PHLEARN MagazineThe Essential Gear Cora Wagoner Uses to Capture Musicians at Work

The Essential Gear Cora Wagoner Uses to Capture Musicians at Work

Concert and portrait photographer Cora Wagoner received her first hand-me-down camera as a gift from her parents in 1997 – and she’s been taking photos of everything ever since.

Portraits quickly became her specialty, allowing her to use photography to tell stories and generate emotions. From designing the clothes her models wear to putting the finishing touches on their hair and makeup, Cora pours her energy into each step of the creative process.

Within the last few years, Cora’s portfolio has grown to include concert photography – and she brings that same attention to detail with her into the pit. Whether she’s shooting the artists on stage or the dancing fans in the audience, Cora creates a story with each image.

Since she got her start with an old Olympus OM-1, Cora has expanded her gear bag to include a variety of new tools. But as a photographer on a budget, she also supplements her equipment by renting lenses when necessary.

Can you tell us how you go about deciding which gear is essential to your work?


I’m a big believer in that you don’t need all the latest, expensive gear to get the shots you envision. I try to make the most of what I have, any I think it makes me appreciate the shots I get more because of the work that goes into them.

I take portraits for my day-to-day business, so I use a lot of the same gear for both that and concerts. However, for music festivals, I need a wide-angle lens for crowd and people shots, which I usually just rent.



Canon 5D Mark II


DSLR camera with 21.1-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and wide range ISO setting of 100-6400

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Canon 6D


20.2MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor, Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 30 fps

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Canon 5D Mark II: This is my first professional grade camera and I still rock that thing! Love the sharp images it produces.

Canon 6D: I bought this used from a friend and it was quite an upgrade from my Mark II. I also needed a second body for festivals, so I wouldn’t have to keep switching lenses and missing potential shots. It has wifi capability, which I use at festivals constantly when they need photos by a certain time and I can’t make it back to my laptop to upload images. I love my 6D, and would definitely get another one in a heartbeat.

Polaroid 250 Land Camera: I use this sparingly, as film is so crazy expensive right now. I reserve it for artist portraits or special occasions, so I have something different to put on my wall.



Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM


85mm standard lens with f/1.8 maximum aperture for Canon SLR cameras, Lens Type: Telephoto Zoom Lens

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Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L


Aperture Range f/4 to f/32, Ring-Type Ultrasonic Motor AF System, Weather-Sealed Construction

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Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L ll USM


Aperture Range: f/2.8-22, EF Mount L-Series Lens

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Canon EF 35mm f/2


Aperture Range: f/2 to f/22, Ring-Type Ultrasonic Motor AF System,

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Canon 85mm f/1.8: This is my go-to portrait lens – I love the buttery bokeh it produces.

Canon 70-200mm f/4: This was my first telephoto lens – the only one I could afford at the time – and I just can’t seem to part with it. Sure, I’d love the lower f-stop of 2.8mm, but this version is lighter to carry around and I can get just as good shots with it. I use it mostly at festivals, where I need to stand back in the crowd and shoot the stage from the back.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8: I want to own this lens so bad. I rent it for every festival and I nearly cry when I have to return it. If I had it, I would never take it off my camera. For concerts and festivals, this is the perfect lens. Wide-angle shots of the crowd and the stage with the band to wide-angle shots inside tents and buildings, and then I can crank it up to get group shots and even portraits. Can’t say enough good things about this lens!

Canon 35mm f/2: I use this lens for portrait sessions as well, because I think this is my sharpest lens. I also take it to shows for wider-angled shots, when I’m not renting the 16-35mm.



Canon Speedlite 430EX II


1-Touch Quick-Lock Mechanism for easy attaching/detaching, Superior build quality

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Yongnuo 560 flash


2.4 GHz Receiver with 328′ Range, Zoom Range: 24-105mm, Recycle Time: 3 Seconds

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Neewer 55″ Octo Softbox


An internal & an external diffuser, Easily assemblable

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Canon Speedlite 430EX II: I use this as my main light when I’m not using natural lighting for portraits. I put it inside an octo softbox.

Yungnuo 560 flash: I use these as slave lights for backlighting or colored gels.

Neewer 55″ Octo Softbox: I use this for portraits when natural light isn’t cooperating.


Patagonia Arbor Pack: This backpack was not made for photography, but I cushion my gear with handmade padding inside and I love that it has an inside padded sleeve for my laptop. I also rock a fanny pack (or bumbag) at music festivals, because I’m already carrying two cameras and walking up to 15 miles a day – I don’t need the added weight of a backpack.


I like to experiment by taking photos through objects to get some cool lighting effects. I will just grab anything if I think it will work! Some of those items have been a plastic spoon, plastic cups, plastic water bottles, CDs, metal pipes, my iPhone, a mirror I broke off of some makeup kit, a stranger’s sunglasses, diffraction grating, and pieces of jewelry.

Holdfast Money Maker double camera harness: It’s the original version and it’s super comfortable. It allows me to shoot very quickly at concerts and festivals.

While Cora has a degree in massage therapy, her current focus is on her photography – creating dynamic, expressive images, whether she’s shooting a posed portrait or a candid concert. Her photos can be found on Instagram or on her website.

Jessi Gowan

Jessi Gowan is an award-winning writer and photographer who specializes in rural landscapes and fine art abstracts, with a focus on form and composition. Her photography has been included in a variety of publications, as well as in exhibitions in Canada and the United States.

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