Concert Photography: The Equipment

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I’m a firm believer that you don’t need fancy equipment to get into concert photography or even excel in it. (Prime example: Terry Richardson) I find that if you’re truly passionate about the craft, you’ll work with what you have regardless of brands, lenses, all of that. I’ve also noticed that people blow money on expensive bodies that they don’t fully know how to use which ultimately ends up being a waste when the camera is capable of so much.

If you already have a professional camera already, start using it to your heart’s desire. But if you don’t, save your money and go for an entry-level camera. I’ve shot with an entry-level Canon T3i/kit lens set up for most of my concert photography career and I don’t plan on upgrading anytime soon. Why? Because a college degree is more important that showing off in the pit for roughly nine minutes to other photographers that I’ll probably not see again. Plus do you know how many college textbooks a T3i is equivalent to? Yeah, exactly.

I have a very apathetic attitude so I could care less what other people I don’t know think of my newbie camera. This is something you need to learn and learn fast. It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have or what kind of camera the person next to you has. All that matters is your ability to capture the show and whether or not you believe in yourself enough to do just that. The people standing next to you may have fancy equipment but that does not prove their abilities as a photographer. An expensive body won’t mean anything if the photographs don’t justify the equipment’s price tag. It just means they know how to waste money. That or daddy’s got a large bank account.

Stay within your budget and don’t put yourself in debt for a camera. Have faith in your equipment and most importantly yourself. I love my entry-level camera. It’s become an extension of myself, allowing me to capture indescribable moments in time but it’s merely a tool. Sure the nicer camera bodies and the faster lenses will make the technical aspect of concert photography easier as a beginner but that shouldn’t be at the forefront of your concerns. Nicer equipment won’t necessarily make you a better photographer or teach you how to compose your photos.


However if you should invest in anything, you should invest in nice lenses. Faster lenses with bigger apertures are better for concert photography because they’re best for low light situations. If you invest in lenses over bodies, the investment will pay off because who knows how many times you’ll be upgrading camera bodies! And as you do, your lenses will stay with you from camera to camera.

You may really like zoom lenses or maybe you prefer a fixed lens? Or like both! Test out different lenses with Borrow Lenses. All of my college friends make fun of me because of this website and how much I use it. It lets you as its name suggests, borrow lenses for a few days and for a good price. And I’m not being paid to say that.

As for where to buy lenses, I always check Amazon for prices and specs. Amazon’s great for if you want to buy brand new. However I have no problem with buying used or refurbished, actually I recommend it. Everything other than my camera body was bought used! Check out Ebay or other websites for used lenses but just make sure you’re being smart and really look at what you’re buying. Below are my recommendations for lenses, all of which I’ve used at one point in time:

  • 24mm f/2.8 – $700 – It’s pricey and the aperture isn’t the highest but it’s still a great lens.
  • 28mm f/1.8 – $450 – I LOVE this lens and use it all the time. It’s a fixed lens so you can’t zoom but sometimes you can make do with moving around a bit in the pit to compose your photo.
  • 35mm f/2.0 – $320 – I love 35mm and this is a great lens.
  • 50mm f/1.8 – $89 – This lens is a given and popular among many concert photographers. It’s available in all brands and is relatively lightweight and cheap! The 1.4 is also a good one but pricier.

Don’t Get Caught Up In Brand Names

Sure, a majority of photographers out there will be using Nikon or Canon. I currently shoot with Canon but started out with Nikon. The brand doesn’t matter as much as your ability to photograph the show and creative talent. Don’t get caught up in the hype. If you want to use a different brand like Sony, go ahead. If you’re rich enough to use a Phase One, well then HOOK A GIRL UP.

To quote my photographer friends

Tiffany Ronquillo: “I personally don’t think that a person’s photography should be judged off what equipment they use (although it does help to an extent), but the person behind the camera. A photographer in general just needs to have a good eye and know what they want, composition wise. Also being super attentive and taking more photos than you should eventually gets you the perfect shot.”

Victoria Cancel: “It’s not just having the experience and the equipment but rather being able to capture the right moments that depict the night perfectly, because anyone can take a picture of a concert but it’s about taking the right picture.”

Go to the next article in our Concert Photography Series: The Photo Pass
Follow Nancy Hoang:

Nancy Hoang created Hopeless Thunder in 2007. She conducts the interviews, writes the articles, photographs the concerts, and handles the site's coding & design. (She's basically a control freak.) Her work can also be seen on music publication, CMJ. Contact Nancy for image licensing, assignments, or just to say hi.

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