Light painting 101: 5 easy steps to create a glowing barn interior

During the day, I saw this incredible barn. I knew I wanted it to glow from within, shining through the gaps in the wall. I also wanted a couple of the signs in the front illuminated for good measure. I’ll tell you how I illuminated this in just five easy steps.

 

Step 1: setting the light for maximum brightness

I set my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device to its highest setting. I also set it for a warm white light. If you do not have one of these, you certainly can use a regular LED flashlight that is bright. If you want a slightly warmer light, you can hold a gel or something warmly colored over it.

 

Step 2:  illuminating the interior

I activated my light after stepping inside. This allowed me to see where I was going and, of course, begin illuminating while not shining any lights outside.

Step 3: Illuminating the front room elements

The very front had some walls and various equipment. I illuminated those first. I stood from the left of the door and swept across their surfaces, being sure to “paint” them with light evenly.

 

Step 4: keeping the light moving

I then walked through the downstairs and upstairs. I made sure to “light paint” all the walls and the roof. I wanted to do this evenly. To do this, I kept the light moving so there wouldn’t be “hot spots”, or parts that were glaringly bright. I knew that if I illuminated everything very evenly, it would shine through the cracks of the wall evenly and look beautiful. I also of course shined the light back at the wall to make sure that it would create shadows on the ground in front.

 

Step 5: Highlighting the signs

I wanted the front of the barn to be dark. The one exception was the Texaco and Coca Cola signs. How would I illuminate these only from so far away? I simply cupped my hand over the light to direct the beam of the light toward the signs. Also, I blocked the light from inadvertently shining into the camera lens by shielding the light with my body. I only spent several seconds on each sign. Nothing more was necessary. I kept everything else dark.

I sent a photo to the owners. They absolutely love it and say they have never seen their barn like that before.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below! I hope you have fun trying your hand at light painting.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

Creepiest place I have ever photographed at night

People ask night photographers all sorts of questions. One of the most common is: what’s the scariest, creepiest place you have ever photographed? 

 

The last stop for almost 1000 souls

The imposing Gothic stone structure, Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia, was the last stop for murderers, rapists, and thieves. Almost one thousand men lost their lives here. Between 1876 and 1995, these prisoners were hung, electrocuted, bludgeoned, or committed suicide. Some met grisly deaths in the outside weightlifting area. 

Moundsville was bizarrely violent. It made the United States Department of Justice’s Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities list. 

Some met their deaths at the hands of prison guards. Moundsville broke men, leaving them shattered. Some feel that these tortured prisoners still remain within the large stone walls. 

Moundsville takes its name from Native American burial mounds across the street. Death was no stranger to these parts.

Dark. Creepy. Imposing. Haunted. Old. Abandoned. Strange.

Three of us night photographers could not resist. During a humid summer in 2017, Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I photographed at Moundsville. At night. With no lights on.

 

Preparing for night photography within the stone walls

We arrived shortly after sunset. We were mobile, having all our camera equipment, water, snacks, and accessories in backpacks. We shuffled past “Sparky”, the infamous electric chair that sent many to their deaths. In the hallway, Tim passed out Motorola CP110 radios. These had a range of 1.5 miles. We were not sure if their signal would go through several thick stone walls, but it’s what we had. We would use these to communicate anything, typically using it to let others know where we were going so we wouldn’t interfere with each other or call for help.

 

The Sugar Shack

The Sugar Shack is dark in more than one way. This was a recreation room located downstairs, and is the most infamous room at Moundsville. This room was basically a free-for-all, a place where the guards looked the other way, a place where gambling, fighting, rape, and murder took place. 

The sky was still relatively bright. However, I wanted to begin photographing. I chose the darkest place. This was the Sugar Shack.

