Photo Gear List - July 2018

Location: Earth

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Today I'll detail some of the basic photography gear I already use (or want) and why I use it or want it along with links so you can buy it for yourself if you want. Hopefully this will help out beginners & advanced photography people alike. 

1. Tripod: Dolica ZX600B300 Proline ZX Series 60-Inch Carbon Fiber Tripod with Ball Head

Why: This tripod is cheap, durable, strong, and lightweight. You could spend 3x as much for a similar model. I'm thinking about getting two because they are such a great value. The one I have has taken a beating and it has held up great over the past three years traveling the globe. 

2. Camera: Sony A7iii: Sony a7 III Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera

Why: Sony has taken leaps and bounds over the past 5 years and it seems to have culminated in this camera system which combines all the most current tech in a relatively inexpensive camera model that ticks off all the right boxes in terms of functionality. Best sensor in the game, full framed, weather-proofed body, 4k video, great low light performance, killer dynamic range, the list goes on. 

3. Wireless Remote Controls: Canon | Nikon | Sony

Why: This is how I do my animated work, I couldn't do it any other way. It makes light-painting simple - just start & stop the exposure in bulb mode. Other more complex remotes do not have the functionality that these simple devices do. Other remotes have LEDs that will appear in your night shots or you will have to calculate exactly how long your exposure is going to be ahead of time, who wants complications? Not I!

4. LED Lights: Night-Writer | Color-Caster | 1000 lumen Tactical LED | Headlamp LED

Why: These are the 4 lights that are crucial to my style of night-photography. I use Night-Writer for drawing with light, I use Color-Caster for light-painting the background environments, I use a tactical LED for getting a focus (manually) or just for hiking / exploring, and a headlamp is best for having my hands free to set the camera or while climbing.

How to Light-paint with a GoPro

Here's a neat little trick I've been using to capture light-paintings using a GoPro Hero 4 Silver along with a clever stacking technique in Photoshop.

In this article, I'll go over how to set your GoPro for Night-Lapses at 15 secs each, and then show you how to combine 10 selected images in post-production using Photoshop to make one long exposure equivalent of 150 seconds.

LP with a GP

In the gallery below you'll find an easy  7-step guide that you can follow along with to set your camera for light-painting, click an image below to see it larger:

Now that you're all set for the light-painting part, I'll shift gears into what happens after you take a bunch of 15 sec images. For this part we will probably need to hop on the computer.

You'll want to use a program like Adobe Bridge so that you can see all your files visually in one place - you're looking for the puzzle-pieces that will make up a good light-painting. We'll be using Photoshop to open one layer and then stacking other pics on top of it, building out our light-painting 15 seconds at a time.

Click an image to see it larger:

After we've followed these steps, we should have a stacked image that would be the equivalent result of a 150 second exposure - not bad! 

For more tips and tricks, check out my EDU section.

How to Light-paint with an iPhone

Here's a how-to post for anyone that's not sure about buying an expensive DSLR camera, but still wants to experiment with light-painting and night-photography.

Don't believe you can shoot a decent light-painting image with a cellphone? Check out this gallery of images I've collected over the past few months - I'm pretty happy with them! Shot using an iPhone 6 and 6s Plus along with the Night-Writer & various Color-tips as the light-source:

To shoot these type of images you have to be totally dialed in! It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it - it's a great option to have on hand when you don't happen to have a DSLR handy!

Step One: Download the Right App

I used Night Cap Pro to shoot these images, but there are other good options like Slow-Shutter app.

Step Two: Dial it In

The right app settings are crucial to pulling this off! 

Here is a cheat-sheet for Light-painting with NightCap Pro:

1. Start off with selecting 'light trails' - tap the star icon on the right to toggle this option.

2. Just above the star is a lock button for once you get your settings down - don't do it yet, but just know it's there and that the green light should be on for at least 'FOC (focus)' and 'EXP (exposure)' options before you start your shot. 'WB (white balance)' is not something I used very often - I think it's set to 'auto' if you do nothing, which looks fine.

