You may be unsurprised to learn that I have opinions about nightlife photography.
I'm not the world's greatest photographer, but I take a lot of photos in nightclubs, and I spend a lot more time than that sifting through other people's photos.
This means I see a lot of crappy photos, and I see a lot of different people making the same mistakes over and over again. So here's some advice for those of you shooting inside a nightclub that I believe will dramatically increase the quality of your photos.
Most of this is aimed at people using SLRs with real lenses, but some of it will apply to smaller cameras too.
(Let's see if this gets me as much hate mail as the bike thing did...)
Stop using your flash.
Flash photos taken in nightclubs almost always look terrible. Also flashes piss off the bands, and piss off the other customers. Fortunately, with the right lens, you almost never need to use a flash in most clubs. Get yourself an f1.4 50mm lens and leave the flash at home. Don't bother with a zoom: a zoom f1.4 lens will be very pricey, but a fixed-focal-length 50mm can be had for as little as $150 new.
Stop using a zoom lens.
You don't need it. If you mostly take portraits, you're standing from 3' to 5' away from your subject. Zoom by taking one step forward or back. With f1.4, available light will almost always be sufficient to get a shot at 1/80 and ISO 1600. If it's not, move.
(Edit: I got the DoF math wrong. Nevermind.)
Yeah, it'll be a little grainy, but it will look better than the photo you'll get with a flash, because you don't know how to use your flash properly anyway. (It's harder than you think, and you're doing it wrong.)
Stop standing at the back of the room.
When you take a photo of an act on stage from the back of the room, zoomed in, you lose all foreshortening and depth cues. The foreground and background will be in equal focus and there will be no sense of space. If instead you stand close, your photo will be much easier to read, and it will look like you were actually there.
But, stop standing right at the front of the stage.
If you stand right up at the edge of the stage, you're looking up in the air at the performers and shooting up their noses. It looks awful. Stand 6' back or more so that you are shooting them from the front, not from the bottom, so that they aren't so freakishly distorted.
Stop standing still.
We know your photos are the most important thing in the world, but you're pissing off all the other customers by blocking their view with the enormous piece of gear you keep holding up. Especially if you're tall. Or have a ridiculous hat. Move around! Don't stand in any one spot for more than a minute. You will get a wider variety of photos, and you won't irritate the people whose view you're blocking if you weren't there long.
Also, keep your elbows tucked in. You don't have to hold your camera like you're impersonating a windmill. The less space you take up, the fewer people you will piss off.
Look around first.
Don't rush up front as soon as the band hits the stage. Hang back and watch the first two or three songs before you shoot anything. Pay attention to what the lighting is like and how the people on stage move, then move in and get the shots you want. Also, if you wait a little while, the folks in the audience will no longer be jockeying for position and it will be easier to move among them.
Stop checking the back of the camera after every shot.
Either you got the shot or you didn't, and checking won't change that. Wait until you get home. When you spend time with your nose down in the back of your camera, you're wasting your time, missing the show, missing other shots, and standing in front of someone who wishes you would move on already.
Stop posting every damned photo.
People generally only have the attention span to look at 10-30 photos before they get bored and move on, so I usually try to keep my sets below 30. If you post 300 photos of an event, you can probably count on most people looking at the first 30 and never even seeing number 40.
The exception is live shows, where if there are 3 or 4 bands, and they're all really photogenic, I might do up to 20 shots per band. I think of those as separate "sets", even if they happen to be on the same page.
If you think you have 300 great photos, you're wrong.
Your first shot was the best shot.
Here's a scenario I've observed over and over: a photographer shoots a portrait shot; looks at the preview; says "oh wait, let me try that again"; make an adjustment or two; take another shot; then does it all it a third time.
Then (because they usually post all three photos!) I get to see how that turned out, and I can tell you that most of the time the first shot is the best. The reason for this is that by the second shot, the subjects have lost their spontaneity. Often the first picture will have a genuine smile, the second will have a forced smile, and in the third they just look kind of confused. Standing around waiting for the photographer makes people uncomfortable, and you can see that in their faces.
Don't post almost-identical photos.
If you take three almost-identical pictures, just post the best one. If you can't tell which one is best, pick one at random: if you can't decide in 3 seconds which picture is best, then that means that they're all the same and it doesn't matter. Posting them all just bloats the gallery and makes it unlikely that viewers will make it to the end.
Don't post the photo you almost got.
I see this all the time: people will post photos where the wrong thing is in focus, or the subject has just turned away, and I can tell from that what photo they tried
to take and just missed. It's clear that the photographer posted this one because when they look at it, they think about the photo they wish
Well, you missed it, and that's a shame, but move on.
Post big photos, not just oversized thumbnails.
I can't tell you how many times I see someone post a gallery of 300 photos, and yet, all of those photos are only 300×450 pixels! Why even bother posting something so small? I don't know about you, but my monitor is a lot bigger than that. You've got a 12 megapixel camera and you're posting kilopixel images, WTF.
Don't post photos where people look like crap.
This really should be obvious, but if a photo is unflattering or otherwise no good -- if the subject is making a stupid face, or the lighting accents their zits or whatever -- don't post it. Why do that to people? You're not Diane Arbus. Some photographers think "but people want to see pictures of themselves, so if I took it, I should post it!" but that's not actually true. For candid nightlife shots, people only want to see good pictures of themselves. If you don't have a good picture of them, you'll just make them feel bad.
Lose the giant watermark.
If you feel you must
caption your photos, just put your name or URL at the bottom in a relatively small font. Especially do not use a huge transparent logo. It looks terrible and amateurish and it is distracting.
In my experience, the size of the watermark is inversely proportional to the quality of the photo.
Personally, I never watermark any of my photos, because it's not like anyone's going to go and get rich off of some candid shot I took of them in a club. I know other people are much more hung up on getting credit about such things, but try to be a little understated about it so that your desire for credit doesn't take a big steaming dump on the composition of the photograph itself!
And finally, some simple admonitions for the subjects of photos. I know some people are uncomfortable having their picture taken, and don't know what to do with themselves, but please, don't do these things. These are so common and awful that I delete all photos in which they occur:
Stop making "duck face". Seriously, stop it. You look like an idiot.
"Look at my beer!" Yes, yes, you have a beer. Your beer is not photogenic, whereas you are a unique and beautiful snowflake. Stop holding your beer up to the camera.
Don't flip off the camera. What are you, eight? Because that stopped being clever or transgressive when you were eight.