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Lionel Richie headlining the American Family Insurance Amphitheater at Summerfest 2019: Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 @ 400mm f/5.6. (PHOTO: Dan Garcia)
By Dan Garcia
Concert photography is as fun as it sounds, but there is nothing fun about being ill-prepared when you have 3 songs or less to try and capture a few memorable photos in a poorly lit setting with no control of your surroundings or your subject. Therefore it’s very important to control everything that’s in your power when shooting concerts, especially the lenses you decide to use.
From taking photos in the pit at festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and more, I apply everything I’ve learned about concert photography when I return to my hometown festival to shoot Milwaukee’s Summerfest every year.
Here’s what was in my camera bag when shooting Summerfest this year:
Billie Eillish headlining the American Family Insurance Amphitheater at Summerfest 2019: Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM. (PHOTO: Dan Garcia)
1. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
This may be my favorite festival lens. If I could bring only one lens with me, it would be a 70-200mm f/2.8L. With most stages at 70mm you can get the artist’s full body, while at 200mm you can get a nice crisp headshot. The 2.8 f-stop not only brings in a lot of light, which is necessary for poorly lit concerts, but the bokeh at 2.8 can make for some great concert shots, depending on the artist and their tour’s production.
Lionel Richie headlining the American Family Insurance Amphitheater at Summerfest 2019: Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD GEN 2. (PHOTO: Dan Garcia)
2. Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD GEN 2
While most artists allow media photographers to take photos for the first 3 songs in the photo pit, sometimes due to the artist’s photo policy or the tour’s production, photographers are required to capture their shots from the soundboard, often 100+ feet from the stage. That’s when a 400mm, or with relatively decent lighting, a 150-600mm lens, can come in handy.
Unless you only want wide shots that feature the crowd and stage, 200mm will not yield the shots you want,shooting from the soundboard. With good conditions, a monopod and a 150-600mm, you can get some great shots even when it feels like you are a mile away.
Steve Aoki at the Miller Light Oasis Stage at Summerfest 2019: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III. (PHOTO: Dan Garcia)
3. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III
Although a 70-200mm at 70mm is wide enough to capture an artist from head to toe, when you have a smaller stage or want to capture multiple members of a band it’s great to have some wider glass, for example a 16-35mm. A wide angle lens is a must in concert photography, especially when you want to capture the crowd, an artist and the stage all in one memorable shot.
Snoop Dogg headlining the American Family Insurance Amphitheater at Summerfest 2019: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. (PHOTO: Dan Garcia)
4. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
Last but not least, the fourth most important lens in my camera bag is a 50mm f/1.4. When a performer is very poorly lit, desperate times call for desperate measures and you need a lens with an f-stop that lets as much light in as possible, even at the expense of the perfect focal length. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 is affordable and lets in a lot of light, and in most photo pits 50mm is a great length to get some shots with excellent composition.
The photography experts at Art’s Cameras Plus can help you decide what lenses you need when shooting photos for a friend’s band or when you're on assignment at a major music festival. Find out for yourself; stop in or call with your questions: (262) 542-6222 in Waukesha or (414) 727-0234 for our Greenfield store.