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Pictured just outside the dance floor area. My favorite picture from this year's party.


For the second year in a row, a friend of mine threw herself an awesome birthday party. For the second year in a row, she invited me to take pictures of her and her guests during the party.  And for the second year in a row, I took on the opportunity, as frightening as it is to attempt taking pictures of people in the nearly dark environment of a bar or dance floor.

Last year was a true challenge indeed. I had owned my dslr for about 5 months, and had no off-camera flash. The only lenses I had were the kit lens, with a max ap of 5.6 at its longest focal length, and a telephoto 70-300 with about the same max ap. So, I rented an L-lens 28-70 f/2.8 in hopes that it would help minimize my ISO and maximize the light I had to work with.

I also diffused my flash – to avoid those nasty harsh shadows behind my subjects – with a DIY film canister diffuser. This worked really well in practice shots, but when there’s little light to begin with, diffusing the flash really doesn’t help matters.

Last year's party, guest comedian, neon lights, fluorescent stage floor, pop-up flash, ugh!

The first part of the party (both last year and this year) was a poetry jam and a special guest comedian. The picture above was the comedian. As you can see, the lighting was awful, and using the pop-up flash makes him look pasted onto the stage (are his fingers pointing forwards? backwards? or does he just have a really large disfigured hand?!!).

What was most annoying (for the performers and me) was the fact that it was so dark – and they were moving quite a bit across the stage – that my flash keep triggering to lock focus (which it found about 10% of the time) and blinding the performers in the process.  It was most frustrating, but they put up w/ me, and I managed to salvage a few shots.

This was also my first time shooting in RAW, which I have shot in ever since. White balance issues were a nightmare in last year’s venue, especially with all the tract neon lighting.  I must’ve taken 200 pictures last year and came out with a handful I was willing to show and share with others.

Last year's party: white balance hell


This year I tried to step up my game. Unfortunately, I was going in with practically the same equipment I had last year, only this time instead of renting a lens I used my 50mm f/1.8. I’ve also since learned how to bounce my pop-up flash and decided I would try that instead of the diffuser.

Not knowing much about the venue (it was held at a different spot than last year), I stopped and picked up a piece of foam board to assist me with the bouncing. Picture me, holding the camera in the right hand, bouncing the pop-up flash using a DIY Party Bouncer onto a 5×7 cutout piece of foam board being held by my left hand.

I’m sure it was all quite comical for the guests!

Vertical images, with the bounce occuring from the left side instead of overhead, resulted in more dimension in the subjects' faces.

The lighting still came out a bit flat – particularly for horizontal images – but it was spread much better than the diffuser. Therefore, exposure was better, the white foam board helped minimize white balance issues (as did the different venue), and I wasn’t quite as annoying with the pre-flash, though my camera still had to hunt often due to lack of light.

The dance floor was still a challenge because it was so dark, and guests inevitably stood in the darkest areas. Desaturating the images worked best.

I had a lot less processing work to do on these images, and felt like they were worth sharing. I’ve got a long way to go, but am definitely getting better with the equipment I have at my disposal.

Thanks for looking! Feel free to leave your thoughts. 🙂