Every niche of photography has its own set of challenges, and shooting concerts certainly doesn’t come easy. Moving subjects? Dark room? Constantly changing lighting conditions? Situations such as these happen all the time. Taking great photos at concerts is not simple, but having the right gear puts you in the best position to do so.
If you’re just starting out, it’s tough to wade through all the reviews. The following is Sam Verbisky’s response which is based on years of testing and adjusting.
Sam Verbisky began producing videos in his early teens and continued to evolve, elevating his visuals in response to a wide variety of prominent companies and music artists including the likes of Spinnin’ Records, Skechers Canada, Monstercat, Throttle, Mesto, and CID.
Sam’s work has taken him to over 30 countries and is featured on a number of platforms including Billboard, Spotify, and Apple Music.
The following is Sam Verbisky’s concert photography kit which has been road tested in over 30 countries in various settings such as clubs, festival stages, and arenas. Here are Sam’s recommendations for lenses, lighting, accessories and more.
CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY BODY
Making the jump to a full-frame camera is likely the biggest camera advantage you can give yourself as a concert photographer. Moving from a crop sensor into full-frame means better performance in low-light, shallow depth of field, brighter viewfinder, and wider lens options. These camera body features are only present in “pro” full-frame cameras.
CANON EOS 5D MARK IV
Sam has been using the Canon 5D Mark IV as his main camera since 2018. The photos he has taken with this camera have been used for album artwork, posters, music videos, magazine features, and more. As expected, Canon delivers fantastic image quality with the 5D Mark IV. Images are deliciously sharp, and colours are well saturated. Sam is confident shooting concerts at 3200 ISO (if needed) on a regular basis. This ISO performance gives flexibility to your other settings. It allows for faster shutter speeds and the ability to increase your f-stop (stop down) instead of shooting wide open.
While considering your camera choice, you may want to factor in what camera brand you view yourself growing with. Sony’s impressive new cameras and lens options might have some appeal to you, if you’re making your first big investment in a system, but at the same time, Canon shooters benefit from a vast array of options for both new & used lenses, bodies, and accessories.
ULTRA-WIDE CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY LENSES
An ultra-wide lens is one of the first additions you’ll want to make to your concert photography lens lineup. Many photographers like to pick one of these up early because of how useful they are for massive crowd shots. These wide angle shots showcase how massive the venue or the show is, which is valuable to most clients.
SIGMA 15MM F/2.8 EX DG
A fisheye is something Sam considered buying for quite a while. Although the effect it creates is limiting, he figured it’d be fun to have for special occasions. The lens creates a distortion effect that allows you a new creative viewpoint. Sam decided to take a chance on the Sigma 15mm F/2.8 after unsuccessfully finding the Canon equivalent lens, which is no longer made and hard to come by. Even at f2.8 the sharpness is acceptable. This increases as you stop down. The minimum focus distance allows you to get really close to your subject, which exploits the fisheye effect to its fullest. It gives your subjects those characteristic bulging eyes and faces that I’ve always loved in fisheye photography. Furthermore, in a concert photography situation, it makes for great shots of the entire stage and light show. The slight fisheye distortion really opens up a new world of photography, forcing you to look at things with a different and more creative perspective.
CANON EF 16-35MM F/2.8L II USM
The Canon 16-35mm F/2.8L II is a high performing lens, with an equally high price tag. Sometimes you really do need to stretch all the way out to 16mm, and the Canon 16-35mm F/2.8L II provides that needed range and as a result, Sam often keeps the Canon 16-35mm F/2.8L II on his camera during the majority of a show. It’s not too wide, as some wide angle lenses can make a subject look like a dinner plate. The Canon 16-35mm F/2.8L II is just right at 16mm, and allows for versatility without compromising image distortion. Specs alone, the Canon 16-35mm F/2.8L II is also a great performer, and the ultimate ultra-wide lens to have in your bag. Version III of this lens is the current generation, and it includes stabilization.
