Some of you have asked some interesting questions about night photography. Here are your answers to your darkest questions.
What is light painting?
Lightpainting is used in different ways. However, both use long exposure times.
One way is to shine a flashlight directly into the lens and draw things. These can range from very simple letters to quite complex drawings of flowers or dinosaurs. Since you are drawing, it is commonly known as light drawing, which differentiates it nicely from light painting.
If you’re making letters, practice writing them in reverse!
A hand lamp is also used in another kind of light painting. But instead of purposefully shining it into the lens, we use it to “paint” light onto a subject. In other words, we’re exposing a subject such as a tree, abandoned car, building, or natural feature with the camera’s shutter open during a long exposure.
Why don’t you appear in your photos when you go through the list?
I like this question because it is a fascinating one. Many of us night photographers will “lightly paint” a subject by walking through the frame, which is where the camera lens is pointed.
However, if we don’t shine the light on ourselves and don’t stand still, we won’t show up. In fact, we don’t appear in our photos at all unless we stay still for 10% of the exposure time or more. For an exposure time of two minutes, that is twelve seconds. And even then you start to appear as a faint dark spot, not easy to see unless the background is a bit brighter.
Do you need special cameras?
I could let that be almost the whole answer. It might be funny. But no, I don’t use special cameras. In fact both of my cameras are “garden variety” DSLRs made in 2014 and 2016. They are old. This is mainly due to finances as I would love to use a Nikon Z8 mirrorless.
Almost any modern camera with manual controls can take goodnight photos.
And if you want to shoot low ISO images near a full moon, you can use extremely modest cameras.
With lenses it depends on what you want to do. If you want to take beautiful Milky Way photos with the stars as dots, a lens with a wide aperture is best. This lets in more of that incredibly dim light. Something like f/2.8 or larger is good for photos of the Milky Way. These can be more expensive. However, Rokinon and other manufacturers make good wide-aperture lenses that are inexpensive.
If you’re shooting near a full moon, using a low ISO, and using longer exposures, you can use just about any type of lens. I regularly use a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.35-5.6 lens that I bought used for $300.
If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below. When I post a particular photo, it raises a question social media, ask there! If there are enough recurring questions, I might write another such article later.