How I Pack For Night Photography

How you pack and organize your belongings directly impacts your experience. This is true of all forms of photography, but perhaps especially night photography. After all, you will need to access your belongings repeatedly in the dark. I am going to describe how I am currently packing for my night photography trips. And probably like you, this will change over time. Even if you don’t do night photography, you might find much of this useful as general organizing and packing tips.


We’ll start with the bag. There’s no such thing as a perfect camera bag, of course. But so far, so good with this Tenba Solstice 20L bag. It’s comfortable even despite the weight, has sufficient padding to protect the gear well, and is logically laid out. It also stands up easily on its own, as the bag, like many Tenba bags, holds its own shape due to the padding. It’s also water-resistant and even has a waterproof bag inside the top compartment, should you need to use it. As a bonus, it doesn’t scream “I am a camera bag” to others, although it does look like an extra nice backpack, something the average person might not use for muddy socks and underwear.

It also has deep side pockets for drinks or other gear. Most of the places that I photograph are in the desert, so it’s good to have lots of drinks. I can easily fit two 32-ounce drink bottles on my backpack, one in each side pocket. I usually keep drinks in the side pouches because if there’s a leak, it won’t leak into my gear. If I only need one bottle, I will sometimes keep a roll of orange gaffer’s tape in one of the side pockets.

To the right in the photo above, you can see an attached tan-colored side pouch. That is for the ProtoMachines LED2. The ProtoMachines is a high-end handheld light painting device that is capable of producing all colors of the RGB spectrum, also giving you full control over saturation and brightness. It also allows you to store eight presets and has a timer. I use the timer sometimes, although I do still count to myself when doing light painting.


I prefer to have a camera backpack that opens from the rear. This is so if it is muddy, I can access all my gear without taking off the backpack. If my waist strap is on, I simply take off the shoulder straps and turn the backpack around so it is facing me and then access everything from the back without having to take the backpack off and put it on muddy ground.


With the back open, you can see that I have two cameras. On the left is the rather large and heavy Pentax K-1 with an attached Pentax 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. On the right is a Nikon D750 with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 lens. Above the cameras is a large microfiber cloth, and to the right of that, two Vello Shutterboss II intervalometers. One of them is for the Pentax since its connector differs from Nikon connectors. To differentiate, I have this labeled with orange tape that says “Kentax” (see what I did there?). Above the cloth and intervalometers is a thin yellow bag. That is a small emergency first aid kit. And above that is a Think Tank pouch with chargers and random things.


This is a view of the bag looking down. I have removed the gray Think Tank bag for this photo. The idea of the Think Tank bag is that I keep all my belongings that I ordinarily don’t need out in the field, such as battery chargers, USB cables and various other accessories. I leave these in the car or in the motel room.

After I remove the gray Think Tank bag from the camera backpack, I have lots of room. Right now, I have the yellow first aid kit, a Nikon body cap, and an extra LensPen. This hardly takes up any space. What I usually place in here when I am about to photograph are things like snacks and an extra shirt or jacket and a beanie.

Sometimes I put a roll of orange gaffer’s tape inside as well. Gaffer’s tape makes everything right. You can tape down the focus ring of your lens, tape cables to keep them out of the way, keep a broken battery door from flapping open, or a thousand other uses. It’s the secret weapon in your night photography bag, the tool that makes everything alright.
Inside the zipped pouch you can see a yellow Allen wrench, a spare remote shutter cable release, and a small microfiber cloth. You can never have too many microfiber cloths. I keep these here because I may need to access this in the field, but it’s not something I really need unless something on the tripod loosens or some other emergency.


Speaking of those side pockets – or at least what’s right next to them – is am Army holster that is used to carry pistols. I use mine to carry a somewhat pistol-shaped piece of gear, the ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, seen here in all its beautifully taped glory. The white tape is glow-in-the-dark tape, while the orange tape is just some crappy looking gaffer’s tape that I should remove but have not. This is the light painting device of a working night photographer. It ain’t pretty, but it’s functional and harder to lose in the dark.

I keep pepper spray inside the Army holster as well. I like stuff like this to be within quick reach. I sometimes remove the holster from the backpack and wear it on my belt if I am not going to have the entire backpack with me. I’ve never had to use the pepper spray, and hope I never will.


Finally, a view of the front compartment of the Tenba bag. Here, I keep a plastic cover for the camera if it begins sprinkling or if I am doing photos near a waterfall or the ocean. Salt water and electronics do not mix. You can see the white string of this bag peaking out on top. Below that, you can just barely see some orange battery holders. I use these for storing extra batteries for the ProtoMachines and the intervalometers. Easy access. And in the innermost pocket at the bottom of the photo, you can see several battery organizers, one for the Pentax K-1, the other for the Nikon D750. I like having lots of extra batteries because you never know how many batteries you are going to plow through on a cold night. Better safe than sorry. I prefer these battery organizers because it keeps everything neat and accessible, but also because the contacts of the batteries never meet. Also inside is an SD card holder, which you can barely see…you can see the thin yellow stripe.

