Hello, Workshop attendees!
We're delighted you're joining us. Below is our recommended gear list. Please read and consider, as some things are vital to having a great workshop experience.
Gear List & Recommendations
Choosing the right tools for night photography can be overwhelming. If you already have a preferred kit that serves you well, then most likely you can just skim the below info. If you are not a seasoned night photographer, you will find the below resource helpful in identifying essential gear for a successful workshop. Again, always feel free to reach out to either of your workshop's instructors for guidance and personal advice. This is a general guideline.
Most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras from the last two to three years are well-equipped to handle the longer exposures (6 to 8 minutes) as well as the higher ISOs (3200 and beyond) that night photography will demand. We do not recommend point-and-shoot cameras, no matter how advanced they might be, as they typically can’t get beyond 30-second exposures without losing significant image quality.
Suggested Nikon Cameras: 7200, D500, D610, D750, 800/810, D3(s)/4/5
Suggested Canon Cameras: Canon: 5D3, 1Dx series, 6d, 7d2, 80d, 70d
If you don't have a Nikon or Canon SLR camera please make sure your camera has these features:
• The ability to shoot RAW files
• Manual exposure mode
• Bulb (B) setting for long exposures
• The capability to use a remote shutter release
Note: Due to the generosity of our sponsor Nikon, we may have extra lenses and bodies to test during the workshop for the curious. (Yay!)
Mirrorless cameras offer a nice size reduction to DSLRs without sacrificing image quality. The Olympus OMD EM1/5m2 offer some groundbreaking technology such as Live Composite and Live Bulb that will show you the image and histogram gradually build on the back of the screen. The Fujifilm XT1, Pro 1, X E-1/2, X100(t) are our personal favorites in this category for ease of use and image quality. The Sony A7 series of cameras (especially the A7s) also perform very well, but their lenses can be tricky to focus and find infinity, so we suggest using an adapter and a manual focus lens from Zeiss or Nikon.
If you have any questions about your camera model, please let your workshop instructors know (contact info at top of page, or in the emails that have been sent to you). And whether digital or film, if it takes a battery to make it work, we advise bringing at least 2 extra spares! And the charger!
We recommend your widest and fastest lenses. A wide lens is usually best for shooting at night, as it will allow you to include more sky in your compositions. And not only does using a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or faster increase viewfinder brightness, but will also let us rely less on the higher ISOs of 6400+.
Almost all focusing at night is done manually, so your AF lenses must have a manual focus setting. Older Nikon AIS lenses can be an inexpensive solution for manual hyperfocusing. Zeiss also makes excellent manual focus lenses for Canon, Nikon and Sony. One of our favorites is the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 or the expensive superwide 15mm f/2.8. With an adapter, you can easily mount any of these Nikon or Zeiss lenses on your mirrorless cameras.
Make sure your lens has distance markings on the barrel. These markings allow you to use hyperfocal and zone focusing at night.
Fixed focal length lenses can be lighter, sharper and less susceptible to lens flare. Zoom lenses offer more flexibility by allowing you to work all night without changing lenses, which can help keep your camera’s sensor dust-free in dirty conditions.
Whatever lenses you bring, don't forget you lens hood. The moon and light painting can cause lens flare. If you were to only bring one lens, our recommendation for full frame sensor cameras would be the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 zoom for Nikon cameras, and the Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 for other camera brands. A second lens would be a 24-70mm f 2.8 suitable for your camera. If you are using an APSC sensor camera, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX lens is an excellent choice. It's rare to use telephoto lenses at night.
If you do not own a wide/fast lens or appropriate camera, consider renting one. But if you do rent, we advise getting the gear a couple of days before the workshop begins so you can get used to it before operating it in the dark. See above for a list of rental agencies.
For night photographers, a good, sturdy tripod is just as important as what camera you choose. So investing in quality is a must. When choosing a tripod, consider several factors:
- How much does the tripod weigh?
- How much weight it can support?
- What is the max/minimum height?
