'Tis Once Again the Season: Our 2nd Annual Holiday Gift Guide

It’s that time of year again, and the fellas at National Parks at Night are here to help you find the best ideas for that special person in your life. Welcome to National Parks at Night’s second annual Holiday Gift Guide!

We’ve compiled some of our favorite things that help us explore and enjoy our parks more, and that help us capture and create more dynamic images! We kept our eyes open all year, tested the tools, and collated the absolute best and unique gifts that will warm the heart and hearth of any fan of national parks and night skies.

We’re providing all of our findings as a free downloadable PDF ebook, so you can read it and reference it on any device, anytime, anywhere. Inside you’ll find products from major brands such as B&H, Peak Design and Nikon, along with great little finds from smaller companies and startups. You can download it below, or keep on scrolling.

Help us spread the cheer by posting our guide on your favorite social media channels and share it with other like-minded photographers, friends and nature buffs!

If you prefer to read the guide in our blog, that's okay too; we're also publishing it right here, below. (Though, we will say the e-book version looks cooler. It contains a lot more pictures, photo tips from all five National Parks at Night instructors, and a discount code that doesn't appear anywhere else online, including this website.)

We hope that perusing the items in the guide will inspire you to give some great gifts to the night photographers in your life. (And if you’d like to give us one or two of these things, we won't argue!)

Wishing you all the very best, and hoping that you are taking advantage of seizing the longer winter nights!

—Gabe, Lance, Matt, Chris and Tim

Note: If you decide to purchase any of the items in this gift guide, please consider using the links included, as many help earn a small commission that help us improve the National Parks at Night workshop program.


Atlas Obscura

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders

To wander without being lost, we all need some sort of guide—whether that be spiritual or bound paper. For the latter, wander no further down the book aisle than Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, a how-to and why-to for finding the world’s best off-the-beaten-path and out-of-the-box travel locations. A regular travel guide would bring you to New Zealand, while Atlas Obscura brings you to the glowworm caves of North Island; a regular guide would show you how to safari in South Africa, while Atlas Obscura tells you about the pub inside a giant baobob tree. Don’t be just a traveler—be a discoverer, with Atlas Obscura.

Atmosphere Aerosol

Atmosphere Aerosol

Sometimes, charisma is not enough. To make the right mood happen, you need a little help. Grab a can of Atmosphere Aerosol to create additional mood, or to reveal the path of your light sources. Truly exceptional results with light painting to add drama to any scene.

B&H Photo Audio Pro Video

Gift Card

Have a photographer friend and don’t know what to get them? Let photographers choose their own gift at the world’s biggest and best resource for all your photo, video and image-making needs! We’ve never met anyone who complained about receiving a B&H Gift Card any time of the year!

National Parks at Night

‘ISO 6400 and Be There’ T-shirt

Photographers who have been around the block a few times will no doubt remember the phrase “f/8 and be there,” the street and event photographer’s motto and standard answer when asked, “How did you get that shot?” We revised the terminology for 21st century night photographers, and it’s become a rallying cry for us at National Parks at Night ever since. Show off your stars and take it as a point of honor to get out from behind your computer and set up your camera under the starry night sky. This super-soft, navy blue, Next Level poly/cotton crew shirt is available in sizes from small to 3XL, and is printed with glow-in-the-dark ink so you can read it when it really counts!

Bay Photo

Metal Print

In this digital age, we often forget to take our amazing images off the computer and make prints that we can share—prints that will last a lifetime. We absolutely love the image quality and longevity of Bay Photo’s metal prints. Sizes range from 2x3.6 inches to 4x8 feet, and five distinctive metal surfaces help you bring out the best of your work. For our night photography we prefer their mid-gloss and satin surfaces. Bay Photo also makes books and calendars, and our favorite standard floating prints are their thin wraps. So give the gift of a print or help a photographer celebrate their work on the wall.

Special offer: New customers to Bay Photo get 25 percent off their first purchase. Exclusive to the National Parks at Night community and If you are already a Bay Photo customer: Use the promo code “NPANM10” for 10 percent off metal prints , excluding Clusters and Splits; good through December 29, 2017.

BenQ

SW2700PT 27" Widescreen LED Backlit QHD Monitor

We spend so much of our time looking at images on small screens––phones, tablets, laptops. While the quality and resolution of these screens has improved dramatically in recent years, they are no substitute for a quality display with accurate color that any serious photographer needs to produce quality work. BenQ makes some of the best there are. The National Parks at Night crew uses the SW2700PT 27" Widescreen LED Backlit QHD Monitor, which features 99 percent coverage of the Adobe RGB color space for more accurate color representation and features 2560x1440 QHD resolution with 109 pixels per inch for increased clarity. In short, display your photos with the best possible light!

