Nightlife photography can often be your first professional and paid photography gig. There's always a bar or a club in town organizing public or private events to be captured in pictures.
Club events are full of agitated crowds, loud music, and poor light conditions. Making them challenging environments, but perfect training grounds to sharpen your creative and reaction skills.
Let's review some basic tips to achieve better Nightlife - Low Light Photos. What gear, settings, and attitude we recommend you to adopt for such gigs.
Credits: all photos by Dimitar Drew with Sony a7iii with Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS.
Wide ISO range
Light is key to great photography. (Of course using artificial lights or a flash in dark environments is a way too, but it won't be discussed here for now). Today's digital camera hardware performances are impressive. Further supported by AI software technologies, it often seems that they see in the dark better than you do.
The ISO value represents the sensitivity to light of a digital or film camera sensor. The Sony alpha mirrorless camera series made a name for itself with its ISO range and low light performances. The Sony a7iii has a native (hardware) ISO range is 100-51200. It can be further extended with software support to 50, 64000-204800! The high values indicate higher sensitivity, therefore 'seeing better' in the dark. You can expect some image quality loss as soon as the software jumps in, but this crazy range still gives you great flexibility with marginal impact.
The size of your camera sensor also impacts its light sensitivity. A full-frame sensor (36x24mm) receives more light than a more popular, prosumer DSLR APS-C sensors (22x15mm). Therefore, the full-frame sensor, body ratio form factor, and wide ISO range of the Sony a7iii make it an ideal companion for nightlife event photographers. We fully adopted it for club event photography (and even videography).
Fast aperture lens
We will not get into the specifics of aperture now, but in short, it describes the size of the lens diaphragm controlling the amount of light delivered to your camera body sensor.
The aperture is usually specified as 'f-number'. A small value (e.g f/2.8) is a wide (open) aperture, letting a lot of light in. A high number (e.g f/22) is a closed diaphragm, that does not let light in.
You probably have guessed it by now, for better quality nightlife photography, you should aim at a wide aperture lens, also called "fast lens". Usually f/1.4-3.5.
The aperture also relates to your focal length: the distance that will remain in focus in your shot. Good news, fast-lenses come with a better 'bokeh', that shallow depth of field isolating your subject from the background, so praised in portrait photography. Such lenses usually come at a higher price, but if you are looking for a wide-angle, wide-aperture lens at a reasonable price, we're very happy with the latest Tamron 17-28mm F/2.8 Di III RXD for Sony E-mount, compatible with the a7iii.
Continuous focus & burst mode
Artificial lights in clubs are in a state of permanent change. Pulsating strobes, variating lasers, and LEDs can get your photo over or under-exposed in the blink of an eye. Similarly, your subject can move, or someone/something gets in the frame without you noticing.
If you are shooting on a digital camera, you have nothing to lose bursting a dozen consecutive shots to make sure you get at least one right. And the continuous focus mode will allow you to keep your subject in focus at all times. Note that auto-focus performance varies with the camera, and it gets worse in low light as it is having a harder time identifying the focus point.
A lot can be done in post-production. If you are shooting on a digital camera, change your file saving settings to RAW only, or RAW+JPG.
JPG is a compressed image file format from your original photo. It takes less storage but loses important data from your image that can be exploited in post-production. The RAW file is bigger because it contains multiple versions of your photo, saved with various camera parameters from the moment you capture it.
You can use all that stored information to tweak and improve your photos in post-production software able to read RAW files, like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Of course, you can similarly change a JPG file with these softwares. But the information lost with the file compression is not recoverable, so pixels will be software interpreted and decrease your image quality.
So, if you are doing nightlife photography with a DSLR camera and planning to edit your photos, just get that extra 32GB memory card and use your RAW files rather than a snapshot of your photo, you'll not regret it.
This is not so much related to your equipment, but important to bear in mind when you are photographing nightlife events: be respectful! You will come to photograph artists that, like you, are here to work. And partygoers that came to go wild, not to a photoshoot.
Be discreet. Don't stand in their way, and read the signs. If someones seem uncomfortable, ask. Or just don't insist, go to the next one, there's plenty of great moments to capture around.
Get yourself in the mood! You will better blend in and interact with the crowd. Be playful with your subjects, they are likely to play too and even take a pose.
It's now your turn to go out there and step up your Nightlife Portrait Photography.
Check out the full album "Nightlife Portrait Photography" by our sinewave talent Dimitar Drew
Interested in the gear discussed in this article?
- Sony a7iii: https://amzn.to/2OFoOhn
- Sony a7sii: https://amzn.to/2Rbm50O
- Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD: https://amzn.to/2YfflAJ
- Sony a7iii: https://amzn.to/2OrHNMh
- Sony a7sii: https://amzn.to/37ASdka
- Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD: https://amzn.to/2Dinydw
- Sony a7iii: https://amzn.to/2sC6KMJ
- Sony a7sii: https://amzn.to/35SvLBA
- Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD: https://amzn.to/2DzZ5AD
- Sony a7iii: https://amzn.to/2Y3NMtK
- Sony a7ii: https://amzn.to/37NWoJw
- Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 Di III RXD: https://amzn.to/34zp4UF