Equipment

How to Be Merry and Bright at Night: Our 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are upon us, and once again it’s time for us to help you find the best gift ideas for those special photographers in your life. So, welcome to National Parks at Night’s third annual Holiday Gift Guide!

We’ve scanned our camera bags, suitcases, computer files and storage cubbies, and compiled a new list of things that help us enjoy our photography and all the conditions we find ourselves in because of it. From shoe dryers to phone apps, hand warmers to training videos, we’ve created a must-have/seriously-want list that will help you with those tough decisions of what to buy for yourself this holiday season. And, looking through it twice, you may even find the perfect gift for the loved ones in your life!

We’re providing all of our discoveries 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 Photo, BenQ, Bay Photo and Nikon, along with great little finds from smaller companies and startups.

In addition to the product information, the ebook version includes:

  • a lot more photos

  • a few extra discount codes and offers

  • night photography tips from all five National Parks at Night instructors

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 enthusiasts!

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 ebook version looks cooler.)

Carpe Longa Nocte (seize the long night)!

—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 generate a small commission that helps us improve the National Parks at Night workshop program.


Acratech

GPS

Our absolute favorite ball head that keeps our long exposures locked in! Made in America and weighs in at .75 pounds, but supports up to 25 pounds! It accepts all Arca-Swiss L brackets and quick release plates. We prefer the GPS model with the lever lock, so it won’t be confused for the other knobs when we are adjusting our ball heads in the dark. If you own a travel tripod with the 180-degree rotating legs, get the smaller GPSS, which holds the same amount but has a smaller base plate so you can collapse the tripod legs around it for travel.

Special offer: Use promo code “NPAN18” at bhphoto.com for 5 percent off the GPS, until December 20.

Anderson Design Group

National Park Adventure Guide Book

We’ve seen the Anderson Design Group’s WPA-inspired postcards in all the parks and absolutely love them. Now they have been compiled into a travel-friendly National Park Adventure Guide! It has become our new “passport” to the parks. Stickers are included in the book for you to place in the appropriate park, once you’ve visited. Each place includes some basic info on the park as well as “10 Things to Do and See.” There is also a spot for you to take notes, to sketch or to stamp the official cancellation from the park’s visitor center.

Apollo

Moon Light

Send your night photographer over the moon with this photorealistic LED moon globe! Now you too can hold the moon in your hands, or bring it wherever you go. The Moon Light comes in a variety of sizes from 3.5 to 7.9 inches, giving you plenty of options to illuminate your home. Brightness and color are adjustable by simply tapping the moon. We can imagine using a few of these in an upcoming photoshoot as well!

AstroReality

Lunar Pro

The Lunar Pro is a hand-crafted, hand-painted 120mm 3D model of the moon that is so realistic, you may believe you have grown to cosmic proportions. If you want to study Earth’s nearest satellite in detail, load up their companion Augmented Reality (AR) app to view in real-time interesting facts and details about the geography on the moon. And when you aren’t dreaming of gray space cheese, this is sure to be a conversation starter on display in your office or living room.

Atlas Obscura

Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

We have always been huge fans of Atlas Obscura. With their book An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, they initiated us into the mysterious, introduced us to strange places and showed us undiscovered treasures. Now they have upped their game with their latest book, Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid. Why keep all the fun for ourselves? Share a copy with your favorite curious youngster. Or for anyone, really—plenty there for adults as well. This book is interesting for the kid in all of us.

B&H Photo

Gift Certificate

The most universal gift for any image-maker, audiophile or anyone looking for the latest computers, hardware, software, telescopes or home theater. Available in increments from $25 to $500, a B&H gift certificate is guaranteed to make that certain someone extremely happy! Pro tip: Add a trip to NYC with the gift card and visit B&H’s 70,000-square-foot superstore where everything is out on display.

Bay Photo Lab

Xpozer Print

Get your images off the computer and onto your walls! We’re big fans of all of Bay Photo Lab’s print surfaces, but traditional print media can be space-consuming to store and costly to ship. Enter the Xpozer, an ingenious new way to display your art. Printed on beautiful Vivid Satin paper that floats off the wall with Bay’s unique aluminum tension hanging system. This provides a cost-effective way to beautifully showcase your work, and is incredibly portable if you need to cart it around or send it off-site. Available in sizes from 16x16 to 40x80 inches.

BenQ

SW240

For the digital photographer, few things are more important than viewing our images on a high-quality, accurate screen. For years, BenQ has been making some of the best monitors available. And for years, we at National Parks at Night have benefited from using their incredibly accurate products. BenQ offers a particularly intriguing model that is within reach of any photographer: The SW240 has all of the qualities of its larger siblings, such as 99 percent coverage of the Adobe RGB color space and out-of-the-box calibration, while sporting the slightly smaller screen size of 24.1 inches. This high-resolution (1920x1200) monitor is perfect for demanding photographers with a smaller workspace. Its lower price tag doesn’t hurt either!

Benro

TrueNight Filter

Benro’s TrueNight filter is ideal for urban and suburban night photographers who desire a more natural look than artificial lighting in the sky. The TrueNight filter will give you a more pleasing color temperature, which is also easier to edit than trying to combat the yellow, orange and green tones from sodium and mercury vapor lighting. Available in 77mm and 82mm screw-in sizes (step-down rings also available for smaller lens filter threads), as well as a100x100mm drop-in.

Best Maps Ever

417 National Park System Units Map

There are over 400 official units of the National Park System! Start planning your next park adventures and checking off the NPS locations with this comprehensive map. Each spot has an icon for a pin to be placed, and trails, rivers, seashores and parkways managed by the National Park System are also outlined. The 2-by-3-foot wall map is heavyweight to last for a lifetime of exploration.

Chimani

Chimani App

If you’re venturing into national parks with a phone or tablet in hand or in pocket, you’ll want to install Chimani before you go. Chimani relaunched this year as one standalone app that features information about 417 units of the National Park Service, including all 60 national parks. Data includes times for sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, and golden hour and blue hour, as well as information on photo locations, with hundreds of example images. Available for iOS and Android. Also look into the Chimani Perks program, a paid membership that avails discounts at and near parks all across the U.S.—hiking and rafting tours, bed and breakfast, hotels, local breweries, restaurants, cafés, gear rentals, gift stores, outdoor retailers and more.

