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SLR Camera Settings for Nightclubs with a Sony Alpha 700

SLR Camera Settings for Nightclubs with a Sony Alpha 700

Posted on Sep 1, 2010 by Paul White

If you have found this blog then you probably have already lost a few hairs trying to get your pictures to look great in a nightclub.  I have finally mastered the settings that will enable you to get the shot with your Sony Alpha Camera.  These settings should also work on other brands such as Nikon and Cannon.

The Problem with Nightclub Photography
Nightclubs are often filled with accent, ambient lighting, and scanning beam fixtures.  The combination of these makes for a very inconsistent available light.  The problem is your camera in AUTO mode heavily relies on the light sensor to determine what is the best settings for your current shot.  If you are using a flash, your subject matter will be ok, but all your ambient light will be black.  If you don't use a flash your camera will hold the shutter open for a long time causing motion blur.  What you want is a shot that preserves the atmosphere of the nightclub, while illuminating your subject matter, and freezing the action.  Its taken me a while but I finally figured out how to get these shots.  Now I am going to share these magical settings with you.

SLR Camera Hardware for Nightclub Photography

In order to duplicate my camera settings you will need to be using the same hardware as me.  Exact models, and brands are less important than your hardware being able to adjust to the settings I am going to use. So for reference this is what I am using
  • Sony Alpha 700
  • Sigma 30mm F1.4 EX lens
  • Sony HVL-F56AM Flash
  • White Sto-fen Filter for Sony HVL-F56AM Flash
  • 1 White Tissue

Nightclub Photography Camera Settings

  • Camera in Manual Mode M
  • Aperature set to F1.4
  • Shutter Speed set to 1/60 Second
  • ISO set to 1600
  • Dynamic Range Optimizer DRO set to OFF
  • Flash set to manual mode m
  • Flash focus set to 28mm default
  • Flash Power set to 1/16 power
  • Fold tissue into thirds wide ways, then half long ways
  • Wrap flash with tissue
  • cap tissue with Sto-Fen Filter

Now you are ready to shoot.
The only thing you will adjust is the flash power.
For head and shoulder shots, use 1/32 power on flash
For waist up shots use 1/16 power on flash
For Full Body Shots use 1/8 power on flash
Basically adjust your flash depending on the distance to your subject matter.

Example NightClub Shots using these settings

SLR nightclub photo with low light
Notice the gold tint of the skin while the background ambient light is still preserved

SLR nightclub photo with low light

SLR nightclub photo with low light

Theory behind these settings

First the most important aspect of Nightclub photography is being able to capture the the atmosphere of the Nightclub.  The second most important item is freezing the action.  Often times people will be dancing, and people will be unable to stay still for a picture.  If you want freeze the action, you have to use a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second or faster. The only way you are going to be able to capture the ambient lighting with a faster shutter is to both open up your IRIS to let as much light in as possible.  You also will need to turn up the ISO to make the sensor more sensitive to light.  The result is 1/60 second, at ISO 1600, and F1.4 for Aperature.  Depending on what lens you are using you might not be able to go as far as F1.4.  If this is the case then you need turn your ISO up higher, but doing so you will start to suffer from noise, and the quality of your picture will rapidly diminish. 

If you take a picture using these basic settings of F1.4, ISO 1600 and 1/60 Shutter Speed without a flash, everything will come in, but the person you are shooting will be dark, and not stand out.  We need to give just enough light to illuminate our person without overexposing the shot.  The problem is even if you manually turn down your flash's power to its lowest setting this is still too much.  So we need to artificially lower the flash's power even more.  the easiest way to is to add additional filters to the flash.  I tried using a Sto-Fen Filter but still the flash was too bright.  Then I used a white Tissue to help cut the light down.  The result was the perfect amount of light for my photo.  Now the only thing I will need to adjust is the power of the flash depending on my distance from my subject matter.

Setting up the Flash for Nightclub Photography

Since the flash is the most important part of this guide.  I wanted to show everyone exactly how I have my flash setup. 

Take 1 white Tissue

Fold it in half along the natural seem

Fold it in a third

Fold over the other third to make 1 long strip.  At thsi point the strip should be the same width as your flash head.

Rip the Strip in half

Tissue strip next to flash, notice how they are close to the same size

Place tissue on flash head

fold over the sides to form a tight seal with the flash head

cap the tissue onto the flash head using a Sto-Fen filter

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