I have just purchased a full frame Nikon D800 and wonder which are the most appropriate Nikon lenses for shooting in concerts.

The concerts are always indoors, at night, with the artist's light engineer always with him.

The distance from the artist/band member/stage will be from 7 to 15 meters at the most

The shots will be close ups on artist and band members but also stage involving crowd.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A lot depends on what type of concert it is and what type of venue it is held at. There is a huge difference between a mid-day performance at an outdoor festival, an arena event with full theatrical lighting, and an intimate set at a dark smokey club. Not to mention Symphony Hall. Your lens selection(s) will also be governed by your access to different positions in relation to the performers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 10, 2013 at 6:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe you can un-accept (un-like :-) ) a question. His answer is a good one but, as he says, a delay is usually a good idea. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2013 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that all of MCs shots have a "reasonable amount" of light available. And he is willing to use up to ISO3200 (no problem with a D800). In some concert situations light levels will be substantially lower and a f/2.8 will give you double the shutter speed of an f/4 all else being equal (which it never is :-).) Sometimes a cheap f/1.8 50mm may save a marginal situation - about 2.4 x as fast as a f/2.8 and 5 x faster (!) than a f/4. eg 1/10 to 1/25s f/2.8 vs f/1.8. About then you double the ISO and post process the extra noise :-). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2013 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ If, as the question states, the artist has a light engineer with him, then I would think that at least some points in the performance would have similar illumination levels. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 12, 2013 at 1:43

2 Answers 2


It really depends on what you want the pictures to look like.

I recently shot the last two groups of an outdoor festival and used two bodies: A 1.6x crop body with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and a full frame body with a 24-105mm f/4 lens. I chose the 24-105mm lens over my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens due to image stabilization on the 24-105mm f/4. I had stage access and the stage was a temporary outdoor one that was less than rock solid in terms of stability. The intensity of the theatrical lighting was highly variable. The spotlights on the lead singers was much brighter than the rest of the stage lighting.

Here are a couple of images taken with the 24-105mm lens (both images are the same resolution, but this page apparently re-sizes based on width, rather than maximum dimension):

24mm, ISO 3200, 1/50 sec @ f/4 from rear side stage Wide 1

55mm, ISO 2000, 1/320 sec @ f/4 from the media pit Wide 2

Here are a couple of images taken with the 70-200mm on the crop body:

200mm, ISO 3200, 1/1600 sec @ f/2.8 from front side stage Tele 1

70mm, ISO 3200, 1/320 sec @ f/2.8 from side stage Tele 2

On the other hand, I often shoot at a small local club where there is usually much less available light. In that situation I usually use a fast prime such as an EF 50mm f/1.4 or 100mm f/2. If the performers bring some of their own lighting that is bright enough then I might also use f/2.8 zooms. For more in that scenario, please see this answer to another question.

Under red and blue LED lights: Canon 5D Mark III + EF 50mm f/1.4, ISO 5000, 1/80 second @ f/2.8 and a LOT of post-processing. Dim club with red & blue LED lights

Same club with the green LED lights also up: Canon 5D Mark III + Ef 50mm f/1.4, ISO 5000, 1/125 second @ f/2.8 and a little less post-processing but better overall saturation, contrast, color, etc.
Dim club with RGB LED lighting

Same club with group who brought their own lights (and a small smoke machine) for a Halloween gig: Canon 5D mark III + EF 50mm f/1.4, ISO 3200, 1/125 second @ f/3.5.
Dim club with more lighting

Theatrical/concert photography is one of the most challenging forms of photography there is, both in terms of pushing the equipment you use to the absolute edge of their capabilities and in terms of requiring every bit of skill and experience you might have as the photographer.

To do concert photography well (and get consistently good photos instead of only the rare keeper) you really need premium lenses more than just about any form of photography other than shooting birds in flight from a distance. So while a "step up" lens would be better than a typical kit lens, you really need to go for lenses with the widest aperture and fastest focusing that you can afford. And in low light the roughly one stop advantage a full frame sensor gives you over an APS-C sensor is also often the difference between getting the shot or not.

Here's why:

Photography is the art of capturing light. Most concerts don't offer much light to capture and what light there is to capture is changing rapidly and the subjects are usually very animated. So the traditional solution to not much light (longer shutter speed using a tripod to hold the camera still) doesn't work because nobody on stage stands still for 10-15 seconds while you take a picture. The traditional solution to capturing motion (faster shutter speeds) doesn't usually work because there isn't enough light to capture a good image on a small sensor with a narrow aperture. In the end you have to balance the two as best you can AND use gear that allows you to capture as much of the scarce light that is present in the scene in as fast a time as possible. That means fast lenses (wide apertures), larger sensors, and cameras that are highly responsive (fast handling).

So zoom lenses need to be f/2.8. Prime lenses in the normal range (e.g 24-80mm) need to be f/2 or wider. Even at those apertures you will often find you must shoot at ISO speeds in the 3200-6400 range to be able to stop the motion on stage.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for your answer! In the first group of two, the top lamps do not seem to reflect lights at all.. strange \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2013 at 14:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a suggestion: If you'll wait until most of the members of this online community are out of bed at least once between the time you ask a question and the time you accept an answer you will usually get more activity and more varied answers to your question. Once the question shows that an answer has been accepted, many users seem to ignore it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jun 10, 2013 at 14:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks, novice mistake ... I took the check-mark for a "like" \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2013 at 9:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlonaAzaria - that's a usability issue for this website then. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 2, 2017 at 22:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark - that's a great answer. I've shot several gigs at various sizes and from various distances, aiming for combination between closeups of musicians to wide shots of the scene. You've summed it up perfectly to describe it as one of the most demanding genres, and technically up there with birds (which I also shoot). The other thing to remember - you need a lot of gear and to be changing lenses or swapping cameras. It literally is back-breaking work. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 2, 2017 at 22:59

I'll answer form a canon perspective - you must translate into a Nikon context.

For large scenes with a "pit" , or overhead balcony, or outdoors go for a 70-200mm F2.8. for daytime outdoor concerts it is not for the light you want 2.8 , but for dof seperation.

For intimate stages 24-70mm F2.8 is really good. On FF you can go a bit more tele or top up with a 135mm prime.

I shoot with fast primes at concerts (indoor, dark, intimate), with a crop camera, but here I translate into FF focal lengths; 24mm-35mm is good for getting the stage, and group shots, 50mm-85mm for individual band members, and 135mm makes the best closeups. A lens belt is good to have for this style of shooting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Michael, correct. And the illumination levels are repetitive too (and boring), using prime colours with the yellow killing all my photographs that you cannot see the features of the artist's face \$\endgroup\$ Jun 12, 2013 at 8:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the "yellow" is killing all of the features of the artists faces, then your exposure is too high. Either increase your shutter speed or f/number or decrease the ISO. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Dec 17, 2014 at 1:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yea, RawDigger is illuminating on how white balance can eat away your latitude. If the light is more than 1 stop different between the channels, a color filter will increase your exposure. \$\endgroup\$
    – JDługosz
    Dec 17, 2014 at 3:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JDługosz That works well taking tripod mounted landscape photos - Not so much with concert photography. It will do so either at the expense of shutter speed which is usually already at a premium with concert photography, at the expense of ISO which also reduces the dynamic range and puts you right back where you started, or requires a larger aperture which reduces DoF if you're not already shooting wide open as is often the case with concert photography. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Aug 1, 2016 at 16:37

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