Music photography gear
Firstly, these lens recommendations are just my own opinion. Some photographers can get a little touchy about what other photographers say is good or bad for music photography gear. If you own one of these lenses and agree or disagree with me, it’s just my opinion. Please don’t shoot me for passing my opinion.
Listen to the podcast episode
Show notes about the music photography gear episode
The goal is to answer one of the most common questions I get. So the answer is just my opinion!
Ok, you get the idea. Here’s the deal. It doesn’t matter if you have a crop sensor camera, or a full frame camera. All of the lenses I am going to suggest will suit any concert photographer, because they work on both full frame cameras and crop sensor cameras. It doesn’t matter what camera bodies you use.
While we’re on that topic, there really is no right piece of camera gear for music photographers. Most of the work I do is in the editing phase, and no amount of gear can change that. Skill is working with what you have, not what you can afford. Buy what you can afford rather than what you think you need, because practice will be the biggest factor in improving your work.
Shooting bands means you’re shooting in low light. Some bands have awesome lighting setups, and some don’t care about lighting, or can’t afford a lighting technician. So you’re going to need to be prepared for both ends of the spectrum.
Even with the best lighting setups, you’re going to need to get a lens with a wider aperture than one that starts at f/4.0 or around that range. The reason is, you’re going to need a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. You have a moving subject that is most likely thrashing about, meaning you’re going to need to shoot at least 1/200th of a second in most cases. Obviously the less the artist moves, the slower the shutter speed you can use, but be prepared to shoot faster than 1/200th of a second.
It’s cool if you’re on a budget, because there are inexpensive lenses that are perfect for music photographers that aren’t sure if they want to shoot concerts for a living, or want to keep it as a hobby. It’s an expensive profession if you want to be in it for a long time, so you might want to commit to some less expensive gear until you figure out how much you love it. If you can only afford one of these lenses, don’t worry, because these will all get the job done.
Canon 50mm f/1.8
BothCanonand Nikon make fantastic 50mm lenses with wide apertures.
Most people think that 50mm as a focal length is close to what you see with the natural eye on a full-frame camera. I don’t really agree with that though, I think 35mm is more like your natural eyesight and peripheral vision. Maybe I just have abnormally-wide peripheral vision. I can see in 360, man!
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 feels kind of like a toy when you’re holding it. But don’t mistake these plastic-bodied lenses for anything other than worthy of its place in your camera bag. These lenses are easily the most common lens for beginner concert photographers who need to shoot in low light situations.
Canon 50mm f/1.4
This lens is great if you find the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens doesn’t open wide enough to capture enough light.
If you feel that f/1.8 isn’t enough, I would suggest checking your technique, because it really should be. But if you are still chasing a wider aperture, this lens is a good, cheap lens that will get the job done. It is a bit slower to focus in my experience, but it’s not extremely slow.
If you want to experience a super slow lens, for some kind of sick reason, check out the 50mm f/1.2L lens. That thing focuses slower than the earth orbits the sun.
Sigma 12mm f/2.8 Fisheye
Any super-wide lens that allows you to capture a massive audience is useful, but generally wide-angle lenses that also have wide apertures are expensive.
You can get around the issue of needing to spend a small fortune to have a wide angle lens by using a fisheye lens and using lens correction on it to remove the fisheye bowl look.
One of the less expensive wide-angled lenses that open wide is the Sigma 12mm fisheye.
The low price tag comes at a cost – it over exposes the image. Since you’ll be shooting in RAW, once you reduce the exposure while editing, the lost details will come right back. It’s an annoying setback for the lens, but once you become familiar with how much it overexposes as you shoot, you can easily forgive it given the price.
Canon 28mm f/1.8
This is a nice, wider alternative to the Canon 50mm f/1.8.
If you’re on a crop sensor, this leaves the focal length at around 35mm, which is still wide enough for most stages. This lens is great for small venues when you’re really close to the musicians or want to get a really nice, wide shot showing off the size of the crowd.
The only downside to this lens is that at 28mm, a lot of unwanted items compete with the subject. This might be microphone stands, other musicians or something different that isn’t intended to be in the shot. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and you might want those things within the shot. But if you don’t, keep in mind that there may be a lot of cloning you’d need to do to clean up the image.
Podcast listener questions
“I know nothing about prints, basics of getting, finishes, places, prices etc” – @jarno.corig
There isn’t any right or wrong way of selling prints, but I would encourage you to think about your brand. You have to think about what type of paper you sell on, what kind of value you want to provide and all that.
I only sell Giclee (g-klay) prints on rag photographique paper because I think that mix suits my work. Some photographers print on metallics and other stuff.
A lot of the print labs around will send you some samples of paper and prints for you to make a decision on. When I first did my test print run, I sent one photo to the lab and got them to print it on different paper types with different methods so I could see what my work looked like.
I preferred a matte look to a gloss. You’ll notice on my prints that there is zero reflection. I think my work is best suited to that. It feels so finished with no gloss, and a bit aged. I dunno. That’s just what I like about that paper stock and print process. If I were doing family portraits or something less grimy, I would probably go with something with a bit of gloss. It really depends on what feels right to you.
As for prices, you just have to shop around, really. I normally get my prints done at RGB Digital at Yerongpilly. They’re not that cheap, not that expensive, but they do a great job and always consistently fix any issues without hassle. When you’re selling things to customers, you need to know you have that security there in case something goes wrong.
“What do you think should be in a portfolio?” – @actions_that_echo
There’s three things that should be in your portfolio. These are:
- Your best photos
- Work that represents you within the boundaries that you want to create in
- Only the amount of photos neccessary to demonstrate your range
Let’s break it down.
You only want your best photos in the photography portfolio. Who wants to sift through photos that are just ‘okay’? You want every image to wow. The person looking at it will know that you aren’t going to take an amazing photo, every time. That’s not practical. A salesperson doesn’t knock on a door and say, “Here are my best items. I put in some stuff I think is ok, too.” They just don’t because you want to show off the best work you have to offer.
Include work that represents you within the boundaries that you want to create within. This means your portfolio should only include work you want to create. If you are going to show a real estate company your work, don’t include photos you took as a wedding photographer. Those photos don’t count to the audience you’re displaying to. For this reason, you might want to have different portfolios for different purposes. And each of those portfolios might be shown in different ways that are more suitable for their purpose. For example, your wedding photography portfolio might be in the form of an elegant album, whereas your photojournalism portfolio might be in a hardcover portfolio. And maybe your real estate portfolio is online only. These are just some ideas, but you don’t want to jumble the genres up and pitch the genre to the person you are trying to win business from.
Finally, only show the amount of photos necessary to demonstrate your range. This means the old saying ‘less is more’ rings true here. Most people won’t look at all the photos in your portfolio. It’s not a gallery, it’s a sample of work. Choose the smallest sample you need without appearing as a one-trick pony. I find the sweet spot is around 12 images. Culling your photographs down to the small amount needed for your portfolio can be really hard when you’re the creator of the work. Always have a trusted friend around you that can help you make tough decisions from an objective standpoint. Someone who tells you that all your work is great is not that person. You need someone who tells you that one photo is better than another, so they need to not always be praising you endlessly regardless of your work. Praise can be nice, but it isn’t constructive if it’s not balanced.
There’s an art to putting portfolios together, but that’s my core set of three principles I use for curating my photography portfolio. I review it regularly because I’m always creating better work, but rarely put a photo in that I’ve created within the last 3 months. If I still think it’s worthy three months later, I throw it in.
“Got a question about using flash in concert photography when lighting is limited at small gigs” – @olivia_essery
I’m not sure what your question is specifically, so I’ll touch on a few things that are commonly discussed with music photography gear that relates to speedlites or flashes.
Personally, I think flash wipes out a lot of the amazing work lighting people work hard to create. Sometimes there’s very limited light, like you mentioned, and that’s where flash becomes a little more understandable to me.
