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How does this photographer do it? Flash photography in a nightclub.

Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
edited June 2016 in flash & lighting
I've found this photographer's work - Inbar Levi - she takes photos in an Israeli night-club - and I would love to know how she does it. 
Such awesome light. Every photo that she posts. 
Any ideas? 


  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    First and Third shot I believe were done with a large gridded softbox mounted off-camera to the top left and another large gridded softbox more to the front to eliminate shadows.  The eyes seem to indicate two light sources.  The lens and aperture Im guessing are 50mm 1.4.  The aperture is 1.4 as the background never seems to be in focus.  The 2nd picture of the couple has the woman partially out of focus meaning that she is probably coming in wide open.  Since the aperture is probably 1.4 she probably doesnt need that much power on the flashes.  

    The 2nd picture the flash seems more out of control. I believe the 1st and 3rd picture were taken in the same place.  On some sort of catwalk and thats probably the area where the photographer is setup waiting.  The 2nd picture was probably more of an impromptu setup without the gridded softbox as the flash seems to be spilling everywhere.  That location was not her standard setup for this venue.

    Most certainly a bit of post processing on the faces.  The man in the 2nd picture looks way too smooth.  
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Definitely a lot of processing going on here. 

    I also thought this has to be a softbox behind him ... but was hoping there might be something I am overlooking because that's a big setup to take into a night-club. 

    *sigh*  ... I was hoping there might be a free lunch here somewhere. 
  • Hmm... I'm thinking it's even simpler than all that.  My guess, just a camera mounted flash.  Light looks pretty flat to me. 
  • NikonguyNikonguy Member
    edited March 2015
    Yeah, I'm thinking it's on camera flash - it does look flat and direct - perhaps with some sort of modifier like a Stofen or something. I doubt she is walking around a crowded club with a large gridded softbox.

    If you can figure out who the photographer is, sometimes you can find shots of the photographer in action in the club.
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    The catchlight in the eyes is the clue. Look at the catchlight in the eyes. There is more than one lightsource and it seems like a complex setup. If she was using on camera flash there would be shadows somewhere unless the shadows were eliminated in post somehow. The light seems spread out over the entire body, but in #1 and #3 it doesnt spill out to the crowd.

    Here is the other thing. Focusing a fast prime at a nightclub can be challenging and if the subject moves in one direction the shot goes out of focus at 1.4. She nailed the focus point right on the face. So these were posed shots and probably pre arranged models. It probably took some time and a few shots to really nail that focus point.

    The models dont appear to be Israeli, but most probably Ukraine or Russian. Probably Ukraine.
  • Natbag is a dinner club and bar, and it appears to be a very large place, judging by the Facebook photos I found.   I think the photographer got permission to set up equipment in multiple areas of the place for taking photos.  The Natbag Facebook page is full of photos like the ones Neil posted.

    I agree with Michael V that it is not a single speedlight.  The catchlights look "gridded" so it would seem there is some weird surface on top of the light.  If it's not a gridded softbox, maybe it's a gridded barn door setup.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    I would agree it is more than just on-camera flash. 
    Even with a Stofen or such, you'd get that hard-edged shadow. There's no distinct shadow in these photos.
    While the lighting might be flat, it is very even and soft. 
  • Im thinking an assistant with a very large soft box behind the photographer and on camera with soft box for fill.

  • I'm still of the opinion it's just a small flash like an SB-910 (or the like).  If it's off camera, it's only off by a little bit.  Maybe a speedlight on a monopod with a pocket wizard as trigger being held by the photographer.  The speedlight could have a small softbox over it.
  • NikonguyNikonguy Member
    edited March 2015
    Based on a quick search and a browse through some Natbag dinner club Facebook photos, my speculation is that she walks around the club, talks to people, gets them to smile for the camera, and she gets great shots. They are not super posed or in a particular area of the club setup for a shoot - they're all over the club. Near the DJ, bar areas, dance floor, you name it. These are people at the club, not models brought in for a photoshoot (at least I don't think so). Some of the photos seem a little noisy, or there are JPG artifacts visible in the darker areas. Could be from high ISO / noise reduction or even due to sharpening.

