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Monday, May 20, 2019

Finding Your Way Back at Night

Little white LED "Ball" lights were used to find my way to and from these hoodoos in Goblin Valley, Utah. I also used yellow colored ball lights for low-level accent lighting behind the hoodoos. Some were placed under white plastic drinking cups to produce a soft, omnidirectional glow. 

Goblin Valley hoodoo maze
Returning to your pre-scouted location: Scouting for a nighttime photo location can difficult even in the daytime if you are in maze like Goblin Valley State Park, Utah (enlarge to see the people at the bottom of this inset photo). Finding you way back to the chosen the spot for the final Milky Way alignment can be nearly impossible without leaving a marked trail! What you need are electronic "Hansel and Gretel" bread crumbs—not the ones in the famed story that were eaten by the birds, causing the poor children to wander!

LED Ball Lights can be your electronic "bread crumbs!" Strategically placed, they will light your way to your pre-scouted shooting location and guide you back for your return. I've decided to nicknamed them "eCrumbs." Although I typically use tracks I've created in Gaia GPS to find my way back on long pre-scouted trails, eCrumbs work much better for shorter trails, and to mark strategic turns where one might get confused at night.

LED "Ball" lights - only about $0.15 each

Turned on by pulling tab between batteries

Quite bright at night - battery life is 2 to 4 days

Ball light in daylight marking the trail 

Two ball lights mark the trail at night

CAUTION: The LED Ball lights can attract critters! In a recent nightscape photo shoot at Rainbow Bridge near the Utah / Arizona border, we discovered that at nearly every spot we placed a light on the ground or a rock there was a scorpion next to the ball light!

Brick coke ovens lit inside by ball
lights. Photo by Robert McKendrick
Multiple Uses: These LED Ball Lights can also be used to mark the locations of where you've pre-placed Low-Level-Lighting (LLL) in the daytime, so you can return and turn these lights on. I've also placed the little lights under the tripods of cameras doing timelapse sequences so I can find them in the dark without using headlamps or flashlights. My friend, Robert McKendrick, who first introduced me to these little lights uses them to do LLL accent lighting behind foreground features or to light inside these pioneer coke ovens in central Utah. You can use the white LED color lights and wrap any color filter around them, like he did using a warming gel, or you can purchase the LED color you prefer (I prefer the yellow and white LEDs). You can control the intensity of the light by adding or subtracting the number of ball lights you use at each location, and by used diffusion tools like upside down white plastic drinking cups or tissue paper.

WHERE TO BUY: These lights are typically sold under the description of "LED Mini Round Ball Balloon Lights" or "Ball Lights for Paper Lanterns" or "Balloon Party Wedding Decoration Lights." They are usually sold in packages of 50, 100 or 200 lights. Some of the lights I've gotten in the past have been defective (about 10-20% didn't turn on when I pulled the tab). I'm currently buying my White LED Ball lights from this Amazon 'Prime' vendor, and have yet to get a defective light. I get my Yellow LED Ball lights from this Amazon 'Prime' vendor, and have had the same satisfaction (they also carry Blue, Green, Red and Multicolored lights).

Pick Up Your Trash! As I return from my shooting locations, I pick up my lights, one by one and place them in a zip-lock sandwich bag that contains the little tabs (that were pulled to turn on the lights). You can place the tabs back in between the two little batteries and reuse the ball lights at another time. Two or three reuses is about max, as the light only has about 50% of its original brightness by the end of 72 hours of use.

Water Resistant?  I recently got rained out at a nightscape photo location. As I headed back to the car, I gathered up each little ball light, some partially covered with rain water and mud, but every one was still glowing!

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