Nightclub photography: you're doing it wrong.

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 they took.

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.

Tags: , ,

87 Responses:

  1. Does this mean that people have finally started sending you (links to) photos they took during your events? Or are these mostly based on photos you've spent precious time and effort hunting down?

  2. Spoon00 says:

    If you make a duck-face I should be allowed to hunt you.

  3. Nils says:

    That's really insightful and great advice! I hope some club photographers end up reading this.

  4. foo says:

    Excellent! Just one minor quibble: I really don't think you have 8 inches of depth of field when standing 3 feet from your target while using a 50mm f/1.4.
    See http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html
    f/1.4 is actually hard to use, and nowadays it's easier to crank up the ISO, especially on a reflex camera.

    • netik says:

      So, what part of 0.09 feet at 3ft did you not read in the dof calculator?

      At ten feet it increases to a mere 1.09ft, which is just barely over 12 inches, not counting performer movement.

    • jwz says:

      Huh? With that very link you posted, Canon 5D 50mm f1.4 @ 3ft = 0.09 ft = 10.8 inches. That's a full frame sensor; a 10D is 7.1 inches.

      • Hub says:

        Given that 12 inches = 1ft, math don't add up here. It is more like 1.08 inches.

      • nickgrim says:

        Not that I know a damn thing about lenses, but I can tell you that 10.8 inches is about 0.9 feet, not 0.09 feet.

  5. NelC says:

    I dunno, a kilopixel sounds a reasonable size for displaying on the internets, whereas a 12-megapixel is probably at least twice too big to show on nearly all monitors. Even a WQSXGA only needs around 6 megapixels.

    • Nils says:

      You probably meant "an image in the kilopixel range"... seeing as 1 kilopixel would be reached with 32x32 pixels. :)

      The 300x450 pixels jwz mentions are quite low, also. For comparison, even the icons on a typical Mac these days are higher resolution then that! (512x512)

      It's not like download speeds these days are so dreadful you're doing us a favor. More likely, you're trying to avoid paying $$ for server bandwidth.

      Personally, I think anything under 800x600 (at full resolution) is a waste of my time: "Nice to know YOU the photographer have nice shots of us on YOUR machine..."

      • Bradley says:

        It's not like download speeds these days are so dreadful you're doing us a favor. More likely, you're trying to avoid paying $$ for server bandwidth.

        I've always assumed the small pictures were from Serious Photographers worried people would steal their hi-res images. Either way, nothing disappoints like clicking a thumbnail and getting the exact fucking same picture.

      • NelC says:

        Posting late at night I should not do, as I managed to confuse kilopixels with megapixels, or area with dimension. Duh, me. A megapixel is a reasonable size; a kilopixel is hardly worth the photons, even as a thumbnail.

  6. glenn says:

    all of the best pictures i have of both me and my previous band (tesseract7) were taken by you at the dna lounge and i almost never noticed you taking them, so obviously you were never in the way. hopefully some people pay attention to what you say here. especially the parts about not pissing off everyone around them, as is way too common with concert and club photographers. also, hopefully my newer band gets to play the dna at some point in the near future.

  7. Ian says:

    Yep. An almost-as-fast f1.8 50mm lens won't cost you much if you followed the basic rule of DSLR camera buying*, but the f1.4 I have has transformed my photo taking.

    Sadly, I didn't follow the rule, so it cost about as much as the camera body did, but the results are worth it.

    * Toss a coin: heads buy Nikon, tails Canon. Or the other way around, doesn't matter. But one of those two because everything else will be sooo much cheaper than if you go for another brand.

    • Neil Girling says:

      You're forgetting Sony, and trust me when I say they make a fine product. Or don't, and look for yourself.

      • Sony, Olympus, Pentax and a few others make fine SLRs, ranging from merely acceptable to the flat-out excellent. None of which you, as a hypothetical non-professional photographer, should buy.

