I took some shots at a club/bar of DJ's for the first time. I tried a lot of different techniques, and I can't figure out how to better my flash shots.

These were some of my worst shots, because I think I must be using the flash poorly in this environment. The goal was to throw more light on the subject so they were captured sharply with the 2nd curtain. What happened was that I lit up the ugly ceiling in a round bright shape. I used a flash off the camera with a cord, bounced off the ceiling, on 2nd curtain sync. What can I do to use a flash more effectively in this environment?

.6sec, ISO 400, f/5.6, 16mm(35mm eqiv.)

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.6sec, ISO 400, f/5, 16mm(35mm eqiv.)

enter image description here

3 Answers 3


Shooting in a nightclub is one of the situations where I wouldn't bounce. Bouncing works great when you have a nice high white ceiling, white walls and you want a soft flattering light.

In a club setting you often have uneven low ceilings with strange colours. Instead I use a direct flash approach, usually with a ringlight adaptor such as the Orbis. This produces a really crisp look without the hard shadows you get with on camera lighting. Here are a few examples of this setup:

Also, instead of using a long exposure to burn in the ambient I would up the ISO and switch to a fast lens, or abandon ambient and use the flash. With a 0.6sec exposure you'll always get weird ghosting effects around lightsources, even with second curtain sync.

  • 1
    The second option that you outlined is what I did for other shots, fast lens, ISO 800-1200, and faster exposure - but I was trying to nail some shots with "action" from the movement too. Weird ghosting can be good in some shots I think, especially with the crazy dancing at clubs. The images you posted are more what I've done prior to for event/wedding photography, or what I would call "clean" images. I was trying to capture more club style with movement and blur I guess. Thanks for the answer much appreciated!
    – dpollitt
    May 25, 2012 at 16:13

I solely use off camera flash for event work. Having the freedom to create shadows in peoples face allows you to add more depth to your photos.

Other tips are setting the power for your flash, Using ETTL with tell your flash to fill the room with light. If you take the power down you are able to make the subjects more prominent in the photos and leave the background to fall into darkness.

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Using 2nd curtain sync to capture movement is also a very good idea.

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There's an excellent book by National Geographic photographer Gerd Ludwig called "minus 2/3", which I'd highly recommend. Gerd's basic approach is to dial down the flash (often by 2/3's of a stop, hence the book's name) and to use coloured gels (more often than not CTOs — Change To Orange) to avoid the typical harsh flash look.

In night-clubs his approach is to dial down the flash to soften the light, gel the flash to contrast with the ambient lighting and enhance the subject, and darken the ambient exposure to further isolate the subject. Longish exposures help to show dynamism with the resultant ghosting. He may also tilt the flash to graze the subject or light only part of the scene.

See one of Gerd's images here: https://goo.gl/images/St6NGP

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