For anyone interested in pursuing live music photography, AKA “low-light action portraiture,” the issue of the most appropriate equipment is an inevitable question. Below are my recommendations for the best cameras and equipment for music photography.
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I shoot with two cameras for my music photography work. The reason is that it cuts down on lens changes immensely and this efficiency allows me to focus more on capturing the moments I want to.
My go-to camera for live music photography is, inexplicably, the Nikon D800. It’s basically like shooting a concert with a medium format camera in terms of resolution, but what can I say, you never know when you’re going to make 2-meter prints. Retired from this list are the excellent Nikon D3 and Nikon D700.
||Nikon D800||Nikon D610|
|Generally speaking, the Nikon D4 is probably the best choice for event photographers that Nikon has to offer. Insanely quick, excellent high ISO performance, and a great balance between resolution and manageable file sizes for work in the field.
|I personally use two Nikon D800 for most of my work. This camera sensor offers masochistic levels of resolution and high ISO performance that is amazingly good for the pixel count — easily better than the Nikon D3 and D700 which it replaced.
|The Nikon D610 is a full-frame camera that offers up amazing image quality as Nikon’s cheapest entry into the world of a FX DSLR. The smaller body size is also great as a fast and light camera in the field.
I use three zooms as my main lenses for music photography: the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. These lenses cover 14-200mm in a highly effective manner, all in a fast f/2.8 aperture. For concert photography, the constant aperture is a tremendous boon. These lenses rule the arena, amphitheater, and larger club shows.
With all of these three zooms, I never hesitate to shoot wide open if the situations calls for it; they offer excellent image quality at f/2.8 with no exception.
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8||Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8||Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR|
|The 14-24mm is a lens that makes other photographers cry. Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal for maximum effect.
|Nikon’s standard zoom, this 24-70mm features exceptional image quality at wide apertures – perfect for concerts. I shoot this lens wide open without hesitation. For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens.
|Right after a midrange zoom, I consider a good 70-200mm an essential piece of kit for live music photography. A must-have for close-ups and drummer shots at larger arena & amphitheater shows.
Even with the jaw-dropping performance from top of the line cameras like the Nikon D3s and D700, there are just some situations that still call for fast primes. These three lenses get the job done in light that makes f/2.8 lenses weep. In my kit, I use the 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.4 extensively at club shows.
|Nikon 24mm f/1.4
||Nikon 50mm f/1.4
||Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
|If you need a fast wide-angle lens, the new Nikon 24mm f/1.4 is basically the only game in town. Nikon has thrown in all the bells and whistles with this lens, and with the $2,000+ price tag, I’d expect nothing less.
|A 50mm f/1.4 prime is the cheapest f/1.4 you’ll use, and a great entry into low light photograph. While the 50mm focal length on APS cameras like the D300s is a little tight for my tastes, I love this lens on the D3.||On full-frame, the 85mm focal length is great for tighter shots of band members, and especially singers and drummers. For DX cameras, the 85mm offers a narrow field of view that’s great for headshots.|
These are the accessories that I use for my work. Recommended for any music photographer.
||Black Rapid Double Strap
||SanDisk Extreme Pro CF|
|These Etymotic Research earplugs are great for lowering the levels of live music while still maintaining clarity. Perfect for musicians, and great for music photographers as well. These also come in a “BabyBlues” smaller size for better comfort for those with more narrow ear canals.||The Double-Strap by Black Rapid is my preferred way to carry and shoot with two camera bodies. DSLRs are kept at waist-level and at the ready, while the harness system keeps the weight well balanced. Indispensable for concert photography with two bodies.||For my images, I prefer SanDisk CF cards. With newer, UDMA-enabled cameras like the D3 and D700, the write-speeds amazingly fast. I shoot with 168GB cards, which have more than enough space for most three-song live music shoots.|
Just starting out? Please see my article Choosing Lenses for Concert Photography first. Considering the ubiquitous low light of indoor venues, song limits, energetic performances, and the generally frenetic pace of rock shows, the proper gear can ease some of the intimidating constraints of concert photography.
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