        What the OP is hinting at: the market for used Canon/Nikon lenses in good condition dwarfs the market for used Sony/Olympus/etc glass. Want a fast cheap 50mm? Dozens of them on craigslist, hundreds on ebay. Want a 70-200mm stabilized zoom used at a reasonable price? Ditto. Want to try your luck with high-spec third-party kit? Tamron, Sigma and Zeiss have you covered, and you can get those used too. Want to just rent that exotic tilt-shift thingy or insane 400mm prime for a week? You can do that too, for surprisingly little money.

        Once you step outside of the canon/nikon comfort zone, however, things get a lot dicier. I will allow that Sony is probably the best of the bunch here (especially since you can use a lot of old Minolta Maxxum lenses without modification), but for a first-time SLR buyer, it's hard to come up with a good reason to recommend them over the equivalent products from the Big Two.

        (That said, I bought my mom an a200, since she had a very large case of old Minolta glass that she wanted to be able to keep using.)

        • Neil Girling says:

          The reason I'd recommend them for beginners (and professionals alike) are as follows:

          - Brilliant used market of oft-overlooked old Minolta Maxxum gems at splendid prices
          - Similar support from Sigma/Tamron/Tokina/Lensbaby/other random manufacturers
          - Equally (and sometimes better) spectacular lens quality
          - Better, more adroit and accurate autofocus
          and, most importantly,
          - An extremely intuitive and easy-to-use user interface. Yes, blah blah, it's all subjective (or so people say) but Sony's UI blows away Canon and Nikon (I rarely if ever touch a menu for anything).

          That said, it's all ultimately subjective, and more blah blah blah. Do whatever. But telling people to fall into line in those two camps is silly.

          • Ian says:

            Yes, I bought Sony. The camera was well-reviewed and, oh yes, significantly cheaper than the equivalent Nikon/Canon. But this lens - lovely though it is - cost much more. The total is already significantly more than it would have been with Canon/Nikon and it's just going to get worse from here.

            Plus I feel guilty for buying it every time Sony are evil.

      • Chazz Gold says:

        i shoot with sony a700 i love it i get to shoot left handed and its awesome , and it can bracket for hrd which is sweet.

  8. Havard says:

    Those are sound guidelines for most situations. Inappropriate use of flash is one of my pet peeves.

    Seriously, it usually isn't necessary to use flash on a well-lit stage. It's certainly not necessary to use a flash so bright you can see details of someone's back reflected on a projector screen rather than a shadow. That's called assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. You certainly don't need to use that flash when it's possible to shoot everything hand-held 100mm f/2.0 ISO400, which on a decent 6 year old dSLR is just as good as ISO100.

    It not only isn't necessary, but is extremely rude and inconsiderate to use flash on a not-so-well-lit stage, if it's a proper production of some sort. That means someone thought about the lights and set the lights a certain way. You have no right to interfere with someone's hard work designed to create a certain atmosphere. Yes, photographers are opportunists, but that's no excuse to be an inconsiderate prick.

    Also, if your photographs are so valuable you feel the need to have a watermark obscuring 2/3 of the frame, clearly your work is valuable. Please show me how much money you made selling any photos over the past year. Please indicate how much money others paid you beforehand to take photos of some event. What, zero fucking dollars? Not so valuable are we?

    • Muhammad says:

      Well I can say that this is basically good advice. Unfortunately I can't use a lot of it. I get paid to shoot at clubs. I shoot club portraits for cash. I sell my photos on site so I can't really roll with a lot of this info. I admit it is great info for shooting bands and taking ambient shots around the club, but usually it doesn't work out for me. I do use some of these techniques when I am shooting filler stuff and getting creative but mostly I use my main rig. D7000, SB-600, diy flashbender, SB-29 and HiTi P110 printer. Usually I walk out with about $600 a weekend, but my promoter moved to a new club and I've had to adjust my prices, but normally at least a couple of hundred every weekend. Which affords me the opportunity to buy more photo stuff. That said my customers want a couple of different photo choices before shelling out their cash. They have to see themselves ergo Flash and experience with my own system of metering the flash. I nail most shots with awesome light, I usually have to work at my High ISO stuff.

