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Ted’s Cameras: Best optics for concert photography

There’s nothing quite like photographing a live music concert. From the dazzling lights and sound to the energy of the crowd, it’s an exhilarating experience for both fans and professional photographers alike.

But with so much going on, how do you get the very best shots of the gig? The experts from Ted’s Cameras are here to tell what they see as the critical factors…
While having
the right camera will play a part in the success of your images, a key component to concert and music photography is having the right lens. Because live concert photography can be undoubtedly tricky to shoot, the team at Ted’s Cameras have put together a rockin’ guide to choosing the best lens for photographing live gigs, concerts, and bands – plus some bonus event photography tips.

Prime or zoom lens?

This great debate has been covered many times over,but here’s the gist: Prime lenses offer all the benefits of a wider maximum aperture, while zoom lenses are considered more versatile. So which should you choose?

The benefits of a prime lens: As well as allowing you to capture images with a shallower depth of field for dramatic effect, prime lenses allow you to shoot at a fast aperture – around f1.4 or f1.8 – allowing you to utilise faster shutter speeds without increasing the ISO of your camera too much. This is great for low-light shooting, and extremely useful for concerts.

The benefits of a zoom lens: With a high level of flexibility, zoom lenses are a great option for tackling the various obstacles of concert photography – from variable lighting, to making do with the vantage point you’re provided with. Without the limitations of a fixed focal length, you can competently frame your images no matter where you’re standing.

The verdict: While they are more expensive, we recommend starting your search for your next concert photography lens in the realm of fast zoom lenses with f2.8 or similar apertures, such as the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 OS HSM Art. If you’re a beginner photographer, a concert photography kit with one or two carefully selected zoom lenses is a sure-fire way to hone your skills and get some great shots, no matter the environment of the gig.

What focal length is best?

Your choice of focal length will largely depend on your shooting position, with a longer focal length needed if you find yourself further away from the performers.

When you’re shooting up close: If you’re situated in the photographer’s pit, or somewhere similarly close to the front of the stage, you will find something like a 24-70mm lens invaluable. If you are shooting primes, a 35mm or 50mm should be your go-to, with a longer option such as an 85mm available for a tighter crop. These lenses have long been favoured by seasoned concert photographers.

When you’re shooting from a distance: If you’re placed further away from the action, something in the 70-200mm range, like the Tamron SP AF 70-200MM F2.8 VC USD G2, is perfect – long enough for you to get a tighter crop on key performers, while still allowing you to capture other elements at the wider end of the zoom range.

When you’re after something different: For more unique shots, wider or longer focal lengths can be used, such as something in the 14-24mm range, 300mm, or longer. If you’re carrying around a full kit, it might be worth including these options for when you want to try something a little bit different – but keep in mind you probably won’t want one of these mounted to your camera for the entire concert.

Other essential features for concert photography

Fast-focus lenses: Although most concerts tend to run for a few hours, crucial moments will often only last a few seconds – so you need to be ready to fire quickly. In these cases, a fast-focusing lens will be your best friend. Most modern high-quality lenses will provide an excellent focusing system – just make sure you keep an eye out for this feature when selecting your lens. As well as your lens, your focusing performance will depend on you having the best DSLR or Mirrorless camera for concert photography.

Image stabilisers: Shooting with a faster shutter speed will ensure you’re able to freeze moving subjects in their tracks – but you may still need help eliminating some of the blur created, often referred to as camera shake. Some cameras offer built-in stabilisation, while other brands, such as Canon and Nikon, include image stabilisers in select lenses. Canon calls it IS, while Nikon calls it VR.

Image stabilisers can be essential for giving you the confidence and ability to shoot handheld in darker scenarios, without wasting too much time stressing about your selected shutter speed.

Bonus: Concert & event photography tips

Photographing a music event or concert can be a lot of fun – you just have to stay alert, think on your feet, and adapt to your location as best as you can. Here are a few tips to help you get the best out of the gig:

  1. Shoot in manual mode, or at the very least aperture priority to tackle the lighting situation as you see fit.
  1. Shoot at your widest available aperture: This will help you shoot better photos in darker settings.
  1. Keep an eye on your shutter speed and bump up your ISO accordingly – if possible, a speed of 1/250 will assure performers are sharp, while you should avoid going too low to prevent blur.
  1. Shoot when the concert lighting is on. This will add to the drama of the moment, as well as providing a much-needed burst of light for your camera.
  1. Turn off your flash. Generally, you’ll be too far away for your flash to have any effect on the outcome of the image, and it can affect the exposure settings on your camera too.
  1. Look around for other interesting shots. Some of the most exciting concert images of all time involve the audience in some way or another. Even performers will tell you that the audience plays a huge part in the quality of the show, so try your best to capture this energy.
  1. Follow the rules. Often times, there are strict rules about who can photograph and from where. We can all easily become consumed with the desire to capture the best shot no matter what, but you will only wind up in trouble if you choose to ignore the rules.

Find your own rhythm

No matter what the gig is, shooting a music concert is a great opportunity to expand your photography skills while having some fun – the key is to find your own rhythm, and choose a lens that suits.

To figure out which lens is best for you, head to your local Ted’s Cameras store for some expert advice.
–  The article above has been prepared and sponsored by Ted’s Cameras.

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