Chimani

Chimani Perks

If you want an app to help you navigate the national parks and all they offer, you’ll find no need to look further than Chimani. Not only do their apps give you the what and where of the parks, but they provide the photographer with critical information, including sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, golden hour, blue hour times and more, including photos of popular and out-of-the-way shoot locations. The apps are free (yay!) but the gift idea here is a membership to the Chimani Perks program, which provides discounts and special offers throughout the national parks and the communities that serve them.

Coast Portland

FL75R Headlamp

Along with a good flashlight for light painting, the headlamp is one of the most useful tools in the night photographer’s tool bag. In keeping with their tradition of high-quality, durable flashlights (preferred by National Parks at Night instructors), Coast offers an extensive line of LED headlamps. Our favorite is the FL75R, which features focusable wide-angle beams, low and high output, and dual-color beams with red to preserve your night vision.

Special offer: Use the code “parksatnight” for a 30 percent discount available only through National Parks at Night.

Cooph

Leather Card Holder Wallet

The perfect gift for the shutterbug in your life: a luxurious leather wallet with slots for four SD cards, credit cards, an ID and more. We discovered this at the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City this year and ordered one on the spot. Bye, old wallet! Hello, new friend.

CreativeLive

Night Photography Week Online Course

Can’t make it to a workshop this year? No problem, we’ve got you covered. Our team got together and spent a week recording our favorite night photography topics, with CreativeLive, the best in the business at bringing high-quality instructional videos via livestream and download. Our CreativeLive Night Photography Week videos cover everything from night photography fundamentals to scouting to astro-landscape to light painting to night portraiture. Great for the photographer new to night photography as well the seasoned enthusiast.

Epson

SureColor P400 Inkjet Printer

Quiz: How many dots does 5760x1440 dpi yield in an 8x10-inch print? 663,552,000. That’s what you can expect from this new Epson P400 printer that packs advanced tech with simplified use. Print borderless at 13x19-inches or stunning Milky Way panoramas up to 13x129 inches with roll paper. Prints for the win!

Special offer: $100 rebate until November 20, 2017. See details when clicking the link above.

Grey Learning

Mastering Lightroom Bundle

We understand. Everyone’s Lightroom catalog can get out of control. But don’t worry, our friend Tim Grey can help. Check out Tim’s “Cleaning up Your Mess in Lightroom” video. Tim’s a great instructor and his video will show you how to bring order to chaos in your Lightroom world. Or, even better … this video is part of Tim’s overall-excellent “Mastering Lightroom” bundle of downloadable tutorial videos, which will help you organize and optimize your photos to the level that only Grey learners achieve!

Special offer: Use coupon code “night” during checkout for 20 percent off any course or bundle.

Irix

11mm f/4 Blackstone lens

If you like shooting wide, you’ll love the Irix 11mm lens. A true rectilinear lens, this is no fisheye. Did we mention it’s wide? You’d better stay behind the camera when you use it, otherwise you might just end up in your own shot. Irix lenses are available in two versions: The all-metal Blackstone, and the lighter-weight Firefly. Both versions feature a solid and sure manual focus ring with an infinity detent and a unique focus-locking ring. Once you achieve infinity or hyperfocal focus, lock it down, and don’t worry about focus again.

Light Painting Brushes

9in Black Fiber Optic Brush

Perhaps no other light painting tool comes closer to actually being able to paint with light than these fiber optic brushes. They are especially useful for portrait work and they are most effective when used to actually brush the subject during a long exposure. The black version of brush shows light only at the ends of the fibers, for precise placement of the illumination. The white version creates broader, softer strokes, and lights a larger surface area. Paint the Light Fantastic!

Special offer: Use the code “LKW_20” for a 20 percent discount available only through National Parks at Night.

Luxli

Viola 5" On-Camera RGB LED Light

Night photography’s new darling tool! Ideal for light painting and Low-level Landscape Lighting effects. The Luxli Viola’s native color temperature adjusts from 3000 K to 10,000 K, and you can also dial in all the colors in the world. Bonus: Bluetooth control for remote intensity and color adjustments of up to nine Violas at a time. Wow.

Manfrotto

Befree Advanced Travel Aluminum Tripod with Ball Head

Manfrotto’s new update to the Befree tripod series boasts some cool features: the lightweight yet strong 494 ball head, M-lock mechanisms for fast setup or QPL Travel Levers for those who prefer flip locks, and a newly redesigned body that’s stronger and smaller.

