December 10, 2012

night-club photos – Modern Gypsies – mermaid

When the Modern Gypsies asked me to photograph their one performance piece in a night-club in Manhattan, I wasn’t sure what equipment to bring along. I tend to over-prepare and bring too much. You know, just in case. So I have a tendency to overload myself with gear at times. It’s a discipline thing then to strip it down to just the essentials … but still be flexible enough to accomodate a challenging situation.

The previous time I photographed them, I knew there would be a large prep room, so I could bring in extra gear such as light-stands and softboxes. It worked out quite well for the example I showed on the Tangents blog – Modern Gypsies – masked dancers, as well as other photos out on the street, where the off-camera flash helped.

This time, I suspected I might need to travel much lighter. Night clubs aren’t the placed to walk around loaded with gear. So while I did load off-camera lighting and such into my car, I left most of my gear in the car. In my shoulder bag – the Think Tank Retrospective 20 (vendor) – I kept only the one  camera, three lenses, and two speedlights.

The performer is Irene, also known as Bird Girl in other performances. (You can follow her as @violinartiste on Instagram)

The photo at the top was taken with the Nikon D4 (vendor) and Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G (vendor) using only the lights there in the night-club. camera settings:  1/60 @ f/1.8 @ 3200 ISO  The available light looked great when it worked to my advantage, but I soon knew that I’d need to add a bit of fill-light from bounce flash

Another image which worked well with the ever-changing light there.

but as you can see, her face is a touch too shaded. And this is where the bounce flash helped:


For the previous shots, I was standing on the stairs, bouncing my flash into the black area to the top-right of the photo. At wide apertures and high ISO settings, enough light will bounce back. Even off black surfaces.




An impromptu portrait of Irene in the dressing room, while waiting with the crew between performances.

It still amazes me what modern cameras and fast lenses can do. The light in the dressing room really was that deep blue hue. But at 1/15 @ f/1.4 @ 3200 ISO, it is entirely possible to pull out a few sharp images in a sequence.


equipment (or equivalents) used during this photo session

I ended up not using my 50mm f/1.4 since it was too tight inside the club. As an aside, it’s still my least used lens.


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{ 10 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Tad December 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Did you use any gel? I think 1/2 CTS in few photos. RAW let you correct WB late to your custom taste, but what WB for start? Incadescent or daylight? Super photos, specially in so hard conditions.



2 Neil vN December 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I didn’t gel the flash at all, since the lights in the club varied greatly. There was therefore no specific WB.

Even the photos which are available light only, had the WB tweaked for each shot. The portrait of Irene had the WB tweaked as warm as I could, to make it a decent image. The blue tones were that intense.

I would only gel my flash if I had to bring it down to a specific color balance consistent with the ambient light.

Neil vN


3 Stephen December 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Is the Think Tank Retrospective a new bag in your toolset for very lightweight travel? Are you still using your Crumpler bag for weddings?


4 Neil vN December 10, 2012 at 6:51 pm

The Think Tank Retrospective is a little less bulky and fits closer to the body, than the Crumpler.

With the Crumpler, I’ve removed all the dividers, so it’s just the bag. Easier to jam anything into it.

Neil vN


5 Billy Chan December 10, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Just wonder that you are shooting a moving subject with 1/30.
Will that create a “not-that-sharp” photos? why not to shoot at a higher speed?



6 Neil vN December 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Absolutely. The movement and slow shutter speed gave me a fairly low success rate.

But a few things worked in my favor here – not every shot had to work, and I had a lot of time to get images. I also machine-gunned it. With that, I could hand-pick the images that worked.

I wouldn’t do this with an event like a wedding where I have a very very small window of opportunity to get an image, and when I do, it *has* to work. Then I would favor higher shutter speeds.

Neil vN


7 csbphoto December 12, 2012 at 12:31 am

Definitely looks to be one of those venues that you walk into and look up and then shiver slightly at the prospect of actually being able to bounce light.

I’m a huge fan of that first shot, with that incredible contrast of hues between the girl on the onlooking crowd.


8 Bill December 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Beautiful pose in the last photo… as always, great job.


9 Jeff January 2, 2013 at 8:26 am

Excellent as usual Neil. I notice that your shutter speed fluctuates. Are you using aperture priority?

Cheers and Happy New Year!



10 Neil vN January 2, 2013 at 8:27 am

Nope … manual exposure mode; fingers on the dials and buttons.

Neil vN


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