How To Take Great Smartphone Pics In Low-Light Bars And Clubs

You’re out for a night on the town and want a happy memory of the moment. You grab for your smartphone to take a quick snap of the moment. The next morning, you look through your phone pics, but all you have is a darkened blur. What went wrong, and how can you fix it?

There is always the possibility that you got so particularly inebriated that you were in fact taking rapid-fire photos while spinning around a disco ball, in which case you got exactly the shots you deserved. But let’s presume, for the sake of argument, that you actually intended to get a nice group shot or selfie instead. How can you get the best possible shot in a darkened club?

The Big Problem

The big problem you’ll have in a bar or club is the same problem that affects so many smartphone photos generally, and that’s getting enough light to the sensor.

You’re hit with light sources, but they’re never even, there’s a lot of dark spaces and the distinct possibility of flashing lights. Obviously, your choice of smartphone can play a part here; HTC has made a lot of noise about how little noise the 4MP sensor in the HTC One ends up with thanks to the large sensor, for example. But you’re unlikely to pick up a spare smartphone purely for photography, so to make the most out of your existing gear, make sure you tweak your settings optimally. Punch the ISO up as high as you find tolerable, try to avoid slower exposure methods, such as HDR — because you’re more likely to want the rapid “in the moment” shot than the arty one — and consider using a specialist app for the purpose. For some smartphones, that may well be built into the stock camera application, but there are custom apps fit for purpose as well.

On iOS devices, Slow Shutter Cam will allow you to manually tweak exposure or set up light trail photos. On Android, consider Night Camera or Long Exposure Camera to fuse together multiple photos into the best possible exposure.

If you’ve got a flash, it’s worth experimenting; while some harsher flashes may wash out a shot and should therefore be disabled, sometimes the effects you get with the flash are better than the murk you get without them. Just make sure your targets are aware you’re using flash, as nobody likes to be blinded when they’re out for a good night.

The Smaller Problems

Camera shake
Especially an issue at a noisy gig where you’re surrounded by dancing, singing happy people — or where due to an overindulgence, you may be a bit wobbly yourself. If your camera app of choice has a stabiliser setting, use it; it will force you to hold the camera still until it’s ready to take the best possible shot. If feasible, try to stabilise your body when shooting by using the bar or a wall to steady yourself. Be ready to be jostled — it happens a lot in a busy bar or club — but be philosophical. You can always take another shot, but not if you’ve been chucked out for starting a brawl.

Don’t use digital zoom
You’re already taking photos in a tough shooting environment; digital zoom will just make them even more pixel-grain-tastic. You’d be better off taking the regular shot and post-cropping it at full resolution rather than dealing with the dodgy interpolation of most camera apps.

Camera not ready
Your friends are posed, the light is right and they’re good to go — but you’re not. Much less of an issue on a smartphone with a dedicated camera button, but if you don’t have one of those, it pays to have your camera only a few taps away, whether that’s via a lockscreen app button or simply having the app button always on your default smartphone home page. People — especially those who have had a bit to drink — aren’t known for their photo patience.

Inappropriate sharing:
People do stupid things while drunk, and it may well be that your friends are among them. It’s probably the hight of hilarity at 2am when people are exposing themselves. It’s less funny when the shot ends up on Facebook and their boss sees it on Monday morning. Think long and hard before sharing everything you did last night; sometimes it’s best that what goes on tour, stays on tour.

Finally, it’s worth keeping in mind that smartphone cameras aren’t the best for taking nightclub photos, but then you’re not there just to take photos. As such, if your photos don’t turn out perfect, don’t despair — just make sure you have as much fun otherwise as you can!

Picture: Kaloozer/Flickr


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