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How to Capture Incredible Nightclub Photography

Nightclub photography is not an easy art to master. You’re dealing with excited, dancing crowds and unpredictable lighting, not to mention low light shooting

Yet it can be incredibly rewarding when you nail the shot. And to help you get it right the first time, we’ve prepared this guide of tips and advice for taking nightlife photography. 

people inside night club

Essential equipment for nightclub photography

If you keep getting gigs at nightclubs and bars, it’s time to invest in the best equipment. 

The best camera for nightclub photography

A full frame DSLR is going to give you the best quality, although any camera with manual controls and fantastic low light capabilities will work. You’ll also want a camera with a high ISO range without producing noise.

Popular cameras for nightclub photography include the Canon DSLRs in the 5D and 1Dx lines. 

The best lens for nightclub photography

While a lot of people focus on the type of camera they have, many don’t realise that those final images more often reflect the type of lens used. 

Since you’re dealing with low light in a nightclub, it’s best to stick to “fast” lenses – that is, those with maximum apertures of f/2.8 or lower – to have a wide aperture that lets in plenty of light.

It’s a good idea to take more than one lens for nightclub photography but keep in mind, nightclubs don’t offer a lot of space. 

Popular lenses include an 18-50mm or 17-70mm lens with at least f/2.8 aperture. Alternatively, a 20mm wide-angle lens is good for shots of the entire nightclub.

nightclub with car furniture

Additional accessories you might need

Aside from the all-important camera body and lens, you might want a few additional accessories to help expand your creative options.

  • A quality UV filter to protect your lens
  • A lens hood to avoid lens flare and produce great overall contrast
  • A speedlight flash mounted to the camera via the hot shoe
  • A flash diffuser to attach to the tip of the flashgun to soften the light
  • A vertical grip to help with handling the camera in portrait mode – they also provide second battery slots for spare batteries.

Tackling the lighting challenge: tips for your nightclub photography

people walking through light tunnel

One of the trickiest parts of nightclub photography is managing the low lighting conditions while still producing vibrant shots. 

You might have to pay attention to flashing strobe lights. Try to synchronise your shutter to the flashing lights by setting it to burst mode.

Difficult lighting hues also pose a problem in nightclub photography. Blue, purple, and green lights come out darker in photos so the ISO should be higher (or the shutter lowered). 

Red light is notoriously difficult to photograph as it’s dark to shoot and washes out details. But it looks good if you convert the photo to black and white. 

Choosing the right camera settings for your nightclub photography

To get the best photos in this challenging environment, you’ll want to switch your camera to manual mode so you can best control the exposure triangle (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO). 

Nightclub photography doesn’t demand any specific “fixed” setting, although in principle, photographers start with wide apertures, low shutter speeds, and high ISOs. 

Because of the difficult lighting, it’s not common – or recommended – to pursue nightclub photography without the flash. A flash helps expose the subject and freeze any movement to produce sharper photos. 

Here are some of our camera setting recommendations:

Recommended shutter speed

The shutter speed all depends on the focal length of your lens and the crop factor of your camera but ultimately, you need a fast shutter speed to capture the movement. 

A shutter speed between 1/8 and 1/100 is best. Try starting with 1/8 or even 1/4 of a second and improve from them. 

Recommended aperture

Nightclubs make for busy settings that can quickly clutter your composition. A way to combat this is the open the aperture wide. 

In any case, you’ll need a wide aperture to allow more light into the camera but opening it wide also creates a shallow depth of field that blurs out distracting background elements. Aim for between f/2.8 – or lower if possible – and f/5.

Recommended ISO

In such a dark setting, it’s best to keep your ISO between 800 and 3200. At the higher end of this range, you’re likely to get some noise but it’s better than increasing your aperture or slowing your shutter speed. 

Flashgun settings

woman posing in night club

You should set your on-camera speedlight to manual and the power to low (aim for 1/64th or even 1/128th).

It’s important to make sure your flash head is directed above your subject or at a 45-degree angle to avoid harsh shadows and black backgrounds. 

Shooting modes

Since there’s a lot of movement, both in your subjects and from the lighting, switch your camera to burst mode and continuous focus.

Burst mode allows your camera to take multiple photos in a row as long as you’re pressing down the shutter. It’s a life-saver when dealing with strobe lighting or dancing crowds. 

Continuous focus (called Al Servo for Canon users and AF-C for Nikon users) helps your camera lock onto and follow a subject as they’re moving so you won’t need to keep refocusing.

Nightclub photography without the flash

hands above crowd in night club

If you decide after all to forego the flash, you’ll have to be particularly careful with your camera’s exposure settings, reducing motion blur or camera shake by increasing the shutter speed and boosting ISO or your aperture settings. 

If you’re not using flash, try these camera settings:

  • Shutter speed: 1/25
  • Aperture: f/1.8-f/3.5
  • ISO: up to 3200

Are you ready to master nightclub photography?

You’re closer than ever to capturing the most incredible nightclub photos. Check out our range of professional camera accessories to help you get ahead in your photographic endeavours.

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