Lights. Camera. Action. Nightclub photographers allow people to remember the not-so-memorable moments. Whether it’s selling a photo keychain at the club or people being tagged in the club’s photos on Facebook the next day, you want to create the best photos you can for clubgoers.
Whether you’re a photography novice or someone who hasn’t shot at nightclubs before, it’s good to know what to expect—from the equipment you’ll need, the camera settings, the skills required, and the extra things you’ll learn from experience.
What Equipment Do Nightclub Photographers Need?
Most of the equipment club photographers use is self-explanatory. If you’ve ever set foot in a nightclub, you’ve probably noticed—or posed for…or avoided—the photographer. Most of a photographer’s equipment can be seen straight away, but you should always keep a checklist, so you don’t miss anything.
A DLSR Camera
The number one item on the list for a nightclub photographer: the camera. A DSLR is a must for a job like this—your smartphone camera, as good as it may be, won’t be cut out for nightclub photos.
DSLRs can handle the speed and durability required for shooting in dark, busy clubs. Even older models like the Canon 750D would be more than enough and is still small and lightweight, so you won’t suffer from hand cramp the next day.
Your DSLR needs the ability to change lenses, hold a flashgun, shoot RAW, and handle taking photos quickly. If your camera lags, you’ll lose the attention of your subjects. Intoxicated people don’t hold still for long.
The second most important item for a club photographer is the flashgun. Your camera’s in-built flash will not suffice here—you need the flexibility and power of a flashgun. You don’t need a big brand name flashgun, most knock-off brands are great too.
A good flashgun allows you to change the angle by turning or bending it, can hold a diffuser or bounce card, and has settings to change for various situations.
A Couple of Memory Cards
Without a memory card, a DSLR cannot save the photos you take. And without saving photos, a photographer means nothing. Get as large a memory card as you can afford. And then get a second (or third) one. You should shoot in RAW format, which has the slight downside of large file sizes.
Keep the spare in your pocket or leave it in your camera bag in the staff room. You’ll hope you won’t need it in an emergency, but it’s certainly good to have. A spare memory card also means if you happen to take a lot of photos, you won’t run out of storage, or if you’re a busy photographer shooting multiple events, you can keep the photos on separate cards to keep track of everything.
A Wide-Angle Lens
You can create great nightclub photographs using a variety of lenses, but as a beginner, a wide-angle lens will give you the best successes before you niche down to a particular style. Fisheye lenses would probably be too abstract for commercial photos, but for artistic shots, you could use one.
A standard-to-wide lens is great and versatile—something like 18-55mm. To accommodate more people and a busy atmosphere, a wide-angle lens, such as a 24mm prime, is perfect.
Some photographers use two cameras with different lenses on each one to swap out. This can be easier than trying to change lenses throughout the night in a busy club. For ease, it might suit you best to stick to one lens.
Overall, you don’t need an expensive lens—especially around beer-wielding party people.
Your DSLR camera likely uses a rechargeable battery, or perhaps two with a handgrip. It’s good practice to keep a spare, fully-charged battery in your pocket for any quick-change emergencies that may happen. Cameras use a lot of battery power when they’re on for hours at a time and running a flashgun too.
Carry spares of your flashgun’s batteries too. Use rechargeable batteries to help save your wallet and the planet, and swap them out with another set every other day.
A Camera Strap
DSLRs are expensive and nightclubs are busy places. Your camera strap will become invaluable in such an environment. Many clubgoers might try to grab your camera, ask to hold it, or just barge past you without seeing it in your hand.
Your camera strap—wrapped around your hand or wrist once or twice—will ensure it never leaves your possession. In an accident, if you drop the camera, the strap won’t let it go very far.
Any good photographer knows that the photo isn’t perfect straight out of the camera. Editing software like Adobe Lightroom is perfect for touch-ups, correcting white balance, adding a preset, or—most importantly for club photos—batch adding the club’s logo to the corner.
You shouldn’t heavily edit these photos. If your settings are right, you should only have to apply a simple preset and a logo. You can do this with batch edit tools in Lightroom, Photoshop, and many other editing programs.
Nightclub Photography Camera Settings
There is no one answer for the camera settings you should use. Every photographer has a different style; every club has different lighting. The suggested rule of thumb is to have two go-to settings to jump between—one for small groups and another for larger groups of four or more people. Many of these tips are similar to tips for taking party photos, but there’s some variety.
Shoot in Manual mode (M), so you have full control over your settings. For smaller groups of up to three people, use a standard ISO setting of 800. Set your aperture to f/3.5 and your shutter speed to around 1/4th. If you’re able to change your flash settings, set your flash to 1/16th.
For groups of four or more, you’ll need settings to accommodate more people and distance from them. Set the ISO to 1600, the shutter to 1/6th or 1/5th, and set a smaller aperture, like f/5.6. We’ve got a full guide on how photography aperture works, which will help you understand your settings.
To get the famous nightclub light streaks in your images, you’ll need a longer shutter speed, around 1/4th. Go to your flash settings and choose second-curtain or rear-curtain flash. Read our full guide on using slow-sync flash in photography. Light streaks do take some practice to perfect, but it’s a fun technique to try.
A great light streak photo comes from using the ambient light of the room—such as strobe lights, lasers, or spotlights from the dance floor—that capture a slight blur of movement from the subject, followed by a frozen pose from your external flash. Moving your camera—often in a circular or wavy line motion—will drag lights around or across the image.
For light streak images, set a slow shutter, around 1/4th, a moderate aperture, around f/5.6 to f/7.1, and a low ISO like 200 or 400. Your flashgun should have a 90-degree angle with the flash facing directly towards the subjects.
Illuminate the Nightlife With Great Photos
Nightclub photographers are resilient, confident, and enjoy observing the party. Hold your camera high for those intimate shots and incorporate your flash to show the fun of the clubgoers.
Photographers need to approach or be approached by rowdy people, so hold tight and capture the energy you see. Photographing club events is a trial and error experience, but one that’s fun to learn and see your photos improve night after night.