Are you thinking about diving into the event photography world? Or maybe you ‘re already doing it, but you’re planning to upgrade your lens. Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, you’ll learn why focal length and aperture matter so much in event photography. You then take that knowledge and continue learning which lens is best for any given situation or “look”.
By the end of this article you’ll have a much better understanding of what makes a great photography lens and ultimately the best lens for event photography for you!
Let’s get started!
The type of event matters…
You heard that right. What type of event are you shooting? Could it be a concert? Maybe a podcast launch event? It could even be a sporting, company, or workout event. The list goes on and on.
Regardless of what type of event it is, you need to determine which type you will be photographing the most. Even if you’re going to be photographing multiple types, determine which type and environment you’ll be in the most. This will have the most influence in determining which lens will be the best for you.
You wouldn’t want to purchase an ultra wide angle lens and attempt to get close up shots. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to get a tighter focal length and be stuck in a tight indoor environment.
There is a time and place for nearly every focal length. Continue reading to learn how you can use focal lengths to your advantage.
Focal length is one of the most important aspects of your lens in event photography
Let’s forget about sharpness, vignetting, chromatic aberration… all of that. One of the most important aspects of your lens (when it comes to event photography), is focal length.
The reason behind this is pretty simple. Focal length is effectively your field of view. This is what you (or the camera) is able to see and capture.
You have narrow and wide focal lengths (or field of view). Obviously wide focal length has a wider field of view than a narrower one. An example would be the difference between a 16mm and a 50mm. Your field of view on the 16mm is going to be much wider than the 50mm.
Without getting into the technical side of what focal length is, just know, the lower the focal length number (in mm), the wider your field of view will be.
Use wider and narrower focal lengths effectively
As stated in the first few paragraphs, there are focal lengths that are much more effective in areas than others.
Example - if you plan to take photographs of a launch event and it’s indoors - depending on the size of the space, you would want to use a wide(r) focal length. This is because you want to capture as much of the event as you can in a single frame. You want to capture the fun and excitement shared by the people that are there. You can do that very effectively if you use a wider focal length lens.
On the flip side, let's say you’re shooting a concert. You’re seated (or standing) in the crowd of people enjoying the show. You then want to get great shots of the band while they’re performing. This is where you wouldPull out a tighter longer focal length lens. You want to fill the frame with the band members (or even a single band member). You accomplish this with a tighter/longer focal length.
So, which focal lengths are best in different events?
I want to stop here and tell you this is my personal opinion. There isn’t anything completely right or wrong about what I’m about to say. Photography is an art. It’s subjective. What you like might not be what others do and vice-versa. With that being said…
There are focal lengths that work much better in certain situations/events than others. Let’s break down these focal lengths.
Is a great focal range that captures a lot of your event in a single shot. You could get an entire dance stage or musical venue with a lens that falls in this focal range. This is a great range for indoor event photography. You wouldn’t want to take detailed or up close shots of a performer (distortion is significant in this focal range).
You could even go ultra-wide with a 12mm lens (Laowa 12mm Zero-D). This lens allows you to take incredibly wide shots with zero distortion.
Is ideal for a slightly tighter look (over something like a 24mm). This is the range where you can start pulling closer into your subject and not have to worry about distortion. You can capture a fair bit of the subject and his/her surroundings. This range is ideal for both indoor and outdoor event photography.
The closer you creep to 50mm, the less likely you'll be able to use it indoors. You normally won’t find me capturing much indoor event photography with a 50mm lens. The only time you will, is if I’m taking portraits of a single subject (or a couple). 50mm focal length can start to make a decent sized space feel small.
Is the cut-off point for smaller sized event locations. I scope out a location before I shoot, and if it feels tight or even remotely small, I won’t shoot over 100mm (even for portraits). You may run into the issue of not having room (physically) to separate you from the subject to get them correctly in the frame.
This focal length is great for outdoor events, slighting reaching out to your subject as well as creating a little bit of background compression.
Depending on the size of your indoor event, I wouldn’t recommend this focal range. What it is great for is outdoor events like sports and concerts. The far end of 200mm gives you great reach (especially on a crop sensor camera). You would see me using a lens capable of 200mm during any outdoor event.
Is strictly for those events where you need the reach. This would include (but not limited to), sporting events and concerts. You would rarely see me use this focal range. I’m never attending events that require me to be that far away from the subject.
