ClubZone: Black Eyed Peas and Bikinis

Well, it’s been quite a while since my last post, mostly due to the drastic increase in the number of club shoots I’ve been doing for ClubZone this summer. This last weekend was a mixed bag photography wise. After four straight days of late night shoots I was supposed to cap it off with shooting The Black Eyed Peas at their Tila Tequila’s after party. Needless to say I was pretty excited about the shoot, but more on that later… it didn’t turn out exactly as expected.

Friday night, on the other hand, turned out much different than I expected as well, but in a good way. Malibu has been sponsoring ClubZone all this month and we were tasked with getting some shots of people holding Malibu bottles as part of the promotion. Friday night turned out to be Bikini Party night at Lobby Nightclub and I got a chance to get some great shots with some of the models working the night, both with and without Malibu accessories.

Shooting in a club is much more difficult than it seems. I use a Rayflash ring flash for most of my club shooting, and that works great close up as most of the light from the flash hits the subjects face and illuminates the eye sockets and under the chin avoiding the zombie/raccoon eyes look. It throws light all over the place,however, which can make wider shots harder to pull off when you’re trying not to blow out the background ambient light and keep the feeling of the clubs atmosphere. This is definitely a problem when you’re trying to get full body, or wider, shots. Shooting with just ambient has it’s own set of problems too. For one, most clubs are lit with just enough ambient so that you can find your way around, so you’re stuck shooting at ISO 1600 or higher even with a wide open fast prime.

Even f2.8 is a bit too slow for these light levels and those f4-5.6 zooms are right out. The stages or platforms where they put on fashion shows or have models dancing are usually lit a bit brighter, but still not as bright as say the spotlights on stage at a concert. On top of that clubs tend to use strongly gelled lights… a lot of blues, reds, greens, cyans and magentas which can wreak havoc with white balance and exposure. Making sure none of your individual color channels blow out is the main concern; blues, reds and greens tend to do all right but for some reason cyans and magentas tend to blow out really easily leaving horribly blotchy areas of chroma noise.

Focusing can also be a pain. The one big disadvantage of the ring light is that it blocks the IR assist lamp on the flash which aids focusing in low light. It can take 3-5 second sometimes to find a contrasty area I can lock focus on and some places in the club are just too dark to try. Usually one would focus on the eyes, if you get them in focus it really doesn’t matter if anything else is, it’s just the way our brains have been trained to look at photos. But in a club the lights are usually coming roughly straight down and people tend to tilt their heads forward when posing, so hair and brow ridges tend to throw the eyes into shadow and make them bad focusing points. Unfortunately, often the best place to lock focus is on a girls bust line; most girls are wearing dresses much darker than their skin tone so the line between skin and dress is a strong contrast line, well suited to the AF sensors. The trick is to lock focus on the bust then lean forward a few inches to compensate for the distance between where you focused and the distance to the eyes so they become the point of focus. This doesn’t always work out as people move around and you end up with tack sharp breasts and blurry faces… people tend to get the wrong idea about that 🙂

Also, shooting wide open leaves me with a pretty narrow depth of field, which is ok most of the time because people instinctively tend to form crowded police line up poses along the plane of focus when there’s more than 3 people in the shot. There are times thought that someone has to jump in the front of the group and you end up with one blurry guy blocking the shot.

The two models that night really made my job easy though. Both of them new how to pose without taking much direction, which is pretty much impossible with the volume most club sound systems run at. The most important thing though is both of them knew how to hold the pose long enough for me to focus and compose. The biggest problem by far I’ve had with these types of shoots is that inexperienced models will often switch poses in rapid fire mode leaving no time to evaluate the scene or even lock focus. It doesn’t take long, a one-two count is usually sufficient, but the key is making it look natural for the spectators just there to enjoy the show. I’ve shot models that almost seem to be doing the robot, jerking quickly from pose to pose with a mannequin-esque freeze frame in between. That night turned out to be one of the best undirected model shoots I’ve done in a while. You can see the rest of my shoot with Nikki and Ashleigh on Flickr.

As for the Black Eyed Peas shoot… well, I had a nagging suspicion the night would go down like it did, but I held out hope. I got to Tila’s early and met up with the three other photogs that would be shooting the night. We where on the media list, we got showed around to where we’d be able to shoot and initially we where told we’d have all night to shoot them. This all went down hill as

soon as the Black Eyed Peas manager showed up and started changing things. We went from shooting in a spacious little VIP bar, to shooting on a cramped riser with one booth. We went from being able to shoot all night, to only the first 20 minutes after they got there, to only two of us for 10 minutes to finally only one of us (not me) for a little more than a minute while Will-I-Am shielded his face or turned away from the camera. After over two hours of waiting one of us got three kinda crappy shots. I don’t blame the venue, they’ve been really good to me and seemed just as confused as I was. A big tip to anyone aiming to do this type of shoot, make sure you get hammered out ahead of time exactly what the conditions of the shoot are going to be, and make sure this comes from the celebrity themselves or their representation. Venue’s can set up whatever guild lines they want for the night but it’s the act that usually gets the final say and they can change what they want pretty much any time they want. Going into a celebrity shoot without pre-arranged plans, and I’m talking days or weeks, not hours ahead of time is going to be a crap shoot and it just wasn’t my night at the table.