I immediately got the creeps upon coming down here. I am typically not prone to being spooked. However, this room had a really ominous feel. I set up for one photo. My headlamp suddenly died. It was pitch dark. I could not see my hand in front of me. To finish off the photo, I counted steps to the wall and “light painted” the room with my ProtoMachines. I then packed up and left. One photo was enough.

 

Blood Red Cells

I photographed the Block J & K cells. This was foreboding. My footsteps echoed throughout. I decided to go with this, choosing a blood red photo, shining the light in such a way that the bars of the prison cells showed on the floor. I did this with every cell. The entire image was red except for some of the lights from outside shining in through the glass brick windows. At one point, something clattered and sounded like it dropped to the floor. I whirled around. No one was there. I never knew what fell.

 

Psych ward

Near the end of the evening, the radio squawked. “We have to be out of here in twelve minutes!” I looked at my phone. Sure enough, it was almost time to leave. I was upstairs. Broken glass, shattered ceramics, and lots of dust lay everywhere, creating scraping sounds as I walked. I had twelve minutes. I had really wanted to photograph the psych ward. This lay on the other side of a large community room, which I had to cross.

FLU-FLU-FLU-FLU-FLUP! 

I whipped around, shining my ProtoMachines light. I was met with a rush of wings and moving air. Bats! As if this Gothic stone building weren’t enough, bats also lived here. 

I peered into the medical room in the psych ward. I could do this. I set up the camera quickly, shined my light into the room, and focused. I tripped the shutter and illuminated the room with red and blue light from the ProtoMachines into the room. It was pitch dark, so it didn’t matter how long the exposure was. It was all dependent on my light. I wanted to photograph quickly since I had to get back to the front, which was at least five minutes away. 24 seconds later, I was done. I closed the shutter. The photo looked good. I could now leave the psych ward. I would no longer disturb the bats. Or anything else.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

The power of vignettes: directing the light

Directing the light

A good composition is about directing the viewer through the image. And one of the many ways that effective photographers do this is by directing the light. Vignettes are a powerful tool in doing this. And best of all, it’s easy to do!

 

What’s a vignette?

A vignette is simply a reduction of an image’s brightness or saturation around the edges when compared to the center of the image.  A vignette might occur “naturally” through the lens you use, particularly if you photograph with a very wide aperture. Or we can add it easily through post-processing. I’ll show you how to do the latter to direct the light toward what you want the viewer to see.

 

It is easy to create vignettes!

In this example, I will use Adobe Lightroom Classic. However, you can use just about any program and achieve the same vignettes. I will show you using an example of a night photo. However, you may apply vignettes to any kind of photo. It is up to you!

 

Above, there already appears to be a little bit of vignetting in the original photo. However, the main reason the subject is brighter is because I lit the car grille during the exposure. I let everything else become a little more underexposed. The lights in the distance are more or less in the center, and also aid in creating interest near the center. I have placed the brightest part of the sky directly over the highest part of the car grille for maximum effect.

 

Creating a vignette using Adobe Lightroom

Above, under the effects panel, there are controls for “post-crop vignetting”. You probably already know what to do! Mess around with the controls and get something you like. I find that for most applications, a small amount of vignetting is all that is needed. Most of the time, you might not want to draw attention to the fact that there is vignetting. Subtlety is key. Here, the amount is just a little.

I have also increased the feathering. This controls how gradually the vignette darkens.

See how easy that was?

 

An example of heavy-handed vignetting and hard feathering

Just for fun, I thought I would create an extreme example of vignetting. As you cay see, the Amount Slider has been moved to the left considerably. And so has the Feathering Slider. This is the opposite of a very gradual, subtle gradation from light to dark. For some photos, this might work. For most, probably not.

 

Vignette controls may already be on your phone!

You don’t need to have Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar, Affinity, or other programs to create vignettes. There’s a great chance that you have controls for this on your phone already. Most phones already have simple photo editing features. See if you have one on your phone. The Photos app on iPhones, for instance, have the capability to create vignettes easily, similar to what I’ve shown here.

