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My 3 Best Lenses For Concert Photography

Updated on November 3, 2015
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There is no single best lens for live concert photography, but these are the three best lenses for beginning music photographers. Many other lenses could be selected, especially for pros on a big budget, working larger venues and shooting from a distance. But for the beginner who's mostly shooting local bands at clubs, parties, and small concerts, these should be the first three lenses you buy. And for most local shows, these are the only 3 lenses you will ever need.

For those who need to know, I used a Canon EOS 50D for most of my work, with a Canon Rebel XT for backup. I actually still have the XT and use it for my personal photography. It doesn't have a bazillion megapixels, but it doesn't really need them.

You don't need to upgrade your camera body every year. Save your money and upgrade your glass instead.

Who Am I To Offer Photography Advice?

My name is Chris Desatoff, and I had a photography business for a couple years (photocat808 llc). I mostly shot local punk, rock, and metal bands in Hawaii. I've probably fired off over 50,000 shots of musicians at parties, small clubs, big clubs (including Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu and the old Pipeline Cafe that was featured in an episode of Hawaii 5-0), and music festivals (the biggest I did was Cornerstone '98).

That doesn't mean I'm an expert or anything...not by a longshot. But I am able to talk about this from personal experience and not just from what I've read on the Internet. I was a working photographer. Bands were paying me to shoot them, and digital concert photography was my thing.

I've had over 100 photos published, more than half of those were spread over several issues of HM Magazine, which boasted national circulation. Hard Rock even used one of my shots in their annual corporate mag (so I've heard...I never actually received a copy).

I also did a CD cover for The 86 List. Man, that shot came out pretty good! =)

So, you know, I'm not the best by a long shot, but I am an actual photographer -- not just some poser freelance writer with no experience making crappy Internet articles to try to sell stuff on Amazon.

These were my main lenses, and if I went back to shooting bands, these are the lenses you'd find in my gig bag.

Sigma 18-50mm Macro

This lens right here was my workhorse. The Sigma 18-50 makes a great multi-purpose lens. It focuses fast and tight. Since it's a macro, minimum focusing distance is never really an issue. The lens is heavy. I mean, it's a pro lens with continuous f/2.8 aperture (wide open). But you get used to it. In fact, after a while all other lenses feel like cheap toys in comparison.

You will love this lens.

This lens is good for just about everything, and you'll likely find yourself using it for all your photography -- not just the concert stuff. The focal range is almost exactly the same as your standard kit lens (18-55mm), so it's pretty versatile. But that super-close focusing distance makes for some fun shots.

Even though I haven't done concert photography since 2010, I still use this as my primary lens to this day.

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Canon 15mm Fisheye

This lens produced my signature shots. I loved working up close and personal with local musicians. Most of the guys I shot let me get right up in there on stage with them for at least a song or two, if not the whole damn set.

That's what I loved about punk bands -- about being in a punk band in my youth and about shooting punk bands in my...non-youth -- there's no hierarchy...no untouchable, celebrity rock stars with security tackling fans who get too close. Half the time there wasn't even a stage. It's just you and me and 100 of our closest friends slamming up against each other, having a good time.

Anyway, this fisheye was an old one that I bought back in my 35mm film days. This model is designed for full-frame cameras, so when the new digital models all came out, I was delighted that it would still work with the new gear (God bless EOS).

Since most of the newer digital cameras have cropped sensors, you lose the periphery of your lens' field of view. With the fisheye, what this did was to make the bubble effect less pronounced. So now it's a subtle fisheye effect, which actually provided a pretty unique look to my photos. Add to that the fact that I would shoot from much closer up than most of the other guys I'd rub elbows with...and I had my own style.

I'd plant that fisheye right up on the drums, literally under the hi-hat. Then I'd get right off to the bassist's right side and the lens would be practically rubbing right up against the bass' volume and tone knobs. Add in bounce flash off the low ceilings in the small clubs, and I was a happy camper.

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Canon Fast Fifty

You gotta have at least one fast lens to really call yourself a photographer, right? And the 50mm is a classic first pro lens. Just get the f/1.8. It's way cheaper than the f/1.4 and way WAY cheaper than the f/1.2. I've had both the 1.4 and 1.8, and I'd be perfectly satisfied with just the 1.8 again.

I played around with a doubler on my 50 in the past, but it's not really that great. Just save your money and get a longer lens when the time is right.

This article and the accompanying photos are copyright Christopher Desatoff 2013. Just so ya know...

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    • daisydayz profile image

      Chantele Cross-Jones 4 years ago from Cardiff

      My hubby does music photography too he also uses a Nikon 50mm f1.8 but recently bought and started using his pride and joy a Nikon 24-70mm f2.8. Great hub for people new to live music photography!

    • TheHubFactory profile image
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      TheHubFactory 4 years ago from USA

      That's great daisy. Writing this hub brought back some good memories. That fast zoom is a must! And Nikon is a great brand to go with. Depending on the genres he shoots, he might want to put a full-frame fisheye on his wishlist...assuming the bubble look isn't inappropriate for his clients, and also assuming they don't mind him working close-up once in a while.

      I've shot musicians who loved my fisheye shots, and I've had musicians who I wouldn't even dare to shoot with a fisheye lol

      Thanks for commenting.

      Oh, does your husband write on HubPages? Sign him up (with your referral tracker, of course) and get him writing photography hubs. It's a great way to showcase his work and generate leads too -- and get paid for traffic.

      Aloha, Chris

    • xcubist profile image

      xcubist 4 years ago

      I'm behind the times but learning fast. Got my first DSLR this past year and need to break it out more. Learned a lot about the different lenses here. Thanks!

    • TheHubFactory profile image
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      TheHubFactory 4 years ago from USA

      Hi xcubist.

      It's fun, right? I held out a long time before switching to digital, but what a difference the technology makes -- financially AND creatively.

      I don't know what gear you've got, but if you only have the kit lens that came with your camera, then I'd recommend you get a wide angle zoom lens for shooting pics to go with your hubs. Those interior home shots pretty much demand wide angle lenses.

      A wireless slave/flash unit with filters would help too. That's what interior design photographers will use on location to balance out uneven lighting in a room.

      Software-wise...there's no need to buy an expensive program. I used Adobe Photoshop Elements (which was a lot cheaper and user-friendly than the full Photoshop program) for my edits, but even that might be overkill.

      Even just using a simple program that can crop and adjust brightness and contrast...that alone would really spice up your images. Merely bumping up the contrast works WONDERS for how your final images turn out.

      Your computer might already have a basic program that came with it from the store. See if you can adjust contrast on your pics. That one simple change will really make a difference.

      Okay...so THAT was a lot of unsolicited advice. Sorry, man. =)

      Thanks for commenting.

      Writing this hub brought back a lot of good memories and reminded me that I could go on and on about photography, so maybe I'll do some more photography hubs in the future.

      If you've got any questions about photo stuff...shoot. I might know the answers or at least be able to direct you to someone who does.

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      Charissa Grandin 2 years ago

      Which of the first lens and last lens mentioned are better for a photographer who has not often used her camera out of auto mode for taking concert pics? Which is the best if you cannot necessarily get up close and are taking distance shots? I was told to use sport mode on my Canon for getting better concert photos. Will the Nikon lens work with a Canon EOS Rebel Xsi? Which lens is more friendly with a new photographer who may not be as used to holding a DSLR as still as she can her iPhone?

    • TheHubFactory profile image
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      TheHubFactory 2 years ago from USA

      Hi Charissa,

      I'm assuming that you're shooting indoors or at night, so the concert venue will be pretty dark, except for the stage lighting.

      Here's what to do...

      1. Do NOT use sport mode. Use the shutter priority (Tv) mode instead.

      Sport mode uses a faster shutter speed, which might be ok at an outdoor daytime concert, especially if your subjects are moving around quickly on stage. But you'll get better, more consistent results using Tv mode. That's what I did for my first several concerts, and that's what I'd recommend for you.

      2. Start out with a shutter speed of 1/100 or faster.

      Since you're not used to holding a big camera like this, you're likely to have some blur if you use a slower shutter speed (like 1/60 or less). So start with 1/100. If the pics are nice and bright, you can speed it up to 1/150 or so. If this is a daylight concert, then you can actually go way faster, like 1/500. But if it's dark and indoors, 1/100 to 1/150 should be just fine.

      3. Use the Canon 50mm (the last lens above), not Nikon. Nikon won't work on a Canon.

      The larger aperture of this lens (f/1.8 vs. the Sigma's f/2.8) will allow you to get slightly brighter pictures than the Sigma 15-50, even when using the same shutter speed. Plus, the background will come out even more blurry, leaving your subject nice and sharp (this is called "bokeh," if you're in the mood for googling stuff).

      This lens is also much lighter than the Sigma one, so that might help you to hold it more easily for extended periods of time.

      Okay, I hope that helps. Sorry for the delay. I got your Twitter message and was watching my email, expecting a message through my blog. Ah well, sorry I forgot to come check the comments here on HubPages.

      I hope this response gets to you in time for the concert.

      Good luck!

      Chris =)

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