Friday, September 1, 2023

Low Level Landscape Lighting (LLL)

Palouse Falls (eastern Washington state) with and without Low Level Lighting (LLL) • 20 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400, with a 15mm ultra-wide lens on a full-frame DSLR camera • Copyright Royce Bair • Click image to enlarge

Low Level Landscape Lighting (LLL) public service webpage, provided by Royce Bair and Wayne Pinkston.

What is Low Level Lighting (LLL)?

  • LLL is NOT light painting — which is moving, momentary and difficult to repeat. Light painting is usually a very bright form of artificial lighting, which is jarring to your eyes and others around you.
  • LLL is a form of "stationary lighting" (on a light stand, tripod or lying on the ground).
  • LLL is constantly on during all camera exposures — making it ideal for stacking, panoramas, time-lapse and group settings.
  • LLL has a very low level brightness on the foreground surface that is less than or equal to the light from a Quarter Moon. LLL adds very little light pollution, allowing the stars to be easily seen.

Comparing LLL Intensity with Natural Light

A Comparison of Natural Light Intensity on Earth Coming From the Sun:

The measurement of light falling on the earth from the overhead Sun (90º) is 129,000 Lux. At sunset this drops to 759 Lux. At the start of the Astronomical Dusk (-18.0º), illumination from the sun drops to 0.000645 Lux! This is the darkest period of the night and the best time to photograph the Milky Way stars.

Photo courtesy of PhotoPills

   Sun Position  Intensity      Time of Day                  

  • 90 degrees  129,000 lux    Noonday Sun
  •  0             759         At Sunset
  •  -4             29.9       Start of Blue Hour
  •  -6              3.41      End of Blue Hour 
  •  -12             0.00806   Start Astro Twilight
  •  -18             0.000645  During Astro Dusk

Add to the Astronomical Dusk illumination and you get the following:

  • Total Starlight only 0.0002 lux
  • Total Starlight + airglow 0.002
  • Typical LLL "base" intensity 0.008
  • Quarter Moon phase at 30º 0.00958 
  • Quarter Moon phase at 45º 0.01602
  • Typical LLL "accent" intensity 0.024
  • Quarter Moon phase overhead (90º) 0.0267
  • Full Moon phase at 30º 0.09583
  • Full Moon phase at 45º 0.1602
  • Full Moon phase overhead (90º) 0.267

Click image to enlarge - ©Royce Bair

CONCLUSION: The typical intensity of LLL base lighting is only about 4 times brighter than starlight, and even the intensity of LLL accent lighting is less that Quarter Phase Moonlight!

Here's another example of Low Level Lighting in practice:

Rainbow Bridge (290 feet/88 meters tall, in Utah) photographed with and without Low Level Lighting. The "base" light (an LED panel light dimmed to only 5%) is about 500 feet (154 m.) from the bridge, and producing about 0.008 lux on the surface of the bridge (about 4X greater than the lux from starlight and airglow). Another panel light is behind the bridge, and is dimmed to about 15%. This produces an "accent" illumination under the bridge (about 0.024 lux on the surface), giving more character, shading and dimension. All single exposures were 25 seconds each @ f/2.8, ISO 6400, with a 15mm ultra-wide lens on a full-frame DSLR camera. © Royce Bair. • Click image to enlarge.

How Does Low Level Lighting Compare to Starlight Blends and Twilight Blends?

Low Level Lighting at "Temple of the Moon" ~ Capitol Reef Nat'l Park. © Royce Bair • Click image to enlarge

1. A single exposure (15mm lens on a Canon 6D • f/2.8, 15 sec, ISO 8000)

2. Same EXIF, but with my LLL, and stacked 18 times to reduce noise. I like the drama and "character" one can achieve with LLL — it's similar to moonlight, but you get to control the direction of the light, and it doesn't wash out or lower the contrast of your Milky Way sky.

3. Longer foreground exposure, using overhead starlight (f/4, 120 sec, ISO 6400, with Long Exposure Noise Reduction turned on), then blended with the sky exposure in number one. I like the detail I get in the foreground, but I often do not like the "flat" lighting this technique gives you. One remedy is to do a Blue Hour blend rather than a starlight blend, as these twilight blends have more of from-the-side directional light (see the bottom of this blend page for more details).

4. My LLL exposure (from 2.) blended with the foreground exposure from number 3. This gives me the best on both techniques: more foreground detail (from the longer starlight exposure) AND more "character" from the LLL.

Artificial Light Restrictions in some national parks: As of May 25, 2021 there is no longer any artificial lighting allowed in Capitol Reef National Park due to a new Superintendent’s Compendium.

Capitol Reef now joins Arches, Canyonlands, Zion and Grand Teton National Park (and Natural Bridges Nat'l Mon.) in this artificial light restriction (Bryce has an artificial light restriction, but it only pertains to the viewing of wildlife). Currently, there are only five of the 63 national parks with this restriction, and only one of the 133 national monuments have this restriction. None of the BLM lands have this restriction (that's 245 million acres compared to the 50 million ares of National Parks land). I don't know of any state parks that have an artificial light restriction, but some like the Valley of Fire in Nevada do not allow photography after sunset.



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