National Parks at Night

2018 Calendar

Here’s a great gift for yourself or that night photography friend of yours. Our National Parks at Night 2018 Calendar, featuring photos from parks around the United States—plus Iceland and Scotland—is an inspiring way to stay up to date. Useful information such as important astronomical events, lunar dates and national park birthdays are included to help you plan your shoots.

Memento

35" Smart Frame

You haven’t seen a digital frame until you’ve had the pleasure of seeing a Memento. Situated in a wood composite frame and a beveled mat, the ultra-HD 4K display contains 7 million pixels that will make your photographs look even better than you can imagine. Controlled completely by Wi-Fi via a free app on your computer, tablet or phone (even remotely!), the frame can store up to 3,000 images. Group your photos in playlists to display at different times of day, and custom-set the interval from 5 seconds to one week to never. Moreover, the frame’s smart technology will dim the display in low light, and turn off when the room lights turn out. Offered in 25- and 35-inch models in five stain colors.

National Geographic

‘Night Vision’ book

A brilliant coffee table book released this fall, National Geographic Night Vision: Magical Photographs of Life After Dark After Dark offers a collection of 230 photographs from some of the best image-makers in the business. 400 pages of night photography from both natural and urban spaces all over the world, including national parks.

National Park Service

Annual Pass

We can only assume that you must be a fan of our primary source of inspiration, the United States’ 59 amazing national parks! You probably know that the America the Beautiful pass gains access to all of those parks for a full year, but did you know that the annual or lifetime senior pass also gets you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites including national monuments, wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, and to sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? The passes cover entrance, fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle. The cost of the annual pass is $80, or $20 for seniors over the age of 62. Seniors can also buy a lifetime pass for $80. Passes are free for American veterans, Americans with permanent disabilities, and fourth-graders!

Nikon

D850

2017 is the centennial of the Nikon Corporation, and the D850 is a truly worthy camera to be released on such a momentous occasion. If you haven’t heard about the D850 by now, you must still be shooting film. Designed as a replacement for the venerable D810, this camera is a night photographer’s dream. Super high resolution, extremely wide dynamic range and outstanding high ISO performance, all in a weatherized housing that is only slightly heavier than a D750. National Parks at Night just had our first experiences with this great new camera at our last workshop of 2017. Now it’s on all of our holiday wish lists!

NiSi

Natural-Night Filter

Even in some of the darkest locations in the world, the night sky is still tainted by light pollution, much of which is due to ubiquitous high pressure sodium vapor lights. The NiSi Natural Night Filter minimizes scattered light from sodium vapor and mercury vapor street lights. Natural-Night is available in 100x100mm and 150x150mm square filters, and 77mm and 82mm threaded filters. The result is more pleasing, natural-looking skies in your astro and astro-landscape photos.

Outdoor Photographer

Magazine subscription

The photography world is full of fine publications, and one that speaks directly to us and our like is Outdoor Photographer—dedicated to helping photographers capture their very best images of the natural world. From how-to articles to location advice to travel stories to gear reviews and more, Outdoor Photographer will keep readers focused on the latest and greatest news in our niche. Available in print and digital subscriptions.

National Parks at Night

Night Photography Adventure Workshops

We simply love being outdoors, teaching and helping people get great pictures. Many of our 2018 Passport Series workshops are full, but we do have a few slots open on our Biscayne, Redwood and Rocky Mountain national park events. Last year we added the Adventure Series workshops to our lineup too, so that we could visit the varied and limitless beauty that lies outside of our national parks and teach special topics or advanced techniques. Experience the unfettered creativity of night portraiture, explore the depths of a metal machinery in Sloss Furnaces, or light paint the ancient Pueblo ruins of Chaco Canyon. Our road trips include the Blue Ridge Parkway and the south coast of Iceland. Come seize the night with us in 2018!

Palette

Aluminum Expert Control Surface Kit

There’s a communication barrier between photographers and their computer. We need to tell them what to do, but we’re limited by the languages of key presses, mouse movements, trackpad gestures, tablet scribblings, et al. Palette eases that communication by providing a suite of custom-configurable modules that you can use to tell Lightroom and Photoshop (and more!) exactly what to do with intuitive motions and tools. Slide a slider for exposure, turn a dial for color temperature, push a button for picks or rejects, and so on. Choose your options to fit your workflow, and finally you and your computer will be speaking the same language. Multiple kits available—the Expert Kit is a great place to start.

