causes the flash to fire at the last moment, which should freeze your subject and virtually eliminate motion blur (unless you’re really wasted while shooting!).

      It might just be a simple case of turning the flash up (remember to take spare batteries!) but if you try this, make sure your flash/exposure settings aren’t completely overpowering the ambient light.

      You can also up the ISO sensitivity. How high you go depends on how good the sensor is and what quality level you’re after. As you mentioned, drunk people will by anything, plus club promoters these days aren’t too concerned with quality and keyrings are pretty small – so you could probably go quite high with the ISO.

      If you find a balance where you’re getting enough light to the sensor and your exposures are looking good, but the kit lens is still struggling to focus in the dark of the nightclub, then there a number of ways to tackle this too:

      You could buy a better flash, one that has infra-red focus assist and talks to your camera’s TTL metering system. That would probably sort things out straight away but it can be an expensive option (especially if it doesn’t work), so try other methods first! a better lens would help here too but, again, check your bank balance and insurance policy first!

      You can try changing the focus and metering options; If you set the autofocus to use all focus points rather than just the centre, that might improve your chances of getting the shot (at the loss of some control, however; most tend to focus on whatever is closest to the lens and/or has the most contrast – and this may not turn out to be your intended subject). Alternatively, try changing to centre weighted focus instead of evaluative/matrix metering – knowing what part of the scene you want measured will also give your camera a clue on what you’d like to be in focus – it’s a little known fact that the metering changes depending on where you focus, even in matrix mode, so it might also work the other way round.

      If all else fails, buy a Maglight! This is a trick I had to employ when my gear was stolen and I was stuck using very basic equipment. Get one of those that takes 2 AA batteries and get the switch modification that allows you to turn it on and off using a button at the opposite end to the bulb. Now, find somewhere to mount it – either on your camera, your flash unit, or on a bracket off to the side – somewhere where you can thumb it on while focusing and then knock it off when you’re done, regardless of whether you’re shooting portrait or landscape. You’ll find that people will look at the torch when it comes on, so if it’s not close to the lens, everyone in the picture will be looking ever-so-slightly-off-camera. Also, if you turn it back off again before shooting, some people mistake it for the flash and think the picture’s done – you could just leave it on as your flash will overpower it anyway. Plus, it ‘s great for finding money on the floor!

      Right, I hope some of that was of some use. I’d love to know how you get on!


  10. Hi
    This is a very insightful article. I was asked to shoot a club trial last week. The club plans to open fully in a couple of weeks. I wasnt pleased with my pictures. I use a Nikon D7000 and a tamron 28-75 with the SB 600 flash. I noticed that my auto AF assist beam light doesnt work when an external flash is in use, and the infra red beam from the speedlight is nt enough to help focus, hence it was difficult to focus in the dark. I tried controlling the ambience by reducing the shutterspeed so as to get the club disco lights in the background, but i wasnt successful. the pictures were just flat without any character.
    Kindly advise

    • Hi,

      This just an (educated) guess but I think the problem area is likely to be your lens. That Tamron sounds like a fairly long lens for nightclubs and I suspect the minimum aperture may be quite high. That would mean that the trouble with focusing is because the sensor isn’t getting enough light. It’s also possible that the focus motor isn’t very fast – I quite like Tamron lenses but I don’t know anything about your particular lens.

      As I said, that’s just a shot in the dark (pardon the pun), there could be any number of reasons for the disappointing results and I always find it’s best to run through everything because sometimes it’s the smallest, simplest thing that you forgot to adjust!

      So, check your ISO, the D7000 is a decent camera and should be able to cope with and IS) of 400 – 800 easily.
      Make sure the camera is in manual mode so it doesn’t try and override any of your decisions.
      Check that your aperture is set to wide open. If the Tamron is a kit zoom, maximum aperture is variable, so you’d need to zoom right out, then wind the aperture open to it’s widest setting (lowest f. number).
      Set your shutter speed. You don’t want to have the shutter open too long or things will never be sharp enough. Experiment around the 1/2 second mark but don’t go as long a 1s.
      Check your user manual to find out if the Autofocus assist light is supposed to go out when an external flash is mounted. Sometimes, they’re simply programmed to to go out when they get too hot, which can easily happen when they’re having to assist on every shot you take.
      Check that the flash is compatible with the camera and that the camera is capable of using the IR focus assist beam.
      In a darkened room and the external flash mounted, attempt to focus and make sure you can see the red beam in the frame – if your lens is too long it might be obstructing the AF beam.