Directing the light to the subject

Subconsciously, the eyes of the viewers tend to go toward the brighter, more colorful parts of an image. Vignettes are one more tool in a photographer’s bag of tricks for doing so. It also has the subtle effect of almost cradling or framing the image.

What sort of photos do you think can benefit from vignettes? Portraits? Sports? Birds? Wedding?  Fine art?

When you next look at photos, see if the photographer has used vignettes to direct your light toward the subject.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

How to emotionally deal with not being able to photograph

We all love to photograph. However, I’ve spoken to numerous people who now have difficultly photographing. Some of it is due to lack of access or health reasons. Some have immunocompromised people in their family that they don’t wish to endanger.

I am fortunate. Night photography is by its nature considerably more solitary. And I live in an area where I can go to isolated places and back without needing to go on a long trip. I can isolate. I can stay safe and still have fun.

But what is the best way to deal with not being able to do something you love? Here’s some ideas that might help.

 

It’s okay not to be productive

Sometimes, there can be outside pressure telling you that you have more free time and that you should be productive. But is this true? If we are taking care of someone, taking care of our health, traumatized, anxious, or depressed, is that a great time to be productive? If one is laid off, sanitizing groceries, having to learn new technology, or facing uncertainty, is that a great recipe for productivity? I would say take care of yourself first. Pace yourself. There’ll be time to do other things. Or you can do things more slowly. It’s alright.

 

Do things that help other people

For instance, help people who cannot or should not leave their home. These might be neighbors, friends, or family members with serious illnesses or disabilities who should minimize public settings. You can do this directly or indirectly. You can donate to Meals on Wheels or other places. This helps out someone. And it helps you out by connecting, feeling involved, and giving.

 

Connect with nature

Those of you who know me personally probably knew I was going to say this. It’s one of the reasons why I love night photography so much. If it’s safe, get outside, exercise, walk around, go to a nearby park that doesn’t have lots of people, go for a walk in the woods, walk around the block, eat outside, plant a garden.

 

Play cool, soothing music

I love to play ambient music while around the house, working on things, relaxing, or even writing articles like this one. I have odd taste in music, so I listen to Brian Eno or The Mercury Seven. But I’ve turned on many friends to Andy Othling, who frequently does beautiful live ambient guitar improvisations called Morning Care on YouTube.

Okay, sure, suggestions for photography-related stuff

As you feel better, you may wish to begin with some small photography-related projects. Something easy to get you in the flow when you have time. Choose something that is doable and immediately gratifying. I’ve been dabbling in macro photography, for example. It’s easy to do and I don’t need to leave the house. Take photos of family, cats, children, flowers, heirlooms, whatever.

Other ideas include learning some new software. I’ve been experimenting with LuminarAI, for example. It’s easy to use and immediately gratifying while producing quality results.

Perhaps reading books on photography might be calming and inspiring as well. You can never go wrong with reading books on lighting or composition.

You could also cull your catalogue, back up (you DO back up your photographs, don’t you? Don’t you?) your photographs to another hard drive and cloud back-up service.

 

Final thoughts

Find gratitude in what you do have that is positive.Take control of the things you can control. Best wishes in getting through this and achieving balance.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

Frightening encounters: meeting animals in the dark

One of the most common questions I get asked is about if whether I have frightening encounters with animals when I am photographing at night.

The answer is yes.

People always think that it’s things like dogs, coyotes, and snakes. So far, no.

 

Whoosh!

 

The fuselage of the plane was a little high. I leapt up, swung one leg over, and somehow shimmied up into the inside of the abandoned plane. Suddenly, fluttering and animal noises. Whooosh! A black winged thing rushed past my head. Bats!  I yanked my head around, hyper-aware. Whoooosh! More wings flew past. Birds!

Regaining my composure, I squeezed myself into the tiny cockpit to take the photo above, in the process, scratching my knee and ripping my pants.