Peak Design

Everyday Sling 10L

Big bags are great for transporting your gear from point A to B, C and beyond. But we always bring a smaller bag with us that is better for a smaller, simpler, scouting kit. The Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L has been a favorite of ours this last year. We can fit a DSLR or mirrorless camera plus two to three lenses and a flash. There’s lots of room for extra batteries and cards, and you can even strap a travel tripod to the bottom. We were so impressed with the Everyday Sling 10L that we made a video in the Galapagos showcasing how much you could pack in it! Looking for something even smaller? Peak Design just announced the even more compact Everyday Sling 5L. It’s perfect for a DSLR and up to a 24-70mm/24-105mm lens or a mirrorless camera plus two lenses, and also works excellently for transporting the DJI Mavic Pro and Spark Drones.

Special offer: Receive a free gift with a purchase over $65 by using the link above.

PhotoPills

Photo-Scouting App

For the shooter who wants to get the most out of their night photography, there isn’t a more full-featured tool than the app PhotoPills. Our favorite feature is Night AR (Augmented Reality), where you can observe the location of the Milky Way, moon and more—all overlaid on the scene in front of you, with sky positions now and in the future. That makes being in the right place at the right time easy! Available for iOS and Android.

Ranger Doug’s Enterprises

WPA Posters

The original national park poster program was launched in 1938 and lasted until 1941. They used WPA artists to give their now nostalgic interpretation of our national parks. Due to the posters’ fragile nature, only 2,000 original copies have survived. However, Ranger Doug Enterprises (founded by an actual former national park ranger) has faithfully reproduced these serigraph images as posters and cards. They make the perfect memorabilia to hang on your wall. Or, send a postcard to a friend with detailed plans on your next national park adventure!

Room Essentials

LED Tea Lights

Tea lights, really? Yes! A super inexpensive and lightweight addition to the light painter’s tool kit. They are easy to place in hard-to-paint areas and are great for long exposure night photography. These low-output LED light sources mimic the natural light of a candle, and last for over 100 hours.

National Parks at Night Instructors

Photography Books

NPAN books strip.jpg

The National Parks at Night instructors have written five books that are definitive guides to popular photography subjects, all of which make excellent gifts. Moreover, the complete set can keep the photographer in your life well informed and educated about topics ranging from national park locations to how to shoot in the dark.

Ruggard

RTC-10 Timer-Remote Case for Tripods

Like a Snuggie for your intervalometer. Avoid stressing the jack on the side of your camera by storing your intervalometer or remote shutter release on your tripod leg in this handy case by Ruggard. Simple to attach with hook and loop fastener, and always there when you need it.

Salomon

XA Pro 3D and XA Pro 3D GTX

We’ll never stop saying it: The first priority when working in the dark is safety. And one of the starting points of safety is where your feet meet the earth. Walking around in the dark in the wilderness requires footing you can rely on, and Salomon is one of our favorite solutions. Their XA Pro 3D trail-runners have a wide heel base that helps prevent rolling an ankle, an aggressive tread that keeps you from slipping while toeing from spot to spot, and light weight that makes moving around a breeze—particularly with expensive camera gear on your back or your shoulder. Available in breathable mesh and Gore Tex waterproof models (we own and use both!).

SkyGlow

Book & Time-Lapse Video

Harun Mehmedinovic and Gavin Heffernan have been making incredible time-lapse movies promoting dark sky awareness for several years.  A year ago they Kickstarted the SkyGlow astrophotography book and time-lapse video series. Educate yourself on dark sky locations and light-polluted cities in North America in their beautiful coffee table book.

Special offer: Use the code “SKYGLOW15” for 15 percent off everything in their store until December 26th. In addition, the first 500 orders priced $25 and above will also receive a signed 10x7-inch archival quality print!

 

Tether Tools

Jerkstopper ProTab Cable Ties

Keep your cables and cords nice and tidy with Tether Tools ProTab Cable Ties. Great for keeping all those wires that we have in our life organized, and for keeping them from being tangled together when packing and transporting. We find the medium size works best for our computer, charging, headphone and intervalometer cables. But they have larger sizes perfect for extension cords, surge protectors and the like.

USAopoly

Trivial Pursuit National Parks Travel Edition

Which national park is home to Exit Glacier? In which state are 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S. found? Which chatty, problem-solving avian found in Arches National Park is a prominent figure in both European and Native American folklore? Do you know those answers? Then you win! With Trivial Pursuit National Parks edition, one up on the essential and obscure facts about America’s beloved National Parks anywhere. Heck, you can even play the game with other people! We discovered this in the gift shop at Olympic National Park and bought it on the spot. Included is a plastic hard case that feels like a weather-beaten sign, carabiner and die for play. Fits neatly in a camera bag!