Coast Portland

G9 Inspection Beam Pocket Light

Night photographers and flashlights go together like beans and cornbread, like hotcakes and molasses. Chances are, the night photographer on your holiday list has more than a few flashlights in their kit, and most of them are bright enough to burn a hole in a piece of paper from 3 feet away. For the last 3 years, our workshop attendees have all received a flashlight compliments of Coast Portland. This year, many got a G9, Coast’s diminutive fixed-beam inspection light. This little guy is almost perfect for navigating at close quarters in extreme low light environments or for adjusting your camera when you can’t find the button in the dark. And with a quick DIY hack, it is the perfect light: Just unscrew the cap and place a small piece of tissue in front of the bulb, and you have a diffused, dim light that won’t spoil your night vision, or your buddy’s shot.

Cosmic Watch

Cosmic Watch App

Want something to do with your time during a long rip or star stack? Download Cosmic Watch for your touch device and dive into learning more about exactly where you are in the cosmos. It’s both a timepiece that would look great on your desktop at the office, and an amazingly rich and detailed planetarium through which you can learn more about astronomy. Our favorite feature is that the app teaches you about time, and what time means. It’s heavy, dude. But what do you think about while practicing the art of dilating minutes and hours with your camera during long exposures?

CreativeLive

Night Photography Week

Video learning is huge. The problem is that not all online content is reliable or accurate. You might find what you need on YouTube, but why not invest a little for a vetted and trusted source? CreativeLive continues to produce some of the best online photography classes with world-renowned instructors. National Parks at Night is proud to have partnered with CreativeLive to present five complete courses on night photography subspecialties, one taught by each of our instructors. The courses are available bundled as “Night Photography Week,” or a la carte for the night photographer who wants to learn a specific skill.

DryGuy

Travel Dry

How many times have you been out shooting in the rain, or even shooting on a clear night, when you stepped into a stream or a bog—or experienc anything else that results in wet feet? Few things dampen the outdoor experience more than walking around in soggy shoes and socks. But, ya know, it happens. It often takes a couple of days to dry those shoes out, but you can accelerate the process with DryGuy Travel Dry shoe driers, often completing the task overnight. A workshop attendee gave us a set, and our feet have never been so happy.

eParks

Park Patches

If you’ve ever seen Matt’s National Parks at Night “boy scout” shirt, or hung out with the National Park Patch Lady (see below), it’s possible you’ve been infected by an enthusiasm to document your adventures with colorful patches. Alas, being night photographers, we sometimes miss the visitor center and don’t get to buy a patch. :-( Fear not, nocturnal adventurers! You can catch up on those missed patches at eParks, as well as pick up a bevy of other cools gifts you may have missed, such as shirts, posters and even the Passport to Your National Parks book for your cancellation stamps.

Hot Hands

Hand Warmers

Having your long exposure night photos ruined by condensation on the front of your lens is frustrating—but avoidable! Condensation on your lens can occur in humid conditions when the lens is colder than the air surrounding it. To avoid or alleviate the condensation, simply warm up your lens by activating two hand warmers, laying them on opposite sides of your lens and securing them with a couple of rubber bands or a koozie sliced down the side. Voila! Warm lens, no condensation. Outside Magazine tests gave the brand Hot Hands the highest marks for chemical hand warmers.

Huckberry

Hand-Blown Whiskey Glasses

Ever wanted to admire some of your favorite national parks through your favorite whiskey or bourbon? Well, you’re in luck. These precious, hand-blown whiskey glasses feature raised topographic impressions of Half Dome, Mt. Rainier and the Grand Canyon, among some other gorgeous global destinations. So crack a bottle of choice libations, and toast your adventurous spirit with friends.

Irix

150mm f/2.8 Dragonfly

Most of the time night photographers gravitate toward wide-angle lenses to capture the grandeur of nature or the city skyline. If you are feeling stuck in your ways or want to create images that stand out from the crowd, consider shooting with a longer lens to change your perspective. And if you’re into star trails but are too impatient to wait for those long exposures, telephoto lenses get the job done much faster than wide angle lenses! The folks at Irix have just announced a new lens, their 150mm f/2.8 Dragonfly. Like Irix’ 15mm and 11mm lenses, the Dragonfly is a weather-sealed, manual focus lens with their unique focus lock mechanism. It can produce 1-to-1 magnification scenes, but also makes a great night-portrait or medium telephoto lens. Available now for pre-order.

Ken Burns

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

The magnum opus of national parks documentaries. This six-episode series details how the idea of saving and preserving wild spaces was born and popularized, and how the idea and its execution evolved through the 20th century. Learn about the people and places that literally changed the world.

Light Painting Brushes

Universal Connector

At the heart of the Light Painting Brushes (LPB) system is the deceivingly humble Universal Connector. Simply add this to any flashlight from 0.975 to 1.5 inches in diameter and you have a snoot to control the spill of light exiting your flashlight. It’s tiny, so it won’t take up much space in your bag, and can help you perfect those light painting masterpieces you’re dreaming about. When you’re ready to engage in light writing, pop on any of the dozens of cool accessories from LPB to start crafting light art from thin air.

LuminAID

Solar Inflatable Lantern

We first met the Solar Inflatable Lantern at the Atlas Obscura eclipse event in Durkee, Oregon, in 2017. By day, it charges via the embedded solar panel in 10 to 14 hours. At night, you inflate it to create a diffused cube of light with many, many color options you can cycle through by using the buttons on the top handle. The handle also allows you to hang it in a tree, inside your tent or anywhere you dream up. When deflated, the lantern can store in the bottom of your camera bag and you won’t even know it’s there.

Luxli

Cello

The Lucie award-winning Luxli Cello takes all the things you love about the Viola and doubles—no, triples—your capabilities. It’s twice as wide and as bright. The TLCI is 97 percent from 3000 K to 10,000 K. The Hue mode has saturation control (to dial back juicy colors to within your camera’s gamut). And they added 150 digital gel filters that apply to any color temperature you choose, making color matching your gelled flashlights or LED panels a breeze. Finally, the built-in Fx mode allows for all sorts of playful options, such as CCT change over time, police lights and fire effects.

Mandorra

Smoke Grenades

Now, we must say these are a no-no within the boundaries of national parks. But in places where smoke effects are permitted, well, now we’re going to make some cool stuff happen. Despite the aggressive names, we prefer smoke grenades over smoke bombs. Many smoke grenades come with a pull tab to activate (like a grenade) instead of lighting a fuse. But the effect, oh, the effect! Backlight or sidelight the smoke with a Luxli Viola for a smooth long exposure effect or arrest it with a speedlite for crispy smoke.