3. Adjust the exposure setting by sliding your thumb up on the right side of the viewer - I go with 1/2 - do this unless you want your light-lines to be dotted (no thanks!).

4. Set your ISO - I went with 50, but I've tried higher - 400 is ok, but it starts to get pretty noisy after 800.

5. Set your focus using the bottom slide-toggle - '0' is for super-macro stuff while I'd assume '100' would be for far away star-trails. I usually go with something from 69-75 - this is good for that 35mm look that most of us are familiar shooting with.

Step Three: Steady as She Goes

Please know that the camera has to be totally still while the long-exposure is happening! So use a tripod. If you don't have one handy - a coffee mug on a table will suffice (the dude abides): 

coffee mug tripod

Now that you've got your settings locked (Exp + Foc have green dots) you are ready to start your light-painting! Tap the large button to start (it turns red when on) and tap it again once you are finished with your light-art.

Step Four: iPhone Presets

Turn your Auto-Lock off. You don't want your camera shutting down during the middle of your light-painting, right?

Here's how you do it: Go to 'Settings', select 'General', select 'Auto-Lock' - switch to 'Never'.

Bonus Tip: Dim that light-source for best results!

My first results light-painting with the iphone were pretty dismal - I found out quickly that the bare Night-Writer light was too bright for the lens. I tried diffusing the LED with a crumpled-up receipt which resulted in more balanced exposures. Color-Tips worked great for diffusing the light also.  

The reason you need a fairly dim light-source is because your phone has a tiny lens, with a tiny sensor, and mostly automatic features - like what aperture to use when shooting in dark environments.

You're best option to get a well-balanced exposure is to control the brightness of your light-source. Bright light is great for casting toward environments, but not for using toward the lens (light-writing).

A good rule of thumb: If you can glance at the light without hurting your eyes, so can the camera.

Check out the video tutorial below:

More tips and tricks for light-art photography can be found in the EDU section.

 

Light-paint a skeleton (step by step tutorial vid)

Location: Mt. Pinos - Frazier Park, CA

Here it is, a little how-to video on the subject of light-skeletons - I've been asked, and the idea of other people illustrating their very own skeletons with light makes me pretty damn amped!

Good luck out there with your creations! Please share them with me if you think you've got a good one - If you're on instagram, you can tag me @dariustwin - otherwise, email works ok too.

To learn more about light-art photography, you can visit my new EDU page devoted toward the education of light-art photography.

Cherries on top

Location: Anza Borrego, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 91 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

As many of you may have noticed, I've been doing a lot of composite shots lately - the reasoning is simple - I want you to see the stars! Screw the trails, who cares about that? I want bright stars in the background! Galaxies, nebulas, constellations, meteors, I want them all crisp and clear! I didn't travel 3 hours by car to see dim skies!

A simple explanation of the technique I'm using is that I take 2 photos for every composite image you see, one for the light art, and another for the background. I don't move my camera from the tripod - I just take 2 for every one, making sure to re-focus from rather close to near infinity, it's basically a type of HDR for light-painting.. Which I think camera manufacturers are going to implement eventually, but for now it's a bit of camera-hack.

My method is to first find the most picturesque location, bearing in mind where the stars look best. To do this, I use my eyes first, then I confirm where the constellations are with an app I've recently acquired called 'Sky Guide' (iphone app) which uses your GPS to identify constellations.

After I've found my spot, and taken a high-ISO shot (around F2.8, ISO 3200 for 15 sec) - stars and environment should be pretty bright. Then I begin the light-art process - for this, my settings are around F8, ISO 100, for as many seconds as needed (use bulb mode!). If you've done this right, you should see decent light art and everything else should be rather dark. After you've got a decent take, re-focus for the stars, and reset your ISO to around 3200 (like before - during your initial test-shot). Get a bright and sharp star-shot then combine the two images in post.

With photoshop, start with the base light art, then put the star-shot on top and select 'lighten' on the top image to sandwich your two shots into one - presto! From Darius Twin to Starius Twin.  

starius twin