Ask many professional concert photographers and they’ll tell you they started out with the Nifty Fifty or Plastic Fantastic lens. These names refer to the 50mm 1.8 lens, a cheap and great lens to start your concert photography career.
Concert Photography 50mm 1.8: Starting out
- It’s cheap!
Camera gear is notoriously expensive, but your first lens doesn’t have to bankrupt you. A new 50mm f1.8 lens (available for all brands) cost $125-200, used and refurbished 50mm lenses from reputable dealers go for $100 or less.
- Capture what you see
The eye’s “focal length” (caveats included) is close to 50mm, making it a natural transition for those new to photography, and it’s a great compromise between wide-angle and telephoto lenses.
- Focus on composition
Many beginners to concert photography take photos that mimic the approach of everyone else with a cameraphone: they are documenting what at the show occurred, but don’t put enough consideration into the image as a standalone work of art. By eliminating focal length as a variable, you are freer to focus on composition, a key distinction between professional and amateur photographs.
- High apertures are a necessity for low-lit venues
Small bars and clubs often don’t require photo passes, and are therefore great for practicing and building a portfolio for later on, yet are normally much darker than dedicated venues. f/1.8 lets in enough light to still take great photos. Read here how you get started as concert photographer.
- It’s small and discrete
If you start off in small venues without photography pits, it’s worth trying to make your camera as unobtrusive as possible, for the rest of the audience around you and to avoid getting your equipment knocked around.
Concert Photography 50mm 1.8: Moving forward
- Zoom lenses compromise aperture
Complicated mechanics mean it’s hard to make zoom lenses with consistent maximum apertures across all focal lengths. And when they do exist, they can be very expensive.
- Sharper and deeper
Better lighting will mean you won’t always need to shoot at f/1.8, and you’ll benefit from not only a greater depth of field but a sharper image, as lenses tend to perform best when not pushed to their limits (the best sharpness performance of a lens is when closing down 2f stops).
- Become a prime addict
Remember what was said earlier about composition? When you’ve used one focal length enough you’ll learn to pre-compose images within the frame before you even raise the camera to your eye. You may want to keep using primes so you can always know what to expect in the beginning.
- Expand your set
The 50mm focal length complements wide-angle and telephoto lenses well. Sticking with primes? Add a 24mm or wider, and a telephoto beyond 100mm will help you shoot the drummer or get a face close-up. Wanting the flexibility of zooms? Try 18-35mm and 70-200mm. See the exact tools I am using here.
Finally, tried it but want to switch? Fine!
Used 50mm f/1.8 lenses maintain their value if bought second-hand, leaving you free to choose the classic 24-70mm and 70-200mm combo, or you could keep it to use as a portraiture lens.
By the time you make your decision, you will have learnt a lot about your preferences as a concert photographer.
Let me know your experiences with a 50mm f1.8 lens in the comments below