Manfrotto

Befree Advanced Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with 494 Ball Head

Tired of cheap lightweight tripods? So are we. So thank you to Manfrotto for the Befree—a high-quality, lightweight travel tripod! Last year we listed the aluminum version, this year we’re happy to list the carbon fiber option. Weighing in at less than 3 pounds, this tripod and head system can handle nearly 18 pounds of camera while extended to its maximum height of 59.1 inches. You may find that this “travel” tripod becomes part of your everyday gear.

Misty Morning Artwork

National Park Mugs

Enjoy your favorite coffee with (in?) your favorite park, all while supporting an independent artist. A workshop attendee turned us on to these beautiful handmade mugs from potter, painter and illustrator Abbey Stieglitz. Mugs include depictions of Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and more. Custom orders available.

Montem

Ultra Strong Anti-Shock Trekking Poles

If you’re going to be trekking to remote (or even semi-remote) places for unique photos, you’ll want to complement your inborn stability with some hiking poles. Particularly when bearing the weight of gear on your back, comfort and safety both dictate having poles for maintaining balance, reducing fatigue, and anchoring yourself on ascents and descents. Look into Montem Ultra Strong Anti-Shock Trekking Poles for a good rundown of desirable features, including low weight, shock absorption and adjustable height.

National Park Service

America the Beautiful Pass

With a deal this good, how could we ever exclude it from our gift guide? For less than a C-note the annual pass grants access to 60 amazing national parks, plus over 2,000 federal recreation sites including national monuments, wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, and sites managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The pass covers 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. Now that’s a deal!

National Parks at Night

2019 Calendar

With National Parks at Night’s “Long Nights, Beautiful Spaces” calendar, follow 2019 in the night photographer’s way, with all the info you need for scheduling shoots during new and full moons, meteor showers, festivals and more. Each month is adorned with a night photograph from some our favorite places: Olympic, Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Great Smoky Mountains, Lassen Volcanic and Bryce Canyon national parks, as well as Cuba, Devils Tower, Valley of Fire and more.

Biscayne and Redwood Prints

Biscayne and Redwood National Parks celebrated their 50th anniversaries this year. We were honored to be part of their ceremonies that culminated with a group print show of our workshop attendees’ photographs at both parks, sponsored by Bay Photo Lab. You can help continue to support those parks as well as get some great artwork on your wall when you purchase a print from our online gallery. You can choose from multiple formats—metal, canvas and paper, all at a plethora of sizes and price points. All profits go to Biscayne and Redwood. Support our parks!

Photography Books

Looking for some national park and night photography inspiration and education that you can always have at your fingertips? Choose from one of the four books written by members of the NPAN team!

  • Photographing National Parks by Chris Nicholson is a portable and concise look at each of our national parks and how to best capture them. Includes best locations, times and great info on each park to help you plan your next adventure.

  • Have someone new to the night? Gabriel Biderman and Tim Cooper’s book Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (now in its third printing) is a great introduction to night photography, and it inspires you to get out there and seize the night!

  • Want an even deeper dive into the night? Lance’s book on night photography, Night Photography and Light Painting: Finding Your Way in the Dark, has long been the ultimate tome for those interested in a deep dive into the genre! The latest edition has an amazing chapter on the history of light painting and does an excellent job of balancing theory, history and enthusiasm for taking your night visions to the next level.

  • Light Painting is the most creative expression in night photography, and Tim Cooper’s ebook The Magic of Light Painting is a detailed exploration of all the illuminating possibilities that can happen when we practice the craft.

Night Photography Adventure Workshops

We simply love the outdoors, teaching and helping people get awesome pictures. So we’re super excited that many of our 2019 Passport Series workshops are already full. But we want you to share some of the magic as well! Our Passport workshops in Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon and Lassen Volcanic national parks still have a few openings.

We also have some seats in our Adventure Series workshops. These workshops were developed so that we could visit the varied and limitless beauty that lies outside of our national parks and the more typical workshop schedule. Experience the stark beauty of Devils Tower National Monument, camp and hike the hither regions of Olympic National Park on our Shi Shi Beach Backcountry adventure, or immerse yourself in the culture and night vibe of Cuba. Wherever and whenever it may be, we’d love to have you join us in 2019. Come and help us Seize the Night!

National Park Patch Lady

I Brake For Brown Signs Bumper Sticker

Who doesn’t get excited by those brown road signs? They always point us to something fun, interesting or awe-inspiring. Show your love for our national treasures by sporting this “I Brake For Brown Signs” bumper sticker from our fellow parks enthusiast Sandra Ramos, aka National Park Patch Lady.

Nikon

Z6

We are very excited to see Nikon join the full-frame mirrorless world, and we have put the Z7 through the night paces. It’s frickin’ amazing, but those 100 MB file sizes make stacking stars a longer process than we prefer. We’ve been able to get our hands on the Z6 for a only hot minute, but it looks like the perfect companion to bring on our nocturnal adventures. The 24.5 megapixels will still give us tons of image quality to work with, without having to buy a new computer! The ISO image quality is an absolute game-changer. 6400 ISO is the new 1600, and we would not hesitate to use 12800 or even dabble with 25,600. If you are already a Nikon user, get the kit that comes with the FTZ adapter so you can use your current glass!

Palette

Starter Kit

The digital darkroom is far superior to the image-making technology of yesteryear, but let’s admit it—a mouse, touchpad or tablet doesn’t really provide intuitive controls for the sliders, buttons and checkboxes found in image-editing software. Enter Palette! Their system of interchangeable modules of physical sliders, buttons and dials allows you to take easy control of apps such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and more. Magnetic connections allow you to rearrange the modules however they make sense to you, and the control app allows you to set whatever commands and functions you want quick access to. New to the Palette game? Try starting with the Starter Kit, which features a slide, a dial and two buttons. When you’re ready to grow, simply add more modules individually.

Peak Design

Travel Backpack 45L

The Travel Backpack 45L is the ultimate travel backpack that adapts to all of your journeys. Beautifully, comfortably and simply designed with the single idea that no two trips are the same. The exterior is incredibly durable with easy-to-access pockets and the interior is totally customizable for both photo and general travel. The large camera cube is perfect for a pure photo trip, but the packing cube, tech pouch and larger wash pouch convert the photo backpack into the perfect weekender. Shipping in December!

Photographers Breakthrough

Adobe Lightroom: Inside Library and Develop

Understanding how to organize, find and enhance your images in Lightroom is an essential skill for any photographer. Produced by our colleague and noted author Tim Cooper, the “Adobe Lightroom: Inside Library and Develop” video is as beneficial to the first-time user as it is to those who have been using the program for years. This 33-part, 6-hour training video starts at the very beginning with catalog creation and image organization, and ends by demonstrating high-end image enhancement. Concentrating on only the Library and Develop modules allows Tim to fully explain and demonstrate the most relevant aspects of this powerful program.

