For 12 years now I have been working in nightclubs. I started as a VJ and transitioned into producing promotional videos when the demand for live visuals, where I live, dramatically dropped in about 2006.
I thought I would write this short guide because shooting clubs is something I am looking at moving away from and so I want to share what I have learned with people who have fresh interest in pursuing it.
Don’t think it is going to be easy to make a living from nightclubs. On the whole the money is poor and you will likely have to make a couple of videos for nothing but free entry and a few beers but if you love clubbing, music and making videos then it can be real fun. You can meet and work with big name DJs and artists and if making music videos is your ultimate goal it is definitely a good place to start.
Before you do anything, you want to be sure you are going to manage the clients expectations. The best way to do this is to straight up ask the promotor what they want. A savvy promotor will be constantly online checking out their local competition and what other brands are doing elsewhere in the world; chances are they will have a pretty specific idea of what they like and what they don’t like. If they can send you examples of the kind of stuff they like this will help you no end. Don’t be under any illusion that you are going to nail it first time, unless you are doing it for free! Don’t take offence when a client comes back with changes, this is just part of the process.
Be sure you set out clearly the hours you will be shooting, any animations they want made, any interviews or vox to be recorded and most importantly the pay. If you don’t have a contract then make sure all of these points are arranged in advance via email.
I could write endless amounts about different cameras you could use in clubs but lets face it most of you are going to be shooting on DSLR so I will focus on those, and in particular the camera I currently use in clubs, canon 5d mkii
The first lens I bought specifically for working clubs needed to have a wide aperture for working in low light and needed to be very cheap. I settled on the 50mm ef f/1.8 II, the cheapest lens currently available on the EF system. Here’s a good review. You can pick one up for around £70 on ebay and with a nice bokeh and shallow depth of field it’s a bargain.
Serious downside with this lens though is that it is very cheap in design as well as price, I broke my first one dropping it in a club, it just broke in half. The focus is terribly cheap which makes trying to manually pull focus tricky to say the least. Also the focus ring is, in my opinion, too noisy for any kind of video work where you need sound.
Eventually after deciding 1.8 wasn’t fast enough for what I wanted to produce I bought an old 55mm f/1.2 FD lens. I tried a couple of cheap fd to ef convertors, one with glass in which gave the lens a soft focus look, and one without glass which meant the lens couldn’t focus at certain distances. This is because adapter rings alter the distance between the cameras sensor and the lens and so some lenses can’t focus at some distances. Ones with glass help this but the glass is often poor quality and so decrease your image quality. I must admit, I don’t have a great deal of experience when it comes to using lens adapters so I recommend doing a bit of research before buying a specific lens.
To get around using an adapter ring I bought a lens kit from a guy on ebay called Ed Mika, Ed produces EF backs for FD lenses, you simply remove the FD mount from the back of the lens and fit the EF mount. I now have an EF mounted 55mm f/1.2 lens which cost in total about £400. Granted it is manual focus and manual aperture but I love it.
The only other lens I use in clubs is an old ultrasonic 20-35mm f/3.5 – 4.5 for wide, back of club shots and in crowd shots. Due to the narrow aperture, I only use this when the lights are up, when they are setting off pyros or with a top light. I try not to take valuable kit to clubs where possible and this lens serves just fine.
I have never used any kind of stabilisation for nightclub videos. Generally the clubs I work in are busy, making a shoulder mount, steadicam or even a manfrotto fig rig un-usable. The only stabilisation that would work would be a monopod. I haven’t used one in a club before but I can see how they would work better than any other form of stabilisation. With the exception of the fig rig and monopod you are extremely limited in the height at which you can have the camera, a lot of the time in clubs you are going to have your camera raised above your head, either to stop it getting damaged in crowds or just to get the shots you need. Another reason why I don’t use stabilisation is that for nightclub videos you generally only need very short shots and also a bit of camera movement can be forgiven because it helps the viewer feel like they are part of the event. The only piece of kit I use which could be described as helping stabilisation is a loupe.
In my opinion a loupe is essential for dslr shooting. Loupes fit over the LCD screen on the back of your dslr effectively turning the screen into a viewfinder. This helps to give you accurate focus as well as to give your camera a third point of contact with your body, which greatly increases your ability to keep the camera steady.
The first loupe I bought had a metal frame that screwed into the bottom of the camera, the loupe then magnetically attached to the frame, this was an awful design for trying to use in clubs, or indeed anywhere where the camera isn’t on a tripod because the slightest knock and the loupe fell off. I can’t afford to pay $200+ for a zacuto z-finder so i use one like this;
These Loupes made by GGS are around £40 on ebay and come with a plastic screen which sticks over the cameras lcd screen, with the dual purpose of protecting the screen. The loupe then clips onto the plastic screen. The loupe is hinged so it can be raised up for those elevated shots where you need the screen. Being that £40 is still not a lot of money when it comes to camera kit it will get knocked off every now and again so buy one with a safety cord. They are after all only plastic and if they fall on a hard floor the hinge could easily break. In saying that, I have only had mine fall off about 3 times. Because these stick onto the camera please research compatibility before purchasing one.
I have a Cinedesign 24 led dim-able panel light I use on top of the camera for the close up crowd shots. There are loads of different cheaper models available on amazon, I use the diffuser taped on it to spread the light out a bit.
The only other piece of video kit I use is a rode video mic. I don’t use this all of the time but I leave it in my bag in case the promotor wants a quick interview with an artist or vox from the punters.
Earplugs. Get some. Honestly, you might feel like an idiot with them in but average joe in the club is too pissed to even notice; plus you don’t want to be left with permanent tinnitus like I have been. You don’t have to get the full on foam ones but you can get cheap frequency blocking ones which are better than nothing
Usually in a club I have my iso at 1600, f/ stop as low as it will go and my shutter speed at 50. The booth is usually the brightest place in the club so you can often get away with lowering your iso in there. Occasionally I have to alter shutter speed down to as low as 30, this is because of lines caused by DLP projectors, there is no escaping them but stopping down your shutter speed helps.
I use Magic Lantern on my camera which, amongst many other features, enables you to monitor sound. As mentioned above I do, on occasion, get asked for a clip of live audio (as in the video above) from the club and so I keep the audio levels so they aren’t peaking just in case. Obviously you don’t want to be using your internal mic if you can avoid it but with a light already on top of the camera there isn’t generally much choice. Besides, most artists and tour managers will tell you to shut your camera off if they see a microphone. Recently I was made to leave the venue before a main act would even come out of his dressing room! (thankfully, I got paid regardless!)
At The Club
On the way into any venue say hello to the doormen, just so they know your face. it has never happened to me before, but if they see you in trouble then hopefully they will come to your aid a bit quicker if they know you are working. Also the doormen knowing your face is going to help you stand places you shouldn’t be standing and get places average joe isn’t allowed – the booth / vip etc.
One of the most challenging elements of working in clubs is dealing with the public. Obviously this totally depends on what kind of club you are shooting. If you are sticking to student bars you aren’t going to have nearly the amount of problems as you would shooting a big name house DJ in a superclub.
Over the average 2 hour club shoot I will encounter people freezing in front of my camera about 10-15 times, as highlighted in this video by Nottingham Trent Students Union doing the rounds at the moment;
I am sure you realise this is because they think they are having their photo taken. There is no easy way round this. What has helped is doing this to my light:
Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t seem to read after a few drinks and whatever else. A really special selection of people don’t even understand when you try and tell them you are shooting a video. Often I have been forced to take a terrible photo with a 55mm prime lens on 50 shutter speed and hope they don’t want to see it, sometimes you have to show them and they leave thinking you are a terrible photographer.
Some examples of what happens when people don’t understand what you are saying;
The vast majority of artists I have shot have been fine about me shooting them. Sometimes you are told you have 5 minutes in the booth at the beginning of the set and very occasionally as mentioned above, you aren’t allowed to shoot them at all but most tour managers and artists aren’t stupid; they realise it’s just part of the package. I always thought it odd that they have a sea of camera phones trained on them and they are telling me to stop shooting. I’m the only one not putting the audio on youtube! Regardless of the limitations, you just have to do as you’re told if you want to be invited back by the promotor.
What to shoot.
For an average club night I will normally shoot for somewhere between 2 and 3 hours unless there are a lot of acts the promotor wants you to catch. Starting at 12 and finishing at 2-3 will catch peak time and usually the main act(s).I don’t like hanging around after 3, the club empties out and people get too drunk to be manageable. Also if you are drinking you don’t want to be in a taxi queue with £1500+ of kit. You don’t want to shoot too much anyway, on a typical night I will shoot about 150 – 200 clips, which is about 12gb of footage.
Remember you want to create a rough story so get the outside of the club, the logo, the promotors’ posters for their next events and the queue, if there is one.
Things promoters want to see in their videos;
More girls than guys
Elevated shots of the crowd going nuts
Crowd perspective shots of the crowd going nuts
Their custom made signs or visuals
DJs having a good time and interacting with the crowd
Any other entertainment they have paid money for- angle grinders, stilt walkers, fire breathers – all of that.
What promoters don’t want to see (this doesn’t apply to all promotors, I’m just passing on my experiences)
Ugly people (yes I have been asked to remove ugly people before)
Fat people (yes also fat people)
People in cheap clothing (yes that too)
Really drunk people
People doing drugs or anything else illegal
People getting it on
People being removed
Queues (toilets / bars / smoking area/ bottleknecking)
Empty rooms are probably the biggest no no. If you arrive at a venue and are faced with an empty club, good luck to you. You have a hell of a turd to polish but here are some tips;
Shoot low – If you have a specific point of interest, like the booth, get as many bodies in the shot as possible by keeping the camera a bit lower than you would normally have it. Similarly avoid the elevated shots.
Vignette / blur edges – Use a vignette in post to hide negative space, or blur edges, obviously don’t go overboard or it’ll look like the club is being viewed through a telescope.
Shoot the booth (more than usual) – hopefully at least the DJ is having a good time
Shoot close – if you are shooting someone dancing and there is no-one around them, obviously get closer than you normally would.
Shoot short – short clips are your friend in a dead club.
The edit is a tricky thing for me to comment on without knowing what kind of event you are shooting but I mostly shoot dance music events and so my edits are mostly quick and unless there is a large interview section I try not to exceed 2.30 in duration. Other than that, I guess, just have fun with it! Make your own style and don’t rip peoples work off.