      If everything is as it should be and you’re still having trouble with focus, refer to the answer I gave to a previous comment about using a mini-torch to help out.

      Regarding flat and charachterless pictures; you can tell your camera to add more vibrancy and contrast to the jpeg, or you can go home and edit the pictures in the editing suite of your choice (which is what I do). The image out of camera, in difficult lighting like this, will always need some tweaking to get it looking how you like it.

      In most cases, you will only need to deepen the blacks, boost the colours a little and add a little clarity (although some clubs like less clarity, to hide skin blemishes etc).

      I hope that helps, if you have any further trouble let me know.


  11. hi dan,

    Your tutorial’s great! Need to seek your advice. Do ask permission before you shoot them in the club? What do you usually tell them to make them feel comfortable? I am using a 24-105mm lens, as i do not have any other lens just switch to full frame can i use this for my first day nightclub shooting?

    • Hi Kenneth,

      Due to the fact that most people are drunk by the time I arrive, I rarely have to say anything: just hold your camera up and point at it and usually they’ll start grouping together and posing.

      Occasionally someone will be hesitant and I simply tell them where the photos will appear and that they don’t have to pay (“It’s free, they just go on the clubs Facebook page”).

      The 24-105mm is a good lens, for clubs you might find you’d like a wider lens but for now, just stick to the wide end of the lens, 24mm on a full frame is pretty wide =D)


      • Hi Dan,

        There are few questions I would like to check from you,

        1.would like to seek your advice that what kind of metering do you use for night photography.

        2.take it that if you were to take picture when people is dancing in the club or even for events in night clubs, you will need to use fast shutter, is there any way we could get the ambience as well as the object sharp?

        • Hi Kenneth,

          1. For nightclub photography I generally shoot in manual mode, so the metering is irrelevant because I’m not listening to what the camera is suggesting (it’s usually screaming that the picture is underexposed but, of course, it doesn’t factor the speedlight into the equation. If you’re not having any success with the method I’ve outlined in this tutorial but you aren’t comfortable in manual mode, you could try using the camera in Programme or Shutter priority modes. In this case the evaluative/matrix metering, or the centre weighted metering, should suffice but realise that your camera will still tell you the scene is underexposed because it can’t predict how the flash will turn out, so regardless of what method you choose, just ignore the metering.

          Ignoring the metering also means you have to pay attention to if you’re in a brighter part of the club (I always set my settings for the darkest area of the club), when this happens, you’ll want to increase your shutter speed to avoid ghosting.

          2. This is a pro-tip that I didn’t give away in the tutorial because I was targeting new photographers. Once you get understand the basics, experimenting and learning on your own are the best ways to become better. I shall reveal it here though for you and for those dedicated enough to read all of the comments 😉

          In most cases, such as people dancing on the floor, the settings I’ve outlined will be about right because the rear-curtain flash sync freezes their movements at the last moment and that’s what get’s exposed. When this doesn’t work or, alternatively, when you want to get an overview of the whole dance-floor, you need to boost the power of the flash (quite drastically if you’re trying to illuminate the whole room, not so much if you’re close to your subject). This increase in power needs to be offset somehow though; otherwise it’ll create a hot spot. I do this by altering the angle of the flash head and the Demb Flip-it, or finding a good surface to bounce the light off rather than use direct light – but it’s highly dependant on what your environment is like and what accessories you’re using so, again, this is something that benefits from trial and error and personal experimentation.

          The good thing about digital is that you get instant feedback and you can delete the picture so no-one ever knows you got it wrong, then keep shooting! Don’t be afraid, just get out there and give it a go =D)


          • thank you so much Dan, appreciate your comments, would love to get a demp it but kind of budget at this moment. As for metering i find it hard to focus especially when it is dark in a club.

          • I used to strap a mag-light to the side of my camera to help me focus (also great for finding money on the floor ha ha!)

            Now my flash (Canon EX-580 Mk2) has infra red focus assist, so I don’t have to do that any-more. Focus is really important, so do whatever you have to to get it! Wear a miners hat with a torch, lol. seriously though, that might work and it would get you noticed….

  12. Hi,
    I just wanted to say thank you so much for this tutorial. I have been trying to get nightclub photos with ambient light for the last 2 weeks and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Your advise to use the flash in manual also helped me to maintain the correct exposure once I found it. I used a D90 with a simple kit lens and a cheap flash unit [Sunpak PZ42X]
    Cheers 🙂

    • Hi Martin,

      I’m glad I was able to help and thanks for letting me know =)

      I’m surprised how often I see people trying to use the flash in auto mode in mixed lighting conditions or when bouncing the flash – the TTL (through the lens) metering is just not designed for that sort of use. you have to switch to manual and do the thinking yourself! Same applies if you’re using off camera flash and wireless triggers; for best results you need to know what your doing, what your equipment is capable of and then take control =)

      Now you know, maybe you’ll have an edge over your competition ha ha!


  13. Thanks for you last comment, its all good to hear. So here’s my biggest problem – other photographers who will do the work for free. How on earth do you make money out of this? I had a huge laugh (= shock) when i met a photography group that cover events professionally; i won’t name names but basically they require the photographer to sign away ownership of the pics and make work commitments but in return get nothing other than entry to the event- no payment, no insurance, not even acknowledgement of a work contract. Honestly, I had a hard time wondering who would agree to this but people do, and so since there are so many free photographers out there i have to ask how on earth can you survive?!

    • Hello again Chris =D)

      It’s frustrating isn’t it! That’s why I put in the tutorial not to just do it for the perks – it helps no-one, least of all the profession you’re trying to get into!

      I think the problem is, the barriers to entry into photography are so low that more and more people are having a go at it. Club photography is what I consider an entry level photography job, so you see the worst effects here. People trying their hand at club photography are generally young; they don’t know about running a business and they don’t realise that by working for peanuts/free, they’re actually devaluing the profession they’re trying to enter!

      This is happening across the board but it’s easy to spot on the club scene because there’s a seemingly endless supply of people willing to shoot for lower and lower rates. I got out of club photography when I realised that, while the fee was the same, the workload kept increasing. When I tried to put my rates up I was told they could get a student to replace me at lower cost so it wasn’t financially viable to pay me more (even though I was now shooting three times as many pictures as was originally agreed and spending extra time uploading to facebook and tagging etc).

      A savvy club promoter will exploit these entry level photographers and use them as a free marketing tool (tool being the operative word here). I can’t change what’s happening so I changed my specialism instead. Conference and Exhibition photography is just as much fun for me and the compensation is more realistic. You can check out my tutorial on that too if you like).


      • Hi Dan (or is that “Chris”?? hehe…), but on the upside I reckon doing club photography is a good way for newbies to get experience to then do event photography such as yours well 🙂

        As a complete amateur (“amateur” isn’t a bad word at all… as it means “lover of” from Old French. “Lover of photography” is a badge I wear with pride! 😀 Are we not *all* “amateurs”? 😛 ) I personally just enjoy any excuse to go out shooting & socialise! (so for me it isn’t even a stepping stone to anywhere 😛 )

        Thanks heaps for this tutorial! I’ve learned more from reading it than from my whole year of somewhat irregularly shooting club photography!

        My gear is a Nikon D50 + kit lense & a cheap (only a few NZ dollars!) plastic diffuser that gets slotted into the hotshoe for the on board flash (making that flash be a little less harsh helps soooo much!).

        But I’ve just got an external flash now for my D50 (purchased it yesterday, picking it tomorrow, and using it the day after!), so I may be back with a question or two… 🙂

  14. Hi Dan,

    I left you a message a few weeks ago about some problems I’ve been having when working in night clubs.