When I am doing night photography, I usually simply carry the tripod. If I wanted to, I could attach my smaller tripod to the side pocket and strap it in or use straps and strap it to the front of the backpack. However, in practice, I rarely do this. If there is one weakness of the Tenba Solstice 20L, it’s that it is not the best backpack I’ve had for attaching tripods. Yes, you can do it, but it’s better if the tripod is small. Anything more, and it’s really not ideal. But the upside of this is that I can carry all the equipment you see here, but still be able to slide it underneath the seat of an airplane. I’ll live with the trade-off.

Everything here is organized and easily accessible even in the dark. If I don’t want to blow out my vision because it is dark and I am trying to photograph Milky Ways, I can still access my belongings without turning on my headlamp.

I hope this gives you some ideas. How do you pack for night photography? What would you do? Feel free to start a conversation below in the comments section. Thanks for reading.




Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos.  My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.

Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like)

Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern Caoifornia’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

And hopefully I will see you March 22nd 2020 at 5 pm Valley Relics Museum for a brief slide show and presentation for my new book “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time”.  Get there early to check out the museum.
Address: 7900 Balboa Blvd. C3 & C4 Entrance on, Stagg St, Van Nuys, CA 91406



Pinout: Versatile Remote Controller and App for Nikon cameras!

Hey photography freaks! I used a Pinout camera remote control device and app to do star trails and long exposure photos when I was out in Joshua Tree N.P. last weekend. I really liked it and thought I’d turn you on to it. I have nothing to gain by doing this, and am not sleeping without anyone from the company. 😀  All photos on this post were taken using the Pinout except for, uh, the one showing the PInout, which is from Zesty’s website. Sadly, it’s only available for Nikon at this point.

Pinout’s Pro kit, which is one of three models, supports loss/theft prevention, simple release, long exposure, timed-release, time-lapse, distance lapse, star trail, geo tagging, geo logging.


Above: Pinout on a Nikon D800. On my D610, it actually goes into the side of the camera, not the front, inserting where the remote shutter release goes.

Pinout is a bluetooth remote control device that acts as an amazingly varied multi-functional remote for your camera (and with the top-of-the-line Full Kit, offers multi-camera remote control!), a geo-tagging device, and a loss/theft prevention feature. You can also activate the camera via voice command, or by shaking your phone. Cool.

The loss/theft aspect, as near as I can tell, only works when your camera is on. This would be handy, particularly for night photographers like us weirdos, if you are doing a long exposure photo and you either lose where your camera was or if your camera “grows legs” and wanders off. However, it’s not so great if you are storing it, as your camera battery is not likely to be on.

I love this aspect of Pinout also. Once you begin the exposure, whether it is a long series of photos for star trails or anything else, you can actually close the app on the phone and do something else (or let the phone “sleep”) and it will continue. This is really well designed, and the app is very easy to use and intuitive.

5477_kenlee_2017-02-13_0111_joshuatree30mtotal-3mf8iso800_startrailslargetree_byroad_star-trails_1000pxAbove: 30 minute stacked photo taken with Pinout.

Here’s what I like about it so far:
1.) Super easy to register and set up and directly connect to the camera.
2.) Does not need to be mounted on the hot shoe and connected with a cable and dongle (again, easy set up).
3.) Small and unobtrusive.
4.) Bluetooth connection appeared solid most of the time, and even if it wasn’t, as long as the star trails or long exposure had been set in motion, it didn’t matter. I could fire the connection reliably from at least 50 ft./15 meters away.
5.) The app is really nicely laid out and easy to use, and I have not needed the manual so far to figure it out.
6.) You can use it to focus the camera as well as trigger it.
7.) The star trails portion is very easy to figure out and set and is extremely flexible.
8.) Unlike Triggertrap, you don’t run down your smartphone. In fact, you can turn off the app on your phone completely, and it will still complete the task at hand, whether star trails or something else.
9.) Also does simple release, long exposure, timed release, time-lapse, distance lapse, geo-tagging, bulb ramping LE HDR, LE HDR Time-lapse, and loss prevention (if the device strays beyond a certain distance, it will alert you, but even if the connection were broken, if the exposure had already been set in motion, the PInout faithfully continued).
10.) Blinks to let you know that the device is connected. Connection seems solid so far.
11.) Draws a very small, minimal charge from the camera instead of requiring the device to be charged, which is very convenient because I don’t have to be concerned with whether yet another device has been charged.
12.) You can close the app and lock the phone and Pinout continues (with Triggertrap, the app had to remain open and illuminated; if you closed the app, its control also stopped).
13.) Responsive customer service via email.


Above: Photo taken in Joshua Tree National Park, CA using the Pinout remote camera control device and app. The layout of the app is really simple.

