Taking Great Photos In Dimly Lit Bars
Always know where your light is.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love posting photos of the cocktails I have around town. Shooting photos in bars is not always easy. Bars are notorious for being dark. A bit of creativity, combined with knowing your camera, can help to make for some great photos in the least ideal settings.
First, I never use flash! The second I got my phone I turned the flash off on the camera. Cell phone flash can make food unappetizing and individuals unattractive. When shooting glassware the flash reflects off the glass creating intense highlights. Shadows are created where shadows are not needed.
Here are my solutions for shooting in dark locations.
When you walk in stop and scan the bar. Where is the light? Are there any windows you can sit near? Is there candle light or overhead lighting? Whatever the case may be, you want to sit as close to the light as possible. Pendant lighting -- lighting that hangs from the ceiling or a metal rod — is great for creating a spotlight effect. Try sitting directly under one of these.
In the past I’ve asked to be seated at a certain table because it was near a lamp. I’ve also gotten to bars just before sunset because I knew the light from a near by window would be hitting the bar at that time of day.
Increase the exposure. If you’re using an iPhone, tap to focus then drag the sun upwards to lighten the shot. Some Androids have a numerical value for the exposure. If this is the case for your phone, increase your exposure to +1 or +2. Whatever the phone camera, lighten the shot before you take it.
Use candles to your advantage. There’s a bar in my neighborhood that is below ground level. The bar is typically dark with most of the light coming from candles. The drinks are amazing and definitely worth shooting. To get around the lighting situation I try to utilize the candles. By hiding the candles behind drinks I’m able to capture the beauty of the cocktail without loosing the bar's ambiance.
White marble is an Instagramer’s best friend. There’s been a trend of bars using white marble in their construction. I love it! A white marble bar top acts in the same manner as a bounce card. The white in the marble bounces the light towards the subject creating a nicely lit photo. Give me a bar with white marble combined with pendant lights and I’m in heaven.
Get by with the help of your friends. Ask a friend to shine their cell’s flashlight over your drink. I’ve used this method in extreme cases when the bar is insanely dark. Like pendant lights, the flashlight creates a spotlight. Adjust the distance of the flashlight to get the perfect effect. If using this method, try to be considerate of those around you. Bright flashlights can ruin the ambiance and the experience of your fellow patrons.
Now that you've gotten the shot, put your phone down and enjoy. Cheers!