    I’ve taken what you said into account with regards to the autofous and I’m having no problem focusing any more. However, the problem seems to have shifted.

    Despite getting a decent amount of good shots (my boss is ringing me up shouting about the shit photos anymore) I’m still getting about 40% of my photos where I have to drop the shutter speed so low that they turn very red and all the colours become saturated even when I’m shooting at about 1/25 and when I have to drop it further to get the exposure right the problem just gets worse and worse.

    I mainly get the problems in the darker parts of the club, where there’s a decent amount of light I can shoot at ISO1600 and 1/60 and get good results but on the dance floor especially I’m having to kick up the ISO to 3200 and drop the shutter speed to sometimes a second as well as having the aperture at 3.5 and the photos coming out are shit.

    Is there anything I can do to try and rectify this? Should I ignore getting the exposure right and just shot at say 1/40 with FEC +2 or will they come badly?

    I’ve got a Sony A230 and just wondered if it’s just not capable of getting faster shutter speeds in poor light?

    If you could offer any help I’d be really grateful


    • Hi Ollie,

      Those settings sound a bit dramatic to me. I’ve shot in some dark clubs before and never had to shoot at such a high ISO or at really slow shutter speeds. Are you using a proper flash or just the little pop-up thing that some pro-sumer models have?

      Can you send me, or link me to, some examples of the shots (good and bad)?


      • Hi Ollie,

        Thanks for those pictures.

        I’m afraid I can’t decide which is good and which is bad!

        The one with the three girls seems to have less depth of field than the other one and it also looks like a higher ISO was used but, as a picture, it looks better than the other one.

        They’re both of a quality that is fit for purpose, so you have nothing to worry about there. However, I know how annoying it must be to have to constantly adjust your settings though.

        I tend to get set up for the darkest part of the club and then click the shutter speed up in brighter parts, so I don’t get any ghosting.

        For shots like the ones you’ve sent me, I’d be at ISO400, f.4.5 and shutter 1/6 cranking up to 1/8 and 1/10 when needed. My flash would be on rear sync at 1/4 or 1/8th power (depending on ambient light) and bounced off the ceiling and the back of my flip-it attachment.

        Now, those settings might’nt work with all cameras and will need to be adjusted depending on circumstances, but I’ve shot in different different kinds of buildings (including a party in the Natural History Museum, which has the highest ceilings, so no bounce) and the biggest change I’ve had to make was bumping the ISO up to 800.

        If you’re not getting the results you want following this tutorial, then maybe our gear works too differently and you might want to start from scratch and end up writing your own tutorial =)

        That being said, I do think both of those pictures you sent me are fine!

        Which one was supposed to be the bad one?


  15. Hi, Dan!

    Thanks for simple and useful tutorial, very easy to read and sample photos make it even easier to understand.
    I had to shoot party in one bar/nightclub last weekend and this tutorial helped me a lot.

    I read all comments and saw, that some photographer had problems with autofocus and flashgun infra red light, so, I found, that in my camera exposure manual mode, I have to set autofocus mode to AF-A, then infra red light on my flash gun works nice and I had almost 99% of correctly focused pictures. I think, it could be same problem solve for others. Funny, but I found it accidentally- I turned my camera in to full auto mode and saw, that focus mode changed from AF-C or AF-S, like I usually used, to AF-A and red light started working.

    However, I had one problem and this is why I am actually replying. How do you adjust flashguns power? I found, that it is very difficult to adjust for every shot, and sometimes I had simply burned pictures instead of nice ambient light effect. I found, that for more effective work, I have to turn my flashgun in to auto mode, I had some over/under-exposed shots, but overall situation was much better.

    So, do you have any idea, how to do it better?


    • Hi Carl,

      I’m not sure what camera/flash you’re using but I’m guessing the AF-A stands for AutoFocus – Assist. With my flashgun, that’s always on, so I didn’t know to make a point about telling people that but you’re right, the gun needs to be set to Auto Focus Assist so that the infra-red beams will be used to assist the camera in focusing.

