We’re back with another Shooter Spotlight, this time featuring a nightlife photographer. We came across Dave on our Twitter page (add us!) and clicked through to his website – where we were struck by the enormous full-page images blasting out from our 27″ monitor. Dave shoots parties, concerts, and DJs, and does a darn good job of it. I wish I could fly him here to shoot my own DJ pic! Anyways, check out the interview and his photos below…
Name: Dave Persaud
Hometown: Union/Central New Jersey, USA
Tell us about yourself:
I am a nightlife photographer and I’ve been doing it for about 3 years now. I’m from Union NJ and I’ve shot parties in NYC hot spots like Cielo, D36 and Crimson. I have also shot parties in AC and other hot spots in NJ like Park East, D’Jais, Jenkinsons, Avenue, Blackthorn and Draft House. I’ve also shot parties in Miami during the WMC at Clevelander, Nikki Beach and Yuka Lounge.
I shoot with a Nikon D90 and everything that I shot in the beginning was done with the kit lens that the camera came with. It solidifies the argument that better gear does NOT make you a better photographer because I have pushed my D90 to the limit and made some incredible images using it. Some people get lost in the gear craze thinking that new gear will make better images but that’s far from the truth. I learned a lot from trial and error and trying new settings in different clubs. Every venue is different and has to be shot differently. Sometimes the same venue on another night has to be shot differently because there’s a new light person there for the night. It’s a challenge but I live for it! I have also learned by watching training videos from some of the most influential photographers in the world like Zack Arias, Chase Jarvis, Jeremy Cowart, Scott Kelby and Joe McNally. If you want to succeed as a professional in photography or any other field, then educating yourself, understanding your gear and how to use it efficiently and surrounding yourself with other creative people is the only way to do it.
How did you get started in professional photography?
When I bought my camera I had no idea that I would be doing nightlife and event photography. I didn’t even know how to change my shutter speed as of yet but a good friend of mine that owns the nightlife site NJRockStar.com asked me to cover a Halloween party for him. So I went to the party, fired off a few shots (all in auto) and it took off from there. I shot a few more parties and slowly I started to understand my camera, settings and light. In the few years since then I have been the main shooter for NJRockstar. I’ve also been contacted to shoot parties for Greekflix.com, another popular nightlife site in NJ. Recently I’ve been shooting for PaparazziNJ.com and Studio F out of NYC. I’ve shot events for Flavorpill.com after I got really lucky and ended up shooting a party that photographer Chase Jarvis hosted at The Ace Hotel in NYC.
Favorite camera and lens? Why?
I love my Nikon D90 and it works really well for what I do at this time. Images are a little grainy in really dark clubs but its ok because most of my images are created for web use, not print. I shoot with a 17-55 2.8 lens which is fantastic. It’s fast and extremely sharp, it focuses everytime even in the darkest clubs and handles light really well. I’m in the process of saving for my next camera (D3s) because of its high ISO capability. I like Nikon gear because I believe that the image quality is second to none and I like the way that it feels in my hands when I hold it.
What is the best thing about taking party pictures? Worst?
I love not having to wait in long lines! I show up with my camera and most of the times the doorman already knows me and lets me right in. I get to meet people from all over the world and make new friends every week. Worst thing is when drunk people think that they’re photographers and try to take my cam to make a photo. This is something that I rarely ever let happen unless it’s an extremely attractive female that’s not very drunk. I’ve had many close calls with people (especially girls) dropping my camera.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened while taking nightlife photos?
Girls making out, bras coming off, wild dancing on the bar and wet t-shirt contests that ended up without any t-shirts at all. I’ve seen it all but the craziest would have to be an all out sex session between a male stripper and a sexy club girl in the middle of the dance floor. I shot many pictures of that episode but none were published online. Crazy!
Do you drink while you shoot? How does that affect your results?
Sometimes I’ll have a beer or two or sometimes a tasty Captain and Coke and it helps me to get into the groove of the night. That’s only on the nights that I have one club to shoot though. It’s so much easier to shoot when you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Typically I don’t have time to have a drink because I have to cover 2, sometimes 3 places in one night. I just go in, fire off as many as I can in an hour and then it’s onto the next club. On the nights that I only have one venue to cover that’s when I’ll have a drink or two. It relaxes me and those are the nights that I enjoy the most, get to meet people and make friends. The images that I make are usually way better on nights like those.
How do you deal with the ever-changing lighting in bar/concert environments?
I shoot all manual and I only change two settings while I’m shooting – the shutter speed and the flash power. I know many other nightlife photogs that shoot in Aperture mode but in a nightclub with changing lights, the results are too unpredictable for me. I usually shoot into the lights. Meaning that if there’s a red/blue/yellow light flashing in one direction, I’ll position the people that I’m shooting so that their backs are facing the light and I’ll shoot directly into the light. The result looks spectacular, like there’s an explosion of color going on behind the people in the image. Controlling the flash power is probably the most important thing to master a club because it’s the only light that you have control over. It all has to do with the distance to subject ratio (inverse square law). The further away from people that I have to go to get the shot, then more light is needed to cover the larger distance. This is usually for group shots or when I start out with one girl but then her friend comes into the picture and another. Before you know it I have to take 2/3 steps back to get all 5 girls in the shot and that means that I need more light to properly expose them all. For the really upclose shots, I have to cut the power all the way down to the minimum. Sometimes that’s not enough and I still have to cut more light because the club is so packed and people are right in my face, that’s when I start to close the Aperture also to compensate for the extra light entering the camera because they are so close.
What’s the best concert photography experience you’ve had? Who was performing?
The best concert that I’ve shot was probably the Columbian Street Festival in Rahway, NJ. Easily over 100,000 people filled the streets in the center of the town. They set up 4 stages, all with different genres of music, everything from Salsa, Reggae and House. DJ David S from the radio station 92.3 Now FM was on hand on the House stage and he rocked the streets like I’ve never seen. That’s the stage that I stayed very close to because I love house music and also because the owner of the BBQ stand that was close by kept feeding me free food in exchange for pictures of his stand.
Do you use off-camera flash at all? What’s your approach and how do you make it work?
I do use off camera flash but never in the clubs. Its already difficult to walk through the crowd with my big bulky camera (I have the Aputure battery grip on at all times), flash attached and a stack of cards in my other hand to give out. I usually hold my camera over my head and luckily when people see me coming they make room for me to pass by. For studio work I use a wireless transmitter (Trigmaster 2.4G) to control my SB-700 lights that I fire through softboxes. I really don’t do a lot of studio work because most of my shoots take place in nightclubs.
If you could shoot anything, what would it be?
I would love to shoot a Jay Z and Kanye West concert! I would also love to shoot a Bon Jovi concert along side another photographer that’s very influential to me David Bergman. He is the official tour photographer of the band and goes everywhere that they go. That’s ultimately my dream gig to have, to be the official tour photog for a band like that.
What does the future hold for you?
I’m delving into wedding photography. I have been getting a lot of requests but it’s something that I’ve never thought of doing until recently. I met with a few of the FStoppers guys in NYC recently and it came as a surprise to me that they are incredible wedding photogs. A good friend of mine asked me to shoot his wedding about two months ago and the results were amazing so I’m gearing up to dive into the wedding season next year.
I want to thank Jesse and the rest of the Aputure crew for taking the time to interview me. This was a great honor!
Check out some of Dave’s party pics…