Vallerret

Ipsoot Photography Glove

Finding the right glove for night photography has been an ongoing project for us at National Parks at Night. There are lots of options to choose from, but until now the right glove for truly cold weather proved elusive. The challenge was to design a glove that offers both protection from extreme cold and the dexterity to operate a camera in those same conditions. The Ipsoot photography glove from Vallerret is a heavier duty glove that provides extra protection against the elements for when it really gets cold. If a little cold won’t slow you down, and you still want to get out there and shoot in the dead of winter, the new Ipsoot Glove is the answer.

Special offer: Use code “NPANworkshop” for a free pair of merino wool liners with the purchase of gloves at the link above.

Vello

Three-Axis Hot-Shoe Bubble Level

It’s hard to see in the dark, and even though lots of cameras have a built-in level to help us keep our horizon line straight, we find that the external Vello Three-Axis Hot-Shoe Bubble Level does a far superior job. This bubble level really shines when we shoot off axis—such as when we shoot upward to include more sky. The level is simple, small and slides right into your hot shoe to keep you on the level!

X-Rite

i1Studio Spectrophotometer

Don’t assume you’re seeing the right colors or brightness. Know it. Calibrate your monitors, mobile devices, projectors and printers with the all-encompassing solution: X-Rite’s i1Studio. Included is a mini ColorChecker for making camera profiles and color-balancing your RAW files. If you don’t use color management, then when you post or print, your final product might not match the way you want it to! Be calibrated; be sure.


Happy Holidays!

Remember, just like holidays, and just like gifts, gift guides are meant to be shared! Please feel free to forward this to anyone and everyone you think might be interested. Particularly if it’s someone who buys a gift for you!

And remember, this gift guide is also available as a PDF e-book that includes lots more photos, an exclusive discount code on one of the products mentioned above, and photo tips from Chris, Matt, Tim, Lance and myself. You can download the PDF by clicking right here.

From all of us at National Parks at Night, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season.

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at www.ruinism.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

A Day of Night: Talking Stars and Light Painting at the B&H Event Space

A few days ago Matt Hill and I were hosted by the B&H Event Space, one of our very favorite places to present. The people who run the space are fantastic to work with—always warm, welcoming, helpful and professional in every degree imaginable. Moreover, the Event Space attracts an impressive array of audience members—from beginners to expert pastimers to consummate professionals—who come armed with infectious enthusiasm and a passionate curiosity to better their craft.

(Attendees also included a few of our former workshop participants; it’s always great to see and to catch up with them.)

Matt and I demonstrating why we love Coast flashlights above all other options. Photo courtesy of B&H Photo.

Matt and I demonstrating why we love Coast flashlights above all other options. Photo courtesy of B&H Photo.

It was “A Day of Night at the Event Space,” comprising two presentations, which were livestreamed to a combined audience of over 25,000 viewers (thank you to everyone who tuned in!). Both talks included some of the topics we teach on our workshops, along with over 75 photographs that we’ve made during our adventures under the dark skies of America’s national parks.

We wanted to share what we talked about with you, the readers of our blog.

‘Shooting Stars: How to Photograph Night Skies’

Me talking about starry skies while surrounded by National Parks at Night logos. Photo courtesy of Klaus-Peter Statz.

Me talking about starry skies while surrounded by National Parks at Night logos. Photo courtesy of Klaus-Peter Statz.

In the first presentation of the afternoon, I talked about how to get started photographing stars. Some of the topics covered were:

  • gear
  • white balance
  • exposure
  • the 400 Rule
  • composition
  • star trails
  • star stacking
  • lens condensation during long exposures
  • software options
  • and more

You can view the recorded version of the livestream here  (jump to 4:56 for the beginning of the presentation):

‘Illuminating the Night: Everything You Want to Know About Light Painting’

Matt and I demonstrating the right and wrong way to paint with light. Photo courtesy of Klaus-Peter Statz.

Matt and I demonstrating the right and wrong way to paint with light. Photo courtesy of Klaus-Peter Statz.

In the second presentation, Matt and I teamed to talk about one of our favorite topics and one of the favorite techniques on our workshops: light painting! Topics covered were:

You can view the recorded version of the livestream here(jump to 1:20 for the beginning of the presentation):

Come see us!

We hope you enjoy watching these presentations, and that you can take away a nugget or two of knowledge that help as you venture into the night with your cameras.

Between the five of us here at National Parks at Night, we talk pretty regularly at the B&H Event Space, as well as at conferences, trade shows, camera clubs, podcasts, etc. If you’re interested in attending any of the events where we lecture, see our Speaking Engagements page for a schedule of where we’ll be next.

And if you want several days’ worth of this kind of information and instruction, be sure to sign up for any of our upcoming Workshops. ;-)

Chris Nicholson is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, and author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Faces, Darkness, Experimentation and Time: How To Create Stellar Night Portraits

Making portraits at night is one of the most creative and challenging applications of night photography. In this post, I'm revealing some of the hardest-won lessons I've learned while honing the craft.

