Choosing Lenses for Concert Photography

So, you want to shoot concerts?


Given the shooting constraints of concert photography, from song limits to bad lighting, the last thing you want to do is show up for a gig lenses that aren't cut out for the job.

If you're just starting out with shooting live music, here are a few suggestions for lenses that are up to the low-light challenge of concert photography, including f/2.8 zooms and fast primes.

If you're a Nikon shooter like me, you can see my guide specifically for Nikon shooters here:

Nikon Lenses for Music Photography

Lens Upgrade Path:

Maybe you've shot a few shows with the kit lens or perhaps you've stuck it out for years and you're looking for some new glass. Assuming your current lenses don't cut it, here are a few standard lenses available in every mount that I know will be workhorse lenses in your kit for live music photography.

nikon50.jpg50mm f/1.4 – The Fast Prime:

The ubiquitous 50mm lens gets around for a few reasons, not the least of which is its fast aperture. At f/1.4, this lens is a full two-stops faster than the zooms in this list, an attribute that which can help open up even the darkest venues.

I recommend the f/1.4 lenses over the slower and less expensive f/1.8 lenses for a few reasons, including better wide open performance, more light gathering ability, and better build quality. Even with all these improvements, these 50mm lenses are still the cheapest f/1.4 glass you'll buy.

17-55 mm f/2.8 for APS:

The 17-55mm range is my favorite zoom range for cropped-sensor (APS) cameras, as it gives you everything from wide-angle to short telephoto in a convenient package. If you're photographing bands up close at the front of the stage, this lens may just have all the range you need. For APS shooters, this range is basically analogous to the 24-70mm range that pros rely on.

24-70mm f/2.8 for Full Frame:

For full-frame cameras, the 24-70mm range is indispensable, as it covers everything from wide-angle to the short telephoto range. As a concert photographer, this means that you can shoot everything from stage-front action to relatively tight framing on individual musicians. This is the bread-and-butter lens of my kit. I absolutely love my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 because of the utility that it offers.

nikon70-200.jpg70-200mm f/2.8 – The telephoto Zoom:

One of the more expensive options in this short list, the 70-200mm range is a staple for telephoto shooting. I find this range particularly useful for large or high stages, picking up the drummer, and for tight shots of individual performers.

For me, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E VR is the absolute best-in-class for this range. It offers exceptional sharpness wide-open at all focal lengths, and I love the ability to isolate subjects with this telephoto zoom.

End Notes:

Whatever the focal length and application, I would highly recommend going with the fastest lenses you can afford for concert photography. With such demanding conditions as live music, f/2.8 zooms are often a necessity, if not f/1.8 or f/1.4 primes.

For more information on the above lenses and more, please visit the Gear Guide, where I discuss some more detailed applications for these events.

If you're a Nikon shooter, you can see my guide specifically for Nikon shooters here:

Nikon Lenses for Music Photography


What do you say?

What was your upgrade path once you ditched the kit lens? What's your most-used lens? Please feel to have your say in the comments section!