DC9, on the edge of the U Street district where the 9:30 Club, Black Cat, Velvet Lounge, Twins Jazz, Bohemian Caverns and more are all also located, is a small venue housed on the second floor of a bar (much like The Red and the Black and the aforementioned Velvet Lounge). The performance space, just a block or two from the U Street/Cardozo green line metro stop, probably has a capacity of 150 or so. The stage is basically at floor level, but unique because it’s set in a corner of the room, so the audience wraps around the stage on two sides, offering a nice variety of angles for photographers.
DC9 books a wide variety of shows, from indie-rock to metal to DJ’ed dance parties. For the conventional shows I’ve been to, the venue can get pretty crowded, but it’s usually pretty easy to move around and get different angles despite the fact that, obviously, there’s no pit. There is no photo policy; I’ve never been at a show where any limits on any kind of photography were advertised or enforced. I’ve even blasted away with flash at a crowded Marnie Stern show (trying as hard as possible not to be annoying, of course), and that was no problem.
Per the above photo, there is usually a spot of good lighting in the middle of the DC9 stage. If the primary performer sets up there, you’re golden – ISO 1600 with a fast prime is very doable except for the most active of bands. However, the stage lighting tends to be very patchy and dim outside of that one good spot. Performers on the side are tough to get and drummers, who tend to set up in the corner, are almost impossible (being both much further away from the edge of the stage and almost completely un-lit). Getting the drummer in the below shot required ISO 6400, f/1.8, 1/80, with the exposure pushed almost another full stop in post, and a black & white conversion to cope with extreme noise.
Per usual for a venue this size, the lighting is completely static – no fancy light shows here. But although the lighting is static and dim, there’s usually a nice mix of warm colors, cool colors and white light. At DC9 I usually end up shooting with my 50/1.8 at ISO 1600-3200 depending on the shutter speed I’m looking for, using my 17-55/2.8 sparingly for wider shots at higher ISO when I can afford to use a slower shutter speed. As I said, flash is also an option, which of course opens up an entirely different range of lenses that it’s possible to use. You can get close enough to the performers here that a fisheye or extreme wide-angle is a real option.
There are a bunch of venues around this size in DC, and DC9 is probably my favorite one to shoot in. They’re on the good end of the “static and dim” lighting spectrum, and the placement of the stage in the corner is really nice for moving around and getting lots of different looks. Just make sure you bring some fast lenses, a good strobe or a camera capable of extreme high ISO work.