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

PhotoPills

PhotoPills App

Take Your Medicine. National Parks at Night just spent a weekend teaching with and learning more from Rafael Pons, the bard of PhotoPills. He’s the public face of the world’s best photography utility app, and he’s here to help. We’ve used and loved PhotoPills for years, but Rafa took us all, as well as our New York Night Photography Summit attendees, to the next level. The “pills” are individual utilities to help with different photography tasks. Convert exposures, calculate depth of field, determine where the Milky Way will be, or plan a photo idea from 3,000 miles away so you know in advance when the best time to get the shot will be. It’s really the only photo app you, and every photographer on your list, needs. Available for iOS and Android.

Shimoda

Explore 60

Creating a photo backpack that wears comfortably, and has smart organizational features inspired by serious backpackers, is a challenge. Fortunately, Shimoda nailed it. Their Explore 60 (it holds 60 cubic liters of gear) has an innovative harness system that adjusts for XL, L, M and S body types. The interior system has many module options, and each comes with a lightweight zipper bag for when you want to just go hiking without your camera gear. Matt lovingly calls his Shimoda 60L “the Kitchen Sink,” as it allows him to come prepared for almost anything on a workshop. Available in “blue nights” or “sea pine” colors.

Tether Tools

ONsite D-Tap Battery

Tether Tools is known for their studio solutions, and their new ONsite Power system is keenly geared to plugging in your computer wherever your shoot. However, it’s also a great solution if you need to recharge in remote locations. The ONsite D-Tap to AC Power Supply comes with two AC outlets and four USB connections, and when you connect the D-Tap Battery with V-Mount (sold separately) you get a ton of juice! It’s the perfect solution for day-to-night time-lapses, for long nighttime exposures, or for 2- to 3-day wilderness trips. Charge devices such as laptops, camera and flashlight batteries, tablets, phones and more—wherever power is needed. TSA approved for carry-on luggage.

Vallerret

Skadi Zipper Mitt Photography Glove

The Folks at Vallerret just don’t slow down. Their tireless pursuit of warm hands brings a crop of new releases this year including a revised version of the Markhof Pro model for mid-winter use, the Alta Over Mitt for Arctic conditions, and the new Skadi Zipper Mitt which provides the warmth and comfort of a mitten with the versatility of a glove. A warm, windproof merino wool and thinsulate lined mitten with an easy-to-grasp zipper covers a form-fitting glove that has touch sensitivity and allows for unimpeded camera adjustments in cold weather. The mitten is fully removable, and has an integrated leash so you don’t have to put them down if you need to momentarily take one off. The mitten has plenty of room for a hand warmer if you need it.

Van Cleef & Arpels

Midnight Planétarium Watch

Not just a watch. It’s a timepiece. One geared toward aficionados of the night. One that brings the story of the solar system to life on your wrist. Encased in pink gold, the Midnight Planétarium Watch depicts the real-life orbits of five planets—a serpentine Mercury, a chloromelanite Venus, a turquoise Earth, a red jasper Mars, a blue agate Jupiter and a sugilite Saturn—while a shooting star indicates earthly time. Priced a little over $200,000, which is far less than NASA spends to track the same information remotely.

Western Digital

My Passport Wireless Pro

Want to travel light on your next adventure but still have security for backing up your files? Western Digital’s My Passport Wireless Pro will make you think twice about hauling your laptop. This hard drive-plus offers direct download via SD slot, or you can plug your card reader into the USB 2.0 slot. From there you can wirelessly transmit and view the files on your tablet or phone. It’s compatible with both Mac and PC and can charge your USB connected devices as well. Available in capacities of 1TB to 4TB.

X-Rite

X-Rite i1 Photographer Kit

Are you trying to master your color management workflow? If you aren’t, then think again. Starting from a profiled and calibrated neutral setting for your camera and your computer monitor helps you to make better edit decisions. You’ll have the confidence of knowing that the colors you choose are the ones you will share with the world when you export your masterpieces. The X-Rite i1 Photographer Kit will help make that happen.

Yaktrax

Chains

Named after the sure-footed Himalayan yak, Yaktrax help you get a grip! Night photography presents all sorts of challenges from basics like finding your way in the dark to the technical limitations of pushing your camera to the limit. Slipping and sliding on snow or ice shouldn’t get in the way of getting the shot, and Yaktrax are a simple and affordable solution to the slippery situations you might encounter this winter. They create a solid, secure grip with a patented system of coils or chains that bite into the ice below your feet. We used them last year in Iceland and found that the basic Walk model provided a measure of confidence in packed snow, but the Chains model gave us extra traction on both snow and ice, allowing us to safely get wherever we needed to go in order to get the shot.

YES Watch

Equillibrium

We’ve always been a fan of the YES Watch, as a tool for keeping track of the times of sunrises and sunsets, moonrises and moonsets, and other similar information while globetrotting for photography. This year YES released a brand new model, the Equilibrium, that brings time tracking to a whole new level. Available with a wide choice of bevels, straps and finishes so you can customize your look.


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, some exclusive discount codes, and photo tips from all five National Parks at Night instructors. You can download that for free right here:

NPAN 2018 Holiday Guide cover.jpg

Get your 2018 Gift Guide ebook

… for free!

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

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.

(No, We’re Not Crazy) Why You Should Use a Circular Polarizer at Night

I had another “What if?” moment, dear readers.

It was this: What if I use a circular polarizer at night?

My mind boggled. It balked. It basically said, “There are tons of reasons you should not even consider doing that.”

Such as:

  • You’ll lose up to 1.5 stops of light! My precious light …

  • It’s going to be hard to see the effect through the lens.

  • A polarizer is another thing to carry and/or take care of. (Have you seen my backpack? I call it the “kitchen sink.”)

  • Your sensor will capture fewer stars—perhaps?

  • You may be disappointed.

So What?

Despite all those naysaying, braying voices in my head, I set about scraping out some moments during our Rocky Mountain National Park workshop to run some experiments.

Why? Well, I know polarizers have these positive traits:

  • minimized reflections, making water easier to see through

  • more vibrant colors and deeper saturation

  • reduced highlights, which puts more of the exposure inside the dynamic range of my camera

  • eliminating or reducing off-axis light

That last one was really exciting to me, as we would have lots of moon at Rocky Mountain, as well as at our workshop immediately afterward at Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Maybe, just maybe, I could make a polarizer do something useful—or even something amazing.

Note: Since my polarizer was a screw-in 95mm, I did not go through the hassle of removing it during tests. I simply set it to minimum effect for the “before” images and maximum effect for the “after” images.

Testing My Hypothesis on Star Trails

So I set out to test my hunch that it would work. After all, it’s just science, right?

On our final day of the workshop, we embarked on an add-on adventure with five attendees, during which we hiked with our gear almost 2 miles (one way) with 650 feet of elevation gain at over 8,000 feet of altitude. It was challenging, but we did it.

Our first shoot location, Emerald Lake, had a moon shadow slipping around to the right. The moon was at my left shoulder—ideal conditions to make a polarizer work.

Tip: Polarizers work best when used perpendicular to the light source (90 degrees). So keep the moon (or sun, if you are so inclined), on your right or left shoulder.

I set the polarizer to minimum effect:

Nikon D850, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400.

Exactly what I’d expected. Not a lot of stars. So I turned off my camera, peeped through the viewfinder, turned the polarizer and found the area of deepest effect:

Nikon D850, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400.

I was so excited (and it was so cold) that I settled into a sequence of eight 7.5-minute exposures, totaling one hour:

Nikon D850, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. Eight frames at 7.5 minutes, f/2.8, ISO 6400.

Booyah. Many stars, despite shooting with broad moonlight. It worked!

As we started hiking back down, we stopped at Dream Lake. I wandered to the south end of the lake with a student and set up another test, this time with stiller water. (There had been crazy wind up at Emerald Lake.) I ran two high ISO tests at 15 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400:

I loved what was happening so much that I wanted to grab two 15-minute exposures to compare:

(I wish I’d done the “without” photo first, because the moon came out more during that exposure.)

So, then I had another “What if?” moment during editing. What if I used the water from the zero-polarizer shot and masked it in to the yes-polarizer shot?

Nikon D850, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 15 minutes, f/2.8, ISO 100. Maximum polarization (in the sky portion).

Again, a wonderful solution for pulling out more stars and deeper, darker skies. Plus, if you shoot both, you can choose the best of each and blend them together. That’s powerful stuff.

And then the Rocky Mountain workshop was over. … But I had another workshop (with Lance) in two days, so Chris and I hustled down to Chaco Culture. And during the second-to-last night, I had a couple of moments here and there to test again.

Facing north, I wanted to test how many stars I could capture at f/13 for a star trail rip.

Test shot No. 1. Nikon D750, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 25 seconds, f/11, ISO 3200. Maximum polarization.

Test Shot No. 2, with a different polarizer orientation: Nikon D750, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 25 seconds, f/11, ISO 3200. Three-quarter polarization.

I felt it had better skies. I wanted a touch darker, so I dropped to f/13 and I committed to a one-hour shot with Long Exposure Noise Reduction turned on.

I admit, I had to do some post work to pull out the stars on the skies, but they’re there!

Nikon D750, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 1 hour, f/13, ISO 50. Three-quarter polarization.

I think next time I’ll shoot such a photo at f/8 to see a touch more stars. But it’s not the normal, cluttered sky we get without polarization and a much wider aperture. And the sky in the background is darker—much darker—which is something we don’t generally see when shooting in moonlight.

But what about the Milky Way?

Well, what about the Milky Way? It’s a silly question, right? You can’t shoot the Milky Way on a moonlit night.

Or … ?

This last test, if successful, would be the coup de grace, on my circular polarizer experiments. Can I extract a Milky Way from moonlit skies? It was an idea raised by Jason, a Rocky Mountain attendee who was on that hike with us the week before. And now I could try it out.

Now in New Mexico, we were shooting at Pueblo Bonito, the park’s showpiece ancient structure, which features over 600 rooms plus multiple kivas of fascinatingly intricate architecture.

There was a 25-minute window of darkness between the end of twilight and moonrise. We hustled to nail the Milky Way during that window, but I suspected I had an advantage with a circular polarizer and hoped I could make it appear even after moonrise.

As soon as the moon rose, people started repositioning to re-frame to make the Milky Way less important. They couldn’t see it. But … maybe I could?

First shot, with minimum polarization:

Nikon D750, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 25 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400. Minimum polarization.

And then...

Nikon D750, Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8. 25 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400. Maximum polarization.

Double booya. Ignoring the fact that someone did light painting in the foreground for this shot, check out that Milky Way! This is not a composite. It’s one frame, with some Lightroom adjustments.

You may notice that the area of sky around the Milky Way is darkest. That’s not from a local adjustment in post, but rather that’s where the circular polarizer’s effect happens. I strategically placed the effect right along the axis of the Milky Way. The polarization occurs only in that area (rather than the whole sky) because I am using a superwide lens and the effect covers a limited angle.

Anyway, back to the exciting part. I was able to shoot a clear Milky Way sky with a full moon lighting the landscape. My whoops of pleasure resonated from the canyon walls. I let out massive yawps of glee.

Folks, a revolution has arrived. You can put one more big gun in your bag to make your night skies sing. You can use a polarizer to photograph the Milky Way in moonlight.

When Does a Circular Polarizer Not work?

One caveat: When using ultrawide-angle lenses (like my Zeiss 15mm Distagon), you will discover that the area affected by polarization can be narrower than you want.

Check this out—I adjusted the polarizer all around to find a sweet spot, but didn’t find one: (

I also experienced some flare when the moon was at the edge of my ultrawide lens in the above.

So to avoid these two things that I found disadvantageous, I switched lenses to my 35mm, went vertical with a lens hood, and made a pano stitch (without a polarizer), and am very happy.

Note: Polarizing with pano stitches is rarely successful.

Nikon D850, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art. Ten frames at 10 seconds, f/5, ISO 6400. No polarizing filter.

So watch your images to be sure the effect is one you want to commit to, but give it a shot.

Wrapping Up

A circular polarizer is definitely worth putting in your toolkit for night photography. ’Nuff said.

And I can’t wait to see what you do with this! Please test for yourself and post your results in the Comments section here or on our Facebook page. We’d love to see what amazing things you make.

Gear

For you gear geeks: I used the Benro Master Slim Circular Polarizing screw-in filter on my Zeiss 15mm Distagon.

In case your superwide lens doesn’t accept a screw-in, know that many manufacturers, Benro Filters included, now make 100mm and 150mm square filter holders that allow for a circular polarizer to be mounted, as well as neutral density and graduated neutral density filters. It’s an amazing photography world we live in these days.

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.

