Nightclub Photos: a unique approach to building a portfolio
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Nightclub Photos: a unique approach to building a portfolio

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20 photo technique M/J 2010NIGHTCLUB PHOTOS ASHTON BONINightlcub Photos:a unique approach to building a portfolioAshton BoniNightlife photography has been the key to my success in more ways than one. In 2004 I was at a crossroads in my photographic journey, having photographed, at that time, all of the pictures that were floating around in my head. I was at that “What do I do now?” stage when I found that nitevibe.com, an Emagazine that focuses on the nightlife of San Francisco, was looking for photographers to take photos in clubs, concerts, music festivals and similar events. LeftIt seemed like a great fit, because before I’d picked up a camera, I had been B-boy fun,Ashton Bonia DJ for 22 years. The opportunity was right up my alley! I put together some examples of nighttime shots I had taken on my recent travels and Abovesubmitted them. To my surprise, I was hired. I became Nitevibe’s senior Fanning Feathers, photographer, a position I held for over three years. Ashton Boni phototechmag.com 21PORTFOLIO:The benefits of club shotsNightclub photography has helped my portfolio immensely by adding diversity. I learned long ago that I don’t like shooting flowers, sunsets, babies, mountains, animals, or elderly social functions. I knew that young, hip people were what I was interested in shooting, and well… hip go to clubs and concerts, don’t they?

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Published 21 February 2012
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Language English
Document size 1 MB
20
photo technique M/J 2010
NIGHTCLUB PHOTOS
ASHTON BONI
Nightlife photography has been the key to my success in more ways than
one. In 2004 I was at a crossroads in my photographic journey, having
photographed, at that time, all of the pictures that were floating around
in my head. I was at that “What do I do now?” stage when I found that
nitevibe.com, an Emagazine that focuses on the nightlife of San Francisco,
was looking for photographers to take photos in clubs, concerts, music
festivals and similar events.
It seemed like a great fit, because before I’d picked up a camera, I had been
a DJ for 22 years. The opportunity was right up my alley! I put together
some examples of nighttime shots I had taken on my recent travels and
submitted them. To my surprise, I was hired. I became Nitevibe’s senior
photographer, a position I held for over three years.
Nightlcub Photos:
a unique approach
to building a portfolio
Ashton Boni
B-boy fun,
Ashton Boni
Fanning Feathers
,
Ashton Boni
Left
Above
phototechmag.com
21
22 photo technique M/J 2010
The benefits of club shots
Nightclub photography has helped my portfolio immensely by adding
diversity. I learned long ago that I don’t like shooting flowers, sunsets,
babies, mountains, animals, or elderly social functions. I knew that
young, hip people were what I was interested in shooting, and well…
young, hip people go to clubs and concerts, don’t they?
Different people,
weird people, colorful people, and silly people all attend these soirees,
and I was blessed to have had full access to all of them. It gave me a
chance to glimpse their world through my camera. I also love shooting
weddings, portraits, layouts, and non-club events. When I began using
the techniques I gained photographing nightclubs, it helped me think
outside the box. Every client I’ve shown my work has commented on
the edgy youthfulness it displays. Shooting nightlife photos also helps
attract my target clientele: young, forward-thinking adults ages 25 – 45.
The lessons I learned
I realized the key to taking nightlife photos is all about anticipation and
putting yourself in the best position to capture those moments. It is one
thing to have the right equipment, but quite another to use it efficiently.
I’ve spent many nights reviewing my photographs and figuring out how
to make them better. David Hobby’s site, Strobist.com, helped me
understand using light to my advantage. One important thing I realized
is that blurry lights are just plain old blurry lights, but they become
interesting when there is a face associated with them. Then the light
becomes a living thing and the image becomes fluid and alive. The
power of blurred motion tricks the eye by creating the illusion of
movement.
Dragging the shutter speed creates just that. I use somewhere between
1/2 to 3 seconds. The aperture is almost always wide open and the ISO
is from 50 to 1000, depending on the amount of ambient light and how
much shutter drag I need. To add more blur after I feel the mirror slap,
I often move my hand (shaking or dragging) to create a richer image.
It’s like painting with light a la Jackson Pollock.
Put Your Fingers
in the Air,
Ashton Boni
Hoop Girl 2
,
Ashton Boni
Left
Right
PORTFOLIO:
NIGHTCLUB PHOTOS
ASHTON BONI
phototechmag.com
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photo technique M/J 2010
Hoop Girl 3
,
Ashton Boni
Right
Capturing people who are oblivious to being
photographed is also key. I don’t look at the
subjects. I pretend I’m focusing on something else
and shoot using my peripheral vision. My camera is
either at chest level or just hanging naturally on my
hand. It’s the off camera flash that I move in place
before I press the shutter. Then I move quickly
away from the subject and pretend my camera has
malfunctioned. They never suspect a thing. The
best tool for these “no look” shots is a wide focal
length between 16 - 24mm and my trusty Canon
ST-E2 transmitter, which emits a cross hatching red
light to help the camera focus in low light. I also
use it like a laser site to help me point the camera in
the right spot (usually the face). The last critical tool
is a lens that focuses quickly. Sometimes my finger
is on the shutter button for a while, and I’m just
moving my body accordingly to keep the subject
within that focused area. When the time is right,
I take the shot, a technique that has eventually
become second nature.
I live in a low light world; it’s the most comfortable
environment for me where everything is constantly
changing: the lights, people, the mood, the sounds,
and the intensity. I try my best every time I’m on an
assignment to capture the soul and fun of an event.
Yes, I take all the ‘look at me’ shots, but I primarily
hunt for the details and the heart of the evening.
There is one particular club in San Francisco where
I’ve photographed over 100 times. To constantly
challenge myself I always look for one great shot
on every assignment, something I can use for my
portfolio. Thinking that way helps my motivation
and keeps me striving to get better.
Essential gear
For club work I recommend a full format camera
and use two Canon 5D’s, (one stays in the car), and
fast wide angle lenses. These are critical because
they enable me to take group shots up close. Most
of the time the club is crowded, and you can’t back
up, so shooting a group with a focal length between
16mm to 24mm is key to getting a good photo. A
wide angle lens is also best for taking atmosphere
shots. To get the full scope of a club, you have to
shoot wide. Any combination of a 16-35mm f2.8,
35mm f1.4, 135mm f2, 70-200mm f2.8 and a fisheye
works best. It’s also important to get the flash off
the camera any way you can; it’s critical for creat-
ing images that stand out from the rest. I use a ST-
E2 transmitter to help get those “no look” candid
shots, and two 580ex II flashes (one stays in the car)
off camera. I use a quarter cut CTO (color temp-
erature orange) on all my flashes to turn my flash
into a tungsten temperature, which flatters the
human skin much better than a bare bulb flash.
I’ve found that getting the flash off camera is more
important than using fast lenses. However, using fast
lenses comes a close second; an F2.8 is great but
f1.4 is better. I also like to bring an off-camera flash
cord because nightclub strobes wreak havoc when
the transmitter is trying to speak with the flash.
Best kind of clubs/events
Find work in the best clubs in your town, because
not all clubs are the same or exciting
BELIEVE
ME!
I find the electronic music scene that plays non-
radio (underground) dance music offers the best
subjects to shoot. Events like raves and electronic
music festivals are my favorites. Generally the
people who attend those events strive to be unique
and hate being considered the “norm.” I love that
in them! (That’s where I met my beautiful wife.) I
try to stay away from clubs/events that play hip
hop and mainstream dance music; the people who
attend those events, in my opinion, are boring and
predictable from a photographic standpoint. They
all dress alike, look alike, and have the same atti-
tudes. I wish I had a dollar for every guy who posed
in that “I’m a weekend thug” pose and 50 cents for
all the insecure women who said to me, “I don’t
like that picture, take another one.” The only thing
remotely interesting in these clubs is the B-boy
dancers (talented hip hop dancers).
Do’s and Don’ts of shooting a club/music event:
DO
get there early so you can find good parking
and you can check out the “lay of the land” (catch
the manager before he gets too busy to pay you).
DO
find out who is the evening’s entertainment
and what time they go on, so you can place yourself
in the best position to shoot them. Find out where
they’re going to enter and exit. Sometimes big
name talent won’t let photographers get close, so
you just have to go for it when they enter the club.
DO
make friends with the head bouncer and
manager. They can help you get into the places you
need to be.
DO
work sober. This is self explanatory. I dare
anyone to try to shoot for 12 hours on any drug and
be creative and professional.
DON’T
focus on the same old stuff! Look for di-
versity! There’s nothing more boring than a gal-
lery of a thousand shots of the same hot couple or
entertainer.
PORTFOLIO:
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photo technique M/J 2010
Product Resources
Camera: Canon 5D MKII; Lenses: 16-35mm f2.8 L, 35mm
f1.4 L, 135mm f2 L, 70-200mm f2.8 L, 15mm f2.8 fisheye,
100mm
f2.8
macro;
Tripod:
carbon
fiber
monopod;
Lighting: 580ex II, off camera flash cord, ST-E2 transmitter,
an Ecover bottle (used as a diffuser for flashes); Software:
Lightroom 2.0, Photoshop CS3; CTO gel
To ask a question or comment on this article, visit our online
Forum: www.phototechforum.com
For a decade, Ashton Boni has photographed over 500 events
including weddings, fashion shows and global music festivals
showcased with the leading global community,
Smugmug
www.
smugmug.com. He and his wife, Stephanie, are the founders of
Boniimages.com (weddings and portraits) and boni-photography.
com (events).
Bring the Fog,
Ashton Boni
Below
DON’T
submit your photos without editing them
first. If you have images that are similar in com-
position, move them around or maybe flip a few
horizontally to make a better viewing experience.
DON’T
show people the photographs you’ve just
made of them; you don’t need approval for any
photo you take. Also, it’s always the beautiful girls
who tell you, “I don’t like it! Delete that and take
another!” Just say, “thank you” and move on.
DON’T
shoot anything until the manager pays you!
What to look for when you first arrive at an event
First I look at the light: where it’s coming from,
how it moves, how it changes and the rhythm of the
changes. All of these things direct me how to work
with it.
A faster lens comes in handy, especially
in those clubs that have minimal lighting. You can
get great background detail in the lowest of lighting
situations with fast lenses. A lens with an aperture
of f1.4 or better is best.
Then I look at the people: the unique people, the
pretty people, the drunks, the entertainers, the
celebrities. I try to figure out the best time and angle
to shoot them. Avoid rushing to take a picture of
someone. Figure out the best background, and turn
your subjects around if you need to. To me there is
nothing more boring to look at than a person with
a black background.
The last piece of the puzzle was incorporating the
abundant talents of Suzanne Sease (suzannesease.
com) who helped to create the right branding and
marketing that maximized the potential of ourwork.
I am also in debt to the skillful and talented people
at livebooks.com who helped create a website
that showcases our unique style. I don’t know any
photographer who hasn’t struggled with building
a professional and unique portfolio. I’ve just spent
the past four years creating nightclub photographs
that do just that.
PORTFOLIO: