11 Things All Night Photographers Need

Yeah, I know. “Must-have” lists are a dime a dozen. Most of them are designed to sell you something or they are little more than superficial fluff. Of course, you are now expecting me to say something like, “But this one’s different.”

Okay, this one’s different! Seriously, I’m not trying to sell you anything, although I do mention a couple of things that I do sell. I designed those things for my own personal use first and then decided to sell them because there is nothing else like them on the market. As far as it being superficial, I assure you, everything I’m listing is something I consider essential for night photography. You might not need them all, but they are part of my gear at all times.

Oh, some other things you see on lists like this are just plain stupid. Like using five spots for things like camera, lens, media card, tripod, and warm clothing. Well, duh! This list is for only those things that you might not otherwise have in your arsenal. Except for #1. If you don’t already have that one, you have bigger problems than making great night photos. But using it is another matter…

What do you think? Do you have anything on your list that’s not included here?

11 Gaffer tape

I’ve talked about this a lot and will continue to do so. You gotta tape that focusing ring to keep the gremlins from moving it after you get focus set. Trust me, it happens. Gaffer tape is ideal because it’s strong, easy to tear as needed, and it doesn’t leave a residue. Painter’s tape is a suitable cheap alternative. If you ever put duct tape on your lens, don’t tell anyone.

10 Intervalometer

I discussed intervalometers at length in this article. For night photography, they are required for shooting most star trail photos and for some time lapses.

9 Remote shutter release

Being able to fire the shutter without having to stand by the camera is essential for many light-painting situations. It’s difficult—often dangerous—to keep walking back and forth to the camera during a light-painting session, not to mention that it causes the shutter speed to be longer than needed, which increases noise.

You can use a basic intervalometer such as the Nikon MC-36A or Canon TC-80N3 for firing the shutter, but not remotely. For that, you need either an intervalometer that has remote firing capability or some other type of remote device. The choices are bewildering.

You can use devices such as the Cactus V5 and Pocket Wizard, which also will permit remote flash firing, or a simple device such as the RFN4TX, which is for firing the shutter only. There are many more choices, but I know these to work reasonably well because they are the ones I use. I say reasonably because there is no such thing as an electronic remote shutter device that is 100-percent reliable. If you have one that is, you haven’t used it enough.

8 LED flashlight

Of course, a flashlight would seem required for anyone working in the dark, but I’m not talking about being able to see. I’m talking about a flashlight for light painting. Yes, you can use any flashlight, but if you’re serious about it, you’ll want a quality light that has the features most needed for this type of work. In my opinion, the Coast HP7R is the best flashlight a night photographer can own. However, you certainly don’t need to spend that much for a good light. Here’s a detailed article that will help you decide.

7 Gel filters

Why settle for the white light from your flashlight? Why not add a little color to your photos? The best way to do this is by using colored gel filters and the best way to use gel filters currently is by getting a swatchbook from Rosco. I say currently because in the near future I will be announcing a new filter kit developed specifically for light painting. It was supposed to be available in April, but is now been delayed until July. Stay tuned.

6 GelGrip™

Okay, I admit it. I am trying to sell this one to you. But only because it will make your light painting so much easier and efficient. Gel filters are the best way to color the light coming from your flash or flashlight, but you need a method for holding the filters. For occasional use, you can get by with handholding the filter, or perhaps attaching it with a rubber band. However, I assure you that will get old in a hurry. I designed the GelGrip™ specifically to hold gel filters and allow you to change colors quickly and easily.

5 Notebook

This is among the most important pieces of gear you can own. It’s where you keep all of your planning notes, sun and moon charts, photo ideas, etc. Remember, with night photography, we have to plan our shots ahead of time. The better your notes, the better your photos. (See #1)

4 Dew heater

Unless you do all your night photography in very dry regions, you’re going to have the issue of dew (or frost) forming on your lens during the night. It’s a big problem. Solutions include battery-powered dew straps and wrapping hand warmers around the lens. I discuss all the methods for dew prevention in this article.

3 Headlamp

This one’s for seeing what the heck you’re doing in the dark while keeping both hands free. A standard headlamp works well, but I’m now using a specialized cap that is much more comfortable and easier to use. Regardless of which way you go, I recommend getting one that has a red light for preserving night vision.

2 Planning software

Software goes hand in hand with the notebook for planning night photos. Sometimes you’ll want to print out what’s on the screen and store it in the notebook and sometimes you’ll just use the software in the field. Most of the software and apps people have loaded on their devices are not really what I’d call essential; they are just cool to look at and fun to use. At a minimum, you should have a good program for the sun and moon and one for satellites, although some night owls can get by without the latter.

Here are the ones I use regularly:

Software: Stellarium
Websites: www.heavens-above.com, www.timeanddate.com
Apps: LunaSolCal, Night Sky 2

1 Your mind

The other items are listed in no particular order, but this one is by far the most important. As I continue to preach, night photography is a planned activity. We need to previsualize our shots and then do all the steps necessary to make those shots a reality. Rarely do you stumble upon a good night photo. The photo should already be in your mind long before it gets dark.

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