      Regarding your flash exposure issues:

      I always shoot in manual so I’m pretty quick at altering the flash settings if need be but, for most club photography, I stick at 1/8th – 1/4 power. I might occasionally bump it up if a club is unusually dark or has a very high ceiling but, remember, I’m using a Demb Flip-it attachment that means I have more control over how much of the flash get’s bounced directly toward the subject.

      I know guys who get a similar effect by simply laminating a piece of white card and affixing it to the flash with an elastic band. I also know guys who always use auto-flash and just delete the shots where they didn’t get enough light, so don’t stress too much about that – it comes down to personal style and I’m a control freak!

      I tend to set my flash at a certain power level and vary the shutter speed or ISO if I’m not getting the results I want. As long as the flash is set to rear-sync you can go as slow as 1/4s on the shutter speed. The upper limit of your ISO depends entirely on personal choice and how well your camera performs. If I start hitting my limits (too slow shutter, too high ISO) then I’ll pick a higher flash output so that I can bring my shooting settings back into a comfortable range. I don’t want to use too much flash power and end up overpowering the ambient light.

      I hope that helps!


  16. First of all, THANK YOU!!! Just love the way the article is written! So easy to understand, and soooo useful! Second of all, i have two questions (if you don’t mind :)) :
    1) What about the White Balance? (explain PLS your answer as i want not just to “copy/paste”, but to understand);
    2) In the middle of the party i am going to shoot in two days, the fire show has a place to be. What settings shall i use for the fire thing? (flash or no flash, WB, etc).
    Thank you in advance 🙂

    • Hi, Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad the article is easy to understand =)

      The white balance question is a good one! In a club where the colour of the light source is constantly changing (and therefore, so is the relative colour temperature for white/mid-grey) it’s virtually impossible to predict what white balance setting you should be on.

      There are two approaches I’ve used to tackle this – the first is leaving the camera in auto white balance (AWB) mode. Doing this, I find that the pictures always look decent and skin tones tend to come out well but I do notice that different areas of the same venue will give different colour casts to the images.

      The other option is to set the white balance to flash – this is useful because the subjects are mostly illuminated by your flash rather than the ambient light, so you if you balance for the flash, then their skin tones should come out fine even if the colours of the ambient lights in the background are not accurate. The problem with this, however, is that by the time light from your flash reaches the subject, it will often be a different colour to what the camera is expecting (because you’re bouncing the flash, not using direct flash), so the results may not be what you hoped for.

      In either case, you might find yourself doing some slight colour corrections in post processing. The benefit of using a fixed white balance (either flash or a custom created one) is that if one picture needs the colour cast corrected (to make skin tones look best), then you can probably apply the exact same adjustment to all your images, so you only have to ‘figure out’ the correct adjustment once. It might not always work that way however, it really depends on how much ambient light goes into exposing your subject (as opposed to the background) and how heavy a role the flash plays.

      I personally like to use as much ambient light as possible and save the flash to simply freeze my subject at the last minute. For this reason, I find AWB to be the best compromise – it might occasionally lead to more time spent tweaking the colour tones of individual pictures but that’s really down to me being a perfectionist rather than a result of client complaints. If you’re new to this sort of work, I would suggest leaving the camera in AWB mode as it means you have one less thing to think about. Most cameras I’ve used do a decent job in AWB mode, so hopefully your camera will perform well too.

      As to your second question about the fire show, that depends on whether you mean fire works:

      Olympic Firework Celebration, Newcastle

      Or fire play:

      Nightclub Fire Dancer

      If you mean fireworks, well that would need a whole other tutorial but my big tip would be to use a tripod, a small aperture (high f-stop) and a long shutter speed – the fireworks picture above was taken at 1s shutter speed. It’s also important to have something silhouetted in the foreground (unlike in my picture) otherwise you just have a generic firework shot like the one above.

      Fire play is actually more difficult to capture than fireworks. The photo above was taken at 1/10th of a second, f.5.6 and flash on 1/4 power. The fire has still overexposed, so I should have used a faster shutter speed (to capture the fire better) and more flash power (to expose the dancer and the background better).

