Shooting B&W in a nightclub scenario - best film (and setup?)

Discussion in 'Black and White' started by oli_sones, Jun 8, 2016.

  1. Hi all,
    I'm working on a project whereby we are creating a 70's nightclub event over the summer. I would love to shoot some of the nights using B&W film but wondered if anyone had any experience with this. As inspiration I've been looking at some of Hasse Pearson's work from Studio 54, which captured the energy and style of the club perfectly. I've got various cameras at my disposal (Canonet QL17, Pentax LX, Pentax 645N) but I'm trying decide what setup (and film) would work best for this environment. I can use a speed light if need be.
    Has anyone shot film in a club and has any tips?
    Thanks in advance!
  2. 645N Ilford Delta 3200 & your most powerful speedlight (if possible bounced) would be my recommendation. Same film in the LX is a tad too grainy for 8x10"s, at least for my taste.
    I suck at focusing manual SLRs wide open but haven't ever handled a Canonet and doubt it's meter can be set for fastest film.
  3. The Canonet meter doesn't support ISO3200 indeed. Other than that - pretty good camera if you'd want to work candid. Whether to use a speedlight or not also depends a lot on how candid you want it to be/seem; plus no idea how low the light will be in the club, but I could imagine you could get away with ISO1600 - in which case you could also consider Tri-X, it'll be grainy but looking at the photos you mention, it seems to fit anyway. It could be a look that works well anyway.
    MF might render better quality, but the sheer size of the camera might be less practical in a crowded place. If it'd be my choice, it would be the Canonet, with Tri-X, and trying to catch dynamics/movement, rather than pinsharp images.
  4. William Michael

