Event photography

edited February 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
What's the best settings for indoor night club photography? I have a speedlite, which I'm still trying to get the hang of. I would like my backgrounds to be blurry also.


  • edited August 2016
    I too would like more info on this. I'm taking pictures of a live band, and any info on settings would be really helpful. Thanks.
  • edited August 2016
    I think much of this will depend on the speedlite and on what is permitted, as often one is not permitted a flash in this situation.

    For a blurry background, the light is largely irrelevant, and what you need is to keep your aperture as wide open as possible. Framing will pretty much dictate where you stand with what lens, but the background blur will be best when you can get closest with the longest focal length. However, remember that the background blur is the last thing to worry about after good exposure, good focus, capturing the musicians, and getting the right framing.

    One alternative that can sometimes work, if a flash is permitted, is to forego the advantages of TTL flash, which will generally give you a good overall exposure, and experiment with manual or automatic flash if they are provided. Automatic flash uses a meter in the flash itself. What often happens with auto flash is that the flash exposes a subject well, and leaves the background very dark. While considered one of the drawbacks of an old-fashioned auto flash, it can be a pretty effective way to isolate a subject. This would be done in "full flash" mode, and not as fill flash. An auto flash will have a chart on it to tell you what manual settings you need at various ISO values. Keep the shutter speed somewhere between 1/60 and 1/250 to insure that the exposure includes no ambient light.

    As performers are usually lit separately from the stage, and they are what you want to catch, I'd suggest you reset metering to spot, and meter the performers. You don't want the camera to try to brighten the background at the expense of the performers.

    You should also make sure you set your auto focus to a single starting point. Auto Area focus, while it may well guess right, may not, and you have no real control over who or what it chooses. I'd try Continuous servo (C) and Dynamic Area focus. Aim at the performer you want to be most in focus.

    If the performers are spread out, and you cannot get them all in focus at once, or if you're just finding it hard to nail the focus, close down the aperture a little if you can, and increase your depth of field. Background blur is less important than getting your subject. If you're using auto flash, that's already going to happen, as the flash will probably demand a fairly small aperture.

    You will probably need to use a pretty high ISO in order to keep shutter speed fast enough to stop motion if you use no flash. Sometimes a little blur in things like a guitarist's hands can be effective, but mostly you want the subjects sharp.

    You could try manual exposure, with the aperture wide open and the shutter speed fast enough to stop motion (probably 1/250 or so will do it), and leave Auto ISO on. If the ISO stays within a reasonable range, then that will keep your exposure correct. If you can, experiment beforehand (a darkened living room will work fine for this) with high ISO, to determine how much ISO noise and grain you think tolerable, and cap your auto ISO to prevent going higher. Generally speaking, grain is less of a problem with people than with dark scenic areas, and better when exposure is good.

    If you're shooting without flash, color balance may also be an issue. You can try various white balance settings, but if you shoot in Raw mode, this is less of a problem since you can change WB in post processing. Raw mode also allows you to adjust exposure level by a couple of stops.

    The above does not apply if you're using flash. A flash will freeze motion, but I am not familiar with how most TTL flashes will work here, so cannot advise except to read up on it, and to do lots and lots of experimenting.

    Before you start this, you should find out what the policy is where you're shooting. Make sure it's all right, not only to use flash, but to use any lit focus aids your camera and flash may emit. Although a pre-focusing red light can help you, it may distract performers. You're unlikely to need red-eye protection so turn that off as well to avoid the distracting pre-flash. Remember your photo session ends badly if they throw you out or tell you to stop.
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