Simple tools that make lightpainting easier
This article is about some useful tools that make the work of the light painting photographer easier. Other photographers who are out and about in the dark will also find some of my suggestions helpful. Where is the camera? How do I prevent the front lens from fogging up? How do I find the North Star? How do I attach prisms or templates in front of the lens? This article tries to answer these and some other questions. If you know any other tricks and tools for working at night, I look forward to your comments.
1 Where is the camera?
In most cases we work in the dark. Outdoors, especially in fields and meadows, it is easy to lose sight of the exact location of the camera. For proper work, it is necessary to know exactly where the camera is at all times. For this purpose we use luminescent markers on the tripod or on the camera or both.
So far I have not been able to find such markings in the trade. For this reason, I printed them out on the 3D printer. I am happy to give away the cubes for the flash shoe at cost price (see below).
Alternatively, the tripod can be covered with luminescent tape. Both the tape and the parts from the 3D printer can easily be charged with a torch. You can achieve greater brightness and a longer lighting time with a UV torch.
Another possibility is to attach a small lamp, such as the Fenix CL09, to the tripod. This is small, light and shines all night. The lamp has a bracket for hanging and a magnet in the rear cap.
2 Cap the lens
To prevent unwanted light traces from being recorded during the exposure, simply cover the obejtkiv. In addition, this technique offers the advantage that you can move around in the picture with the (head)lamp switched on and thus not fall into any holes or the like.
For covering, we use a thick cap made of black material. Knitted caps are usually not the best choice, light could get through the meshes. Alternatively, you can use other things for covering, the important thing is that they don’t let any light through and that they are easy to put over the front lens and easy to take off again.
The lens cap is not the best choice for this purpose. It’s too fiddly, especially in the dark.
Unfortunately, the cap we use is no longer available. Here is a link to a model that at least looks similar to ours.
A flashlight is very helpful so that you don’t fall during the light painting and can find your way home again. And such a lamp also serves well when operating the camera. The light shines where you are looking and you have both hands free for all the big and heavy light painting tools you are carrying around the scene.
Headlamps are a dime a dozen. However, most of them, especially those from the lower price range, are not particularly suitable. In case of doubt, my life and my physical integrity depend on the headlamp. It’s better to spend a few euros more on a robust, reliable and durable model.
On my head I usually have the Fenix HM65R (pictured above in the middle). It is bright, light, extremely robust, very comfortable to wear and has a more than sufficient runtime. And in a pinch, you can use the 1400 lumens to illuminate the location if you can’t get your hands out of your pockets. Unfortunately, the HM65R does not have a red light. If there are millions of mosquitoes lurking around, I usually use the small Fenix HM51R. This is even smaller and lighter than the HM65R and can also shine red. Moreover, this lamp can be easily removed from the headband and used as a lamp in light painting. Thanks to its special shape, you can work with it like with a spray can.
To fix lamps, lasers or other things on a tripod, we use Manfrotto 035 clamps. Both round and square things up to 50 mm in diameter or thickness can be securely clamped in these. The maximum load is 15kg. This means that the clamps also securely hold devices for turning light tools. We have even used a cordless screwdriver as a turning aid with the Manfrotto clamp. You can either attach the clamp directly to the spigot of a lamp tripod or use the 1/4 inch thread. Arca Swiss quick release plates are attached to our Manfrotto clamps, so we can easily attach them to any of our tripod heads.
In addition, two connected clamps can be used to attach lamps or similar items to building structures, branches or other things present at the location. To connect the clamps you need a 1/4 inch connector. The link is for a package with several different adapters. I have not been able to find these parts individually at an acceptable price.
5 Magic Arm
Another good option for mounting is the Magic Arm. This can be equipped with clamps, threads or adapters for the hot shoe on both sides. We use the Magic Arm, for example, to place prisms in front of the lens or to attach smaller lamps. All lamps or tools with 1/4 inch thread can be attached directly. In contrast to the large Manfrotto 035, the maximum load capacity of 2kg is quite low.
The original Magic Arm from Manfrotto blows quite a big hole in your wallet. We only use inexpensive replicas. Here is a link to the small clamps.
6 Remote shutter release
The Nikon D750 also works without a remote shutter release in “time” mode. Here, the first press of the shutter button starts the exposure and the second press stops the exposure. However, many cameras lack this convenience. Moreover, in some situations it is necessary to start and/or stop the exposure from a distance, especially when you are travelling alone.
When working with two people, a simple cable release with a lock is sufficient. For working alone, a wireless shutter release* is recommended. With this you can also conveniently control other functions such as exposure bracketing, startrails, delayed release etc.
*The shutter release we used is no longer available.
7 How do I prevent the front lens from fogging up?
As soon as the temperatures drop at night and the humidity is high, the front lens of the lens tends to fog up. In many cases it is sufficient to wipe the lens before taking the picture, and it usually takes a few minutes for the lens to mist up again. However, in some cases, especially at the seaside, the lens fogs up again very quickly. Especially if the exposure time is longer than 1 to 2 minutes, this can be very annoying.
If there is a risk of the front lens fogging up, we mount a heating collar on the lens. The heating reliably prevents fogging. You should mount the cuff as far as possible in the front area, preferably at the lens hood. However, you should make sure that the collar does not protrude into the picture. In the case of the Nikkor 17-35/2.8, this is exactly what would happen. That’s why the cuff is behind the lens hood in the example picture.
The runtime at medium level is about 7 hours with a 10000mAh Anker Powerbank. The medium level has been completely sufficient in all situations so far. I have not yet tested how long the runtime is at the high setting. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to take a second powerbank with you if you want to operate the heater at full power.
8 Cleaning the lens
Now that our lens no longer fogs up, you could clean it. You don’t usually see small dust particles in the picture, so you don’t have to be compulsive about cleaning, but you might see larger impurities in the result.
We use the Rocket Blower from Giottos to blow away loose deposits. Other models certainly do the job, but the Rocket Blower has been hanging on our rucksack for many years and is still doing its job reliably.
To remove greasy fingers or other adhering dirt, we use lens cleaning cloths, mostly the “good” ones from Zeiss. But I think that even with cheap cloths you don’t rub the coating off the front lens. However, you should always make sure that there are no solid particles like grains of sand on the lens or the cloth. Otherwise scratches can occur on the surface.
You always have your smartphone with you anyway. So you can also install a few useful software helpers:
- Stopwatch to monitor the exposure time.
- Google Sky Map to easily locate the North Star or other celestial bodies.
- Light Pollution Map to show the amount of air pollution in order to plan the light painting better.
- TPE shows for any place and any time easily and comfortably the rising and setting of the sun including direction and elevation angle.
- Photo Pills is one of the most complex apps for planning photo trips. Sun, Moon, Polaris, Milky Way, depth of field calculator, etc.
- Rain Radar As the name suggests, the app shows if it’s about to rain.
- Protractor Sometimes very useful when you rotate the camera around the optical axis or want to use tools at a certain angle.
I like to stuff everything I need for the light painting into my bags. Of course, I need enough large pockets for that. I usually wear trousers with lots of pockets or a waistcoat for the angler or soldier or both when I do light painting. For some paintings, a lot of things come together. 4 or 5 torches, several tools, e-cigarette, fireworks, colour filters, and so on. Another possibility would be to attach all the stuff to the belt and stow it in belt pouches. All this saves the light painter a lot of walking while working. However, you will lose track of everything if you carry too much stuff around. So you shouldn’t carry all your equipment on your body and better limit yourself to just the lamps and tools for the current picture.
I hope that one or the other of the tools described here will make your work in light painting and on your photo excursions easier from now on.
Good light all the time