Essential Lenses for Concert Photography

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Miley Cyrus, ACL Festival. This image was made with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S with the Nikon Z 1.4x teleconverter, which is ideal for photographing from a distance and creating beautiful isolation.

As I always say, music photography is all about “low light, fast action and high ISO.” All these challenges mean that your camera gear can matter a lot more than in other genres of photography. This especially includes the right lenses for concert photography. At the very least, having the right gear makes the task of music photography much, much easier.

Do you have the right lenses for concert photography? Here's my recommendation on the essential lenses to photograph live music.

Choosing the right lenses for concert photography can seem like a daunting task. In this article, we'll cover the main lenses used by professional live music photographers. With this focus, this does exclude faster prime lenses, which can be extremely useful if not necessary for small, dimly lit clubs.

This list of lenses covers zooms exclusively, due to the fact that the utilitarian nature of a zoom lens has massive benefits for music photography, where the photographing positions, access and time are often extremely limited.

As such, the utility and convenience of zoom lenses is almost universally embraced by professional music photographers. If you're interested in seeing my full kit for music photography, visit my Concert Photography Gear Guide.

Now, with that out of the way, let's get to the lens recommendations!

The Holy Trinity of f/2.8 Zooms

For professional music photographers, there's really only three main lenses that everyone seems to agree on: the “holy trinity” of f/2.8 zooms. An ultra-wide zoom, a midrange zoom, and a telephoto zoom.

In my kit, this set includes:

You have everything from ultra-wide at 14mm to telephoto at 200mm covered in three lenses in a constant f/2.8 aperture. This three-lens kit covers nearly everything you could reasonably be expected to photograph as a live music photographer.

For professional music photographers, these three lenses are the ones you'll find in everyone's kits, almost without exception.

Now, let's look at these individual lenses and their uses in music photography, but slightly out of order. Instead, I'll cover these lenses in the order that I recommend you buy them as you build your photography kit.

24-70mm f/2.8 — The Midrange Zoom

A 24-70mm f/2.8 is called a midrange zoom because it covers the middle range of focal lengths, from wide angle to short telephoto. For most general concert photography from a photo pit, where you're not very close or very far from your subjects, this lens is often the most used. The 24mm to 70mm range is simply super useful for general music photography.

For stage front photography from theaters to arenas and amphitheaters, a 24-70mm lens will give you enough range to deal with a huge variety of productions and perspectives.

While a 24-70mm lens may not have the visual impact of an ultra-wide or a tighter telephoto lens, its often a single “do it all” kind of zoom range. The exceptions to this are for very large festivals where you have photo pit access, but when the stages are so tall that a 70-200mm f/2.8 becomes more useful.

For most photographers, the 24-70mm f/2.8 is the first zoom lens you should buy. It will excel in all but the very smallest venues right up to arenas and amphitheaters.

70-200mm f/2.8 — The Telephoto Zoom

After the midrange, a 70-200mm f/2.8 is an essential lens for live music photography. For most music photographers, this is the second zoom lens you should buy to round out your kit.

Telephoto lenses like a 70-200mm f/2.8 can create beautiful isolation, but they can also create layering and depth in images, too.

The telephoto range here lets you easily close the distance between you and performers, allowing for isolation and beautiful close-ups.

A 70-200mm is most useful for larger venues such as arenas, amphitheaters and festival setups. In addition, a telephoto zoom will be perfect for photographing individual performers and especially members of the band who may be further back, such as drummers. Remember: Don't forget the drummer!

14-24mm f/2.8 — The Ultra-wide Zoom

Lastly, the 14-24mm f/2.8 is the final zoom lens that most concert photographers will want to add to their bag. This is an extreme wide angle lens that gives dramatic perspective distortion.

An ultra-wide lens like the 14-24mm is ideal when you can get very close to a subject or the front of the stage, as well as for capturing atmosphere of a venue and the scale of a crowd at concerts.

An ultra-wide lens excels when you can get very close to your subjects to maximize the perspective distortion and field of view.

My Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8S is the perfect lens for photographing a massive crowd in an arena or amphitheater. It's also one of my favorite lenses to use to photograph drummers when I have stage access.

The reason I recommend buying an ultra-wide lens last is that due the extremely wide perspective, the ideal situations for using such a lens are more limited than the midrange and telephoto zooms we've detailed above. In addition, the look of an ultra-wide lens is very particular and even with the ideal circumstances, the effect can come off as more one note

Summary of Essential Lenses for Concert Photography

These are my recommendations for the essential lenses for concert photography. Almost every single image of my photography portfolio has been made with one of these three lenses.

Of course, there are exceptions to these recommendations. Read by article on the Best Lenses for Live Music Photography for more options including prime lenses, as well as a lot of examples of images made with each lens!