 

Scritch! Scritch! Scritch!

 

I entered an abandoned service station along Interstate 15 near the California/Nevada border. There was a turnstyle in this former location, and I thought I could create some interesting shadows by lighting them. I put my camera bag down and got ready to put a small light down so I could see while I was working. Before I could do so, I heard scratching sounds. I whirled around. I was not alone. Scritch! Scritch! Scritch! I shined my ProtoMachines in the direction. Nothing.

I again went to grab a dim light so I could see. Then I heard running. I opened up the light, and three giant rats that were almost as large as cats ran past me, making that sort of high-pitched sort of squeal.

 

EEEEEEEEE-HAAAAAAAAA!

 

I was enjoying the tranquility of the peaceful desert night. Soft breeze. Sweet air. I was on my knees setting up a photo, making sure everything was in focus.

<SNORT!> EEEEEEEE-HAAAAAAAA! This was accompanied by several stomps. I whipped around. Somehow, two burros had snuck up on me. I was breathing fast. I calmed myself down. I was mad at myself that I could be so unaware that two giant animals could sneak up on me like that. But I was also pleased that I had managed not to pee myself.

 

KRISH! KRSSSSSHHHH! KRSSSSHHHH!

 

I was going to meet up with my friend Ron at Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierras. It was another one of those beautiful Sierras evenings with a soft moon glow illuminating everything beautifully. I opened the back of my car to start getting my camera equipment out and setting up. KRISH! KRSSSSSHHHH! KRSSSSHHHH! This was also accompanied by a soft exhale. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Standing about eight feet from me was a large deer, which had walked up to see if I were using a Nikon or a Canon or I don’t know what. Like the burro, I was mad at myself for allowing such a large creature to walk up to me unnoticed.

But it was a beautiful creature. The deer stood there, blinking for a few moments, and then casually sauntered off, leaving to try and stop my heart from pounding through my ribs.

 

FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP WHOOOOSH!!!

Several of us photographed the inside of the imposing Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia. The penitentiary has imposing Gothic stone architecture adorned with turrets and like a castle. It also has an extremely violent history, with almost a thousand deaths within these stone walls. At night, our imagination took over. People ask which place was the creepiest place I’ve photographed at night. Moundsville Penitentiary is it. The place had a very dark, ominous energy. At night, this was amplified. I walked slowly and carefully through some of the abandoned areas. At one point, while completely alone, I suddenly heard some loud shuffling noises followed by fluttering. I whirled around. I couldn’t see anything at first, but lots of black things fluttered past me quickly. Bats. Moundsville Penitentiary had bats living inside.

 

AAAAAAAAAGH!!!

 

The upstairs of the old barn had enormous floorboards that were at least an inch thick and a foot wide. They inspired confidence. Although old, there was no way I would fall through the floor. I walked through the dark carrying my camera equipment, walking toward a south-facing window.

I suddenly sank down slightly . Then my boot caught something that was sticking up. AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!! I lurched forward. I almost slammed my head against the dresser in front of the window, somehow catching myself just before. And I managed to not drop my camera equipment.

I had not only caught my foot, it felt like something had grabbed me!

I shined my flashlight around. There were two of those thick, enormous floorboards. One was bent down slightly because I had stepped on it, And the other was bent up slightly. I had caught my boot underneath the one that was bent up slightly when I sank on the other one. This had sent me sailing forward. I was lucky I had not seriously injured myself.

There was no animal for this last encounter. It was only me. But my yell was so loud that two of my night photographer friends heard me outside the barn and down the street. They immediately asked on the radio if I were alright. Thankfully, yes.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

Overcoming issues while adding 1 TB of blazing fast SSD storage inexpensively

Not long ago, I wrote about running out of SSD storage and how I added more for under $125. After all, you can never have too much storage, right? Especially fast storage.

It worked great at first, then began to go south.

This article continues my quest to add blazing fast SSD storage, including some of the bumps along the way.