    William Michael Moderator Staff Member

    I wouldn't choose the Canonet - for a related but significantly more severe reason.
    My recollection is that the Shutter on the Canonet will NOT release if the exposure meter does not indicate within a certain range of EV - that's linked to the fact that the meter will not accept ASA 3200. The fact that the meter cannot be calibrated to ASA3200 could be fiddled IF you could always rely on shooting 'underexposed' relative to the meter's indication - but you can't rely on that work around.
    Apart from that issue, I would be concerned about troublesome focusing and a few other matters and functionalities.
    Basically the Canonet is a very nice rangefinder camera, but it is more like an "holiday camera" not a low light purpose built camera for 'front line' action - a Leica would be a different matter.
    Between the Pentax 645 and the 135 format cameras - what lenses do you have?
    Prima facie I'd opt for the 135 Format Pentax, because:
    > is lighter to carry
    > quicker to move about and/or shot from the hip or doorstop style
    > vaster range of lenses from which tom choose
    > has a LARGER DoF for any given Framing and Lens Aperture used
    > less intimidating to Subjects especially at close quarters
    > easier and cheaper to attain fast lenses
    > can get lenses faster than F/2.8
    > if using Flash the concern about grain at that neg size for any given enlargement size is less concerning, and you’d consider dropping to ASA400 anyway - (personal opinion - I would not be concerned about grain that much anyway – but that’s a matter of taste, and I generally like B&W grain)
    > utilizes 36 frames per roll (can easily get more if you roll your own)
    I haven't used Ilford Delta 3200, but I would consider that would be more than acceptable. I have attained good results with Tri X rated at 1600 and then pushed processed - a lot depends upon the lenses you have available and whether or not you will be using Flash.
    Jeff Spirer shoots a lot of music gigs - he often uses Flash: it would bode well to research some of his posts on this particular topic and I believe that he has a tutorial on the subject.
    I shoot some stage productions (drama/plays mainly) and some jazz clubs - but I rarely use flash and I am pulling ISO3200 with lenses set at about F/2 - and I often need to wait for the shot, where there is least Subject Movement – that might be difficult if you want ‘atmosphere’ shots, where intrinsically there will be a number of people in the frame. However, a little bit of Subject Movement Blur can add to the atmosphere and succulent flavour of the photo.
    I mention these points because it doesn't matter whether the medium being used is Film or Digital - the facts are – if you choose to use Flash you'll probably be able to CHOOSE to be around ISO/ASA 400~800 and be able to use F/4 Lenses and you’ll be able to arrest much of the motion – if you CHOOSE to use ONLY available light then you MUST be prepared to get to ISO/ASA3200 and have at least one normal to wide very fast lens. (Obviously) the technique of ‘dragging the shutter’ is something necessary to understand and at which you should be proficient.
    Ideally I’d have two 135 format cameras: one with a fast 24/ 35mm lens and one with a fast 50/ 85mm lens, depending upon how “tight” is the club environment. Maybe if you have one camera only you do have access to a fast mid range zoom with a Pentax Bayonet Mount – but that will not be any faster than f/2.8 (and maybe slower) and probably have more Flare issues than a Prime Lens. I’d want the capacity to get to ASA/ISO3200 either by the film’s base ASA/ISO, or by push processing. I’d have Bounce Flash capacity on each camera, but not necessarily use that for every shot).
    PS - typo in your OP it is probably: "Hasse Persson"
  5. Even if the Canonet could meter at E.I. 3200, the averaging meter would be a poor choice for the tricky lighting typical of a nightclub. If possible try to take some meter readings of the light setup prior to the event. The Canonet with its f1.7 lens might do well with TMAX 400 or Tri-X pushed to ISO 1600. Just set the Canonet manually and bracket exposures. Regarding the 645N, the Ilford Delta 3200 would probably do the job or even pushed TMAX 400 or Tri-X.
  6. Bring a tripod...
  7. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    I know that in the period around and right after WWII many nightclubs had photographers who would circulate and photograph guests, commonly done with a speed graphic, with flash mounted, delivering photos for a fee before the guests left. I have several of my parents and it is quite an interesting look. Might be worthwhile to look a little further back in time.
    Sounds like a fun project. Good luck with it!
    jpeña likes this.
  8. If the situation is more or less under your control and you can use a speedlight without annoying people, I would work with the same gear as a 60s night club photographer - a rollfilm camera and a speedlight used directly BUT on a 2 meter extension cord. The camera should be one that you can focus easily in dim light and then support and fire with one hand while you hold the speedlight high and to one side with your other hand. This will give you an authentic look. Do NOT mount the speedlight on the camera or make any attempt to bounce off the ceiling, which may be high, painted a dark color and have lighting equipment mounted on it which may produce strange shadows. Of the gear you describe I would think the Pentax 645N would be your best bet, but a 35mm loaded with medium speed film would be fine too.
    If I think of nightclubs, I think of pix like this:
    This was of course taken during a special photosession and probably on 4x5, but there's no reason why you shouldn't get something of the same atmosphere with the technique I've described.
  9. I did a lot of casual night club shooting with 35mm many years ago, I mainly used a Canon AE-1P with Metz CL-45 flash gun for this on full manual exposure, as I was only using C-41 type films the exposure latitude is wide enough that I could set the camera to F: 5.6 and leave it there, the flash is only synced at 1/60th of a second on the Canon.Wit C-41 colour film mu exposures were all good but with B&W films it was a bit more hot and miss and required more accurate metering.
    I also used a Bronica SQ-Ai 6x6 medium format latter on with an SCA flash control for the Metz CL-45 flash gun, that was by far the best set up for this sort of thing as I could just select any f stop and shutter speed I wanted and the SCA would adjust the flash output accordingly, it was very accurate as well. Down side to this set up is that it is very large and intimidating and rather heavy. A big plus was that you could load up several film backs with different films and use each one as you needed. I used these cameras for weddings and they were so good for that.
    100 speed film is fine and what I mainly used but 400 speed film can make it a bit easier. For the life of me I can not see why anyone would want to use ISO 3200 film, if you can not get a decent shot with ISO 400 film then ISO 3200 will not help you much either.
    Bracketing exposures when shooting in a night club just does not work and you will waste so much film. Most of the time you only get that one chance for a shot anyway.
    jpeña likes this.
  10. I have assumed that this
    is the kind of picture you want to do - the off-camera flash technique I have described is exactly the way to go.
  11. As above, the lighting tends to fool averaging meters, and maybe some better ones.
    It is very easy to underexpose, and hard to overexpose.
    T-Max 400 is supposed to push well, that being one reason they stopped making T-Max 3200.
    The extra contrast from pushed ISO 400 film probably won't hurt, and adds some to the look.
  12. Thanks for everyone's brilliant responses! I've been away the past few days so will digest all the information above and
    come back with any questions (which there will no doubt be!)
  13. William W. I currently only have a 50/1.4 for the LX and 70 FA for the 645N (I mainly use these for street photography).
    That said the 50/1.4 should be suitable?

    David Bebbington - it's a show in producing so I have no problems in using a flash as the performers will be told
    beforehand. Good to know about the off camera flash - I see one of Hasse Perssons photos he is seen in the mirror uses
    this technique.

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