I think it’s always up to the band. Imagine needing to play with precision to allow all members of the band to stay in time also. Some people would rely on their vision to make sure their fingers slide to the right position on the guitar (who the hell knows what that is technically called), and flashing could impede that a fair bit I imagine.
I know it’s more of an unspoken acceptance at hardcore shows that flash would be used. I’m not sure how that came about, but it seems to be accepted there.
On the few occassions where I’ve used flash, I aimed the speedlight at the roof and made it bounce down on the crowd or band. That way it’s not firing right in the eyes of the people it’s capturing. Even when I do that, because it’s a smaller gig, you probably have better access to the band. I would go up to the band and say, “Hey, lighting sucks here. Do you mind if I use the flash during the gig?” The band can then say yes or no, and you don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to get chewed out for it later on.
“Do you prefer shooting gigs with a prime or zoom lens” – @steph teixeira
Personally, I prefer prime lenses for single shows. For music festivals, I prefer using a zoom lens because the stage heights vary. Some stages are super high, some are normal sized, some are super wide… There isn’t any one-size stage, so you need to be a little more prepared when it comes to your music photography gear, and a zoom lens helps with that flexibility you need.
For a single show, I prefer to use a prime lens, but I bring a few with me. Sure, a zoom would eliminate the need for multiple prime lenses, but I find primes are generally sharper and better built. There are slightly fewer moving parts and that means less can go wrong. So I can be a little more reckless with them than I would otherwise be with a zoom lens.
Prime lenses also help me think about why I am shooting a certain way, and how I can make things look great without needing to figure out how far I should zoom in and other framing alternatives when I could be simplifying my process. One less thing to think about is better for me. I find when I shoot with my 24-70mm, I am shooting mostly at 24mm or 70mm anyway, and rarely inbetween.
If you’re still not sure what type of lens would suit you, you can load up Adobe Lightroom and use the filters at the top of your Library panel to sort photos by a certain focal length or another type and see how many photos you’ve shot with that parameter. Then you can get a better idea of what music photography gear you’re most often shooting with.
“How often do you update your gear? When it breaks or when new stuff comes out?” – @mckimms
Right now, my music photography gear is probably in it’s worst condition it has ever been in. When I first got into music photography, the Australian dollar was great against the US dollar, and that meant that camera gear was pretty cheap.
Everything I bought was reasonably priced, or at least it was in my eyes because that’s all I knew. Now that our dollar isn’t doing so well against the US dollar, I perceive the prices to be higher than I expect. It’s kind of a deterrant to me buying new gear to replace gear that breaks. I’m not so much waiting for the dollar to improve as I am just attached to my gear in some weird way.
So I took my 35mm Sigma 1.4 Art lens and my 24-70 2.8L IS II into the store to get fixed recently. They both had different problems, but were both not functioning at all. The Sigma cost $100 to repair, whereas the 24-70mm was going to cost me $600 to repair.
I got the Sigma repaired for $100 in the short term and am going to get the 24-70mm fixed soon. The $600 repair for the 24-70mm hurts the wallet a lot, but it’s an expensive lens so $600 is decent to revive it.
I make decisions on what I’m going to repair or not repair based on the value of the lens itself, how much it costs to fix it, and how much value I’ve gotten out of it.
I don’t think I remember a time when I’ve upgraded from a lens, but I’ve upgraded camera bodies a few times. I upgrade camera bodies when I book a job that pays really well so the cost doesn’t deplete my account too much. I look at it as, ‘if I do this job I will get this camera body in exchange’. Otherwise it just seems like a huge expense.
Upgrading the camera body is something I’ve done to get better noise processing. The Canon 5Dmkii was ok at processing noise, but the 5Dmkiii was so much better as a piece of music photography gear. The 5Dmkiv had the biggest leap in video features, which I don’t do much of, so it hasn’t appealed to me too much. Having said that, my 5Dmkiii is very battered and if I were to book a big job in the near future, I would be inclined to use that fee on a 5Dmkiv rather than getting another mkiii.
Did you miss the last episode?
Episode 18 we talked about the role of music in photography and answered more of your questions.