Running out of SSD storage

I have a 500MB SSD in my iMac. I was using this to process photos, then shuttle them over to an external SATA drive, a spinning drive that I use as long-term storage. But lately, I had been back-logged. My projects were piling up, and I was running out of space to process my photos quickly.

However,  my friend Dave told me about a great solution. And to my surprise, it was considerably cheaper than replacing the SSD in my iMac or getting an external “hard drive toaster” or Synology or other solutions everyone else kept suggesting.

Small but mighty

My friend Dave suggested that I purchase a 1TB NVMe Internal SSD. He also suggested a small enclosure. This would act like a small portable USB. But faster. Way faster. This would connect via Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, which most modern computers have.

One small problem

This worked great. I was happy. But after several days, the drive stopped mounting. In other words, the computer could not properly recognize the drive.

This was intermittent at first. I would pull out the cable. It would then mount. But when I logged out and logged back in, it would often disappear from the hard drive again.

Troubleshooting the issue

I attempted to figure out the source of the problem. I switched cables, using the USB 3.1 port instead of Thunderbolt 3. This worked. Until it didn’t.

I reseated everything. I then began more drastic measures. I ran First Aid from Disk Utility. This worked. Until it didn’t. I erased the drive. This worked. Until it didn’t. Time and time again, it seemed like I had fixed the issue, only to have it not mount after one or two more tries.

Hot, hot, hot

Another aspect I disliked was that within minutes, the enclosure was hot to the touch. I had mounted it to the back of my computer to get as much air as possible. However, it still always ran really hot.

Return to sender

I gave up. I returned everything since it was still well within the 30-day period. After all, I had only been using it less than a week.

Replacements to the rescue!

I decided I would try to get a different NVMe equipment. After poking around on various tech sites, I was drawn to a Sabrent USB 3.2 Tool-Free Enclosure. I liked that it was also a little larger, made of solid aluminum and designed to dissipate heat efficiently. It looked strong.

I also decided to get the same brand, although that wasn’t necessary. I also purchased a Sabrent Rocket Q 1TB NVMe  Internal SSD. It was also highly rated on various tech sites, performing well on benchmarks and apparently reliable. Surprisingly, these came in the mail the next day, the same day that I went to The UPS Store to return the other items.

Four quick steps to placing the SSD in the enclosure

In my last article about adding SSD, I mentioned how easy installation was. In fact, it took me longer to take photos of everything and upload them than it did for me to connect everything. And so it was again.

Step One: I opened the enclosure by turning the round recessed handle. This case was quite solid. The peg at the bottom is a notched, rubber SSD rentention peg that was located inside. This holds the internal SSD in place.

Step Two: I opened the Sabrent SSD, which came in a rather nice case, carefully holding it by its sides.

Step Three: I slid the SSD inside. It only fits one way, so it’s easy to figure out where it goes. I placed the rubber retention peg in. A magnetized bottom holds it in place.

Step Four: After closing the enclosure, I simply connected the cables to the computer. You don’t need a photo for that, do you?

Making sure your computer recognizes the drive

This should be the same as installing any other drive. I’ll briefly describe the process on my iMac.

After Initializing

I received this dialogue box as shown above, prompting me to, well, do something. I initialized it.

However, like last time, the drive didn’t mount. I couldn’t see it on my desktop or use it, in other words.

I went into Disk Utility. On a Mac, you can do a quick search or go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utilities.

Erase Disk

From Disk Utilities, do what you would normally do when installing any new disk. Here, I pressed the “erase” function and then formatted the drive. Because of the fast speed of the connection, I’ve basically increased my hard drive space by 1TB. A friend of mine runs all his software from one of them because it’s a similar speed to his internal SSD. Nice.

Also notice the icon I gave it. Yes, instead of a rectangle, my icon is the U.S.S. Enterprise. Fly that geek flag high and proud, I say!

