Shooting events in the dark

Shooting parties and event with dark ceiling and walls with only one speedlite. How to achieve best outcome?

Photos taken in a small crowded pubs or clubs with crazy lighting going all over the place can look horrific. Unless you make the most of the situation and learn how to take amazing shots.


A decent speedlite is integral but you need to know how to use it properly because once mounted on your hotshoe, your subject might turn out washed out and ugly shadows scattered all over their faces.Tricks like slowing dragging the shutter or cranking up the ISO settings will give you some really funky effects.

Sometimes you cannot bounce the light off ceilings and walls as there might be dark in color. This is the time to bring with you those on-flash light diffusers like the white card or the dome diffuser. If you forget those, just use your hand to bound some of the light toward your subject.

Camera settings

If you want to include the ambient atmosphere rather than having a dark boring background, here's what you have to do:

  1. Set your camera to manual mode
  2. Set your camera to ISO 800, shutter speed to somewhere around 1/20 seconds and aperture to f/5.6
  3. Do some test shots, and adjust f-stop, ISO and/or exposure time as required

Photos may be slightly blurred if there is motion going on during the longish exposure. This will add the feeling of action, dancing and having fun, etc.. Your main subject will still sharp though, as the speedlite fires, while the background will be visible and add to the mood (instead of being just a big black hole). 

On the other hand, if your objective is to produce low-key similar portraits then you have to increase that shutter speed to 1/250 (or your DSLR sync speed) in order to block the ambient light just the same.

Here are some examples:

Candid, candid, candid!

Candid shots in a dark and tight place are hard to get, but believe me in a pub or club, people do not notice you (even with your long glass) and tend to party and socialize but sometime bringing a big camera into a scene changes peoples’ behaviors and how they conduct themselves. So, it becomes hard to get good, honest, candid moments. Relax, put your camera aside and enjoy the party, then when nobody is noticing start clicking that shutter...

Tell a story

Shots that tell a story makes for better memories and better composition than ones with posing and trying to keep their eyes open while the flash triggers. Shoot photos of someone dancing, drinking, opening a present or just acting foolish. You can also take portraits and group shots. The trick here is to make them comfortable in front of your lens that they let you capture them in an chilax moment!