      Of course, it all depends on how dark the club is, how fast the fire is moving and what sort of effect you want to create! For the shot of the fire dancer above, I didn’t venture too far from my standard club settings. Looking back, I could have used more flash and a faster shutter but you also have to make sure the flash doesn’t overpower the light of the fire and that you’re getting enough light through the lens to expose for the dancer and the background.

      This is one of those situations where you’ll need to experiment to get the shot you want but my top tip, if you’re shooting people in a club and occasionally dipping into the fire show, would be don’t forget to crank up your shutter speed.

      I hope that’s enough information to whet your appetite! Good luck on the shoot, feel free to come back and put a link to the results in the blog comments.


  17. Thank you so much!!!
    One more question, please: if the ceiling is made of many little pieces of mirror, would it affect the flash bouncing process? If yes, how? And what can be done instead of bouncing ( i do not have a flash diffuser :-/ )? P.s. the fire play thing was canceled (thank God) 😀

  18. Hi Dan,

    I’m looking at starting out, have a Cannon 550D and am thinking of investing in either a Sunpak or Metz ringflash instead of the typical standard flashes that are commonly used.

    I’ve been trawling blogs, contacting sales staff, even the manufacturers, but am still drawing a blank.

    Can you please give me a no BS comparison between standard and ring flashes in a nightclub environment.

    Thank you for your article, really simple, but great advice.


    • Hi Steve,

      First of all, I love ring flash! I love the even light and that sort of barely noticeable ‘halo’ shadow it creates.

      What I’ve noticed though, is that you need a pretty big ring to get that effect. I have an Alien Bees ABR800 (from Paul Buff Europe), which I love but it’s too big and bulky to carry around a club and the battery pack adds even more weight, as well as being a safety hazard around all those drinks!

      So it’s too big for club work and, to be honest, even though I love it, I have to admit I would prefer a bigger one for my model work.

      I mention this because I think, if you want a ring flash for anything other than clubs, the one you’ll get won’t be suitable for clubs.

      Now, I don’t know exactly which metz and sunpack models you’re looking at but I suspect you have in mind those small, lens mounted units as they’re nice and portable for clubs.

      Those are primarily designed for macro and medical work, where you are very close to the subject, have plenty of time to set your focus manually and need to capture fine detail without shadows – and they’re not even very good at that!

      If you try and use this type of ring flash for, say portraits, you’ll find that they just don’t recreate that gorgeous ring-flash effect. In a night club they’ll get in the way of your cameras auto-focus assist beam, making focusing nigh-on impossible, they’ll provide inadequate lighting for groups of four or more people and, as they’re so close to the lens, they’ll create red-eye almost constantly.

      In a nut shell, aviod those smaller, macro units as they’re not fit for purpose! But don’t take a full size, fit for purpose ring flash into a nightclub unless you have amazingly good insurance and/or a death wish!

      Finally while looking at ring flashes, you may have seen those cheap units that attach to the front of your speedlight and fold down to form a ring around the lens?

      These might actually be quite good for clubs: they’re maybe big enough to avoid red eye, they’re light, portable, easy/cheap to replace and they don’t require a battery pack. However, the act of folding them over the lens causes them to block the infra-red focus assist beam from the speedlight, which confuses the camera and makes focusing very, very difficult and also, they reduce the amount of light your flash gives off, so you’ll have to have your speedlight set to a much higher power, meaning you’ll need to take a lot of batteries out with you (and be an expert at manually focusing in the dark).

      So my advice, Steve, is to stay away from ring flash for night club photography. If you have tons of money, great insurance and a lot of patience, then go out and get a proper, full sized ring flash – and phrase send me a link to your results, I’d love to see that!

      Otherwise, I’d say your money would be better spent on a good quality speedlight and an off-camera-bracket system.

      I hope that helps!


  19. Hi Dan!

    I have started working for a nightclub about 6 months ago and I could not find any information like this back then. You blog is really helpful and I wish I came across it a bit earlier! Would save me some time of working most of this out 😛

    I have recently bought my Canon 5DM2 and all I have to work with is 50mm 1.8, I am looking or a lens that would give me a similar effect that 10-22 does but im not too sure what to get. 12-24 perhaps?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Hey Karolina,

      I’m glad you like the blog post – even if it did come too late 🙂

      The MkII is a full frame camera, so you don’t really need to go as wide as the 10-20mm. I personally use the 14-40mm and have never felt the need to go wider. If wide is your thing though, then the 12-24 is a really good lens and it teams up well with a nice mid-range zoom, like the 24-105mm so you’re covered for other projects 🙂


  20. Hi there,I would like to ask when i want to shoot portaits.In what place or angle i must have my flash.So will get the propair color

    • Hi Dimitris,

      I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking but I do know that the light always seems to fall off quicker when you I shoot portrait rather than landscape. It’s because a portrait shot usually ends up being full body rather than just head and shoulders, so you notice the limits of the flash’s range.

      To combat this, I tilt my Demb Flipit more toward the subject, and thus bounce more light down toward the legs. You may be able to accomplish the same thing by just tilting the angle of the flash head, although i find that this creates over-exposure of skin tones in the face (which is not necessarily a bad thing if you can use it to ‘smooth’ skin blemishes).

      I hope that answer comes close to what you were looking for.


  21. Well, I cut my teeth at nightclub photography tomorrow night for an event in Leeds called The Mad Hatters Tea Party so I shall let you know how I get on. Thanks for the tips = )

  22. Some interesting techniques here and good information, Dragging the shutter to capture ambient lighting is one of the tricks i am just getting used to, Thanks for sharing your techniques with us,

  23. Hi Chris… couldn’t resist…

    I stumbled upon this site whilst looking for this kinda information, shooting at a club tonight… I feel more prepared, hope I get some cracker shots with your uber cool tut, thank you for sharing!


  24. Hey Guys, ive been doing some photography in clubs now for a couple of years and have learnt as I went along, moving from Auto (yes i know!) to P, to AV and now trying Manual mode. I use a cheap ish flash gun with no idea how to do the sync bit you mentioned before.

    Here are the photos i took tonight in a local bar https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.221567167982331.1073741825.153778431427872&type=1

    Experimenting on manual mode.

    Could you take a look and tell me if i can improve, im always worried about the right amount of focus etc. I tried higher Fs up to 11 and was too dark and such. Just trying to work out the best way etc.

    Thanks for this guide, its been very useful! 🙂

    • Hi James,

      The pictures look good =D)

      That looks like the kind of venue where there isn’t a whole lot of interesting Ambient light to play with, so the way your flash and setting work to keep things looking quite dark is appropriate – and it works well in creating a mood.

      I’ve never shot at a higher than f/5.6 before because it’s generally too dark to use a smaller hole than that! I for have the issue of people not being correctly in focus when there’s a big group or even just two people at two different planes but I don’t publish the pictures as big as yours so it doesn’t really matter! Plus, it’s just club shots, I see it as work, not art – and not very well paid work at that! So I tend not to stress too much about the depth of field… =D/

      In general, I prefer a shallow DOF anyway, because Joe Bloggs can’t recreate that with his point and shoot/smartphone camera.


  25. Hi, I just started shooting at a night club and I am using a canon crop sensor DSLR with 24-105L lens with the canon 580ex ii speedlite. I was wondering what’s the best setting to use for it . I tried your method and the picture came out like the first one you had at the top of the page. ( the boring one )

    • Hi,

      The 24-105L is a great lens, I own that myself, but I tend not to use it for clubs (I stick to a wider lens like the 17-40mm).

      The settings I suggest are a starting point; you might need to play with them depending on the venue. If the shots are coming out too boring, that suggests you’re not positioning yourself to make sure there are lights in the background, or maybe the venue doesn’t use any coloured lights? Perhaps your shutter speed is too fast or you forgot to put the flash on slow sync?

      You’re not gonna nail it for every shot but as long as you can keep learning, you’ll get there =D)


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