Concerns at this time:
1.) I said it was small. This is generally a bonus, but I am concerned that it might be easy to lose. I already put some orange gaffer’s tape on it so it would be easier to see  since I photograph at night.
2.) I am concerned that it will be easy to break off in the camera if I mistakenly bang it around doing night photography. Because of this, I purchased a 3-year extended warranty.
3.) Only works with Nikon at this time.
4.) It does not fit on a Nikon D610 when using an L-Bracket.
5). Occasionally, even when the phone is within 3 ft./1 meter of the Pinout and the camera, a warning would appear saying that I was in danger of breaking the connection. Again, even if the connection were broken, it seemed that if I were doing a star trails or long exposure, Pinout would continue regardless, which is a relief.
6.) Sometimes requires time for the smartphone and Pinout to re-establish contact if you shut down the phone or close the app, which the app thankfully indicates by having the camera icon light up. This will only matter for triggering the device, and will not matter if you have already triggered the camera, as Pinout will faithfully execute this regardless.
7.) Loses contact if something obstructs the signal path between you and Pinout, such as a building or sometimes a very large tree.T his too will only matter for triggering the device, and will not matter if you have already triggered the camera, as Pinout will faithfully execute this regardless.

I absolutely love this device. Excellent and very capable, and invaluable for things like star trails. I also love that I can trigger the camera remotely, which is good for night time selfies or getting in position to “light paint” quick photos of the Milky Way when there are only 15 or 20 seconds in the exposure. And I love that Pinout is powered by the camera and not another device that requires charging. Excellent device.

Above: Beautiful desert scene in Joshua Tree National Park using the Pinout remote control camera device and app on my smartphone.
Pinout website:
This is the model Pinout I am currently using:
Long Exposure Night Photo with Light Painting Using Pinout. All photos taken with a Nikon D610 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens on a Feisol tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead.

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!


Photo Link: Nikon D4’s Amazing Low Light Capabilities And Other Features

I’ve been receiving some information about the new flagship Nikon camera, the D4. here’s a link to the manufacturer’s website.  Every once in a while, I’ll link to something that may be of interest, and today, that’s the D4.

King of Low Light
One of the specs I’m most interested in is its low-light capability, with an ISO Range  of100-12,800 (extendable from 50 – 204,800).  I’m going to repeat that again.  204,800.  One can only hope that light sensitivity like this will eventually filter its way down to more affordable cameras for the rest of us.  In my opinion, this is one area where Nikon shines.  I think Canon offers more “bang for the buck”, but when Nikon is offering low light sensitivity like this, it’s difficult to look elsewhere for this price range.

Additionally, the D4 offers HDR, combining multiple images in-camera to produce images with increased dynamic range.  Obviously, other cameras that are considerably cheaper do this too, but something tells me that this’ll do it really darn well.

The D4 also has a giant new higher-resolution 16.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, but has also added a 91,000 pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix metering sensor that senses brightness and color, and supposedly interprets this with increased accuracy in color reproduction and balanced exposure.  And it adds face recognition, an appealing feature that is on many consumer cameras, but has often been left off cameras designed for professional use.

1080p HD Video
Probably the biggest, most obvious change is that Nikon has no doubt been noticing how well the  5D Mark II has been doing in the professional video market and wants to step it up.  Coupled with its fantastic low-light capabilities, The D4 captures HD 1080p video at various frame rates, easily suitable for broadcast quality video, and is capable of streaming the video out its HDMI port.

Field Monitor and Remote Capable Through iPad
Of some interest as well is that Nikon reports that the D4 is also iPhone/iPad compatible.  But what does this mean?  You can control the D4 via a web browser through your iPhone or iPad.  Nikon uses an HTTP protocol, meaning that with a Wifi or other internet connection, you can control the D4 remotely.  This could be handy for photographers or filmmakers who, say, have the camera attached to the top of a basketball backboard for sporting events, attached to a moving vehicle, or perched on top of a tree or crane.

The Sucky Part
I’ve seen on several reviews that due to the increased functionality of the camera, the battery life is lower.  However, Nikon has said that they are coming out with a new battery that promises better battery life.

Overall, this sure makes me wish I had US$6000.

Equipment:  I currently use a Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, and a 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Photo Link: New York Leper Colony

I  came across photos of this abandoned leper colony, left to rot on the island of North Brother, just 350 yards from The Bronx.  This was a quarantine zone, leper colony, and center for drug addicts, once home to hundreds of patients, now abandoned to nature. As with many abandoned buildings, this is eerie.  But the nature of the building makes it perhaps more akin to the photos I’ve posted of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia in some respects.

New York leper colony
New York leper colony
New York leper colony
New York leper colony
New York leper colony of North Brother
New York leper colony of North Brother

Link:  The short article is by Liz Hazelton on the Daily Mail, with photography by Ian Ference/Barcroft Media.  Thanks to Scott for the link!


A couple of photos from my Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum collection of photos that I took during my visit to West Virginia in 2010:

Doctor's office, Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
A decaying doctor’s office at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia. Some of the doctors had special wings, where their wife and children would stay. Can you imagine being a kid, living and growing up at an insane asylum? – Photo by Ken Lee
Metal doors for violent inmates, Trans-Allegheny Lunaic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia
The area for particularly violent patients in the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, with several bolts, as one patient still managed to bust one metal deadbolt. Trans-Allegheny Lunaic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia – Photo by Ken Lee

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens