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New Year’s Eve Party Challenge: How to Shoot an Event in a Dark Warehouse

New Years Eve Party - Painted GirlIf you’d like to view the photos before reading about it, see New Year’s Eve Party. (Warning: Some are slightly NSFW, no nudity, but there are some, um, colorful people here).

It’s the worst possible conditions for photography: a vast, crowded warehouse, minimal light, and no ceiling to bounce a flash from.  But somehow we’ve gotta light this scene!  We know that on-camera flash sucks and will make everything look flat and washed out like a DMV driver’s license photo. So my first inclination is to carry a wireless-triggered speedlite in my outstretched left hand while shooting with the camera in my right.  That would get a nice angle on the light and make everyone pretty.

But this is New Year’s Eve.  I’m wearing a tux, and a speedlite won’t fit in my pocket, and besides, I want to keep one hand free to embrace friends or carry a cocktail.

The solution?

Canon 40D with EF-S 17-55mm f2/8 IS, 580 EX II, and LumiQuest 80-20

I pull out the trusty LumiQuest 80-20 and strap it on my tallest speedlite, the 580 EX II. I put the silver reflector in the 80-20 to send 100% of the light forward, and place the plastic diffusion cover on the front to tame the light.   It’s still on-camera flash, but now it’s bigger, softer, and a few inches farther away from the lens axis. Tonight, this is as good as it’s going to get.

Of course, the best rule of thumb is to avoid the flash entirely whenever possible.  For the entertainment (fashion show, circus), I found that the stage lights were bright enough to shoot much of the action hand-held at 400 or 800 ISO.  I alternated shooting blocks of flash versus ambient light, but found myself deleting most of the flash shots later at home in favor of the natural light shots — when they were not blurred by motion.  It pays to watch for the performers to develop a rhythm and then snap when they reach their natural pauses.

The other situation where I found flash useless was the black-light body painting.  The effect is entirely lost (and the mood killed) when you nuke the scene with a blast from the speedlite.  So I cranked up the ISO to 800, sometimes 1600, and shot it hand-held, with a lot of help from the IS.

New Years Eve - Slow sync flash

Slow sync = pretty light

When I did have to resort to flash, I nearly always tried to use slow-sync for some background interest and color (slow-sync happens by default when shooting in my preferred Aperture mode).  You occasionally get weird ghosts and background light bleeding onto your subjects, but frankly, I prefer that to the stark look of flash-blasted people on a black background — and besides, the slow-sync aberrations are often festive-looking and well-suited to a wild party. Of course, the key to using slow-sync is to get some light behind your subject—so I spend a lot of time looking for angles with bright background light.  (I talk about slow sync and all these issues extensively in my Event Photography Course.)

If you didn’t look already, you can see my favorite shots from this New Year’s Eve party here.

Of course, it helps to have really interesting looking friends.  Thanks everyone!

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  1. drea says:

    really love your photos from the party – great job!!! Thanks so much as I was not able to capture the night!! Cheers – Drea

  2. […] a previous post I wrote about shooting an indoor event in a dark warehouse with the Lumiquest 80/20 with on-camera […]

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