Concert photography with Telephoto Lenses

While my normal go-to lens for indoor concert photography is a midrange zoom like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 (or Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 on APS), telephoto lenses can be an essential part of the live music photographer's kit. The highly utilitarian wide-to-short-tele midrange lens excels in from the pit for most venues, but some situations can benefit from the graces of a long lens, which can bring the action to the photographer and create more flattering perspectives than shorter focal lengths.

dresden dolls

Range: Reaching the Action
One obvious advantage of telephoto lenses is their reach, which can be essential when photographing musicians from a distance. Whether it's picking up the drummer at the back of the stage or photographing far back from the stage, a long lens helps close the gap and bring the action to the viewer.

In this shot of Pet Shop Boys‘ Chris Lowe, a 70-200mm lens allowed for fairly tight shots, even though photography was restricted to the sound board behind the pit at the band's request.

_DSC9737.jpg

Even with moderate distances, a telephoto lens can help deliver high-impact, frame-filling close-ups performers. The Nikon 70-200mm was perfect for photographing Chan Marshall, AKA Cat Power, performing at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival, and stayed on the camera for her entire set.

Cat Power @ Pitchfork 2007

Better Angles and Perspectives

Particularly for tighter shots of individual performers, a telephoto lens can lens a more flattering shooting angle while still producing frame-filling shots of the subject. Long lenses allow photographer to shoot more obliquely along the stage, rather than right on top of the subject (or under, as the case may be in the pit).

When photographing singers, shooting down-stage will often provide a key degree of separation between the the face and microphone. This technique can be especially useful for performers who hold the mic close to their face. Even a short telephoto lens can provide the reach to shoot from a distance down-stage, as the following shot with the the Nikon 85mm f/1.4 shows.

Morrissey @ the Pageant -- 2007.05.22

At the Pitchfork Music Festival, the long reach of the telephoto zoom was key in photographing artists like Sam Beam. During Iron & Wine's set at the three-day event, shooting slightly off-axis with the 70-200mm allowed for a higher hit rate for clear shots of the singer's face, which translates into a better visual read and more impact.

Iron & Wine @ Pitchfork 2007

Isolation

Telephoto lenses can provide visual isolation not only through their narrower field of view, but also with their shallow depth of field as well. These aspects of selection may be useful for composition and readability of the subject in a cluttered environment.

This benefit is particularly true for daytime, outdoor events, when more abundant light can create more visual competition in the environment surrounding performers. In this shot of Devendra Banhart, using a long focal length and wide aperture with the 70-200mm created plenty of separation between the folk singer and the background.

_DSC8833.jpg

However, for even with stage lighting, a long lens can provide very useful isolation that allows for creative composition and framing that can help highlight a subject.

Spoon @ Pitchfork 2006

In this shot of the Dresden Dolls‘ Brian Viglione, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 allowed for a tight, abstracted shot of the drummer, reaching through the clutter of his setup.

_DSC8533.jpg
Concert Photography with Telephoto Lenses

Below are a few more examples of telephoto lenses at work, shot with either the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 or the Nikon 85mm f/1.4.

Dir en grey @ the Pageant -- 2007.06.19

Nikon 85mm f/1.4

Battles @ Pitchfork 2007

Nikon 70-200m f/2.8

The Deftones @ the Pageant -- 2007.06.19

Nikon 85mm f/1.4

Anthony Kiedis

Nikon 70-200m f/2.8

The Strokes -- 2006.04.08

Nikon 70-200m f/2.8

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D850:
I use two Nikon D850 for my live music photography. A true do-it-all DSLR with amazing AF, fast response, and no shortage of resolution.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
More Gear Recommendations

Help Support www.ishootshows.com

If this article or any other content on www.ishootshows.com was helpful to you, please consider supporting this site and grabbing your next photo gear purchase through one of my affiliate links:

Simply clicking through any product links on this site helps me bring you free content like the photography tips and gear reviews regularly posted on www.ishootshows.com, and naturally it doesn't cost you a cent more.