Choose the right camera
Things to consider when taking nightlife and party shots
What to look for
Your mission, when shooting nightlife images, is to capture the second half of the word -- life. You just happen to be shooting at night, but mess up the 'life' part and you might as well revert to night-time landscapes and architecture. For the best results, you need a camera with good manual controls.
You've probably noticed that pictures taken at pubs and parties using the flash often look boring and dull. That's because the flash allows for a shorter exposure, which in turn takes all of the motion out of the image.
Every camera lets you disable flash, but some compacts will only do so when you've switched out of auto mode. If you don't want to learn how to control aperture and shutter speed yourself and would rather stick with auto through and through, choose a camera that doesn't lock out the flash control.
With the flash disabled, you need to slow down your shutter speed, so look for a model with a dedicated shutter priority mode. The exact length of time you'll need to keep the shutter open depends on the available light and the amount of movement within the frame, so compare maximum exposure times on different models. Many low-end compacts offer a maximum exposure of around 8 seconds, which should be fine, as it'll allow you to blur your subjects without reducing them to a ghostly mush.
For the best result, you only want your living subjects to move, not the buildings and furniture around them, so you need to eliminate wobble by touching the camera as little as possible. If you're buying a dSLR, therefore, consider buying a cable with a button to release the shutter for nightlife photography, which plugs into the side of the camera and lets you fire it without touching the body.
Improving low-light performance
Most cameras handle low light by increasing the sensitivity of the sensor. As was the case in the analogue days when using more sensitive film, this increased sensitivity can lead to more noise and grain in the image. To minimise this unwanted effect, choose a camera with a larger sensor and comparatively conservative resolution. Samsung's EX2F and Nikon's 1 J2 both fall into this camp.
Alternatively, opt for a dSLR. Entry-level models all have sensors larger than those found in traditional compacts, while high-end options like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D600 sport sensors the same size as a frame of 35mm film -- the largest open to anyone on an enthusiast's budget.
Unless you can get your subject to stand still for as long as it took to take a Victorian snapshot (hardly snappy at all), night-time portraits often require that you switch the flash back on. With the flash firing, you'll lose any dusky backgrounds, so choose a camera that offers slow sync flash options that let you combine a long exposure to capture the background, with a flash to illuminate your subject's face for the perfect compromise.
Nightlife and parties photography wish list
- Simple flash control
- Shutter priority mode
- Option for delayed or remote shutter release
- Large sensor