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Using an EOS80D with an 18-35 2.8 Sigma lens I recently shot at a nightclub and had done some research first. I wanted to create shutter drag with my flash and shutter speed. That kind of worked, but didn't really look nice IMO. enter image description here

I then wanted to take some regular pictures, but I noticed that my backgrounds were pretty dark. I thought I could increase the intensity of my flash using the settings of my camera, but that didn't really seem to affect anything... I just kept thinking that the photos were bad. I went to the owner to tell him that I was screwing up and already apologized for the bad outcome. He told me to just keep trying and so I did some live research during the party about suggested camera settings. I feel like I already really know well how to set my camera for regular daylight in terms of shutter speed, aperture and iso, no problems there. But nightlife? I couldn't figure out how things were connected.

I read that my iso shouldn't have been at 100 (around 400 rather), but I don't really get that. I would've thought iso 100 would be perfect since I'm using a flash and the room should be lit because of that flash? I noticed that I couldn't pull off any overview pictures that way though (so from the back of the room still being able to see the dj). Increasing ISO seemed to work out.

I read that my aperture was also way too high. It was at around 9 while I read that it should be around 3.5-5.6. I thought, there will be a lot of light from my flash; I can crank up that aperture and then I won't have any out-of-focus images at all. However, lowering my aperture did seem to make my pictures somewhat nicer.

Also, I couldn't really tell what my shutter speed had to be. I knew, for the shutter drag, I needed a longer one (1-2 seconds) but I read 1/15 - 1/30 for the nightclub photos. I can't really tell why that's a good number. My photos started to get a little better, but I also had a hard time aiming at people because I couldn't look through the viewfinder. I often noticed afterwards: "Damn, I missed that moment because I didn't aim well... I wish I had a way to still see what I'm shooting". I tried setting the view on the flip screen, but then my camera wouldn't flash anymore for some reason.

This is one of the most fun pictures I got to shoot that night enter image description here and I still don't like the way it looks. Is everything from this point on lightroom/photoshop post production to make it look nice? Or do I still have a lot to gain by getting my hardware right? I would really like to also understand the theory about the settings behind it so I can easily adapt to different indoor lighting situations. I also used a very old flash (chinon 277) and I'm wondering if that's also a problem. Do I need a different flasher which can tilt? Do I need to use that little card which I've seen other people use to soften the flash? Because I also felt like at some point my flash started to annoy some people, and I can definitely understand.

This kind of was a horrifying feeling for me because I was not in control at all. I don't want to deliver work like this and would like to get to know every little detail that I'm not grasping / don't know about.

I went to look at previous pictures for that venue and noticed that there's a clear difference, I just don't know how to get there exactly. I notice there's been some editing going on, but still, I would like to be able to get to this random example:

enter image description here

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    "I tried setting the view on the flip screen, but then my camera wouldn't flash anymore for some reason." That's because when you use non-E-TTL flashes in LV, if silent LV shooting mode is not set to 'disable', the flash won't fire. – Michael C Apr 22 at 23:02
  • Have you looked at any existing questions here with the nightclubs tag? – Michael C Apr 22 at 23:04
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    I suppose having that LV option will already help my accuracy a lot. I actually haven't thoroughly because I checked other blogposts and didn't exactly find answers. In the near future I have to do another and want to nail it, that's why I posted this. Maybe indeed I need to first thoroughly scroll through the section on stackexchange. Thanks already for that info! – Kevin Apr 22 at 23:25
  • Have you shot the flash directly on people? Try bouncing it from the ceiling. Point it up, or a bit behing, and a bit to the right. At least that's, what I'm seeing from the random example – Rekin Apr 23 at 13:54
  • I did, I only have a flash which can not tilt. I guess I definitely need to get myself a new one. I would like to know if that will help me a lot or not. – Kevin Apr 23 at 14:12
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The fundamental problem with flash is that its output decreases as the square of the distance. In other words, if the flash is on your camera, the person 2 meters from you will receive 4 times the light of the person 4 meters from you. If the first is exposed right, the other one will look underexposed. And if you expose for the one in the back, the one in the front will be overexposed.

If you want an even lighting with a single flash, it should be at a similar distance from everybody:

  • on the side and not and the camera (requires remote control)
  • bouncing the flash on the ceiling, which artificially increases the distance between the flash and the nearest person. But that assumes the ceiling isn't dark and not too high.
  • So you're telling me that the thing that would improve my pictures can only be having a flash which can tilt to the ceiling, or having multiple parallel flashes at certain points (which is not possible at a party), I have however seen people do it at speaker sessions! – Kevin Apr 27 at 13:25
  • Bouncing the flash could help, but in night clubs the ceilings are often quite dark so this may not work in you case. Another completely different solution is push the ISOs and forego the flash altogether. There is also the possibility to use the flash as fill-in to complement ambient lighting, reducing lighting difference with distance, but this is camera+flash dependent. – xenoid Apr 27 at 19:57
  • I fear I will definitely have to buy a new flash, but I don't know if I need to get a TTL or not... Right now the flash I use has 0 setting possibilities, it can only be triggered. (literally 0, can't even set intensity). I thought I would just straight go for a TTL, but this post kind of made me think otherwise: strobepro.com/blogs/news/… – Kevin Apr 27 at 20:09
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My comments are mostly based on the reference photo you provide, which I will refer to as Pref.

  1. Your image has an embedded Adobe RGB color profile. This can make images look dull on monitors set for sRGB. Consider setting your camera to sRGB. If processing raws, consider setting your export profile to sRGB.

  2. As you noticed, Pref has been edited.

    • Excessive noise reduction.
    • Artificial vignetting.
    • Increased contrast.
    • Altered colors.
  3. Pref was likely taken with a larger aperture than you used. Additional blur may also have been added.

  4. Pref is likely using a diffusor and bounce.

  5. Pref may have been taken closer to subjects than your photos.

  6. Pref (partially) frames with darkness, rather than other people.

Some suggestions to try:

  • Push your camera closer to subjects. Uncomfortably close.
  • Use near-far compositions.
  • Frame with empty space, rather than with people. (Flash will fall off to darkness.)

  • Shoot with the aperture more open. This is not for light, much of which was provided by your flash, but for blur and depth of field.

  • If I recall correctly... With flash, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture affect the image a bit differently than in normal light. ISO will change overall image gain/brightness. Aperture will control light from the flash. Shutter speed controls amount of ambient light.

    • Want everything the same, but a little brighter or darker? Change ISO.

    • Think flash is too weak or powerful? Adjust aperture or flash power.

    • Want more or less ambient light? Change shutter speed.

    I don't have the skill/practice to adjust flash for every shot, so I would preset via trial and error. Then as long as all photos are "good enough", I can post process later.

  • Use a diffusor and bounce. Seems not possible with your current flash unit. Does it also not allow you to change power? Consider getting a TTL-capable flash that is compatible with your camera.

Your images are likely usable. Here is a post processing attempt:

  • Copy image, increase exposure.
  • Copy image, decrease gamma. This has more contrast than decreasing exposure.
  • Create a layer mask on top layer to create vignette.
  • Adjust colors.
  • Skipped noise reduction.
  • Skipped adding blur. Make sure you apply different levels of blur based on distance. Otherwise, it's basically the same idea as adding vignetting with layers and masks.
  • Probably not much you can do about those huge shadows.

image

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The second picture seems to suffer most from:

  • Imperfect use of a strong wideangle lens - the subject in focus appears too small relative to the foreground subjects and distorted (the super long arm is cute, the body twisting is not). Also it seems like that flash doesn't go as wideangle as your lens...

  • Unsharp foreground subjects. There are photographers that swear by them - most merely swear at them.

  • An ugly ... and sharp background. Which, however, looks like a premium bounce reflector!

  • A color balance that is badly chosen for skin

  • Any suggestions about how to fix the problems? – xiota Apr 24 at 22:57

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