    I think simplicity is part of the shooting. I really don't think she has a big entourage of assistants and light stands, softboxes, etc. - to me that seems completely unrealistic. I'm thinking on camera flash, I'm thinking some sort of modifier on the flash (dome diffuser like stofen, Lumiquest 80/20, something like that).

    That's my speculative $0.02. We could ask her, but that seems a little intrusive.
  • Whoever it is...they are really anal about their shots.  Nailing the focus points perfectly with wide open aperture which is difficult to do in this kind of atmosphere.  I looked through several photos and only found a hint of a shadow in one suggesting the main-light is to the left.  A lot of photographers wouldnt care too much about small errors and simply post it up, but this one is like Neil who will only post perfect shots.  Any bad focus or the shadow and its a no-go.   

    After every shot, I picture them pausing to look at it on the camera body zooming in to make sure its perfectly in focus with no shadow.  I think the are either using the 85mm or the 50mm prime and I know those are not fast focus in this dark environment.  Also the uber expensive 85mm is especially slow and even when you think you have the focus point...you dont.  
  • I found some promo video for the club, I did catch a glimps of a photographer bouncing a flash.
    I also noticed with  other pics they are using OCF and on the candids the flash is coming from above , so may a on camera  flash bracket with big soft box.


    here is the link if you would like to look for clues

    lou recine
  • Appearing at 1:33 is the Canon 580 EX II on an unknown body and there appears to be a prime lens on that body.  I think its the 50mm.  
  • StephenStephen Member
    edited March 2015
    I found an artist Facebook page matching the name, and there is a public album titled "Nightlife in Israel," and it contains photos that are similar (but not quite as polished) to the ones Neil posted at the top.  Her profile picture is herself holding up a Canon body with a 580 EXII on top.  So, PDH7891 may be correct after all that it's just a speedlight with a lot of post processing.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited March 2015
    NikonGuy found her 500px portfolio. Some nice work there.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    (I dropped her a note via 500px, so perhaps we'll hear more.)
  • Looking at the Natbag Dinner Club on FB, I would say that a lot of the pics are taken using OCF in a big softbox.
    Just my 2p worth.

  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited March 2015
    I did this type of club photography with a Canon 580 EX II. In fact the ceiling at the Natbag seems rather high and I know it would be challenging to bounce it off of that. Maybe, just maybe, it could be done with 1.4 aperture and higher iso settings. However, no way at 2.8 and sub-1000 iso. The flash is so even over the subjects with no hint of shadow. No way to do that in the high ceiling club without producing some shadows. There are many club pictures on the internet with the body/on camera speedlight setup and they dont look like these pictures.

    I do have my trusty Sigma 50mm 1.4 which I can try to duplicate the bounce and see how well I do. I would choose 1.4 aperture and 1600 iso (or more) with a 1/60 shutter speed. That setup might be able to bounce it off the high ceiling. Lets say it does bounce the background would be as lit up as the subject. In these pictures the flash seems controlled and not spilling out into the crowd.
  • I have never used LED, nobody else has offered this an explanation so I guess it’s not, but.

    A lot of soft light and the ability to focus, could this be on camera LED?

  • Hey did we ever get an answer?

    Lou Recine 
  • ViccoVicco Member
    verrrry interesting ....!
    Hm, another photog shooting in that club, with quite similar soft and nice results, is Tom Azaria (visible via Facebook, and there are also shots from the club there)...

    Actually, I'd vote for mostly bounce flash, because the catchlight seems large, but not really circular or rectangle, more uneven shaped.
    And looking at the youtube video from that club, it seems like, there is plenty stuff to bounce from around. Like balloons, walls, other people ...
    And then we spotted the photog in the movie with on-cam flash, alreay swiveled to the ceiling, so ...

    just my two cents :-)

  • ViccoVicco Member
    aah, I asked Tom about one of his shots via Facebook ---- he is a really nice guy and answered immediately.
    Yes, bounce flash from a white wall behind him, that was! :-)  

    This was the shot in question: http://tiny.cc/qt6ewx
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Mystery solved then!  Thank you.
  • First post guys.

