A lot of people ask me why I shoot like I do, when it comes to nightlife and concerts. Well, there’s many reasons.
Nowadays, with the ubiquity of the ‘nightlife photographer’, or ‘the guy with the blog’ (yes, I’m well aware that I’m writing this on a blog platform), one has to strive to differentiate themselves in order to be unique, stand out, and get work. Even if your end goal isn’t necessarily financially-oriented (and it shouldn’t be, you aren’t going to get rich shooting concerts and clubs, it’s something you have to like to do), your job or vision is easier to pull off if you can develop a coherent style to call your own.
I’ve been working in clubs for about fifteen years now. I started by helping my friend John, now the owner of Alchemy Audio Visual Systems with lugging around his nascent rig of EAW speaker cabinets and Crown amplifiers, and doing double duty as his light tech. We provided reinforcement for local punk bands and some DJ shows as well. I was also majoring in motion picture production and fine art photography at the University of Miami, and working for their IT department as well.
Anyways, I managed to work my nighttime activities into legitimate coursework for my photography classes. I would shoot some of the bands and our lighting setups, when time permitted. Early on, one of the biggest “rules” of most venues, if they were cool with me shooting at all, was that flash photography was frowned upon or genuinely prohibited around the performers of the evening. Totally understandable, for two reasons. First off, if you are DJing or playing an instrument, a flash blowing off in your field of vision can be distracting, or even dangerous, if you are the sort of performer who tends to be very dynamic. Also, and this forms the basis of my style, the performers are usually well-lit, or can be at request.
Basically, there’s a lot of light around if you know how to use it. Nightclubs and concert halls are generally regarded as being dark and dingy, but there is a lot of light within them. LED screens, flat panel displays, swirling intelligent lights, the glow from POS terminals, even candlelight. It can all be used to pull off an effective photo, while not having to resort to using flash photography. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with flash photography. Used properly, it can provide a wonderful balance to a scene. Used improperly, the results can be substandard, and the act of taking the photo itself can be distracting. One of the keys to successful concert and nightclub photography in my mind is to blend in with the scenery. People tend to be themselves if they think you are one of the crowd, and not some guy with an SLR looking for attention, free entry, and cheap laughs. We all know that guy, he’s not nice.
Of course, working with the light that is there presents some challenges. Invariably you are operating at a very shallow depth-of-field, a slow shutter speed, a high ISO, or all three. I won’t get into it in this post, but all three can be compensated for, especially high ISO. High ISO is the easiest to compensate for, actually. Flat out accept the noise. It’s there, use it and move on. ISO 6400 on a modern DSLR is actually more usable than ISO 1600 on a roll of Fujicolor from the 1990s, even without noise reduction.
So basically, my style is the result of the environment I generally shoot in, and my ethos of blending in with the crowd rather than being the focus of it.
Use the light that’s there, you might surprise yourself.
(Oh, and this is only a test - I’ll add photos in a bit)