Nightclub Light Trails in Seoul w/ Silk/Juice

Some people have recently asked me to write a brief post about light trails.  I don’t shoot a lot of club photography, but I’ll be happy to share what I have learned with you.

I’ve been fortunate to be have Silk/Juice allow me to take pictures of their parties.  If you don’t know Silk/Juice, check their facebook page.  They are known for throwing the best electronic music dance parties in Seoul.

As a photographer, I’m typically known for creating very clean, sharp, and vibrant images.  So, when Silk/Juice asked me to create grimy pictures, I struggled.  While shooting their events, I learned to loosen up and not worry about perfect exposures and making my subjects “tack-sharp.”

The great thing about making grimy pictures is that you have leeway to play with light trails.  Unlike portraits, your client isn’t asking for perfect exposures and sharp images; they are asking you to showcase energy.  Energy isn’t static; it’s fluid.  Energy can be blurry, out of focus, and bizarre.

I’m not going to list specific combinations of f-stops, shutter speeds and ISO settings.  However, I will tell you to get this effect you need to use slower shutter speeds and an off camera flash.  You are shooting for two exposures.  First, you want to make sure your camera can pick up the ambient light (light available in the room).  In nightclubs, this usually means you need a higher ISO and longer exposures.  Next, you need to make sure your flash illuminates but doesn’t blow out ( white face) your subject.  Once you figure this out, you want to set your shutter speed at 1/3 of a second or longer.  Don’t worry about your subject being blurry, the flash freezes their motion.  The flash is only a brief duration of the exposure, so whatever is not touched by the flash will be blurry due to hand holding your camera for a long exposure.  Instead of having a blob of light, move your camera in squares, triangles, circles or streaks.  This will create motion blurs with the ambient light.

Finally, if you have a zoom lens.  Take your picture with a flash and zoom out during the remaining exposure.  This creates a super cool zoom-out effect.

If your subject is blurry, it’s because ambient light is touching them during the exposure.  You can either strengthen the flash or shorten the exposure to remedy the problem.

Here are a few shots.

Silk Juice #3-1I have a crush on this girl.  Anyways, notice how she appears sharp and frozen.  I twisted my camera in a circle after the flash fired which created the orange streak to the left.  Notice the beer dispensers behind her, they are partially blurred due to the combination of flash and ambient light.  Also, if you twist your camera in a circle the outside of the picture will move faster than the inside of the picture.  I like this because it blurs the outside while preserving subject matter in the center.  In other words, it keeps the light blur out of the subjects face.

Silk Juice 3-9Notice on this picture that the DJ is a little blurry.  That’s because my flash is not the only light touching him.  His motion is also contributing to the blur.  Still, it’s cool.  He looks like he’s casting a curaga from his mystical turntable.

Silk Juice 3-220I love this pic and it’s interesting.  He is frozen by the flash, but I twisted the camera in place which burned red and orange motion blur across his face and body.  I could have done a much better job touching this up…but damn, it’s grimy and cool.  He once again looks like he’s a match for Magus from Chrono Trigger.

Silk Juice 3-212This is a boring picture of a bartender pouring a drink.  However, the exposure was set for longer than a second.  After the flash, I moved the camera from right to left as fast as I could.  It makes a light trail across the whole picture giving it a good amount of energy.  What did he put in my drink?

Silk Juice 3-64

This was a big blob of light on his face.  I made it white and it looked cool to me.  Plus, it went well with his t-shirt.

Silk Juice 3-2

This is just a long exposure with a low light lens and very weak flash.  I love how rich the colors are.

Silk Juice 3-7

Same here… rich colors.  A little blurry because of the motion and because depth of field is so narrow.  Still, it almost looks surreal.

Silk Juice 3-19

Silk Juice 3-21

And of course,  normal pictures should always be included.  The focus is set on the girl in the front as you always want the front person in focus.  Even though the people in the back are out of focus, it’s acceptable to the viewer if the front person in out of focus.  The other way around rarely works.  It’s very difficult to jump from a light trail setting to a setting for normal portraits.  It’s good to have presets on your camera.  That’s one reason I love the d600!

Anyways, here’s a few more.  To me, these shots are horrible because the exposure is off, the subjects are blurry, and they are out of focus.  However, I noticed I’ll look at these pictures long before I look at my club shots that look like a catalogue of prom pictures.  In other words, they are just plain fun!

Silk Juice 3-85

Silk Juice #3-5 Silk Juice 3-4 Silk Juice 3-14 Silk Juice 3-28 Silk Juice 3-29 Silk Juice 3-37 Silk Juice 3-43 Silk Juice 3-76 Silk Juice 3-83 Silk Juice 3-201 Silk Juice 3-207 Silk Juice 3-208 Silk Juice 3-209 Silk Juice 3-210 Silk Juice 3-218 Silk Juice 3-231


10 Comments Add yours

  1. thebobster says:

    The best shots are the ones where people aren’t posing, just caught in the middle of what they were doing. That’s life, captured and displayed.


      1. thebobster says:

        I’m just talking about which are my favorite photos here. And ‘best’ means what I like best, not some abstract concept the ideal image. Aesthetics is by nature subjective, so obviously there’s no such thing as best, but simply what someone prefers more than something else.

        I’m probably missing the point of the light trails. I’m noticing people’s faces. I guess that is what interests me. I’m sure it’s a very clever photographic technique and probably pretty hard to do, but like a lot of such things serves to draw attention to the photographer more than what is being photographed. We don’t really get any hints about who these people are or how to feel about them, except that one girl you have a crush on, not sure if you really do or if so why.

        Like I said, I’m sure there’s stuff here I’m just not getting. No criticism, just saying I don’t understand light trails, I guess, and why they are are important.


    1. It’s also the best way to make someone look horrible.


      1. thebobster says:

        People don’t look horrible unless they are doing something horrible. If they are doing something they enjoy or are good at, anyone can shine. The bartender is not boring, There’s a task that requires complete attention, and the task is getting that attention. There’s a guy sitting at the bar also and there is something going on with him, something on his mind and you can see it in his face. I wonder what he’s thinking about at this moment …

        Hard to tell with the light trails all around. I’m just not getting the light trails. I’m sure it’s a pretty hard thing to pull off. The only guy who looks horrible in these pictures is the one making the classic Korean V-sign with his fingers pressed against his lips and nose, and his friend with the same gesture but sideways to the world, both looking right at the camera … impossible to tell what kind of message is getting sent there.

        Just my opinion, talking about what I like to see. Really, no criticism. No one needs to agree with me, and that;’s fine.


  2. terryleesheffield says:

    I loved the pictures! Great job


  3. Laura Guerra says:

    I for one loved this pictures, Its true aesthetics are very subjective but when your in a party, nightclub etc. much of what makes you feel active, alive and with energy are all the amazing lights around you so I guess its kind of logical why the light trails are there. They help suggest those exact emotions. I´ve been trying to pull this off for so long, so thank you very much for the tips.


  4. Great job, love them. Two nights ago i did some Nightclub photography. HOWEVER, instead of your technique, I used second curtain flash so that the trails sort of happen on their own and then it ends with the flash, freezing the subject. Feel free to check them out on my page.


    1. Very cool. That’s a similar effect, like an automatic dragging the shutter. Your nightclub stuff definitely surpasses mine. I hope to see you use more light modifiers for your portrait work as well! Keep shooting.

      Liked by 1 person

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