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Finding Your Way in the Dark: A Guide to Seeing at Night

One of the biggest challenges of night photography can be simply finding your way in the dark. In the age of astro-landscape photography, navigating in unfamiliar territory under a new moon can be difficult, and sometimes just plain dangerous. Choosing the right light source is critical to the comfort and success of your photographic outing, for finding your footing, for setting up and adjusting your camera, and also for not ruining the experience of those you are photographing with.

Death Valley National Park. Photographers using red lights for light painting, walking around and focusing. This behind-the-scenes shot was a happy accident!

Seeing at Night

It’s tempting to use the brightest light you have to see where you’re going. But it’s actually better to forego the light whenever possible and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. Doing so lets you see the overall environment rather than just a garishly illuminated swath of light surrounded by a sea of black.

Ten to 15 minutes is enough time for most people’s eyes to adapt in order to walk around by starlight without a light. You might be surprised to know that it’s possible to drive by the light of the full moon if your eyes are fully dark-adapted! It’s quite an experience to be able to see the entire landscape at night while driving with the lights off. I’m not suggesting that you try this yourself, but I’ve done it out in the desert many times. It just goes to show how little light is needed in order to see.

This past winter Chris Nicholson was able to drive in Everglades National Park without headlights—just the moonlight over the landscape was plenty to light the way. Photo by Chris Nicholson.

Do Unto Others …

Another consideration when working with other photographers is that your light may adversely affect your colleagues’ images. It’s easy to forget that your light is on and walk into someone else’s photo, leaving a trail of light where it isn’t wanted.

Or, if you are working in close proximity to others, shining a light on your camera to make adjustments before an exposure might accidentally light paint someone else’s foreground. Even the red lights on the back of some cameras or intervalometers can be enough to cause problems at high ISOs, and I recommend putting a piece of gaffer tape over them to prevent accidents. If you rely on the on camera or intervalometer light to help find your camera in the dark, make sure the light faces away from the scene you are photographing.

Night-Vision Tools

Some people will always need to use a light to get around, either due to low vision, balance issues or simply being afraid of the dark. That’s OK—I’m here to offer some solutions and guidelines for Finding Your Way In The Dark. (After all, I wrote the book on the subject!)

A time-lapse of a group of photographers at Olympic National Park. That’s a lot of light! Photo by Matt Hill.

Headlights

Many people use headlamps for hands-free convenience in the field, but after about the 7,000th time a student approached me to ask a question with their headlight shining in my face, I’ve banned them from my workshops.

Besides, a headlamp on your head has more or less the same effect as a headlight on your car–– it lights the path in front of you quite well, but you won’t see a thing outside the beam of the headlight. That makes it difficult to visualize your images, and to understand the terrain you have to work with.

If you do use a headlight (on your own outings), look for one with multiple brightness settings, a variable angle beam and a red light option. Our recommendation is the Coast FL75r. It has all of the features mentioned, and it’s rechargeable!

Red Lights

Another popular option (mentioned above) is to use a red light to help preserve night vision. Astronomers have long used red flashlights in the observatory or in the field for this purpose, and it does help to preserve dark adaptation.

However, there are a number of downsides to using a red light. The highly saturated color of red LED lights tends to “bleed” into photographs in ways that are not desirable. Using a red light to get from point A to B is fine on flat ground, but can be downright dangerous on uneven ground because the red light severely limits your depth perception, as Gabe and I were recently reminded of while scrambling over the rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park.

Notice how the red light “bleeds” into the area surrounding these photographers at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Photo by Matt Hill.

Multi-Brightness Lights

Many flashlights these days have a variety of brightness settings from dim to super bright. Variable brightness comes in handy, as different jobs require different intensities.

Unfortunately, most flashlights default to the brightest setting, meaning that you have to click through the various options to find the one you want, often blasting your retinas with 600 lumens in the process. If you do use a flashlight with multiple brightness options, look for one that remembers the last used setting when next you turn it on—or, even better, one that lets you program your favorite settings. (The FourSevens Quark lights do just that, but are temporarily unavailable as of this writing.)

Using an overly bright flashlight for focusing at Key’s Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park. This is a good way to knock out your dark adapted eyes for a good 20 minutes!

No Lights

If you have the luxury of time to wait for your eyes to dark adapt, you have good eyesight and you’re traveling on level ground, I suggest trying to work without a flashlight except for light painting. It can take some to get used to, but is really quite enjoyable once you do.

Of course, it helps to memorize the key buttons on your camera–– exposure controls, info, image review, live view and magnify. Some cameras—like the Nikon D500, D5 and D850—have illuminated buttons, and the Pentax K1 has onboard LED lights in a few locations to illuminate the camera controls. If we’re lucky, these features will become more common on future cameras.

Dim Lights

Perhaps the best option for most people is to find an exceptionally dim flashlight to use both for moving around and for adjusting your camera or finding things in your bag. I have found that a dim white light is just as good as a red light for preserving night vision, and is easier to work with.

Just as we adjust the brightness of our camera LCDs to match ambient light levels, we should do the same with our flashlights. The challenge is that flashlight manufacturers generally produce the brightest lights they can. There’s been a “lumen war” with flashlights that parallels the megapixel war between camera manufacturers. An easy solution that’s already in your pocket is to use the lock screen or home screen on your phone. It has an adjustable brightness level and should be adequate for most situations. A single AAA cell Mini Maglite is another option.

DIY Dim Lights

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are big fans of Coast flashlights, and since our first season, our workshop students have received free HP1 flashlights compliments of Coast. It’s a great little light, and quite bright for its size.

Last fall, I was having a conversation with our Coast representative about the difficulty of finding a light that was dim enough for the purposes mentioned above, and he told me about a new model we might be interested in, the G9. It’s tiny, uses a single AAA battery and has a relatively dim, fixed beam. He sent me a sample, and with a quick and easy hack it turns out to be perfectly suited for illuminating your camera or the inside of your bag without ruining your night vision. I’m pleased to say that this year, our workshop participants will all receive a Coast G9 flashlight.

 The Coast G9 flashlight is a great choice for night photographers.

The Coast G9 flashlight is a great choice for night photographers.

Now about that hack I mentioned: Unscrew the headpiece, place a bit of tissue or toilet paper behind the bezel, then screw the headpiece back on. The result is a soft, dim light that’s perfect for astro-landscape photography uses in dark sky environments. It’s also possible to add color-correcting gels while you have it open, if you prefer a warm light to the native daylight balance of the light. (Tim wrote a blog post about color-correcting flashlights last year.)

Most modern flashlights don’t allow you to add diffusion behind the bezel, but you could always reduce the brightness of a flashlight with tissue or neutral density filters taped to the front of the light; it’s just not as convenient.