Tip #1: Dilate time

Figure 1. "Gymnos at Gantry Park" (2012) from Night Paper. Nikon D700. 30 seconds, f/8, ISO 200.

What truly defines the difference between a picture of someone at night and a true night portrait is incorporating elements that show a clear passage of time. In Figure 1, the soft water from a 30-second exposure adds a subtle note about time passing.

I deliberately include the following things in my night portraits; they overtly or subtly show time passing:

  • water flowing
  • clouds passing
  • cars moving
  • trees or grass waving in the wind
  • star trails

Figure 2: Skyler at Barr Lake State Park, Colorado (2012) from my Night Paper project. Mamiya 7 II. 60 minutes, f/11, ISO 200 (Ilford XP2).

Note the star and airplane trails in Figure 2. It's an extreme example, but drives home the point about dilating time.

What truly fascinates me about this is our brains are wired to comprehend only the moment we are in. We cannot see time as it compounds in a long photographic exposure. But somehow, we can comprehend the resulting photograph. So cool, right?

Tip #2: Do something That Would be impossible in daytime

Figure 3. Star Portraits the night prior to the Atlas Obscura Total Eclipse Event in Durkee, Oregon. Photographed with a Nikon D750 with a LOMO Petzval 85mm lens. 22 seconds, f/2, ISO 6400.

Your unique advantage whilst making night portraits is the duration of your exposure. Daytime portraits have hard limitations—exposure are all a fraction of a second.

Figure 4. Light Painting Brushes Black Fiber Optic Wand on Coast HP7R. Nikon D750 with Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. 30 seconds, f/4, ISO 6400.

You have time—lots of time—to:

  • do some wicked cool light writing
  • execute some detailed and layered light painting
  • let your model stand nearly still, so the edges of their body blur
  • burn in star trails
  • expose a delicate net of stars arcing across the sky, including the Milky Way

Tip #3: Use scale to your advantage

Figure 5. Capitol Reef National Park (left), photographed with a Nikon D750 and a Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 lens at 30 seconds, f/4, ISO 6400. Olympic National Park (right), photographed with a Nikon D750 and a LOMO Petzval 85mm lens at 21 seconds, f/2, ISO 6400.

Since I often shoot in National Parks and other wilderness areas, I choose to make humans small in scale versus imposing and inspiring landscapes. You can accentuate this by adding a flashlight or headlamp beam.

Tip #4: Use a flash for your model's face and continuous lights for the other parts

Figure 6. My Night Paper and Noctavians projects. Various exposures. All incorporate a flash on the model's face, a flashlight for light writing or light painting, and sometimes a Luxli Viola via Bluetooth for brief, remote illumination.

The most delicious night portraits I've made have crispy eyes and facial features. It's classic portrait technique. Where I depart from the traditional is keeping that shutter open and painting in from behind, underneath and the side to reveal things that move after the flash pops.

You can even have your model move away after the flash, achieving a "ghosting" effect by letting the light illuminating whatever was behind them to pass through the space once occupied by their body.

You may ask, "Matt, can't I just use a flashlight?" Sure, but I recommend flash because even a quick burst from a flashlight isn't crisp enough to create the look I am after. Try both and you'll see what works for you.

Figure 7. Two portraits I made of Lance Keimig during our Great Sand Dunes workshop. Left was lit with a Coast HP7R from behind and on his face. Right was lit by his camera's LCD.

I strongly recommend that you get a flash meter to avoid the process of chimping your way to a proper flash exposure. It will save time, and batteries. TTL is OK, but I prefer something more consistent from one flash to the next. And not all TTL works well at night.

Tip #5: Stop thinking and experiment

Figure 8. A second camera set for behind-the-scenes captured this beautiful moment during our Great Sand Dunes workshop.

Our own expectations can get in our way. We can stifle our ability to make something unique by thinking too much and planning too hard.

One of my most successful methods is to say, "OK, I got something I liked, now try something weird or random."

Whatever I suggest here is likely to be my own taste and not yours. Find your experimental voice. And shout. Whisper. Cajole. Surprise yourself by letting the camera record what you cannot possibly see in a single moment.

Wrapup

Figure 9. Michael Hollander from B&H using a telescope at the eclipse event in Oregon. Photographed with a Fuji X-T1 and a 7artisans 7.5mm Fisheye f/2.8 lens at 30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400.

Night portraiture is difficult. No joke.

It requires mastery of the fundamentals of night photography, including focus, composition and exposure. You also need to have some knowledge of portrait lighting and how to use a flash.

