Light-Painting Buyers Guide - May 2016

Today I'm outlining my buyers guide to some of the best and most important items for long exposure and light-painting photography along with a link list. 

gear list

Here are my current best picks for quality & price along with links to buy through Amazon.com below (this is mostly for the US due to Amazon Prime's shipping service), keep in mind that my own photos are done with a Canon 6D, but that is not the number one camera that I recommend due to the photos I've seen from other photographers that I follow and the images that they are producing:

1. Tripod - This is almost more important than the camera itself and will likely outlive the camera in terms of updating technology. A good tripod can last almost forever, a cheap one only lasts about a year if you're lucky, and may destroy your camera if you're not careful with weight distribution.

If I had to choose one for today, I'd go with a carbon fiber model with about 60" of height like this one by Manfrotto that runs around $300.

If I was to go for something around $100, I'd roll with something like this 60" carbon fiber tripod by Dolica w ball-head and aluminum central. Both of these look like great options for long-lasting photo equipment.

2. Camera - You'll probably want a killer sensor on a full frame model. My best picks for 2016 are the new kids on the block - a Sony A7Rii and A7Sii (bundle link) mirrorless cameras because they are killing the dynamic range game.

Runners up are Canon 5D Mk iii, Canon 6D, and the Nikon D500. These are tried and true mechanics that are still great options.

3. Lenses - You'll want a wide lens for the stars if you intend to capture the galaxy above us or just be able to fit everything in a tight space. I recommend the Rokinon 14mm F2.8 (Link to Canon Model), or Samyang 14mm F2.8. One thing I have to add here is that these particular lenses will not auto-focus, you have to focus them manually.

In addition to the wide, it's good to have some range in terms of zooming in on a subject, that's why I find myself using the 24-70mm F2.8 L-series from Canon.

You could also get a 24-70mm F2.8 Sigma lens that does about the same for about $1k less.

3a. Lens Adaptor - If you have a lens kit already with Canon and you're switching to a Sony model, you should probably have this Metabones adaptor so your expensive kit isn't useless on your killer new camera.

4. Camera Remote - Because you'll be shooting in 'bulb mode', you'll want a remote to trigger the camera's shutter (open/close) in the dark. I use this one for my Canon DSLR but there are a host of other options for around the same price for other camera manufacturers.

5. Camera Bag - If you're looking for a good 'carry all the things I need' kind of bag you can take on hiking trips, this bag by Lowepro will do the trick, at $119 it's moderately priced and will probably last for a good 5 years or more. 

On the budget-packs side, this AmazonBasics Backpack for SLR/DSLR Cameras looks decent, and for $30 you could buy 4 of them for the price of one Lowepro bag.

6. Light-Painting LEDs - If you want to seriously draw with lights, I recommend using Night-Writer because I personally designed it for doing just this! It's a precision LED illustration tool that's great for detailed work like skeletal creatures, built with solid ergonomics that just 'feel right'. 

If you're just starting out with light-painting and seeing if you like it, I recommend starting out with a few cheap LED keychains like these ones. The momentary push-button switch is the most important feature to look for.

If you've already been light-painting and you're into large color-filtered brushes and interesting effects and adaptors for current LED lights you already own, Light-Painting Brushes is a great resource for novice to pro light-painters.

7. Headlamp - If you're going to shoot anything good, you usually have to get to it in the dark first. Here's a decent headlamp (165 lumens) at $15 with a lifetime warranty, you really can't go wrong.

8. High-powered directional LED - Here's a small cheap one for $10. If you want a better build quality and rechargeability, I'd go with this one for $65, it comes with a lifetime warranty.

9. Color Filters - This is a must for anyone that wants to use that high-powered directional light I just mentioned to light-paint with. This Roscolux Swatchbook comes with just about every color filter you could imagine. For $6, it's definitely worth having in your bag.

For more info on the details and methods of light-painting photography, please see the dariustwin.com/edu page.