How i choose my Lenses for Light Painting?
Of course, you have some kind of camera and a lens, and what you have, is what you have. You can use pretty much anything for light painting there is out there and get fantastic results. So before you chose the lens for your shoot you will need to buy it. If you are lucky and you can just purchase and Lens you could possibly want, I suggest go to DXO-MARK and choose first by your desired Sharpness, Distortion, Vignetting, Transmission, or Aberration. Anything goes.
If that’s not the case, work with what you got! That’s what I do. Ok I am in a very luxurious position. I started purchasing lenses many, many years ago and this thing went obviously out of hand. Also I have friends that also own a Canon camera, that’s why I have access to so many lenses.
After you been through with the DXO-MARK there are a couple of considerations for Light Painting and traveling. How do I chose? Here I share with you my parts of my thought process in what I will use for a shot.
What lens for Light Painting?
Depending on the Composition and Subject you want to feature you can work with pretty much any lens or no lenses at all. Yes – there is a land of Photography that works without lenses = Refractography. But here is just the line up of lenses that I currently have in use.
Too much text, you don’t want to read all this? Here is the Video Version of this Blog Post.
Selection by weight and size:
What Lens for Light Painting? When I travel I have to select my lenses in advance, way before I actually get to see what I am about to photograph. When I’ve been to a place or spoke with someone about the spot I may know what lens to choose. Locationscout.net might be a great source of information about spots in this regard.
So in cases, I don’t know much I would grab something that is not too heavy and small yet allows me to adjust from landscape to portrait. The wide-angle lenses are usually not too big so that’s an easy one. Bringing the 85mm F1.2 or 70-200mm Canon is sometimes a big/heavy decision. There will be moments then, I would prefer the 24-105mm zoom lens for that reason.
Think twice before you stuff your hand luggage. Some Airlines have only 8 or 10-kilo allowance.
Compare the Size of the Lenses
Just to show you what that means for packing a backpack of photo case. The LensBaby is actually not just a promise in name and size. It is actually tiny in comparison with the Sigma Macro or the Canon EF 70-200mm. One must really want to achieve a special effect to carry the big lenses around the planet.
Compare the Weight of the Lenses
Lens Weight in gram
If you go for a bunch of prime Lenses you might as well sign up for new Gym-Membership to build up some Trapez muscles or bring a private sherpa.
Selection by Subject:
For Landscape and Architecture I would often use a super wide-angle lens.
So that limits my choice to the LAOWA or the Samyang.
Lately I kept using the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D because it is considered the World’s Widest f/2.8 Lens with close-to-zero distortion. It has an angle of view (122°), this is super nice for light painting landscape, architecture, and astrophotography. Most important to me as Lightpainter; its full-on manual. At the moment truly my favorite when not shooting a portrait. It’s a tiny bit sharper as the Samyang in my opinion.
shot with a Laowa 14mm Zero D F2.8
When it comes to shooting a portrait I usually choose something 50mm to 200mm lens.
As you can see I have a wide range of that. If you want to go all bokeh then the 85mm F1.2 is incredible. The super-low F-Stop will give you that nice feeling of depth. If you shoot at F2 or lower you can really make things stand out. Just like here with Samira the Light Painting gets blurry as it leaves the field of depth.
shot taken with a Canon EF 85mm F1.2 lens
If you want to use super strong light or even fireworks the 70-200mm comes in handy because it can go all the way up to F32. Also, super useful because it can be easily mounted to a second tripod. That way you can do a lens swap. Very nice!
Lens comparison - Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8 and Meyer Optic Görlitz 35mm F2.0
Here you see a comparison between two lenses on the same subject. On the left you see the use of the Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8 actually set to F2.8 and focused on the tree. On the right you see a Meyer Optic Görlitz 35mm F2.0 set to F2 in the hope to see the milky way as well. The Lenses are very different in the making and certainly in the hyperfocal distance of each lens.
As you can see in the background of the tree the milky way is super soft and not as crisp with the Meyer lens. This is an effect that can be used in the right way once you understand the benefits when used rightly. You got to learn that F16 is not always F16 (could be fighter jet). What I am saying is that some lenses close way more than others. There was a moment I used a Meyer Optic Görlitz with fireworks and just thought I have to crank up the lens to F20 because it’s going to be super bright. I set it to F20 und blew up what I had. It looked like I had two sparklers that was it. F20 was too small of an opening it left merely any light through. Not like my Canon 16-35mm at the same setting.
Selection by Light Sources:
In Photography people talk about the Light that goes into the camera. This will determine the quality of your photo not only with respect to noise. Lucky us in Light Painting we can keep the ISO low and if it is dark enough we can keep the exposure running for several minutes. But be careful to misunderstand ISO. Noise is not only caused by ISO. Its F-Stop, and exposure time. So that will be balanced as well. If you are interested in the topic I recommend the following video.
In regards to the lenses we want to use for Light Painting its more important to have a wide range of F-Stops available. That is your valve to how much light goes into the camera on the sensor. Some Lenses Start at F1.2 or less and some go up to F32. If you want to take a photo of a burning light bulb that would be great to have. But don’t forget also the bokeh or depth of field. That becomes then your artistic feature.
The depth of field will be important considering where you going to use your focus point and where you actually want to apply your light painting. Should your features be in focus? You better determined where that is? Put a marker on the ground 😉 Then start Light Painting.
Most important for Light Painters is the relation of the lens you have versus the Flashlight / Ligh tools strength you going to use. Also how fast you going to run around with your Light sources. If you are at F16 you either run slow or have a strong Flashlight.
You will learn to count the Photons going into your camera body.
If possible I would always prefer a full-on manual lens for Light Painting.
That allows you to change the F-Stop during the exposure. Why would that be interesting? See these two images? Both images are single exposures with no photoshop layers. What happened here is that I started off in a very high F-Stop, say F22 to light up the model (Ingrid and the Tree) then I would open the lens as much as I can, to F2.8 to allow the Milkyway to show up. So I let the scene rest for an extra 30 seconds before ending the exposure.
Sometimes you just want a certain effect. Time to get creative. Tape is your best friend. 😉
Thank you so much for ready so far. I hope that way it was somewhat useful information. This is intended to be my way, my view on things. Light Painting shall always be fun and I do think everyone can and should find their own way. See this as inspiration or Kickstarter to your on movement.
Do you want to find a Lens for Light Painting?
There a more light painters that blog about the topic. Talking about manual “old glass”. Sven Gerard created a wonderful blog post (for german speaking/reading) on that topic. His examples are just what you look for. The different bokeh each lens can provide makes you think twice before purchasing something new.