A good aluminum tripod will typically cost $150 to $300, including a head. They weigh 5 to 7 lbs. and can extend up to 57 inches. We want to look at maximum height without extending your center column, as that is the most stable stance. Aluminum tripods are 2 to 3 lbs heavier and at least $200 to $300 less than carbon fiber (you tend to pay $100 per pound you save!) Aluminum also gets much colder than carbon fiber at night.
Carbon fiber tripods weight 2 to 4 lbs.; if you're doing a lot of walking around in the dark, that can make a big difference. They also don't get as cold to hold when the ambient temperature drops.
Manfrotto, Mefoto, Induro and Oben all have a good selection of aluminum and carbon fiber tripods. Gitzo and Really Right Stuff are on the higher end and will last a lifetime.
Pan-tilt heads are very precise, but can be more cumbersome and take longer to set then ball heads. Quality ball heads are more expensive.
Lance and Gabe use a Gitzo Traveler Series 1 tripod. Matt uses a Gitzo Traveler Series 2 tripod. Tim and Chris use a Gitzo Series 3 tripod and a ball head.
Whatever you choose, make sure both the legs and head are rated to hold the weight of your camera and lens. For the utmost security and stability, the tripod/head combination should be capable of supporting double the weight that you customarily put on it.
Also, if you have two cameras, consider bringing two tripods. If you want to do one setup for a long exposure, while you wait that out you can do a second setup somewhere else.
Remote shutter release
There are two categories here you'll want to choose from: a standard cable release or an intervalometer.
A cable release is simply an open/close button, perhaps with a few other features thrown in. You’ll likely need a digital stopwatch or phone to accurately time your exposures.
An intervalometer, on the other hand, offers more functionality that can make it easier to set up scenes for light painting, star stacking, etc.
Nikon and Canon make shutter releases and intervalometers that are excellent, but also pricey. There are also third-party remotes made by Vello and others that offer these same features for a significantly cheaper price and work just as well. We are currently recommending the Vello Shutterboss II as our favorite remote shutter release.
We do not generally recommend wireless remotes, but your preference may vary. We published a blog post explaining the pros and cons: "Wireless or wired intervalometers for camera triggering?"
Another exciting option in this category is a smartphone- or tablet-controlled wireless release, some of which can actually display your image. We have not tested these as of yet, but we can give you one word of warning: They will wear down your phone battery faster, so be prepared to deal with that shortcoming.
If your remote release requires a battery, make sure to bring a spare. This is a critical piece of gear with night photography, so we often bring two remote release shutters just in case anything happens.
LIGHT PAINTING & Writing EQUIPMENT
Besides the typical light sources we are recommending below, think of anything that emits light and bring it! The workshop will be full of experimentation with different types of light sources!
Strobe flash: Not our favorite light painting tool, but certainly has its uses. Make sure it has a manual trigger and adjustable power settings. Don’t forget extra batteries.
Flashlights: The two most important considerations when purchasing a flashlight are the lumens (brightness) and what type of bulb it uses (i.e., the color of the light). We're big fans of incandescent flashlights that have a yellow/warm light to them that complements deep blue night skies in a very pleasing way.
But we're mostly using white LED lights. You just have to watch out for ones that cast a bluish tint. For more on this, see our blog post "Leveling up with light painting: Getting the right color out of your flashlight (Part I)."
One of our favorite flashlights is the Coast HP7R. It can be powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or four AA batteries, so you'll never be without light! It has a very even and focusable beam of light that really aids in even light painting. It is a white LED light, so bring a couple of CTO gels to warm things up from time to time.
We recommend bringing two to three (or more!) flashlights of various lumens so that you can have a nice overlap of brightness and intensity that you can choose from to paint the scene.
Here is a breakdown:
Low power: The Coast HP5R is a small, focusable rechargeable light. Its 185 lumens are good for low-power work near your camera or when walking through the scene.
You may also want to consider the Coast PX20 multicolor 155 lumen flashlight for use with the red beam to preserve you night eyesight. Red flashlights are great for looking for looking in your camera bag or at your camera buttons without hindering your night vision.
Medium power: The Coast HP7R is our medium flashlight of choice that still packs a 300 lumen punch. Our favorite aspects are the smooth zoom focusing, even beam and included rechargeable batteries. It also can illuminate up 1,154 feet away! Accessory gel filter set here.
If you wanna go old-school (and they are disappearing fast), look for incandescent flashlights such as AA- and C-cell Maglites, or the Surefire G2. They tend to be 25 to 80 lumens with an effective range of 2 to 30 feet. This can be your main, general-purpose flashlight for light painting in Tungsten white balance scenarios.
High power: The Coast HP17 is large, but powerful. It's 970 lumens and will aid focusing in almost any situation, with an effective range of up to 1,571 feet. Another option that Matt likes is to keep a Light & Motion bike light on the tripod at all times for hands-free focusing.
Workshop attendee special discount: If you order a flashlight from www.coastportland.com, use our discount the code parksatnight to get 25 percent off of the entire order.
Note: Avoid the million+ candlepower lights found in box stores. They are typically too bright for most applications and can be very bulky and heavy to carry around all night.
Gels: Use CTO gels over your flashes or flashlights to get specific about accurate color, as mentioned in the blog post referenced above. If you want to cover bigger flashes or lights, we recommend the larger Rosco CTO gels.
Be advised that there's a difference between gels that affect color temperature and those that change color itself. CTO gels warm the color temperature of your flash and LED flashlights. The Color Effects Gels can be used to add complementary color to the scene. The prior are more subtle, in a good way. We generally do not use the latter unless for a very specific, strong, almost over-the-top effect.
Light writing: You can also write with light, and we encourage you to bring anything you might like to experiment with in that regard. If you want to get some good tools for this genre of night photography, we can highly recommend our friends at Light Painting Brushes. Feel free to use the code LKW_20 for a 20 percent discount, special to our workshop attendees.
We will be doing some post-production work during the day, and you will probably want to be doing some editing at night or in the morning, so you should definitely bring along your laptop running the image editor of your choice (we use Lightroom and Photoshop). And don't forget your power cord!
miscellaneous Handy Items
SharpStar2: One of the challenges of night photography is focusing to infinity in the dark. We'll teach you methods for doing this, but one product does make things a little easier. If you'd like to pick up a SharpStar2 before the workshop, we'll be happy to teach you how to use it. Visit www.lonelyspeck.com/sharpstar and use discount code NPAN10 for 10 percent off.
Something to secure your intervalometer/cable release: Most of us attach a piece of Velcro to our tripods and intervalometers, and we also like the ingenuity of people who have designed intervalometer "pockets" that strap to the tripod (such as the Intervalock). Chris goes another DIY method: He wraps a Velcro wire tie on his tripod leg, and uses that to strap the cable down.
A small piece of gaffer's tape: to hold stuff down. You never know what will happen. We know someone whose remote release broke so he used gaffer’s tape and a small rock to trip his shutter. (Tenacity wins!) Pro tip: Wrap some Gaffer Tape around one of the legs of your tripod about 10-15 times and you will always have it with you (minus the bulk of the tape roll).
Lens tissues or a soft cloth: Lenses can get dirty in a hurry outside.
A hot-shoe bubble level: To make sure you have your camera horizon perfectly level. Some tripods/heads/cameras have built-in levels. The Acratech Double Axis Spirit Level is $21.90 at B&H Photo.
The atmosphere on NPAN workshops is casual, so feel free to leave formal wear at home. (Unless, of course, that is your casual.) Because we shoot at night, working temperatures can sometimes vary dramatically, so it's often best to dress in layers. Also, consider wearing dark (even black) clothes at night, to stay "invisible" to the camera should you need to walk into the frame for light-painting, etc.
Proper footwear is important, to prevent slips or tumbles that could damage either you or camera gear (GASP!). We advise wearing quality trail shoes or hiking boots.