Friday, November 25, 2016

Omni-directional Light Painting with Mini LED Camp Lanterns

Lighting the underneath side of natural arches like Mesa Arch (Canyonlands Nat'l Park, Utah) is the perfect application for omni-directional mini LED camp lanterns. © Royce Bair
Wayne Pinkston photographed the Milky Way with this cottonwood tree at the bottom of a sandstone pothole, during a workshop I was conducting in Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l Monument. Once again, I used an omni-directional mini LED camp lantern, placed near the bottom of this 60 feet (18 m.) deep pothole. (Wayne has a new version of this photo, you may like even better.) See the pre-dusk lighting preparations, below. © Wayne Pinkston
Preparing a string of tied-together mini LED camp lanterns and lowering them into the 60 feet (18 m.) deep pothole, just before dusk. The last few feet of orange nylon rope is traded for transparent monofilament (the kind used for fishing) and tied to a large rock, and placed behind the photographers so it cannot be seen in our photos. Photographers then prepare to shoot during the "blue hour" twilight. Once this is done, two of the three lights are turned off, as only one is need for full Astronomical Dusk photography with the stars. Click photos to enlarge. Photos by Eugene Louie and Royce Bair

Camp lanterns cast light in all directions (omni-directional, or almost 360 degrees). They are one of the three types of lights I discuss and demonstrate in my Milky Way NightScapes eBook. The other two are LED panel lights and spotlights. Spotlights have very narrow beams with high intensity, and must be kept moving during the camera exposure process. Panel lights and camp lantern lights are wide-angle coverage lights that can be stationary during the camera's exposure.

Problems with most LED camp lanterns. There are two major problems I have with most LED camp lanterns when using them for NightScape style photography: 1.) Most LED lights are too cold or bluish. To make them usable, I usually have to wrap an orange conversion filter around the lantern. Without the filter, their output is typically between 5600º Kelvin (a little bluer than daylight) to 8000º Kelvin (very blue). This does not match the camera White Balance I like to use for starry night photography, which is between 3800º to 4400º Kelvin. By the way, scientists have also proven that the bluish LED lights cause more eye fatigue—something to consider if you plan to do a lot of night reading in your tent.  2.) Most LED lanterns are too bright. When you are working with high ISO's between 3200 and 6400, you do not need a lot of light to exposure your foreground features. (Wayne Pinkston and I like to call this Low Level Landscape Lighting or LLL. In most cases, we are only trying to match the brightness of the stars.) Most LED camp lanterns only have two brightness settings. Even at the lower setting, I typically have to wrap several layers of translucent, white cloth around the lantern in order to make these older lanterns dim enough for NightScape style photography.

Sunset Arch, in Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l Monument was lit underneath with two older style mini LED camp lanterns that had to be filtered to 3200º K and wrapped with several layers of white, translucent fabric in order to dim their bright light output. © Royce Bair
The "Shane Cabin" near Kelly, Wyoming (used in the 1953 movie, "Shane") was also lit inside with three older style mini LED camp lanterns that had to be filtered to 3200º K and wrapped with several layers of white, translucent fabric in order to dim their bright light output. © Royce Bair 

LED Camp Lanterns Compared 2011 - 2016: 1.) GE Chromalit 3D lantern, circa 2011. 300 lumens output, powered by eight D-cell batteries (very heavy), but could last for up to 200 hours in its low setting. All of the following are considered "mini" lanterns, except for #6, which is a "micro" lantern.  2.) Life Gear Glow lantern, circa 2012, white (very blue) and red LEDs, 25 lumens.  3.) CREE XLamp Warm White LED Camping Lantern, circa 2013. Output 110 lumens on high. The low setting is capable of 48 hours run time, using 3 AA batteries. It's light usually warm enough to not require filtration, but even at low power it often required several layers of white fabric to dim it enough for starry night photography.  4.) Ozark Trail LED Lantern, circa 2014. This original Walmart product produced 50 lumens on high (the current model produces 75 lumens). Its 25 lumens low setting allowed it to run for 28 hours on 3 AA batteries. It is show here with an orange conversion filter that I’ve wrapped around it. Even with it’s low setting, the lantern usually requires 2 to 4 layers of white fabric for dimming. This lamp was used in the top photo of Mesa Arch—hung from a 20-40 feet of rope until the underneath glow of the arch look right.  5.) Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern, 2015. (See full description below.)  6.) Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Lantern, 2016. (See full description below.) Click image to enlarge.

My two favorite LED camp lanterns. Recently, I have begun to use some of the newer miniature camp lantern lights that have been appearing on the market. Two of my favorites are both made by the incredibly innovative Goal Zero, the "Power-Anything-Anywhere" company. These preferences are the Lighthouse Mini Lantern and the recently introduced Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern.

Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern: The key features for photographers are its warm, 3500ºK light output and its infinite number of dimmable selections. Although it will put out a bright 210 lumens, it can be dimmed to about 7 lumens! You can also choose to operate only one side of the lantern (180 degree coverage), or choose to use both sides of the lantern (360 degrees). With these options, and the dimmer, the battery can last from 4 to 500+ hours (about 26 days)! The powerful (3000 mAh) and rechargeable Li-ion battery (via a built-in USB cord) is also capable of recharging your mobile phone or a GoPro camera via a USB outlet. Four power indicator lights let you know the charge status of its replaceable battery. Watch this video for more unique engineering features. View the complete PDF user guide. Price: $59.99 - ORDER direct from Goal Zero

FREE SHIPPING Alert: Receive Free Shipping for a limited time only on orders of $49+ at Goal Zero. Offer Valid 3/27/17 12AM MT - 3/29/17 11:59PM MT.

Click image to ENLARGE

Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern: The key photography features for this lantern are similar to the mini — a warm, 3800ºK light output that is completely dimmable. It's maximum brightness is 150 lumens and it can be dimmed to about 7 lumens! You can choose to operate only two of it's four LEDs or all four, and infinitely dim them. The Li-ion battery can last from 7 to 170 hours, depending on the number of LEDs you choose and how much you decide to dim them. Although the battery is not replaceable (like the mini) it can be recharged hundreds of times via a built-in USB charging tip (that folds inside when not in use). Four  blue indicator lights let you know the charge status of the battery. The lantern is also waterproof, with an IPX7 rating. Although the Micro is not as versatile as the Mini, its benefits include lower price and a remarkably small size. View the complete PDF user guide. Price: $19.99 - ORDER direct from Goal Zero

(You can also order the Lighthouse Micro Flash model, which includes a built-in flashlight, for only $5 more.)

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