Remember, leave the unit in a place where it will not get covered and gets lots of air flow.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

The Christmas Star: the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on the shortest day of the year

The winter solstice brings many things. Celebrations, holidays, the longest night of the year, rebirth, and much more.

On December 21 of 2020, it also brought the “The Christmas Star”, what people called the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets were separated by just six arc minutes, equal to about one-fifth the apparent width of the moon.

 

A rare celestial event

In our night sky, the two planets haven’t appeared this close and visible to most of the population since March 5, 1226. Sure, they came close in 1623, but just for a short while in northern South America, central Africa and Indonesia. If you missed the conjunction, you can live vicariously through my photos or polish up your camera in 2080.

I stood outside with several other groups of people in Vasquez Rocks, CA. Some were in folding chairs, admiring with silence and reverence.

About the photos

I showed up at Vasquez Rocks after a long drive over the mountains to avoid traffic, driving there with my wife, who wanted to see this historic event. I had my camera set up for only about twenty minutes, perched up about twenty feet above the desert floor. Although I did bring light painting equipment, I decided that I wanted to keep the iconic Vasquez Rocks in shadow to bring more attention to the Jupiter-Saturn pairing. I shot all photos between 5:43 and 5:54 PM.

 

The above photo was shot at a focal length of 95mm. With this, more than the others, you can see the two distinct planets quite easily.

 

Above, a couple is walking around the rocks where years ago, Captain Kirk made his stand against a lizard creature called the Gorn in “Star Trek”.

Let me know if you saw the conjunction in the comments below!

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

I just added 1TB of blazing fast SSD storage to my computer for $125!

If you’re like me, you have photos. Lots of photos.

And you need storage. Lots of storage.

Running out of SSD storage

I have a 500MB SSD in my iMac. I was using this to process photos, then shuttle them over to an external SATA drive, a spinning drive that I use as long-term storage. But lately, I had been back-logged. My projects were piling up, and I was running out of space to process my photos quickly.

However,  my friend Dave told me about a great solution. And to my surprise, it was considerably cheaper than replacing the SSD in my iMac or getting an external “hard drive toaster” or Synology or other solutions everyone else kept suggesting.

Small but mighty

He suggested that I purchase a Western Digital NVMe Internal SSD. It was 1TB. And it was tiny. And for barely more than $100, it seemed like a great deal.

I’ve got you covered

Now, I did mention that the SSD is internal. Dave suggested that I purchase a small enclosure. I purchased an M.2 NVME SSD Enclosure Adapter as well. This would connect via Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, which most modern computers have.

Five quick steps to placing the SSD in the enclosure

Installation was very easy and took no time at all. In fact, it took me longer to take photos of everything and upload them than it did for me to connect everything.

 

Step One: The Mokin case slid open easily. The peg just to the right is a notched, rubber SSD rentention peg. They are located inside. I removed them before sliding the NVMe SSD in.

 

Step Two: I slid in the SSD until it locks in place. I could easily determine which side to slide in by the pattern of the connectors.

 

Step Three: A closer look at the rubber retention peg, which I’ve placed by the notch of the SSD.

 

Step Four: Here, I am sliding the tray into the enclosure. From there, a plastic cap slides into place, keeping everything locked.

 

Step Five: I connected using the provided USB-C cable, which fits into the Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 port. Above, you can see that I’ve also mounted the drive to the back of my iMac. This gets it off the surface of my desk, which is already cluttered enough. As a bonus, this helps dissipate heat more. That’s good because these little things get noticeably hot, particularly when transferring lots of files.

Making sure your computer recognizes the drive

This should be the same as installing any other drive. I’ll briefly describe the process on my iMac.

 

There’s a chance that your computer may not immediately be able to use the drive. That was certainly the case with my iMac. I received a dialogue box as shown above, prompting me to, well, do something. I initialized it.