      If I shot bands I would definitely use the methods listed though. :) Thanks for the advice. Also can anyone direct me to some of the worlds best Club photographers. I'm looking to take my craft to the next level and am looking for some inspiration. :)

    • Elusis says:

      Also:

      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.

      From your mouth to God's ears.

  9. netik says:

    I'm going to add a few points here:

    Using a flash is okay when shooting people in a crowd, because the room is dark and not as well light as the stage. There is absolutely no reason for you to have that flash at full power, though.

    A careful read of strobist.com, and learning to balance the flash against the ambient lighting is the right thing to do when shooting people in the crowd. Your flash should be down around 1/64th or 1/128th power, with shutter somewhere around 1/30th or 1/25th of a second.

    Remember that the shutter only controls the ambient lighting. The flash exposure is 1/1000th of a second and the only way you can control it's contribution to the exposure is by turning down the flash, or closing down the f-stop.

    On Zooms:

    I'm a Canon guy, and my two main lenses are a 28-70mm f/2.8 L lens and a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS/L lens. Everything below 35mm causes warping of the image (I shoot a full frame 5D mark I) and everything that I'm shooting at 200mm probably shouldn't be shot at 200mm. I'm too far away.

    That being said, the short-throw zooms are essential to shooting groups of people. Sometimes I need 50, sometimes I want 70, and sometimes I have to go to 28 to get ten people in a crowded club into my lens. When I've got the 200mm on, I'm usually shooting at 150-180mm to get headshots of band members. There's a certain shot I take often with that lens and it's become a bit of a signature shot for me:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/netik/5504387743/in/set-72157626212768286

    • Neil Girling says:

      I'd like to second your approach here. My style's a bit different, but the underlying reasons are spot-on.

      Frequently the only two lenses I use are a 16-35mm 2.8 and a 200mm 2.8 (and the 16-35 rarely leaves 16mm). I love the sawed-off shotgun approach of the 16 and the crazy distortion, and I really like to do a crazy tight crop with the 200.

      I never shoot with a flash when I'm pointing at the stage, and always use one when shooting portraits of people off stage. That being said, knowing *how* to use a flash is what's important, as you've stated: turn the damned thing way down, use a slower shutter speed, and diffuse the hell out of it.

  10. dustin says:

    What is duck face?

  11. Mary says:

    Great tips. I want to get into photography later this year so I'm bookmarking this so I can refer back to it.

  12. I'm going to do my favorite thing here, which is edit:
    1. Don't use flash unless you know how.
    2. Learn to edit your photos. Picasa, iPhoto, Lightroom - you have lots of free or nearfree choices.
    3. Learn to edit your fucking photos.
    4. See #2.
    5. Stop chimping.
    6. See #3.
    7. There are no "good" cameras. There are better cameras, and there are good photographers, but correlation does not equal causation in this case.
    8. Learn to fucking edit your shit.

  13. netik says:

    One more tip.

    Please, for the love of god, learn to white balance photos. I see so many stage shots where the entire image is yellow because someone doesn't know how to balance out the incandescent lighting.

  14. billb says:

    Great tips. Thoroughly excellent. Here's one from a photographer to club owners (jwz perhaps excepted, given many of the pics I've seen hereabouts): use more than just the red gels on your stage lights, some white won't kill your bands! ;)

    • Paul Toohey says:

      Seconded. I HATE that so many music venues here in Austin rely on only red lighting for whatever reason. It's a rock show, not a room in a whore house.

    • jwz says:

      It took years -- literally years -- to train our lighting guy to stop using red for everything all the time. I can tell when he's gotten bored with his job because he falls back into the pattern of lighting every other song red. It'll alternate red, blue, red, green, red, blue, red, green... We got a new lighting board recently, though, and everybody likes new toys, which means the lighting has been much better. That should last a little while.

      There's something endemic about it. Lighting guys fucking love red. They think they aren't doing it right if it's not red.

      It's like how DJs think they're not doing it right unless the levels on the mixer are in the red.

