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Taking NightClub photos with a Sony a100 DSLR

Posted on Nov 3, 2008 by Paul White

There are alot of great photographers in the world.  But shooting the front cover of Maxim and shooting the after party takes entirely different techniques.  About 2 years ago I bought a Sony Alpha 100.  The first DSLR camera sony ever made, or re-branded as many would say.  Sony bought out Minolta's DSLR division and just rebadged all their equipment.  Smart move considering they can slap a SONY label on the same hardware and sell it for a premium just because its Sony.  But of course the Sony Alpha is a good camera for entry level DSLRs.

Over the last 2 years I have shot lots of photos, of all sorts of stuff.  The a100 does great when there is plenty of light.  But when you get into shooting with less light that is when you start to notice a difference.  The Nightclub is a perfect example.  Even though you can walk into a nightclub with a flash and get some excellent shots. You will not capture the true energy of the nightclub.  What is cool about nightclubs is how the light bounces of people, and various objects like glasses, and the floor.  If there is a fog machine, ( or a heavy population of future kemo patients ), you get a colorful haze from the dance floor's lights.  But as you start to shoot you realize your shots aren't coming out. 

Main reasons nightclub photos don't turn out

Lense is not bright enough

If you are using a lense that is your typical F4.5 - F6.3 Zoom ( probably came with the camera ) then your lense is not letting in enough light.  This results in having to do long exposures  that do not freeze the action of the club, or hight ISO 1600 + which leaves your photos with lots of noise.  The solution is to get a faster lense.  Head over to ebay and search for a Zoom lense that is F2.8.  or if you can do without zoom a fixed lense that is F1.4 or as close to it as you can.  The next Lense I am buying is a Sigma 30mm F1.4  The widest and fastest lense you can currently buy for the Sony Alpha 100, or any of the Alpha Cameras ( a700, a200, a300, a350, a900)

Not enough light to Auto Focus

Even if you have the right lense, sometimes your camera's sensor can't detect enough light to focus your lense.  You will have the shot all lined up and then you press the first stage of your button and you hear the lense focus but then no beep to tell you its ready.  You try over and over again to get the shot with no luck.  Then you finally move over into manual mode, but then you are just guessing what is optimal.  You try extreme camera settings trying to get the shots and keep getting over exposed or under exposed photos.

The Secret to getting Night Club Photos.

Here is the real secret.  Its all in the Flash.  Take your Sony flash ( F56AM in my case ) and put it on your camera.  Then

don't turn it on

.  The reason is that when the flash is attached to the camera, it uses the flashes built in AutoFocus Illuminator ( red light that is projected on your subject ).  Normally this is used so the flash knows how to focus the flash for range and intensity.  But in this case since you don't have the flash turned on it is used to aid the lense in auto focusing.  Now give it a try.  go into a room in your home turn the lights off. Then use the flash in this fashion.  The camera will do all the work in figuring out your settings and you will get the best Night Club Photos.

What Settings do I use?

Here is the settings that work for me.
Using a 50mm F1.4
Set the Camera into ShutterSpeed Priority Mode.
Set your ISO to Automatic
Adjust your shutter speed to be between 1/13 second and 1/20 second, ( or as fast as you can without the Aperature value flashing )
As you adjust your shutter speed you should notice the camera is automatically adjusting your Aperature, and ISO.
Once you get out of range when the camera thinks its beyound its capability. The Aperature will start flashing.
Once you reach this point you are at the limit of what the camera thinks is good settings to shoot.
But one flaw I found was that the a100 does not like to take your ISO above 400 when in Automatic mode.
So manualy set your ISO to 800 or 1600.  Then try to focus again and take your shots.

Seeing is believing so I recommend you try the same shot without your flash mounted, then again with the flash mounted.
You will see the difference.

For a while I was worried that great photos only come to those who can fork out $3k for an A900.  But now that I have figured out how to get my lenses to auto focus in night clubs, I have a whole new world that just opened up to me.

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