In Conclusion

No matter how you light it, safety should be your first concern. If you need a brighter light to get around, by all means use one. Night photographers have been known to get themselves into questionable situations to get the shot, be it at the edge of a cliff, balanced on a rock ledge, or sneaking into condemned buildings full of broken glass and rusty metal.

Even if you’re sticking to level ground, being prepared with the right light for the situation will make your experience better in the end. Be safe, and be mindful of those around you when working with flashlights in group situations.

I challenge you to Seize The Night and Find Your Way In The Dark!

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.

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The Night Photography Game-Changer: Day for Night Filters Now Available

At first glance, the National Parks at Night mission might appear to be solely about venturing into parks in the dark to teach night photography. But our broader mission is much … well, broader. It’s about pushing the envelope for the entire world of night photography.

To that end, we’ve been quietly working hard for the past 14 months to develop our first tangible product—a set of tools that will at once help established night photographers expand their creative potential and give new night photographers an easier way into the niche.

And finally, we are very proud and excited to announce the National Parks at Night “Day For Night Filters.”

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This is a toolkit of seven classes of filters—available individually, in sets or in one comprehensive package—designed to allow certain types of night photography to be executed even when conditions aren’t right for traditional approaches to shooting in the dark.

The idea behind the filters is born from the old-time filming technique of “day for night”—essentially, using daytime light conditions to produce a nighttime look. But while the film crews of yesteryear generally accomplished this effect simply by underexposing, this toolkit goes a step further.

How The Filters Work

All our filters feature a neutral density (ND) base layer, which is then etched to produce different common astro-landscape looks when photographing a daylight scene. The etched portions allow daylight in while the ND portions keep other areas dark. The combination allows for a wide range of effects, from star points to star trails to the Milky Way and even auroras! Plus much, much more.

The ND portions, however, are not completely neutral—they have a cool-toned coating (mired-blue, for the tech-minded reader) that produces a truer “nighttime” look. Conversely, the etched portions of the filters have a mix of warming tones. This DualTemp (patent pending) combination of these two color-correcting filter technologies produces images that look exactly as if they were photographed at night.

The Toolkit

Our initial rollout is a selection of filters crafted to reproduce the most popular night photography scenarios, as detailed below.

(Unless otherwise noted, all filters are available in rectangular format in sizes 85mm, 100mm and 165mm.)

Star Points Filter

The most basic of our Day For Night Filters is the “Star Point,” which allows you to photograph “under a night sky” no matter what time of day you’re shooting. The neutral density overlay is pocked with tiny pits, each a different size with subtle variations in color temperature, all of which combine to create a highly realistic starry sky effect when shot with daylight color temperatures.

The Star Points kit includes three filters with different densities of stars, for maximum creative leeway.

Star Trails Filter

Sometimes stationary stars aren’t enough. Enter our “Star Trails” filter, which allows you to create the illusion of bending time, even with considerably short exposures.

These filters come in different star densities (low-density for fewer star trails, high-density for more), and also come in different trail lengths (4mm, 16mm and 32mm) to mimic various long-exposure times. The entire set will allow for maximum creativity, giving the option to swap in different effects for different scenes.

Star Circles Filter

One of the coolest tricks to round out the night photographer’s repertoire is the ability to produce star circles by pointing north on a clear night and opening the shutter for a good hour or more. But now you can create the same effect pointing in any direction (opening up many more possible compositions), and in much less time!

Our “Star Circles” filters come in two varieties:

Rectangular, which offers a fixed set of star circles that can be positioned to suit the composition by moving the filter up or down in the holder.

Circular, which features a rotating ring that makes the star trails shorter or longer.

Milky Way Filter

Perhaps the most popular night photography achievement of the past decade is the ability to capture the dense cluster of stars of the Milky Way. But even though modern camera technology has put our galaxy in reach of shutterbugs throughout the solar system, photographing it still comes with challenges—namely, having to wait for the right time of year to view it, the right time of night for it to appear over the horizon, and its propensity to hardly ever be hovering in a compositionally pleasing place in the scene.

All those issues are solved by using our “Milky Way” filter. It comes in a standard rectangular format, which enables you to place the galactic core anywhere you want in the sky of your composition, and you can then adjust the angle of the core by rotating your filter holder.

Moon Phases Filter Kit

Normally, if you have a solid idea of how you want the moon to look in a scene, you need to do a lot of planning to make it happen. Earth’s only satellite floats all over the night sky, and its particular phases appear only once per month.

All these challenges dissipate once you begin using our “Moon” filters. A set of 10 filters allows you to add the moon to any scene, in any way you want. The entire “Moon Phases” kit features the moon in three different sizes (grande, venti and trenta) and four different phases (full, quarter, crescent and new).

Moon filters can be used alone for a clean-sky effect, or stacked with Star Point filters for a combined, starry sky effect.

Aurora Filter

We almost didn’t manufacture this filter because of the technical complications first in manipulating the necessary technology, and then in actually constructing the glass. But to be honest, it’s the filter we’re most excited about: the “Aurora.”

Until now, photographing auroras has been the playground only of those willing to travel to far-flung polar regions, such as the popular photography destinations of Iceland, Norway and Red Dog Mine, Alaska. But if you want to shoot the northern lights from your own back yard, then this filter is all you need.

Our Aurora filters come in two varieties:

Rectangular, which offers a fixed aurora that can be positioned to suit the composition by moving the filter up or down in the holder.

Circular, which features a rotating ring that changes the shape of the aurora!

(If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, please be sure to order the “Southern Lights” filter for the most accurate results.)

BONUS! — The Keimig Firework Filter

For a limited time only, free with any purchase of three or more filters is an out-of-the box idea from National Parks at Night partner and instructor Lance Keimig, whose motto is, “There’s no night landscape that doesn’t look better with fireworks!”

The “Keimig Firework Filter” is rectangular, making it positionable so that you can place the firework where it serves the composition best. Now any day (or night) can be the 4th of July or New Year’s.

(Coming this December, be sure to look out for our “Keimig Kristmas Lights” filter set, which will accomplish similar results. Decorate the rim of the Grand Canyon!)

Filters That Solve Problems

We’re confident that our Day For Night filters will solve many of the entry barriers to nocturnal photography, and will also help ease the burdens of experienced night photographers. Quite simply, night photography is hard, and these filters make it easier.

  • No more need to wait for Milky Way season.
  • No more need to travel to aurora “destinations.”
  • No more in-the-dark focusing hassles.
  • No more looking for something to do during crazy-long exposures.
  • Get to sleep at a reasonable hour.