      • Caspian says:

        Red, green and blue are the only colours. :P

        Seriously, though- if he's not doing a new design for every show, and he's got nothing but whatever the gel collection is to work with, it's really easy to fall into patterns. I often find reading about things like colour theory and seeing other stage designs breaks the patterns up much more quickly.. that, and challenges. Design guys love challenges. Next time he slips back, try to do something amusing with him- ask him to avoid red and blue or any combination of it where either colour is clearly visible (I've had to do this in the past- it was a Sinn Fein related gig in Dublin... long story). Or, better still- use only a single colour (try R98.. if you use gels. He'll probably laugh at you).

  15. Removing a few tips would actually turn this into a great collection of general advice for photography in general. I've only already know half of these because I learned a majority of these tips the hard way.

  16. Jake Nelson says:

    Nice stuff, and anyone who looks back on some of the photos you've taken should see you know what you're talking about.

    I'm at the point where I think that cameras shouldn't come with flashes, and flashes should only be sold to people who can prove they're properly trained in using (and more importantly, NOT using) them... but I'm light-sensitive, so I have a bit of a grudge.

    • I only have a point-and-shoot and I am very much at the amateur end of the photography scale, but even I try to avoid using the flash as much as possible. I think the built-in flash on a camera only ever gives you a crappy photo. Unless you've got some fancy bounce flash or something it's probably not worth it.

      (Also, whenever I take a photo of my kid with the flash on, I get the "deer in the headlights" look from her instead of a cute photo.)

  17. OakNinja says:

    When i grow up i want to be like you!

  18. Edouard says:

    Great summary, and I'll second the observation that your photos of the shows look really great.

    As for biker levels of hating, nahh, photographers are all nice, well adjusted people.

  19. Tor says:

    Here's another tip for the subject; squeeze your bum! It will improve your posture..

  20. gryazi says:

    Very guilty of back-staring here but I don't bumble around in nightclubs.

    Digital seems to give, y'know, half the latitude of print film, so I end up constantly checking the result or the histogram to make sure I'm at least recording enough image to tweak later.

    Do you action photographers favor any of a) just throwing on matrix metering and trusting it, b) bracketing, c) picking one exposure, and/or d) getting extra dynamic range in your body's raw format so this isn't as big a deal?

  21. phuzz says:

    Any chance you could engrave these rules on say, a hammer, so that next time a fscking photographer seems to think that their photos are more important that everyone else's enjoyment of the gig, they'll have some thing tor read after I've finished smacking them in the face with said hammer?
    ahem, not that I'm bitter or owt.

  22. So as a corollary to these rules, what is the DNA's official policy on bringing in a DSLR to shoot bands or DJ nights? What is your opinion on other club's policies on no cameras?

    • jwz says:

      We always leave camera policy up to the promoter of the event. Most of the time, this means cameras are allowed. Though recently Hubba Hubba went "no cameras" because there are just too many fucking Dirty Santas.

      I rarely even bother bringing my real camera to shows elsewhere, because I can never predict whether it will be allowed. That's why you see a lot of shitty iPhone photos from me.

  23. Jeff says:

    Speaking as someone who photographs regularly in clubs, with publication, shows, etc., I'd take issue with some of this. I shoot with flash almost always, I ask bands, never had one object. I use zoom lenses when I know I'm shooting with flash. And my choice on where to stand is determined primarily by whether or not I am in the way of paying customers. I can find a way to make something look good from wherever.

    Plenty of photos here - http://spirer.com/Music/index.html - almost all with flash and zoom. It's about how you use what you have, not what you use.

    • jwz says:

      There are people who know how to use a flash properly. They are in the extreme minority.

      • Jeff says:

        >>There are people who know how to use a flash properly.

        That's true, but blaming the flash for the problem of poor usage is pointing at the wrong problem.

        • jwz says:

          I wasn't blaming the flash for the problem. I was saying: "hey you, reader of my blog and person who shoots at clubs -- you don't know how to use your flash, so stop trying and your pictures will improve."

          Statistically, my assessment is true.

          Sure, I could have said, "hey you, go spend a thousand hours learning how to actually use your flash", but that's a lot more work and nobody would actually take my advice.

