Music Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry Expert

3 November 2019

Starting out in professional music photography, or simply want to capture your next gig in all its glory? Photographing a live concert can be an incredibly fun, but tricky business. No matter what type or size of show you’re shooting, each gig will have its own challenging combination of variable lighting conditions and venue restrictions - which is why your choice of camera equipment is so crucial. No matter how experienced you are, the camera gear you choose to use can make or break your final product.

To help set you up for success, we’ve asked concert photographer extraordinaire Matt Walter - published by the likes of TIME, VICE and Huffington Post - for a behind the scenes look into what’s in his gear bag and why - plus his expert advice and tips on how to shoot outstanding music photography.

1. Choose a trusty DSLR

So what’s the best camera for music photography? Matt recommends getting a good quality Digital SLR camera similar to his top pick, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Body.

The 5D Mark IV features 4K video, exceptional low-light performance and lighting fast 7 frames per second continuous shooting - perfect for fast-paced, low light concerts. With a 61-point AF system you can easily pinpoint your subject, while built in WiFi and NFC mean you can quickly transfer your images.

Whether you choose a Canon, Nikon, or something totally different, make sure it feels good in your hands, and you can easily reach all the camera’s settings - and don’t forget, the body you buy will dictate which compatible lenses you can use.

Music Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry ExpertMusic Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry Expert

2. Love your lens

Music Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry ExpertMusic Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry Expert

Choose a lens that makes your life easier when you’re in the thick of a live gig. The majority of kit lenses have apertures that aren’t wide enough to capture enough light at a music gig. The more light you can catch, the better chance you’ll have to capture some great, clear shots.

Pick a lens that opens to at least f2.8, and ideally up to f1.8. Matt favours the Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM II - a high-quality zoom lens that provides top quality images with a very versatile standard zoom range. An f2.8 constant aperture makes this lens ideal for low light conditions, while its two UD lens elements deliver for premium image sharpness. Another handy feature is the zoom ring lock lever, which prevents accidental adjustments from being made when in the midst of a dancing crowd.

Having a few carefully selected lens options in your gear bag will give you the ability to quickly adapt to your surroundings and make the most of the moment.

3. Know your environment

It always pays to be prepared. Do your homework on the venue and come prepared with the right gear for that environment. How close to the stage will you be? How dark will it be? Are you going to be shooting outside in broad daylight, or in a tiny basement bar?

Matt recommends the Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II for a variety of environments - especially music festivals. The 70-200mm f2.8L IS II is a versatile lens with a great telephoto zoom range, suited to a variety of situations - from music and sports photography, indoor and outdoor, to wildlife and weddings. A fast f2.8 aperture means you’ll get plenty of light, and can freeze all the fast-paced concert action with ease - and it’s perfect for selective focus and depth of field control.

Music Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry ExpertMusic Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry Expert

While it’s rare you’ll be able to use a flash or strobe at a music concert, there will be some instances when you’ll want one - and every photographer needs a flash in their gear bag, anyway. Matt’s top picks are the Canon Speedlite 430EX III Flash and the Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for a fast, quiet and discreet lighting option in a compact unit.
(The 580EX II Speedlite has been superseded by the Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT Flash.)

4. Take a new perspective

Music Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry ExpertMusic Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry Expert

Looking to develop your individual style and create some truly unique work? Matt suggests trying a lens like the Sigma AF 15mm f2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye. Designed for use on Full-Frame Digital SLRs, this fisheye lens will help add a fresh new perspective to your photography with unique, exaggerated perspectives.

The 15mm focal length makes fitting in a whole scene is not difficult, no matter how vast, while the large f2.8 aperture enables all of this creativity to be performed handheld.

5. Go full frame

When deciding between a crop sensor or full frame camera, you’ll likely need to decide between budget and overall quality. Compared to full frame cameras, cropped sensor cameras have a smaller sensor size, meaning they’ll produce nosier photos and capture less light, detracting from your photo’s overall impact. Matt recommends the Canon Sigma AF 35mm f1.4 DG HSM Art.

Designed specifically for full frame sensors, this high quality Sigma Prime lens also works smoothly with APS-C sized sensors found in entry-level digital SLRs - making it easy for you to capture a concert with the same angle of view as the human eye, giving your images a natural perspective. The fast f1.4 aperture is also great for achieving selective focus and really capturing key moments on stage or in the crowd.

Music Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry ExpertMusic Concert Photography Gear & Tips From an Industry Expert

If budget is a concern, Matt suggests starting out with a crop camera sensor, and fixing up any additional noise in post production process.

All images shown Copyright Matt Walter

Make the most of every opportunity

As Matt says, no one music concert is the same - so being prepared for anything is essential to setting yourself up for success.

For more inspiration and advice on getting the right gear, check out our list of the Best Digital Cameras for Photography, or stop by your local Ted’s store today.

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