How to photograph wedding dance floor craziness!

I love getting on the dance floor at the end of the wedding day as everyone celebrates and it’s a great opportunity to get some unposed, fun photos.

Over the years I’ve developed a specific technique to get the feeling of the nighttime shenanigans across in the photographs, so there will be more technical talk than usual in today’s Photography Exploder blog.

Here’s the photo I’ll be using as an example of this technique. I took this photograph at Beth and Lee’s wedding at As You Like It in Newcastle. With a lot of music industry guests and an amazing DJ, I knew the dance floor would be rocking!

Wedding dance floor craziness at Beth and Lee’s wedding at As You Like It, Newcastle upon Tyne

Camera: Fujifilm X-T1

Lens: Fujifilm 18mm f2

Focal length: 18mm

Aperture: f11

ISO: 800

Exposure: 1/8

Flash: Canon 430exii on camera

F11 at ISO 800 on a basement dance floor at 10:00pm on an autumn night? Madness!

I use my X-T1 for wedding party photos rather than my X-Pro2 because it has the tilting screen which can be handy for holding the camera above my head or getting down low for interesting compositions. As my second camera I'd also be far less worried about it getting knocked from my hand and damaged than my main camera.

I attach my 18mm lens, which gives 28mm coverage full frame equivalent. That means you have to get in really close to the action.

Think you’re close enough? Take another huge step closer. Getting barrelled into by a drunken bridesmaid singing Uptown Funk is a real possibility.

I use a technique called zone focussing rather than rely on the autofocus of my camera on the dark and dingy dance. I’m usually somewhere between f8 and f11, which means that everything between a metre or so and three metres from the camera will be in focus, and much beyond that distance will be acceptably sharp. I have the distance scale showing on the lcd of my camera to constantly monitor this (sometimes the manual focus ring can get knocked in the chaos). Another way of setting your focus distance is to autofocus on an object in the distance at roughly he distance you will be from your subjects (usually one to two metres) and then switch to manual focus.

I keep my ISO fairly low, somewhere between 200 and 800 depending upon the ambient light.

My exposure time is also very low, anywhere between 1/4 second and 1/15th second, again depending upon the available light and how much blurring and streaking I want to achieve.

My flash goes onto the camera and is pointed directly at your subjects - exactly what you are told never to do! I vary the power from 1/8 to 1/32 depending on how dark the wedding venue is.

I don’t ever want to light up the dance floor so it looks like the middle of the day, so one extra thing I do is zoom in the flash as much as possible, even though I’m using a wide lens. This creates a vignette effect and makes the photos feel more like nighttime, even if the central subjects are well exposed.

The great thing about zone focussing is that you don’t need to be looking through the camera when you take your shot. I often hold the camera across my chest and walk across the dance floor around my subject firing off multiple frames as I go.

Moving the camera while taking the shot is a good thing on the dance floor, that’s what creates those light streaks you can see in the photo above, and that conveys a sense of movement. I scope out the dance floor early on and work out which direction to shoot in to make the most of the lights. Every venue and DJ is different so you need to be able to work this out quickly on the fly.

There is no way to be a shy, candid wedding photographer to capture these sort of shots. You have to be brave, sharpen your elbows and go Gonzo on the dance floor! Because you are shooting your flash right into people’s faces, I suggest you keep moving and don’t keep photographing one subject. Move in, snap off two or three shots then move on to your next victim.

So that’s how I capture the carnage of the wedding dance floor. I’m not necessarily looking to create a true record of what happened, I’m trying to convey how the party felt in all it’s colourful, drunken noise.