  24. ShowcaseJase says:

    Great overview, although I'd add that setting the exposure to 1/30 or even a bit less can get a lovely sense of movement with a little blur.

    Also, if you do use a flash and it doesn't have the right vibe it will often look good in black and white.

  25. davel says:

    If you have a high resolution camera, then instead of using a zoom lens, crop the photo from your fixed lens.

  26. J.D. Falk says:

    Any thoughts about asking permission first? The venue has rules, sure, and I'd expect that the performers know about the venue's rules, but what about attendees who might not want to be photographed?

  27. floyd kelley says:

    A brilliant post! Couldn't help but laugh at several of your observations (because they're overwhelmingly TRUE)

  28. Cooper says:

    Decent tips for the most part, let down massively by some inexcusable ignorance of the fundamentals of cameras and lenses.

    DOF for that 50 mm prime you suggest is an inch at best at three feet, and that's on a full frame DSLR, which is out of the price range of all but established professionals and the wealthiest of amateurs. On a cropped sensor DSLR like a Canon Rebel, its closer to half an inch. To get four inches of depth of field, you'd have to stop the lense all the way down to f5.6, by which point you're screwed, given the paucity of available light. Why are four inches important to nightclub photography? That's about the distance between the tip of a subject's nose and the lobe of the samee subject's ear. Generally, its not a bad idea to have all of that part in focus.

    Learn to use flash properly, and it will contribute to consistently competent captures. Note carefully how to turn the thing down. The learning process will involve more than just buying an eBay off-camera cord and cutting the top off an Odwalla bottle, to use as a diffuser.

    I understand photographers putting up a lot of competent photos alongside their stellar work, if they're driving traffic to a website (hello Sam Khedr). Its fair game, especially is those websites have been promoting quality nighlife content for years.

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, I shifted a decimal point. Oops. I still contend that f1.4 with no flash is serviceable for portraits in typical club lighting.

      Telling random hobbyist photographers "learn how to use your flash properly" is not helpful advice. If it was easy, they'd have done it already. Most people won't put in the time. "Don't use your flash" is more helpful advice for most people, because it's easy and it works.

      Sure, they should learn how to use their flash correctly. But they won't. So this is the next best thing.

  29. Noah says:

    I have an el-cheapo point-and-shoot camera, and don't really want a full-on SLR because I won't schlep all that equipment around all the time. But I have learned that nothing I ever photograph with a flash looks better than if I leave the flash turned off.

    But, these cheapo digital cameras also have a terrible lack of light sensitivity and dark, grainy pictures don't look very good either. Are there any decent P-&-S cameras that work well in low-lit environments?

    • jwz says:

      Are there any decent P-&-S cameras that work well in low-lit environments?

      Pretty sure the answer is no. I would be shocked to learn otherwise.

      • The Canon S90/S95 work OK (perhaps not well) in low-light environments, if you use manual controls and high ISO (and perhaps a bit of noise reduction in Lightroom or whatever). Some examples: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glasser/tags/s9xnightlife/ It ain't SLR quality, but you can carry it into any club in your pocket...

      • gryazi says:

        My piece-of-crap Z1485 has a pixel-binning mode that makes ISO3200-6400 sort of useful (at ~2MP resolution, and you have to go in and set the resolution first to enable that, rather than just having it degrade gracefully - so much for Kodak interfaces being actually-less-decrepit-when-you're-in-a-hurry than other makes, although it does set it up for you if you just pick the scene mode). There are reviews demonstrating actually-decent photos of performances taken at those sensitivities, although my refurb one is prone to banding when the batteries get low/phase-of-moon/etc.

        [This is an 'even the worst-case can do it' example. The IS and autofocus on that thing lose their minds under anything less than sunlight. Also, 14MP is a special kind of marketing-useless when the maximum the firmware will spit out is like a 4MB JPEG.]

        For P&Ses, it went something like: CMOS sensors get introduced and low-light performance got better (and kept incrementally improving for most of the Japanese brands), then resolutions doubled and pixel area got quartered and it all went to hell again but the binning trick brought some of it back.

