Tips for Shooting a Party in Low Light: What Photographers Should Know

Photographers, shooting a party in low light is pretty easy to do as long as you’re having fun. Here’s how we used the Nissin MG80 Pro to do just that!

Some photographers like to be a fly on the wall when it comes to shooting a party, but if you want images that pop, you’re going to need to get deeper in there. Shooting parties isn’t only about having the best gear and knowing how to use it, but more about (get this) being a human being and thinking a bit. You should never feel like you’re under a lot of pressure: therefore, you should prepare a lot beforehand. Getting to the venue early and walking around to explore the lighting situation is the best thing to do. Parties are also social occurrences, and people are more than happy to be social with you. Shooting a party in low light presents a number of challenges. Luckily, we’re telling you about how to not even break a sweat when you start shooting.

A Flash Like the Nissin MG80 Pro Makes All the Difference

Natural, ambient light can be amusing if there’s lots of it and different colors. But it won’t give you that typical party feels and vibe in the images that clients look for. To get that, you’ll need to use a flash–not an LED light. LED lights are often used directly–and nothing can be more annoying than having an LED flash in your face as you’re telling a story to a friend at a party over drinks. However, the general philosophy for using a flash at a party is bouncing it off of a ceiling or a wall. Those large surfaces help to create the soft lighting you’re likely looking for. To boot, it makes everyone look fabulous no matter what. So if anything, just go for a flash.

Gear Used

For this blog post, we used the following:

  • Canon EOS R
  • Canon RF 50mm f1.2 L USM
  • Nissin MG80 Pro Flash. It comes in Sony with a metal foot, Canon, and Nikon. Olympus, Fujifilm, and Panasonic are said to come later this year.
  • 14500 type lithium ion Batteries. The flash also takes AA Alkaline or AA NiMH rechargeable batteries.
  • Rogue Flashbender Large V3

Set It and Forget It

The cool thing about using a flash is your lighting is more or less a “set it and forget it” type of affair. All you need to do is adjust the direction of the flash head, and you’ll get consistently dazzling photos. With a flash like the Nissin MG80 flash, the best general settings are the following:

  • Tilt the flash head upward and a bit behind you. It will better illuminate subjects in front of you.
  • TTL mode and exposure compensation +1. Don’t worry, the Nissin MG80 Pro is designed to withstand higher temperatures so the flash doesn’t explode on you. Even if it does, you’ve got a two-year warranty on the flash.
  • Hold the lock button down so that your settings don’t accidentally change.
  • ISO 800-1600 with a fast aperture lens.
  • 1/125th shutter speed and slower to blend the ambient and flash output a bit more. Up to 1/250th, depending on what’s in front of you and the ambient lighting situation.
  • Set the EVF to a constant readout and not the exposure simulation.

And that’s it. Now you just to go around and shoot the way you usually would.

Why Manual Exposure Mode Is Your Best Friend

For low light in parties, manual exposure is your best friend vs. P for Professional Program mode or Aperture priority. You can get a better blend of the ambient light and the flash output that way. For those who don’t know:

  • Shutter speeds control the ambient light when a flash is attached or in use.
  • Your aperture and ISO directly dictate what the flash output will be when you’re in TTL mode. Use this in combination with a good, modern flash like the Nissin MG80 Pro. You can tell the flash to consistently overexpose the scene by a full stop to get just the right amount of light in your scene. This goes for use on-camera and while acting as a slave to the Nissin Air 10 transmitter for up to 300 feet.
  • When you’re in manual mode, you can lock your aperture and ISO setting so that you can just focus on shooting. All you need to consider is the meter reading and your shutter speed. To get more ambient light to bleed into the scene, try overexposing the image from around 1/3 to a full stop.

Manual mode will consistently save your life when it comes to shooting the scenes in front of you at a party in low light.

Face Detection and Single Point Autofocus

When shooting parties in low light, one of the challenges is getting the camera to focus fast enough on a scene or a particular part of the scene. Face detection can work pretty well in that case, and a camera like the Canon EOS R with the latest firmware update will do a great job. But sometimes that’s not enough. Using single focus point autofocus is also pretty critical. Just be sure to move quickly and be confident in yourself.

Look for Cool Ways to Create Fun Lighting

Venues do everything they can to look as fresh as possible. In a world where Instagrammable event spaces are essential, this means photographers have better opportunities to make fun photos. In the image above, you see little beads of light on the subject in front of you. That was done by pointing the flash head of the Nissin MG80 Pro towards a disco ball. Disco balls are designed to bounce and scatter light. So when you flash shoots light at it, the disco ball will do its job, and you’ll get a really cool ambient lighting effect. This also works with mirrors and other reflective surfaces.

Keep Your Elbows Tucked In

When you’re photographing parties, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to always tuck your elbows as close to your body as possible. I’m not one of those photographers to tell people how to hold their cameras, but from a biophysics standpoint, I’ll tell everyone to tuck their elbows in. This is most important at parties because your elbow can get hit, thus your shot can get messed up. A flash like the Nissin MG80 Pro will be perfectly fine if it takes a bump at a party, but nothing hurts more than getting hit in the funny bone and having to continue shooting.

Talk to People

There’s no need to simply just be a person documenting what’s happening around you. Human beings are inherently social creatures, and in a party setting, they won’t be bothered if you talk to them. So, go tell someone that they’ve got a lovely necklace or that their hat really complements their outfit. They’ll be happier to let you take a photo, and that’s how you sometimes get more unique photos. With a flash like the Nissin MG80 on top of your camera, you can be confident that you’re going to make them look really fantastic. They may even tell you something like, “Your camera is really awesome.” Ha!

When Things Start to Feel Repetitive, Try Different Angles

I’m 5′ 6″ tall. Being vertically challenged, I like to embrace the fact that I can get different angles. Raising the camera above my head and shooting a bit below a subject lets me get unique perspectives. If folks are sitting down, try sitting down or kneeling a bit too. Most of all, remember to have fun: that’s the most significant part of making fun party photos.

Editor’s Note: This is a sponsored blog post from Nissin. We used the Nissin MG80 Pro Flash during a party and during a period of a few months. And it worked great!

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.