The best tool I’ve found so far for lighting my night photographs (apart from the moon!) is the Lenser T7 LED torch (note: torch = flash-light in the US). For it’s size, the T7 is an incredibly powerful torch. I’m sure there are others capable of getting the job done but having used the T7 for more than a year, I see no need to go in search of anything else.
It operates off 4 x triple A batteries and at just 141mm long is small enough to fit in your pocket. It may seem expensive for its size but it packs an amazing punch. Check the pic of the lighthouse below: the T7 had enough power to light up the side of the 37 metre (121 ft) tall Butt of Lewis lighthouse for me earlier this year.
Apart from the occasional use of a flashgun (strobe), the vast majority of my night photos are lit with the T7. The amount of light you throw on a scene can be controlled and adjusted in a number of ways. The T7 has three power settings, the most powerful of which I’ve never had to use. Almost all my night exposures last longer than two minutes, allowing plenty of time to light even the tallest of subjects.
In the lighthouse photo I spent around half the 4 minute exposure playing the beam of the T7 up and down the left side of the building, from a distance of approx 30 metres. The tower was also lit by the moon but the additional light from the T7 provides more contrast between the windowed section and the shaded right side of the tower, giving the image more depth.
Another great advantage of LED is it’s colour temperature. Although it leans toward the cooler end of the spectrum (blue rather than yellow), it effectively works as a neutral form of light i.e. it doesn’t create a noticeable colour tint. Older style torches, the type fitted with bulky batteries, give off a very pronounced yellow orange cast. Not a great way to light a photo, unless you’re deliberately looking to ‘warm’ the image with a tangerine glow.
To add coloured light to my photos, I place strips of coloured lighting gels in front of the T7. The gels are used in theatres, clubs and discos etc. Ebay is a good source. Colour is a matter of preference. You’ll find some work better than others. Also, placing a gel in front of a torch or flashgun cuts down the amount of light hitting the subject, so lighting intensity has to adjusted to suit. You can do that by lighting for longer, getting closer to the subject or using a more powerful light source.
In some circumstances, firing a flashgun (aka strobe) is a more efficient way of lighting the scene. One click in the right place and you can light a very large space with a single click, or two, or three….
That’s the exact method I used to light the interior of Scarista Church (below). It could have been done with a torch but would have taken a lot longer to execute. In the photo below I placed a red gel over the flash and popped the flash five or six times – sufficient to light the whole interior of the building in well under a minute.
My first lighting exploits were carried out with an old non-adjustable Cobra flashgun.
I’ve since upgraded to a Yongnuo 560 (pictured left). The ability to reduce power output in several increments makes it a far more versatile tool than the non-adjustable type. I’ve since purchased wireless flash triggers to my kit. These are mainly used for studio style shots rather than night photography but are great for those times you need to locate a flash in a spot that might take too long to access during the length of the exposure. I’ll go into more detail on wireless triggers in an upcoming post.
And finally… nothing to do with lighting but a product worth mentioning because I find it a useful piece of kit: the digital level meter. Most people are reasonably accurate at setting their camera level on the tripod but it’s more difficult at night and especially so when using an ultra wide angle lens. Some cameras feature an in-built level meter but I reckon those without would appreciate one of these little gadgets. My first level was a bubble spirit-level type. The advantage of the digital style is you can see the LED readout in the dark. My first digital meter was the Seculine. It clips into your camera’s hot shoe bracket, switch it on and level the camera until you see the green light. That’s it! The Seculine is a nice piece of kit but relatively expensive. Expect to pay around £25 or more. On one of my night shoots I managed to lose my Seculine meter in the long grass. Occupational hazard!
Shortly afterwards I saw a review for another digital level meter by on-line discount retailer 7DayShop. It works in the same way as the Seculine. It doesn’t appear to have as good build quality but only costs £8.99. So far it has worked faultlessly.
Since the 7DayShop meter appeared on the scene, prices on the Seculine have dropped. Currently you can find Seculines for less than £25 on Amazon and other on-line retailers. Only time will tell how reliable the less expensive 7dayShop meter fares but so far I’m happy with mine. They’ve picked up very good reviews in some of the photo mags.