Best Headlamp for Night Photography

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Adding a human figure to a night image helps ground the image to the earth. A silhouetted figure is heavy with visual weight and attracts your audience’s eyes. You can use that to help develop flow in your image by positioning the figure where you need the audience’s eyes to go. When you add a headlamp to a human figure, the once grounded silhouette now links with the bright stars. It’s a way to link the earth to the night sky. Not all headlamps are created equal when it comes to night photography. Due to the variation in the colors and the brightness of LED lights used in modern LED headlamps some headlamps are more suitable for night photography than others.

fire and tent in Kadunce River Canyon

The warm light of fire makes it feel earthy and inviting.

Understanding Lumen Ratings in Headlamps

The brightness of a headlamp is rated in lumen. The higher the number the brighter the light. For a light beam to show up in a night photo, the minimum lumen rating to look for is around 100. At 100 lumen the headlamp will appear like a beam, especially if there is any fog or haze in the sky. On nights that you can see your breath, you can also have your model exhale into the light beam to create a stronger beam.

Color Temperature

LED lights vary in color and range from a deep blue to a warm fire-like glow. They can give different feels — you may have noticed this at your own house when you changed from incandescent lights to LED bulbs. If you didn’t pay attention, you might have ended up with a bright blue look instead of the warm glow of an incandescent. To avoid this, buy LED bulbs with color temps around 3000K. For outdoor lighting, LED bulbs with color temps less than 3000K create less light pollution.

The same is true for headlamps for night photography. If you want the warmth of a outdoor fire, pick a warm headlamp with a color temp of around 3000K. If you want a cold industrial look to your photo, pick one with a colder color temperature such as around 4000K. Unfortunately, headlamp manufacturers don’t label the color temps on headlamps, so it’s a bit of a guessing game.

Which Headlamp to Choose for Night Photography

I’ve experimented with multiple headlamps and found the following headlamps are the best for night photography. I like a headlamp that has a bit of blue, but not overwhelming blue. I also like about 100 lumen lights.

  • Princeton Tec EOS 105 [Amazon link: http://amzn.to/248fjrq]: This light is warmer than others, but still has a nice blue flavor to it. At 105 lumen it’s bright enough to cast a good beam that doesn’t overpower the picture. It’s the light in the center photo below.
  • Petzl Tikka + [Amazon link: http://amzn.to/1TowrW1]: This is a bluer light than the Princeton Tec, but it offers several modes that help shape the light. It also has a red light. The image on the left was created by an older version of this headlamp.

Photo Workshops

I still have a few spaces available on my Night Skies of the Gunflint Trail. If you’d like to learn more about night photography this workshop is for you. I also opened up a second Spring Waterfall Workshop. This is a fantastic workshop to see the waterfalls rage as the snow melts off. Standing next to the waterfalls in spring feels like the ground is thundering. The high water levels makes for photos that show the north shore rivers at levels that feel like they could have carved the canyons out of the volcanic rock.


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Showing 9 comments
  • Janet
    Reply

    Love the photo of the Badlands & the Reflections & Headlamp @ Night. How long have you been into Photography? Is it your main source of income? If not, what is & where bouts do you live, scenic areas or do you travel all around???
    As you see, I’m an inquisitive novice. I am from Iowa originally, live in North Carolina now. I see your address is in Minnesota.

    • Bryan Hansel
      Reply

      Yes, my main source of income is photography. I’ve been shooting since high school and I live in Grand Marais, Minnesota. I travel around the country and run many photography workshops at national parks. You can read my bio to learn more specfics about me.

    • Sher
      Reply

      Hi Bryan
      Amazing photos and tips! I’m headed out to Bryce Canyon and Page, AZ and staying in the Navajolands at night where there will be very low light pollution so want to try some headlamp beam shots.
      Can you tell me which model headlamp was used to produce that bright blue beam photo of you on the island on the upper right (also your main post photo). It’s gorgeous and I would like something as strong and bright.

      Thanks!
      Sher

      • Bryan Hansel
        Reply

        That was actually a flashlight. It was a workshop student that was on the island and it was his flashlight. I believe he bought it at Menards and it was about 800 or 900 lumens. It cost about $40. I can’t remember the exact details.

        • Sher

          Thanks Bryan! Good to know how many lumens are needed to produce that bright of a light.

  • Shawn DeGroot
    Reply

    Thanks for the article, I’ve been looking all over for an article like this! Do you have any more photos that you used the Petzl Tikka + in? I am trying to decide between the Petzl Tikka + and the Princeton Tec EOS 105, as I want one that has a fairly blueish tint.

    Thanks,
    Shawn

    • Bryan Hansel
      Reply

      I added a couple pictures. Same pose and comp but different headlamps. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that my Princeton Tec was low on batteries and didn’t have any spares with me. Next time I’m out, I’ll do a better comparison.

  • Avery
    Reply

    Pictures are awesome! I am trying to replicate a shot like this with a GoPro camera. Have you ever tried it with this setup? If so, what is your shutter time?
    Thanks!

    • Bryan Hansel
      Reply

      I’m doubtful that a GoPro could do a shot like this. These are mostly taken at f/2.8, 30 seconds and ISO 6,400 to 8,000.

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reflection of the Tetons in the Snake River