Monday, June 8, 2015

Using Focusing Flashlights for Night Photography

Man (Phill Monson) searching under a starry night sky for the historic Chimney Rock in the remote Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument. One, 13-second exposure (f/2.0 • ISO 6400) while holding a Duracell
Durabeam Ultra 1000 Lumens flashlight steady above the rock (beam focused to narrowest point). The
foreground in front of Phill was illuminated with his headlamp. Chimney Rock was lighted from the left
using a stationary F&V Z96 LED Light Panel placed about 250 feet to the left of the Rock. © Royce Bair
Focusing LED Flashlights can add a dramatic touch to your NightScape photography. Because their light can be focused to a very narrow beam, their high intensity light reflects off of the moisture and dust in the air, producing a near laser or light saber effect.

Typically, LED lights are very blue in their color (many are close to 8000K to 10000K), so I usually use filters to warm them up; however, in this case, I prefer the cooler look.

Focusing methods: Most focusing flashlights move the bulb up and down through the center of the reflector to achieve their focusing effect (this is how the Maglite focuses). This usually produces dark, uneven light “rings”. The best flashlights use optics or lenses to do their focusing. The “flood” or wide beam is very even (smooth, with no hot spots or dark rings) and the “spot” is very narrow and far-reaching.

Expensive but high in quality: In my opinion the LED Lenser company has always been one of the best producer of quality LED focusing flashlights (the USA distributorship is now based in Portland, Oregon). Their construction and reliability is topnotch. About two years ago, I discovered another Portland company, Coast, that produces similar quality flashlights, with focusing optics, but often at one-third to one-fourth the price of LED Lenser.
Coast HP17 
I especially like my Coast HP17 ($68 - $110) with 970 lumens output and a beam distance reach of 479 meters (1,571 ft.). Uses 3 "D" batteries (included). Product video. Warning: older stocks of this product on the Internet produce only 615 lumens instead of 970 lumens. The new 970 lumens version is available at Lights and Knives.

LED Lenser M17R
The HP17 is comparable to another favorite: the LED Lenser M17R ($300 - $400) touting 850 lumens output and a beam distance reach of 450 meters (1,476 feet). The advantage of the M17R is that it is rechargeable, compared to the 3 D-batteries used in the Coast HP17 (which some may consider an advantage over priority rechargeable systems because you are free to use either long-term storage alkalines or generic NiMH rechargeables). Product videoAvailable at B&H for $300.

Coast HP314
One of these days I may get the Coast HP314 ($202 - $350) with 1,132 lumens output and a beam distance reach of 683 meters (2240 feet). LED Lensers has flashlights in the 1500 to 3000 lumens category, but I believe this flashlight has the best lumen output in a long distance focusing system. Uses 4 "D" batteries (included). Product video. Available on Amazon for $202.

Great Beam Distance on a budget: The Duracell Durabeam Ultra 1000 Lumens flashlight ($20 - $35), that I used in the top photo, produces an amazing 1000 lumens and a beam distance reach of 380 meters (1,247 feet). This Durabeam flashlight uses an optical beam focusing system similar to the Coast and LED Lenser flashlights. I bought my Durabeam at Costco about eight months ago for $20, but Duracell no longer produces this amazing flashlight for their Durabeam line. Even so, you can still find some stocks on Amazon and eBay. Product video. Uses 4 "C" batteries (included). June 15, 2015 update: Selected Costco stores are now carrying this flashlight again for under $20.

Duracell Durabeam Ultra 1000 Lumens
Beam Distance in meters
Lumens vs. Beam Distance: Most flashlight purchasers only look at the lumen output when considering a flashlight. Beam Distance is a better measurement of how far a flashlight can throw light. An FL 1 Standard Beam Distance rating will tell you how far the light will shine before the brightness diminishes to the equivalent of the light from a full moon. Full moon illumination is considered adequate for safe and careful travel outdoors, and it is also about 135 times brighter than starlight, so the beam should stand out in your NightScape style photos!

               Royce's 2015 NightScape Workshop Schedule


  1. Royce, It's interesting that as Chad and I were headed home this morning after your awesome event we were discussing this type of photograph, but I had not seen your post here yet. Thanks for it and thanks for the Silver Lake Meetup. I have posted a photo I took from it.

  2. It’s really such nice information to get advantage from. Bryan Peterson

  3. I guess that you are a professional photographer! Only specialists use focusing flashlights for night photography. Keep in mind that you can always follow dissertation editing services - when you are in need of a professionally-written essay.

  4. Royce, FYI, The Duracell Durabeam is available on for $18.99 but you must buy a minimum of two flashlights through the website. Thanks for your knowledge base on all things related to making photos in the night! I just checked the Costco site

  5. Great Share!

    I really found it informative and helpful. Being an electrician in Calabasas, I understand the importance of such quality stuff!

    Keep sharing! I would surely look forward!

  6. Awesome. Great article.

    Do you think this would work?

    I'm hesitant of the price.

  7. Awesome. Great article.

    Do you think this would work?

    I'm hesitant of the price.

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  9. Thanks for this useful post. Do you have any recommendations for good head lights? I am thinking for a backup light for video in some events like weddings.

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