How to Purchase

All of our Day for Night filters are being carried exclusively by B&H Photo in New York City, as well as the camera department of the General Store in Bodie, California, and are available for purchase immediately. Please click the button below to order.

Get Creative!

The only thing that excites us more than developing and releasing these filters is that now we get to see what you do with them. We encourage you to get out into the field, use these great new night photography tools, and share your images in the comments section.

Seize the night! (Or day!)

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.

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A Guide to Light Writing Tools

When you turn your lights away from your subject and toward the lens, a world of creative opportunity opens up to you.

Light writing can be a fun and fantastic way to add "something extra" to a night photo, whether you're shooting a city scene, a natural landscape or night portraits. (In fact, we'll be playing with a lot of light writing tools and toys during our Catskills Night Portraiture this spring and fall.)

But what to use? Where do we start? Help, Matt!

Fear not, explorer of the night. … Grab a mug of cocoa and settle in. Let's get jiggy with light.


The Basic Tools

Flashlights

You can use a really bright flashlight (like a Coast HP7R) to make a visible beam in the sky, or a low-powered penlight (like the Coast A9R) or a simple keychain LED light for delicate scribing in the air.

Lomo also makes the really interesting Light Painter Z140TORCH.

Flashlight Add-Ons

When you use a flashlight, you can accessorize it by adding some cool tools made just for light writing (and painting, but that's another topic …).

Light Painting Brushes is the premier manufacturer that really understands light painters/writers. Jason Page (the creator) has made a robust system of tools to choose from, including plexiglass bladesfiber optic wands, color filters, light painting bottles and light swords. But if you really want to get serious about drawing in the air, snag a Light Writer set and loosen up your shoulder muscles.

Be sure to grab a Universal Connector and get started! FWIW, having this one accessory doubles as a great snoot. Kill the spill from the edges of your flashlight for more control.

Laser Pointers

Laser pointers aren't just for making cats dizzy. They are also a cool way to scribe really sharp lines on objects. Tip: Never point it directly at your lens—it can irrevocably damage your camera's sensor.

Kerosene Lanterns

I love October, because there are lantern tours at cool places like Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Waiting for a tour to walk through with that gorgeous upglow makes for delicious, warm light. 

A less combustible option is an LED camping lantern.

Lighters

Gosh, I haven't done this since I was a teenager (can't you tell by the above photo?). But grabbing a simple cigarette lighter and using it behind objects can create smooth, warm light trails. Just be careful not to burn your thumb!


Specialized Professional Tools

Pixelstick

The classic commercial realization of being able to write images in the air, one row of pixels at a time. Load your designs into the 6-foot Pixelstick and swing it around for massive light writing effects. 

Magilight

This 3-foot tool, currently still in crowdfunding mode on Indiegogo at the time of writing, promises some upgrades versus the Pixelstick, including a splash-proof design, a sliding/rotating handle, mini LED stick accessory and more. Fingers crossed they make it to production, and on time, because I can't wait to get my hands on one. (Or two!)

Make your own Digital Light Wand

Are you handy with electronics and programming? Well, you can make your own Pixeltstick/Magilight with the instructions provided by Michael Ross on his website. He released this project back in 2010, making him the O.G. digital light writing wizard.

Westcott Icelight 2

This powerful handheld LED wand has a rechargeable battery, diffuser, tungsten gel filter and more. Pointed toward the lens, it makes a smooth bar of light.

Night Writer

Darren Pearson (aka prolific and talented artist @dariustwin) created the Night Writer light writing system with interchangeable color tips so you can craft your fantasies in the air like Picasso.

Lapiz Freehand RGB

The Lapiz Freehand RGB is a tool I haven't used (yet …) but I had to share. It's for the artist who wants to draw their visions freehand. RGB controls, dimmer and 20 color presets with memory. Hella cool. Visit the website (link above) for some images showing what you can do.

Projectors

Digital projectors are tiny now! Pocket Pico Projectors even come with batteries. So, you can bring your images or designs out into the field and project them onto surfaces, people and more!


The Less-Than-Obvious Tools

Your phone or tablet

The flashlight and screen are both light sources. Plus, I bet you already have one! The larger the light source, the softer the effect.

I often use the GlowStickGo app to make pretty colors. The $0.99 upgrade is worth it.

Using other people's lights

In the above examples, I noticed hikers or climbers using headlamps and flashlights in my scene. Rather than gnashing my teeth, I said, "Heck, let's use this as an advantage."


My Favorite Toys

Balloons

Either stuff a glow stick inside pearlescent balloons, or get some with the LEDs already inside. Makes a soft, ethereal effect.

Battery-powered Christmas lights

Christmas lights make sharp, crisp lines of light. And if you tape them together in a bundle, you can create a bright grouping of light streaks. Or you can be like one our Death Valley attendees and make a suit out of them, put it on, then frolic in front of your open shutter. Be sure to get battery-powered lights, or you'll have to bring a noisy gas-powered AC generator.

LED Frisbees

Want a good workout? Try throwing an LED Frisbee back and forth with a pal for eight minutes without pause. It will test your endurance, but makes for fun night photography!

LED Helicopters

I love these little rubber-band launched LED toy helicopters. Keeping three to five of these in my bag takes up barely any room at all. Creating mysterious alien landings anytime is easy.

Glow Sticks

I love the foxfire effect that glow sticks have. They aren't very bright, but they can add a subtle mystery to your light writing, and are small and easy to carry.

Poi Balls

Poi Balls are as fun as a Hula Hoop—without need for bodily coordination.

EL Wire

Slightly brighter than a glow stick. I use EL Wire to make fire effects, without the danger. 


Dangerous Things You Should not do Within a National Park or Without Safety & Planning

Sparklers

Duh. Fireworks are forbidden in national parks. Don't do it. But when and where you are allowed to use sparklers, there is no substitute! Sparkly, drippy fun.

Steel Wool

Again, don't light fires in national parks except where expressly permitted. Like in campsites. In fire rings. And not with steel wool—stick to a lighter, or rubbing two sticks together. But for those times when you're in a place that does not have those restrictions, and it's near/on water or in the rain, and not on or near wood, spinning steel wool in a wire whisk on a string makes for some amazing effects.

Household Lighting Fixtures

Some lighting fixtures have an AC cord (not hard-wired). I've experimented with swinging them through a long exposure with great success.


Wrapping Up

So, you may think I'm nuts. Couldn't agree with you more. I am nuts about lights, and experimenting with them. I hope you try all of the above!

Have you tried something I didn't mention? Let me know in the comments! I'm game for some more light writing fun.

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