STANDARD CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY LENSES
SIGMA 35MM F/1.4 DG HSM ART
Even though Sam’s zoom lenses are my real bread and butter, he still uses prime lenses when light is extremely low or I want a shallower depth of field than F/2.8 allows. A fast prime lens is definitely a must have in concert photography. The Sigma 35mm F/1.4 Art stacks up as a great lens for concert photography, and is an amazing lens for shooting in low light environments for a solid price. Even wide open, this lens renders excellent sharpness, along with image quality. However, there is no image stabilization, and it is not weather sealed.
CANON EF 24-70MM F/2.8L II USM
The Canon 24-70mm F/2.8 II is intended to be a workhorse lens for professional photographers that have to deliver the best possible results in a wide range of conditions. However, one feature this lens doesn’t offer is image stabilization. Canon suggests image stabilization would require too great a compromise in either image quality or size. This makes for an interesting comparison with the Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 that was announced at about the same time, and incorporates image stabilization into a lens that’s almost exactly the same size but significantly cheaper. Users who need IS and prefer to stick with Canon’s own lenses will have to make do with a stop slower aperture, from either the Canon EF 24-70mm F/4L IS USM or the Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L IS USM.
CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY LIGHTING
CANON SPEEDLITE 430EX III-RT
The Speedlite 430EX III-RT is a great starter Speedlite for any photographer who wants a future-proof flash that is easy enough for a novice to use, and yet has enough features to create advanced flash photos with multiple Speedlites. Compact in size, yet powerful in range, the Speedlite 430EX III-RT not only provides a portable light source, it also has easy to manage features that can enhance contrast, colour temperature, brightness, and focus of light for more natural-looking photography. The Speedlite 600EX II-RT recycles extremely fast and is very powerful. The downside is its large size and weight. On paper, the Speedlite 430EX III-RT is slightly smaller and about 100g lighter. A few centimetres in size and 100g of weight might not seem like much, but when mounted on your camera or even when I hold both models in my hands, the size difference is very noticeable. For travel or everyday use, the Speedlite 430EX III-RT makes much more sense to carry around. This flash is the best Canon offers for the price.
Following tedious and extensive research regarding heavy duty camera straps that also have the option of a slide feature, Sam landed on Peak Design. After using the standard Canon camera strap, Sam was annoyed by the weight around my neck and the banging of the camera into my chest with every step. The Peak Design strap doesn’t hurt his shoulders, it actually makes his heavy equipment a bit lighter and can be worn as a sling, neck, or shoulder strap. The strap is smooth on one side and grippy on the other, and instantly reversible depending on your preference. To make it even better, you can quickly release one camera and attach another one with the anchor mounts.
MANFROTTO 290 ALUMINUM MONOPOD
Monopods are generally associated with video work as they are more portable than tripods, and therefore easier to work with on the fly. However, they should not be underestimated for photography, and if you have one, it isn’t a bad idea to bring it with you to a concert. Typically, you will be shooting in low light and at longer focal lengths. Even if your camera or lens has internal stabilization, it will still be difficult to get a steady shot. Monopods are unobtrusive, easy to carry, and lighter than most tripods.
TRAVEL: TOUR GEAR
INCASE DESIGNS DSLR PRO PACK
Sam loves this backpack! It fits everything, his kit and more. Incase Designs have a very polished product. Before, Sam was having some issues finding a camera backpack that could fit all my needs. Finally, Sam landed on this one. For the size, comfort, price, and versatility this backpack can’t be beat. Sam was actually astonished at the quality, comfort, and durability for such a reasonable price. If he had to complain about anything, the water bottle holder does not do well with larger bottles. With all his gear, the backpack gets heavy, but it remains very comfortable to carry during the tours. Overall, Sam is very pleased with the backpack and would plan to buy another when his current backpack gets worn out.
Cameras and lenses come and go. If a camera breaks we can get a new one, but the photographer can’t be replaced. To do a good job, you need to be comfortable and fresh from the beginning until the end of the day. If you are tired and can barely hold up your camera, you won’t be able to make good images, and you may have challenges getting to where the action is, meaning you may miss out on important moments.
Understand why it is important for you to create the conditions that provide an easier workflow when shooting concert photography. All of these things can help you have a better job completed in a more relaxed way.
Building the right kit to suit your concert photography needs is an ongoing process.