One small piece of gear is an essential buy for landscape, travel, and adventure photographers. Even if you already own one, a number of recent developments may mean it is time to update.For me, a bright, reliable flashlight is one of the first things I pack for any hike or backpacking trip. Even if my hike is supposed to wrap up well before sunset, any number of factors could delay the return to the trailhead until well after dark. Any sort of emergency, from minor to major, can delay a hike. I’ve had a few incidents where someone sprains an ankle, or overestimates their ability, and our whole group is delayed.
Besides coming in handy in emergencies, having a bright flashlight opens up a number of creative possibilities. Some of my favorite shots were only possible by hiking out to a viewpoint in darkness, for either a sunrise shot or excellent night sky view.
A few key factors when considering a flashlight are size, style, battery choice, and emitter. Size and style go together, with the most typical form factors being tubes (think the old Maglites), right-angle lights which make excellent headlamps, and bulkier soda-can lights. I like to carry a single cell tube light and a headlight, to provide a variety of options.
While a number of lights take AA or AAA batteries, the best value I feel is delivered by 18650 rechargeables. These cells have amazing capacity and discharge characteristics, benefiting from R&D originally designed for electric cars and laptop batteries. The cells and charger pay for themselves after just a few uses, when compared to disposable AAs, besides being far better performing.
A great beginner light with this style battery is the ThruNite TC15. This light is a single 18650 form factor, with a bright, neutral white LED. This style of light will blow away any old incandescent or LED light, and certainly outperform consumer flashlights.
There a wide variety of emitters, with a number of personal considerations. If you’re just looking for a standard, basic light, almost any LED will be a good choice. If you think you’ll be using the light for any light-painting, or as a fill light in a photo, consider spending more for a high CRI LED, which delivers more accurate and pleasing color.
Flashlights have unlocked a number of creative possibilities in my photos. Whether you want to shoot some star trails or have a way to get back after a sunset hike, definitely consider packing a flashlight for your next landscape shoot.
Image by Maksym Gryschenko via Unsplash.