Let there be light? In a dark club?

Ok, so I started a thread on my favorite photography asking posters to give me some advice on taking photos in a Club. The BEST advice I received, was to use flash. Go figure, eh? No, seriously… I didn’t know.

A friend had asked me to photograph his party at a club. I agreed and immediately realized that this would be a great learning experience. When I arrived at the club, I decided that the flash seemed bulky and unsexy, and decided to leave it in my vehicle. My second thought was, “I have a D700 I can take pictures in the dark!” The first time I tried to take a picture, I couldn’t. A group of people posed, I pressed the shutter, and NOTHING! I was immediately embarassed. Did my D700 and Tamron 28-70 f/2.8 fail me? Nope. Autofocus can’t focus in the dark. I needed my flash.

After retrieving my flash, all was well with the world. The camera and lens were back in business and I felt like a rockstar! Folks were crawling out of the crevices to get their pictures taken. Had I not been ‘working’ I might have even accepted some of the free drinks that people were attempting to give me.

Let’s talk about one of the responses that I received to my thread, shall we?

Alex Ratson (Professional) posted:

I would go with a flash although I will disagree on some of the points
regarding how to use it under these situations.

-I would set the flash/camera to rear curtain sync, this will allow the ambient light and atmosphere of the club soak in while still freezing your subjects motion.
-Set the Flash to just normal TTL and then +/- as need be.
-Apply a full cut C.T.O gel OR the Nikon supplied incandescent gel (amber in colour) and set your white balance to incandescent. This will ad a bit of warmth to your flesh
tones and help balance the light from your flash with those of the club.
-lastly, get the flash off camera. I normally will use either a sync cord or
use the popup flash on my D700 set to commander mode and then just hold my
speedlight in my left hand.

Remember, the flash will help freeze any action such as dancing so going with a slow shutter speed will not hurt you and will actually help by allowing more of the ambient light to soak in to your shot Vs. going with a fast shutter speed which will make your subject look like they are in a black hole and not provide the night club feel, full of funky colored lights and what not.

If you have a small softbox or light modifier feel free to use it. Bouncing off a white wall or ceiling can also work great although a lot of night clubs either have a fairly high ceiling or have a none white ceiling, both of which are not really bounce friendly.

When I initially read Alex’s response, two things happened: I realized that I’d have to perform a google search to decipher his response and that I was waist-high in an incredible learning opportunity. It was time to get to work.

Ok, so what’s rear-curtain sync?

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