Hey everyone, so this is my first post, and if you’ve read my bio, I am here to talk about Band portraits and Live music photography (concerts, shows, etc.). So I wanted to start things off by addressing a topic that I needed help with when I first started getting into this very specific type of photography: the gear.
I knew very little about music photography in general when I first started, I knew that I loved the rock show and I loved photography. I was also always captivated by the images I saw in The Rolling Stones, Spin and AP magazine. But one question was left unanswered, “What gear do I need to successfully take photos at concerts?”
We’ve all seen (and probably taken) photos at shows with point-and-shoot cameras or even our cell phones. But as we all found out, our pictures turned out incredibly dark, incredibly orange, and or incredibly noisy. Each “genre” of photography has its own obstacles, some more than others. While I might be bias, I believe concert photography has some of the hardest elements to deal with on the job.
The following list is here to help you get on the right path and to start you off with the essentials. While this list is not a be-all-end-all, concrete decree sent down from the photography Gods, it will give you a good idea of what you need (and what I personally prefer).
The Camera Body
First off, let me say that I am a Canon lover, so if I name a camera or piece of gear, its almost always going to be Canon. However, do not fear, Nikon has the equivalents to every Canon body (you just need to compare the specs). Now that that is taken care of; one the most important aspects when choosing a camera body for concert photography is the shots per second the camera can shoot, since your subjects will be moving around a lot and jumping off of amps, fast firing of shots definitely helps capture the “decisive moment”. Another important factor in my opinion is how many focal points the camera has. Obviously for this last one, the more the better; the more focal points your camera has to choose from, the more creative options you have and the finer/more accurately the camera can capture the subject. The body I chose was the Canon 7D. While it is a cropped sensor, it has everything I mentioned here and performs amazingly, I highly recommend it.
Your camera body is nothing without an adequate lens. You can have a six thousand dollar camera, and a crappy lens (in regards to concert photography) and your six thousand dollar camera might as well be a six hundred dollar camera. Because of the nature of concerts, you are going to need a lens that can handle the low light conditions as well as being able to quickly (and accurately) autofocus. In my experience, to get high quality photos, you are going to need a lens with at least an aperture of 2.8, but if you can, go with something like 1.8 (or 1.4 if you can). If you get a lens with an aperture of 4 or more, you won’t be able to shoot the low light without A LOT of noise (which is obviously bad). Also, the lens needs to be able to quickly autofocus because your subject is going to be moving around and will hardly ever stay in one position for more than a few seconds.
Now this is where people differ, some LOVE prime lenses, others (like me), prefer the zoom capabilities. While primes offer lower aperture (usually around 1.8) and most of them are easier on the pockets, you are stuck with one focal length. With zoom capabilities, sure you are going to pay more, but think of how many primes are covered with one lens. To me, it makes the most sense, you save space in your bag (need to carry less lenses) and you are able to zoom in for more dramatic shots. Personally, my go-to lens is the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens. It has everything I need.
Alright, the flash is an odd thing. First off, if you are going to use it, do not use the one that pops up from your camera unless you absolutely have to. The reason that this is a tricky topic is because not many venues allow flashes, and for good reasons (if you were on stage I am sure you wouldn’t want one going off right in your face either). However, if you are able to use one, it makes ‘freezing’ the action a whole lot easier and can solve some horrible lighting situations. Personally, I recommend (and use) a Canon 580EX II; this lens offers a powerful punch and a whole lot of options.
I used to use a 16 GB CF card for my Canon 7D, then it got stolen. Now I use what was my back up, 8GB CF card. I have found that 8 gigs is more than enough for most concerts (the exception being all day festivals). Most venues have a limit as to how many songs you can shoot, the limit is usually the first 3 songs of each band. 8 gigs is plenty for around four bands and should give you some room to spare. But if you ever find yourself running short, use the time between sets to go through the images and get rid of the ones you know you won’t be using. If you can, always carry a spare memory card as well. You never know what could happen and the last thing you want is to be left out on the side-lines while a kick-ass show is going on. Personally, I prefer the Sandisk Extreme series; it offers amazing write speeds, and has never failed.
When choosing your kit, make sure you get the right body and lens. While most bodies have adequate shutter speeds, make sure it has enough focus points and the options you want it to have. For the lens, this is the most important piece of gear you have. If you can, splurge and treat yourself to something nice. You first need to decide whether you want to work with Primes or zoom lenses. And always aim for a lens with an aperture between 1.4-2.8. As for the flash, never use the one that pops up from your camera unless you have to, go out and buy one that can attach to your hotshoe. I suggest the 580 EX II or the 430 EX II. As for the memory card, you really don’t need anything more than 8 gigs if you are shooting RAW and are only shooting around 4 bands. But, if you can always carry around a spare memory card.
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