Staging a shoot on the D/L in a restaurant or bar - tips appreciated


Particular Member
Aug 16, 2012
I occasionally get nutty requests from friends for a shoot from time to time. Never major events -- I don't do weddings or anything like that. It's usually a quick portrait session, some product work to help someone sell something online or possibly I get asked to attend a social event and casually work the crowd.

This latest one is odd. Thought I'd share and ask the team what they'd bring to the party.

Some friends are starting something resembling a social club, evening-out club, etc. and they want promotional shots of the two organizing people having a good time out. Casual shots, almost candids, but slightly scripted -- either seated at dinner or standing at a bar full of people. The only creative asks I could discern from them (from asking them for examples of what they're looking for) are low light shots with interesting backgrounds and small DOF -- they are all about hip dangling artisanal lightbulbs, string lights, or possibly neon in the background of the shot. That's the vibe they want. Samples they offered:




The tricky bit is they don't have social/influence/connections pull to actually stage a shoot in a restaurant or bar, so we'll be doing on the D/L without permission, can't use a speedlites, etc. In effect, I need to act like a buddy with a camera shooting his friends and not like a guy trying to nail a shot, chimping, directing the subjects, etc.

Yes, it's a ridiculous ask. I have told them this and they understand. They still want to try.

Was probably just going to bring the 35 f/2 IS and 50 f/1.4 and call it good. The only other remotely large aperture instrument would be shooting my 70-200 f/2.8L IS II on the long end, and I presume that's a non-starter in crowded places.

Tips appreciated. How would you handle this? Not just gear but also tips for using limited available lighting, strategies to setup and shoot very quickly, etc.

- A


Particular Member
Aug 16, 2012
A few thoughts:
  • Bar > restaurant is surely less venue getting upset risk, ya?

  • We could always stick and move like a pub crawl so that we always a next location if we get bounced.

  • I can do some of this right from the table with the 35 prime. That shouldn't arouse too much ire from the venue.

  • Pondering public/outdoor places with a similar vibe as a Plan B. That completely removes the permission, staging, etc. headaches from all this, and it might allow me to work the speedlite in (gently for what they want to do).
I think this is a hot mess in the making, but they are friends of mine and I have the evening free to try this. :p

- A


And this is why a Leica with a 35 1.4 still kicks ass. Nobody suspects and you can get all types of these shots whenever you'd like. I know this because I do this often. Either my M10 or any of my Leica film cameras excel in this environment. Never need to chimp or actually even look into the viewfinder.


Dec 20, 2012
Southeastern USA
Why not make an effort during club's off hours to get permission? Good shots would likely be welcomed by management.

Use friends as assistants to hold lights on small monopods or something similar. Even one light with a small softbox plus a reflector could work well. I've actually done something similar and the owner of the bar let us in while the bar was closed. He simply wanted to use his choice of pictures for his own promotions. In a case like this you would have more lighting options as you could use light stands.


Nov 3, 2012
If you have the time, I'd do it twice. First, with the 35/2 and 50/1.4 (I doubt you will need the tele), without flash and up close and personal. No one would mind and you can get really good shots this way, like the example photos. Bring a couple of extra friends so that you can get clearances from them.
If this doesn't deliver the goods, then something more planned will be needed. As YL notes, most bars would be flattered to be used as a venue and if you come before opening this shouldn't be an issue (provided the light is good). You may need to use a flash in a softbox if lighting is limited. Definitely put 1 or 2 CTO (orange) gels on the flash to get the atmosphere or at least give the flash a similar colour temperature to the background to give you more editing options. Probably only a single flash (possibly with a reflector to lift shadows) would be needed, although a second from behind to give a rim light could help separation from the background.
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Don Haines

Beware of cats with laser eyes!
Jun 4, 2012
Are these for public display? If so, make sure none of the other people are recognizable....

If I were closer, I’d join you.... a second photographer for a different viewpoint would help, plus the two photographers could act like they are trying out their new cameras on their friends/daughters and allay suspicions


Oct 6, 2014
you could also get some background shots they like and PS the main ppl in. This would give you a great background and time to stage the main actors.


Would you take advice from a cartoons stuffed toy?
Jan 29, 2011
I'd be concerned about legal exposure, particularly if the venues are backed by parent corporations. Quite simply, you know it is almost certainly against the law and using the pictures will also be against the law. You do not have the right to take images in a publicly accessible but privately owned venue and you open yourself up to all kinds of liability.

I wouldn't touch it without at the very least asking permission.
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Feb 3, 2013
I'd be concerned about legal exposure, particularly if the venues are backed by parent corporations. Quite simply, you know it is almost certainly against the law and using the pictures will also be against the law. You do not have the right to take images in a publicly accessible but privately owned venue and you open yourself up to all kinds of liability.
I assume this is talking about the situation in the US.

At least in Australia - and I'm pretty sure it's the same in the UK, although the US and elsewhere may well be different - the first question would be whether your licence to come onto the private property (bar, restaurant, whatever) includes (implied if not express) permission to take the photos. If it does, you're fine. If it doesn't, you have trespassed on the private property (which could be dealt with in a criminal and/or civil court, although in reality hard to imagine police/DPP being interested in prosecuting a criminal charge). Unless there is something particular about the venue (eg sign saying no photos), arguably the licence to enter that sort of venue does extend to taking photos - it's hardly an unusual thing for customers to do. That is all the more so if it is obvious to staff you are taking some photos and they don't stop you. (That said, it can be a grey area, and it can become complicated, eg there may be an argument there was an implied licence to take photos for private use but not for commercial use.)

The second question would be how do you intend to use the photos. Provided they were taken legally (eg without trespassing) and you are not using the photos in a way which is contrary to the (express or implied) licence you had to take them, no per se problem with using them. Need to be careful though, eg do not imply that the venue/owner supports or endorses the people in the photos/the photographer, make sure there are no confidential information or person information privacy issues arising from anything in the background of the photo (although personal information privacy is much more of an issue in the UK and Europe than in Aust), etc, etc. So, certainly things to think about, but using the photos wouldn't necessarily be a problem.


Nov 3, 2012
Do not expect photos like the first two without using at least two off-camera flashes.

The third one was likely done with just a bounce flash.
You are probably right. The last photo is an awful of bounce flash with terrible eye shadows. The second looks like it has used an on-camera flash if you look at the shadows below the lower right arm. The only photo I like is the first and this has probably used a lightly-softened or bare flash (see the hard shadows to the right of the main woman's nose.

Ambient lighting could have produced better photos. But I agree that a couple of gelled and softened flashes would be the preferred solution.