Club Hassles!

My esteemed son asks:

So tomorrow I need to shoot pictures in a club. I’m assuming my 17 – 85 f/4 – 5.6 IS won’t be much use? And I should just stick to the 50 f/1.8? There are no ceilings less than at least 10 meters, so nothing to bounce flash off of, but occasionally there may be a wall behind me.

Any other advice?

The life of a student is tough. No seriously – it is. I remember.

So OK, to the shoot. I often have to shoot clubs at crazy settings like 1600 ISO, f/1.4, 1/15th of a second. Clubs are dark!

The following example was shot at 1600 ISO, 1/30th second, f/1.6:

Club scene, well lit

Club scene, well lit

There are two things you need to do:

  1. Light the background
  2. Light the subject

Number 1 you do by using:

  • a high enough ISO (do not be afraid to shoot at 800 or 1600 ISO),
  • large aperture (the larger the better…), and
  • slow shutter (1/15th with a wide lens, 1/30th with a somewhat wide lens, maybe 1/60th with a longer lens).

Important technique to find the right settings for the background: You aim to see the background -2 stops from normal (i.e. you are on MANUAL, of course, and you adjust until the meter points to -2 when pointed at an average part of the room).

Number 2 you do by:

  • Bouncing your flash off the ceiling (at 1600 ISO this is easily doable), or
  • Using a Fong Lightsphere; or
  • Using a Honl bounce card (or even the two together, bounce card behind a light sphere: I’ve done it!)
  • Using an improvised paper bounce card

..or even by using straight on flash, but use flash compensation, say to -2 stops.

Now for you. Of course you need a wider lens (for club shots, 24mm on your camera, ie 35mm real, is ideal). But you also need a fast lens.

  • So I would first try your standard lens at 800 or 1600 ISO – wide open, i.e. at f/3,5 – and with IS you can use 1/15th second. See what that does. Where does the meter point? Anywhere near -2?
  • If that does not do the job then yes, go prime and since your prime is long, step back farther-  that will be the challenge. 50 will give you a head shots but in clubs you want to see, the, um, area below the head too. And two or three people in a shot, not just one. So find an area where you can step back.

Is that any help? Not just for my son but for all of you who have to shoot in dark clubs and so on?

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