The other important aspect of an event lens: Aperture
When I started my adventure in the realm of photography, the most important aspect of a lens was focal length. I wanted a nice wide aperture for the bokeh, but that was it. Aperture was a side-thought to be honest. Well, Aperture can be just as important as focal length in certain situations.
Aperture is most important within dark environments. This can include both indoor and outdoor. The wider your aperture is able to go (the lower your f/stop number), the more light that’s allowed to pass through the lens into the sensor. This means, your camera can capture more light and you’d have to resort less to lower shutter speed and ISO.
Generally, if an indoor environment is only lit with normal indoor lighting, you’ll want a fast lens (a lens with a low f/stop). You can get away with having a slower lens if the location is lit really well (which they normally aren’t). You’ll also want the fastest aperture you can get when shooting events at night (or at/after dusk).
Having a wider aperture has its benefits of separating the subject from their background. A lot of people refer to this as bokeh. You’ll get more bokeh the wider your aperture is (among other things).
Let’s dive into the lens recommendations now!
Wide angle - 16-35mm
We recommend this specific lens because of its versatility. You’re able to get near ultra-wide (16mm). On the other end you’ll get a little more narrow/focused shot of 35mm. I am including both f/2.8 and f/4.0 version of this lens. Reason being, cost. You’ll save quite a bit in some instances between the two versions. You would only want to pick up the f/2.8 version if you needed more light (or bragging rights). If not, go with the f/4.0
Prime Lens - 50mm
There isn’t a photographer out there (that takes photography seriously) that doesn’t have a 50mm. This focal length will require you to get closer to your subjects during the event, but boy o boy, you’ll get amazing photographs.
I love using this focal length when taking editorial style photographs. You’ll get a very “natural” look to your photos.
50mm is considered by most to be the focal length the human eye sees. With it being a prime, your aperture can go much lower. I will include f/1.4 and f/1.8 versions, to again, save you some money if you don’t need top end.
The most versatile - 24-70mm
This focal length is regarded as one of the most versatile in existence today. For good reason too. You hit great focal lengths throughout the zoom range. You have the wide angle of 24mm, then you hit 35mm (great for establishing shots), the iconic 50mm, and then a great portrait/detail focal length of 70mm. You can’t go wrong. This focal length is the one I grab whenever I need a lens on the fly. It also stays on my camera until I need to change it. I have included both f/2.8 and f/4.0 versions.
Best zoom lens for event photography - 70-200mm
You can’t go wrong with the 70-200mm. You start at a great focal length of 70mm and can reach all the way to 200mm. It also offers incredible compression when taking portraits.
I enjoy using this focal length when I don’t want to get close to the subject (or subjects) at an event. I enjoy taking candid/ natural photographs of people while at an event. This lens allows me to do that. I can stand off to the side (not creepy at all haha), and take photos without being noticed. While the lens itself is quite noticeable… the subject generally doesn’t notice you if they’re engrossed in fun/conversation/laughing etc.
Again, you can’t go wrong with this focal length, for so many reasons. I have included both an f/2.8 and f/4.0 version of this lens as well.
Reach out and touch them 100-400mm
This lens has some reach, needless to say. If you put this on a cropped camera body along with a teleconverter, you can have a reach of 300-1200mm. Yes, a crop factor of 1.5x plus a 2x teleconverter. That would be 100*1.5=150. 150*2=300. That would leave you with a 300-1200mm range. Mind you, this is an insane focal range mostly recommended and used by wildlife photographers.
Although, the 100-400mm lens is great for concerts where you aren’t close to the subject on stage and/or sports games where you have to capture someone across the field.
Our overall recommendation
Honestly guys, there isn’t anything like it. This focal length/lens allows you to take great “tighter” indoor event photos. It also allows you to reach out a bit and take great portraits or tighter shots of subjects/the event. There’s a reason the 24-70mm is used by 95% of all professional photographers (aside from some landscape and macro photography).
You wouldn’t be disappointed, at all, if this lens was your next purchase.
I hope that helped!
I do hope I have helped you narrow down your next purchase or at least have given you an idea of what to shoot for. I know the struggles of deciding on a lens. Believe me, I’ve been there.
You should have a much better idea of why focal length and aperture are both equally important in event photography. You should also have a much better idea of what's the best lens for event photography.
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As always, thank you all for reading my articles. A lot of time goes into each to help you better understand photography. I sincerely appreciate you.
Until next time, keep shooting and creating!