You also need to have an ability to direct your models clearly (and in the dark). Practicing on your fellow night photographers is a great way to start. Work between their exposures.

Now that we've cleared the prerequisites, don't fret. You can learn simply by doing. Space on your memory card is free, so grab a friend and try it out.

Note: Wanna level up your night portraiture skills? Join me for intimate group sessions in April and October of 2018 in Catskill, New York.

Matt Hill is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. See more about his photography, art, workshops and writing at MattHillArt.com. Follow Matt on Twitter Instagram Facebook.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

How the New Lightroom Range Mask Feature Helps Night Photographers

As you may have heard, last week Adobe made some big changes to its suite of photo-editing software, the biggest component of which was announcing the successor to Lightroom CC 2015/16. That software’s new name is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC.  For short we’re calling it Classic. The reason the name is important is because of a new version of Lightroom announced at the same time. This new software is called Lightroom CC. Perplexed yet? The new Lightroom announcement is bound to cause a little bit of confusion, so here’s a link to a full explanation of the two versions by Tom Hogarty of Adobe

While there are some great performance upgrades to the Lightroom, the coolest new feature for night photographers lies in the ability to fine-tune the masks we create with our local adjustment tools. The new feature is called Range Masking, and it can become a serious way for you to level up your post-processing and your photography.

Follow along in video below as I show you how night photographers can make the most of this new tool!

Tim Cooper is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. Learn more techniques from his book The Magic of Light Painting, available from Peachpit.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

A Look Through the Years—How Night Photography has Changed, and How it Hasn't

Lance Keimig, "Sand Pit," 2016. This image could have been made 30 years ago when I started photographing at night, but it was shot a year ago, in October of 2016.

Recently Chris and I were chatting about how various aspects of night photography have changed with the advances in technology, and how others haven’t. It was a lively conversation, and he suggested that I write a blog post on the subject. I thought it was a great idea, especially as it would allow me to talk about my favorite subject: historic night photographers!

Delay Tactics

One of my favorite early night photography stories is about the English photographer Paul Martin, who began photographing at night in earnest in 1895. Others had made the occasional foray into night photography before him, but it was Martin who really set the wheels in motion, and whose work caught the attention of Alfred Stieglitz and his colleagues at the Camera Club of New York.

Martin wrote in his 1939 autobiography, Victorian Snapshots, that at one point he had decided to continue to photograph in darkening conditions after the sun went down, making longer and longer exposures and altering his development to get the best results. Eventually these early night images were published as the book London by Gaslight.

Like with most pioneers or innovators, the general public seemed to think Martin was crazy. People approached to tell him that it wasn’t possible to take pictures in the dark, and that he should go home to his wife, or maybe back to the asylum! On more than one occasion he was accosted by the “bobbies,” who questioned his motives.

These are experiences shared by almost anyone who has been photographing at night for more than a few years. Though, for better or worse, night photography has become so commonplace today that unless you find yourself on the wrong side of a fence, you rarely have to explain your motives to the police or anyone else.

Paul Martin, "A wet night on the embankment," 1895. Martin covered his camera lens during the exposure to shield it from a curious policeman’s lantern.

Back in the 1890s, police carried kerosene lanterns with them on their beats, because flashlights (or what the British call “torches”) hadn’t been invented yet. On more than one occasion, Martin had a long exposure ruined when a policeman walked in front of his camera and raised a lantern to get a better look at the photographer and his gear. (Remember that in those days, street lights were dimmer, and far fewer in number, so the nighttime environment was considerably darker in London than it is today.) Eventually Martin was able to anticipate and react to impending disaster by removing his hat and placing it over the lens until the policeman’s curiosity was satisfied!

New Jersey Photographer Laureate George Tice’s best-known image is the remarkable “Petit’s Mobile Station, Cherry Hill, NJ, 1974.” Tice told me some years ago that the 2-minute exposure on 8x10-inch film actually required about 10 minutes to make because he had to cover the lens whenever cars passed in front of the camera. He would get only 10 or 15 seconds of exposure on the film before a car pulled into the station or passed on the road on the left side of the image. Each and every time, he covered the lens.

George Tice, "Petit’s Mobil Station, Cherry Hill, NJ, 1974." Tice’s best-known image was a 2-minute exposure on 8x10 film that took 10 minutes to expose because the photographer had to repeatedly cover his lens due to cars passing through the scene.

No doubt many of us have employed this same device used by Martin and Tice to prevent an unwanted car or plane trail in our compositions; it’s something I’ve done for decades in my own images. Some things never change.

But most do.

