Nightclub Photography p.1

(Club) Photography Preview 1   -Article by 'the pro' orion williams

Exposure control that works
-aesthetic & composition

What makes up the aesthetic? Capturing the aesthetic consists of developing a conscious “eye” and eye that is always looking around for compositions that will work. With technical mastery, one can synergize that with the visual to create an overall effect (ie. Technique #1). You can get a strong idea of composition (or pleasing to the eye) that works through our many examples in the 50 shots that work section.

There are two different ways of photographing

capturing the current events as they happen or (documentary or journalistic style)
creating an intentional photograph (directive style)

As a producer, you want to keep an aesthetic state of mind (constantly looking for good shots), whether you’ll be capturing events as they happen or proactively setting the shot up the way you want it (ie. Group shots where you can have control). You should always be looking for opportunities.

The greatest photographers have mastered the aesthetic and can produce on a level where they can convey a feeling and stir emotion from a single photograph. This is the ultimate. As a club photographer you will be primarily capturing what is going on. However, you can gain control in creating the result of the photograph by controlling the different elements, like composition, exposure (technical) and timing.

Elements of club photography consists of these main factors which you seek control over:

1. Exposure (technical area consisting of: aperture, available light and shutter speed)
2. composition (or aesthetic)
3. timing

A great photographer will take advantage of all three areas whether they be a documentary style of “capturing the moment” as it happens or the “directive” style of deliberately pulling together a shot (like directing people where to stand). Music videos and film turn out so good because they are the “directive” style of production (add to that great post-production and editing) where the photographer/cinematographer/producer/director has control over the elements. With documentary style you have to work with the environment as best you can as you are there to capture it. Once again, in the club environment you can do both directive and documentary style photography.

So, looking at the elements of club photography again and what you want to do…

1. technical mastery over the exposure to come up with the best possible deliberate results.
2. the composition to always pull the shot together the best possible way visually and
3. An innate sense or intuition of timing or knowing the exact moment to capture the shot


Exposure is the captured result on the negative. The technical elements that attribute to this are shutter speed, aperture setting and the image (or light) itself. The camera will capture what you want it to if you have control. You are the creator here. We touched on exposure before in a previous section. As a club photographer, we’ll give you some general standards on how we deal with exposure. Controlling this technical aspect is still the most challenging aspect for some to deal with and may take years to master and fully understand. For example, you may be prolific visually but struggle with the mathematical like and reverse-thinking of f/stops, shutter speed, and over/underexposure compensation.

Because we don’t know everything technically, but have produced consistent effective results, we’ll tell you what we know and will update in future editions with other seasoned industry photographer’s and our new knowledge.

Shutter speed: in a club environment, slower is generally better. This way you can capture movement of dancers, people or lights and convey more of the “under-the-influence” effect. A slower shutter speed combined with a large aperture (ie. 2.8) will capture more information or light quicker than say the same shutter speed and smaller aperture (3. ) We will alter our shutter speeds from 1/100 anywhere on down to a couple seconds but usually keep it under a second (ie. 1/30). This deliberation will give you the more “club-effect” feel that you’re probably looking for. This isn’t the races so you don’t need to use fast shutter speeds very often.

Ideally you’ll use a front-curtain sync which will set the flash off immediately upon pressing the shutter so you can get your timing down and then with the slower shutter speed and larger aperture you can catch other movement and light (ie.) This will take some practice to get it down so you’re on target most of the time. If you just want to keep everything simple or you don’t have those advanced features you could just keep shooting at 1/250 consistently and let the camera figure the aperture (on TV or time value mode). This way you can work on your timing and capturing the “peak” or “just-right” moments. (show ie.’s of bad timing).

Once again, you will be using the flash about 95% of the time (at least as a fill to light your main subject) so this cover the lighting portion of the exposure. Keep in mind our technique for capturing the on-scene & background light.

So once you got the technical exposure down to a working system that will continuously perform (expose your shots), you can keep working on that “eye” of yours and its golden sense of timing. (Or if you’re starting out you may just want to stick with automatic exposure anyways for a while or at a speed of around 1/60)

To check out Orion's extensive work as a club photographer visit ClubCast.Tv

Or check out the gallery for his Club Portfolio (included in the 2,000+ Images CD when you order the Photoshop Designer Package)


- Orion Williams copyright 2004


Part II of this article.







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