    Yeah, I know question has been answered as to HOW it was lit. This response is more towards the reverse engineering side - what signs are seen to support a conclusion.
    When I initially saw the first image (hands much closer to camera) I realised that they weren't much brighter than the faces. s such it couldn't have been direct flash.(due to inverse square law - for which Neil has a great post). 
    Reflections in the eyes of the light source are pretty big  but seems to be single source (possibly could have been several sources close or overlapping). 
    The top part of the reflection is a single mass whereas the lower edge of the reflection is uneven. Suggests that the photographer is standing in front of the light source (not to the side or beneath).
    That all suggested  white wall or large reflector/softbox.

    What put me off was most nightclubs I'm familiar with (not that many, so deficient in my younger days of education) have black walls. That made me think possibly large reflector propped against a wall. Takes up relatively little space, mobile with a little help/caution. Soft box with strobes - bit bulky, fragile and not so mobile (even if battery powered).

    Further to this, I would have guessed high ISO (background ambient light) and decent shutter speed (not significant movement blur). Lens was not wide angle due to proportions of other people and size of hands to face (taken from bout 1m away). Given it's a nightclub, possibly not a lot of space so not a telephoto either. I would have guessed 50 to 85mm. Aperture - probably around 5.6-8 due to depth of field. Background not totally blurred as I would expect for a 2.8 or lower.

    Nice pics, better than I can do.

  • ViccoVicco Member
    :-) Graham, if you use bounce flash with a black wall, what result would you expect?

    Well, yes, it works, and even colored surfaced serve quite well for bouncing:

    cheers, Vicco
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    This may be a little off the subject, but a couple of months ago, I asked about bouncing off colored surfaces, balancing/mixing with the ambient, and how that would affect the subject lighting. Someone - I can't remember who - responded that both the flash and the ambient are in the same environment, and it wouldn't be as bad as I was thinking it would be.

    Not sure if this applies to a black wall, but in principle it made sense to me.

  • Let me put it this way.  Its nightmarish.  I was in a place yesterday where there was tungsten ambient, some led video lights the videographer put up and daylight spilling in from the windows.  AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
  • supreetmuppasupreetmuppa Member
    edited November 2017
    Off camera flash definitely helps to highlight the subject. Here's some of my lighting examples. I still want to mess around with the lighting, but the shots that  were posted, I feel they were definitely done with the flash tilted back at a 45 degree angle, and with a shutter speed of 1/30-1/50 and a Iso of below 1000. But I could be wrong, and obviously want to improve my lighting.

    EDIT:  Link removed from a new member as self-promoting.

    Do feel free to upload your sample images in here directly, but please make sure they are 'web sized' images and not large files if you can. 1200 px on the long side @ 72ppi is ideal, thanks.   :)

    Trev, Moderator.

  • These photos from Natbag are amazing. To get these results, is the flash really tilted back 45 degree angle without built-in diffusion panel or bounce card out? I don't understand how on these photos it seems the light is coming from left or right and the shadows are so soft on their necks. Also there's no wall or low ceiling to bounce light.

    3rd photo below with clapping hands on the foreground: considering inverse square law and light fall off, why aren't these hands overexposed if it's on-camera flash?

    There's no unflattering highlights on people's noses and foreheads. The photos I take in nightclubs, I have the flash on-camera, not backwards, head straight up with built-in diffusion panel and bounce card out, TTL, 1/60, ISO~800, 24-70mm 2.8, and there are these nasty highlights on my subject's noses, foreheads and cheeks. Sighs. If there's something on the foreground like another person's head or hands it's really bright and not nice looking. I can't seem to think that people retouch those highlights in post-production, it can be over 200 photos each event.

    I can't bring a softbox or anything heavy like that in a nightclub or reception wedding, it's packed and full of people like at Natbag and I have to be mobile. The walls are way too far from the dance floor and it's black and the ceiling is way to high to bounce it off there.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Regarding your question about the Inverse Square Law ... it works in your favor when you bounce flash behind you. Check out this article for the full explanation:

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