Deliberation

Many of the changes in night photography since digital replaced film are obvious. The ability to “chimp” is a good example. Night photography has become far more accessible because of the instant feedback we get from the image preview, the blinking highlights and the histogram.

Other related changes are less obvious unless you have had the experience of shooting at night with film. There is certainly a great satisfaction in knowing that you’ve “got the shot,” but what is lost is the sense of anticipation that comes from not knowing until you unwind the wet film from the reel in the darkroom.

Working so deliberately usually leads to a higher success rate, and that’s one aspect of my field workflow that I have maintained as much as possible.

The combination of low sensitivity and reciprocity failure meant that night photographers shooting film were lucky to make 10 or 15 exposures per night, and without the ability to review images in the field, we generally took a slow and methodical approach to our work. When considering variations for exposure uncertainty and complex light painting, a good night meant one or two “keepers.” Working so deliberately usually leads to a higher success rate, and that’s one aspect of my field workflow that I have maintained as much as possible over the years. Still, there have been nights in the digital age when I’ve made over 100 exposures––quite a lot for a night photographer.

Justification

I have already alluded to one of the other changes I’ve noticed over the course of my career. Back in the 1990s, I would be questioned all of the time by passers-by wondering what I could be photographing in the dark. Non-photographers would say things like, “There isn’t any light, how can you take a picture?” or “Are you a ghost hunter?” or “There’s nothing there, why are you photographing that old building?” Sometimes I still get those questions, and if the person seems genuinely interested, at least now I can show them the back of the camera.

That leads to another change worth noting. I used to carry a small selection of prints in my camera bag to show to the police or security guards who invariably caught me on the wrong side of the fence. More than once, being able to show a print or two along with a business card eased the concern of the authorities and kept me from being arrested, or at least from being detained. They could somehow understand that an “artist” with a camera was not a threat. In the jittery years following 9/11, that was a real concern. Although to my knowledge there has never been a terrorism event that involved photography, somehow night photographers have often been suspected of bad intent.

Balboa Park. It looks like they mean it.

Gear

We all know how much technology has changed the way we work. Our cameras have improved to the point where almost any can record sharp images of the Milky Way, whereas cameras used to be limited to long exposures and star trails. Moreover, lenses are sharper, batteries last longer, tripods are lighter and flashlights are brighter.

Until very recently, one incredibly frustrating camera feature remained stubbornly stuck at 30 seconds: the shutter speed dial! Over the years, I’ve spoken with numerous camera company reps about why their camera’s shutter speeds don’t go any longer than 30 seconds, and unfailingly I’d get the same answer: “Why would you need to expose for longer than 30 seconds? You could just raise the ISO.” Despite the relative ease and lack of engineering required to enable longer shutter speeds, it wasn’t until the Nikon D750 that we even had a Time setting at our disposal.

Many recent cameras have built-in intervalometers, but again with exposures limited to 30 seconds. Finally, with the release of the Canon 5D Mark IV and 6D Mark II, we have DSLRs with programmable shutter speeds that extend exposures not just to minutes, but as long as 99 hours! Hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit with their future models.

Color

Mixed lighting was always the bane of architectural photographers, especially when natural color rendering was important. For night photographers, it’s often that same mixed lighting that attracts us to a scene in the first place. The early work of photographer Jan Staller was a major influence on me, and his technique of printing to correct for one light source while allowing the others to do what they would created some of the most surreal images I had ever seen.

Lance Keimig, "Mixed Lighting Examples," 1995. These two images were shot on Fuji color negative film in 1995 under a combination of sodium and mercury vapor lights. There is no right or wrong white balance here–– whatever looks right to the photographer, is right.

The incredible control we have over color in our pictures, and the flexibility to set white balance after the image has been captured, both give today’s photographer a flexibility that was inconceivable only 20 years ago. Back then, if you couldn’t control the light sources, you either shot black and white or accepted the crazy colors as they were recorded.

Composition

One thing that hasn’t changed—and will never change—are the principles of composition and design. A good photograph will always be a good photograph, and a crummy one will always be a crummy one regardless of the technology that was used to create it. For that, we can sleep well in the morning.

Lance Keimig, Stromness, 2008. Shot on Fuji Neon Across 120 film with an Ebony 23SW view camera and Nikkor 65mm f/4 lens. 10 minutes, f11. This image was made in the tiny fishing village of Stromness on Orkney in northern Scotland. It was the house of the poet George Mackay Brown. The technology doesn’t matter, the image works because of the combination of vision and craft.

Lance Keimig is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He has been photographing at night for 30 years, and is the author of Night Photography and Light Painting: Finding Your Way in the Dark (Focal Press, 2015). Learn more about his images and workshops at www.thenightskye.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT