Friday, August 4, 2023

Setting Up Low Level Landscape Lighting

Low Level Landscape Lighting (LLL) at Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon Nat'l Park • Lights off in top photo • Two LED panel lights turned on (each at about 5%) in middle photo • Camera moved to left in bottom photo, and pointed up to show more sky. Post processing contrast added to sky (orange light pollution reflecting on clouds from nearby town) • © Royce Bair • Click on image to enlarge

 How I Set Up My Low Level Landscape Lighting (LLL)
for Nightscape Photography

Return to LLL BASICS Home Page

I've been using the F&V Z96 LED Panel Lights for about a decade in my Low Level Lighting. They use five AA batteries, come with magnetic diffusion and warming filters, and have an analog off/on dimmer switch on the back. The Lume Cube LED panel lights are smaller, lighter, have built in Li-on rechargeable batteries, and have digital dimmer switches that show the exact light intensity output (1% to 100%) and the amount of power that is left in the battery. The light color is also digitally controlled from 5600ºK to 3200ºK. You can read my reviews on all three of these lights via the above links.

I use the Lume Cube Panel MINI as the main (base) light source in most of my LLL set ups where the foreground landscape that I'm lighting is less than 300 feet (91 meters) away. Even at this distance, I'm typically using a light intensity of less than 40% power. For distances greater than 300 feet (91 meters), I use the larger Lume Cube RGB Panel Go (which replaced the original Lume Cube Panel).

Omni-directional "camp" lanterns compared

Camp lanterns put out an omni-directional light that are great for use as "accent" lights — putting a warm glow behind a landscape feature, or under an arch. The top photo shows six different digital LED lanterns I have used over the years. Number 1 has the digital likeness and size of a Coleman gas lantern. Number 6 is the one I now use the most. It is the Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro. Its On/Off/Dimmer Button can control whether two LED lights are used (180º light coverage) or four LED lights are used (360º light coverage). It can also control the intensity of those lights. Wrapping semi-translucent cloth (or tissue paper) and colored filters around the lanterns can added additional controls for diffusion and warming the color of the lights.

© Royce Bair • Click image to enlarge

Two filtered camp lanterns were placed under Sunset Arch, in the top photo. A single panel light from the left side provided the dramatic "base" or main illumination. A single filtered camp lantern lighted the underside of Mesa Arch in the bottom photo. The lantern is hanging from a string about 50 feet (15 meters) below the arch (the string is tied to a rock). The intensity of the lantern is easily controlled by raising or lowering the lantern. Two panel lights provided the "base" or main illumination — one on either side of the arch. The panel light on the right side was set at twice the intensity as the panel on the left side, in order to provide shading on the rocks, but with some shadow detail.

LIGHTING TUTORIAL ~ 5 Ways to Produce More Even Lighting

    1. Increase lighting distance
    2. Scrim the foreground
    3. Place the light higher
    4. Feather the light
    5. Use a 2nd light for "fill"

CLICK for a 4-minute video tutorial


The Impact brand is one of my inexpensive favorites because they are so sturdy and tall (they can rise to a height of 9.5 feet, which makes them great for item #3, above), and they have a wide footprint (52") for greater stability—you'll appreciate that on windy nights. Disadvantages: They are all aluminum, so they are a little heavier than the carbon stands, which are better for backpacking into a location. They are also not as compact (42" when folded), which makes them more suitable for locations close to your vehicle.

The Manfrotto MS0490C Carbon Fiber Nanopole light stand costs about four times as much as the Impact light stands, but your back will appreciate the weight difference, if you have to backpack into your location. Although the stand only goes to 6.5 feet (77.5" / 196.8 cm) height, I can usually make up for that by finding higher ground (and it comes with a leveling leg, so that you can keep your stand vertical on uneven surfaces). For backpacking, you'll like the weight of only 1.65 lb / 0.75 kg and a compact folded length of only 20" / 50.8 cm.


Mini Ball Heads are placed between your panel lights and your light stands. The mini ball heads allow you better lighting control (to "4. Feather the light"). The top ball head is a Lube Cube product ($24.99). It's well made, but a little overpriced for your needs, in my opinion. The DSLR shoe mount at the bottom (which also has a female 1/4"-20 thread for tripod or light stand mounting) is not need for our stationary type of lighting. I think the Oben BD-0 Mini Ball Head (via B&H for $12.71) is just as well built, and accepts both 1/4"-20 and 3/8"-16 studs at the bottom, but without the DSLR shoe mount. The bottom mini ball head is a ripoff of the Terra Firma design that you can get from B&H for $15 — or you can get this cheap mini ball head on Amazon for only $3.50! (This product is more than adequate for holding and positioning a light weight LED panel on top of a light stand.) Note: If this product link disappears, just search on Amazon for "Swivel Mini Ball Head 1/4 Screw Tripod Mount" and you should find several similar products.

NOTE: This page is currently under construction. Until it is finished, please refer to this webpage about additional lighting equipment from my friend, Wayne Pinkston.

1 comment:

  1. Low voltage landscape wire is an essential component in outdoor lighting systems. Its design ensures safe and efficient power distribution, highlighting the beauty of landscapes while minimizing energy consumption. With this wire, illuminating outdoor spaces becomes a seamless and eco-friendly experience.
    Click here