      • Skrytebane says:

        Nothing as small as the smallest P&S cameras, and nothing as cheap, but if you want to spend a little extra, you can get something that fits in a jacket pocket and is close to APS-DSLRs in high ISO performance.

        A micro four thirds camera with the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, for example. (Though the lens alone probably costs more than a P&S camera.) Sony NEX is another option, but the lens selection is rather bad at the moment. If money is no object, you could always go for the Fujifilm Finepix X100 or a Leica X1.

        • jwz says:

          f1.7 is useless without a flash, unless you're only shooting the stage and it is very brightly lit.

          • Edouard says:

            I think you've read it wrong - ƒ/1.7 is 2/3rds of a stop slower than ƒ/1.4, tops (and probably not even that in reality - ƒ/1.4 lenses usually have a lot of falloff that drops the actual light they are getting - although the center is affected less).

            Those compact micro four thirds cameras with the 20mm ƒ/1.7 lens would be OK (although inherently more noisy than a ful frame camera - the image sensor is 1/4 the area).

            An order of magnitude better than a point-and-shoot for a form factor that is only slightly bigger though.

          • Skrytebane says:

            I think it works just fine for shooting the stage. There has to be some lighting, obviously, but it doesn't need to be exceptionally bright. It doesn't work so well for the audience, though, but then, neither does an APS-DSLR (without flash), as others have pointed out.

  30. Raminta says:

    these are actually really GREAT points. I only have one comment. I've done some concert photography at some bigger venues where I have been issued a photo pass. Sometimes all you get is the 1st 3 songs or you are limited to the soundboard which can be 100 feet away from the stage. When I first started I got some "great" nostril shots until I actually moved my ass around the stage. The more you move around, the better the shots I've gotten. Sometimes the artist will even pose for you which is always great.

  31. kjxbtg08otrficvkkb says:

    "Why even bother posting something so small?"

    Because some people who post photos and some people who look at photos have slow dialup internet connections.

  32. pixel says:

    Excellent, best nightlife photo guide ever, straight to the point !

  33. w1lp33 says:

    On the subject of DoF at 1.4: You don't really need to get the whole face in perfect focus... I was always taught that as long as the nearest eye to the camera was in focus, then your picture was considered 'in focus'.

    Plus consider how fast the rest of the frame falls out of focus. If the eyes are in perfect focus, is the ear going to be a blurry mess? No. It's going to be ever so slightly less in focus, but you probably won't even notice unless you're staring at the 12 mpx file and zooming in.

    tl;dr = there's some wiggle room with focus that makes that narrow DoF less daunting.

  34. I wish I could print this advice as a giant poster and plaster it on the walls of every venue in San Francisco. Fantastic advice, truly.

  35. Chazz Gold says:

    personally i love what you wrote , when shooting bands i use a 50mm 1.8 with a sony a 700 body , i shoot at 1250 -1600 and no flash and i do fine . its actually quite funny when i show up at big show like the big 4 concert i shot at and start shooting with as lil 50 and theres all the guys with three camera and huge lens etc and and they look at me like wtf? then they see my shots and they are like oh...doh.... you can see my stuff at http://www.chazzarazzi.com really check out the concert photography galleries and let me know what you think

    and dont worry there are only 19 photos per gallery ... haha

  36. Jeff says:

    If anyone does want to learn to do it with flash, I have an article somewhere I can send. Also, for shots like this - slow sync (maybe 1/20, can't remember on this one), flash straight on. Otherwise, flash bounced off side walls works most of the time, get shots like this - http://spirer.com/hsf2011battle3/content/images/large/_57P6949.jpg

    The slow sync stuff requires knowing what backgrounds work with it, takes time to learn which ones do and don't. And the wall stuff depends on angle and all that. Both of these were shot in the same club, really difficult stage, and way too dark to shoot without flash...

  37. fantasygoat says:

    I don't see any really negative posts ala the Bike Thread - are you moderating or is it actually civil in here?

  38. surajrn says:

    that what I call the nature is always beautiful