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.
I 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.
Notice 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.
I 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.
This 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?
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.
This is just a long exposure with a low light lens and very weak flash. I love how rich the colors are.
Same here… rich colors. A little blurry because of the motion and because depth of field is so narrow. Still, it almost looks surreal.
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!