However, the drive didn’t mount. I couldn’t see it on my desktop or use it, in other words.

I went into Disk Utility. On a Mac, you can do a quick search or go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utilities.

 

From Disk Utilities, do what you would normally do when installing any new disk. Here, I pressed the “erase” function and then formatted the drive. Because of the fast speed of the connection, I’ve basically increased my hard drive space by 1TB. A friend of mine runs all his software from one of them because it’s a similar speed to his internal SSD. Nice.

Remember, leave the unit in a place where it will not get covered and gets lots of air flow.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

Light painting 101: behind the scenes while illuminating an abandoned bus

Light painting is a term that is often used loosely to describe any addition of light to a night photograph. Really, though, light painting is a technique that uses a handheld light source to illuminate a scene during a long exposure. You are quite literally painting the scene with light. Night photographers have used this technique for many decades.

Here’s how I illuminated an abandoned bus.

 

 

Cracks in the glass

I love patina. The cracks in the glass caught my eye. I wanted to illuminate that to really bring them out. I used a ProtoMachines LED2 set to a color “patented” by Timothy Little called Gas Station Teal (TM).  Using a piece of cardboard to block the light from shining directly into the camera lens, I skimmed along the cracks from the driver’s side window. I walked to the back of the bus and illuminated the rest of the interior through a window because the bus was locked.

 

Illuminating the front

From there, I walked around to camera left and illuminated the bus. This was in part to mimic the direction of the moon. Sure, the moon is in back of the bus, but it still implies directionality. I used a warm white light for this. I skimmed it off the surface so it would create texture.

 

Illuminating the headlights

This sometimes confuses people. They cannot figure out why the headlights look like they’re on. Confusion is fun. I used a homemade snoot screwed on to my ProtoMachines light and quickly illuminated this for a second or so using a warm white light. I did the same with the smaller red light on on the top, switching the color to red. The snoot was handy because it forms a tight seal between the light and the tube so it would not “leak” out directly into the lens and leave an odd spot or trail. This was especially important here because the lens was very close to the bus, and I had to get very close to the lens to illuminate the headlights.

 

The moon

A 78% full moon illuminated the rest of the scene during the three-minute exposure. This provided just enough light to illuminate the rest of the scene. I kept the scene bright enough that it would have detail, but dark enough that it would provide contrast with the bus.

I hope you found this helpful!

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

10-minute DIY: an easy-to-make snoot for light painting

This is admittedly a rather specific DIY project, but hopefully it fills a niche, however small that might be. And the twenty-three people who want to do this might be really happy.

I cannot take credit for this fine design. Night photographer Tyler Heibeck told me how to do this, showing this to me when we were traveling in Iceland. But it’s easy to do. It’s simply sanding and gluing. If I can do it, you can do it. And probably better.

The specific design I’ll describe is for a ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light painting device. It has threads so you can screw them on. And so do a lot of lights. But even if they don’t, as long as you have a piece that attaches to your light source and you can glue modifiers on to that, you can run with this idea.

 

What’s a snoot and how do you use one?

In photography, it’s a tube or something similar that allows you to direct light. You can fit one over a studio light or a portable flash or a flashlight. Here, it’s most similar to a flashlight. This allows you to control the direction and radius of the light beam. I’ve done that with the above photo of the bus.

I use this for various reasons. The most common for me is to light paint a headlight so it looks like it’s on. This is great fun.

Above: A finished snoot attached to a ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device.

 

What you need:

Aluminum Step Up Filter Ring. These are usually used for things like UV filters on camera lens. This one is a 58-77MM thread.

Bushing for connecting two pipes with different diameters I used a 2″ x 1-1/2″ bushing here. 

Coupling for connecting two pipes with the same diameter in a straight run. This is for connecting the long tube to the bushing. This particular one is a 2″ coupling on the exterior, but it fits a 1-1/2″ pipe.

ABS pipe or something similar. The particular one I purchased before is not sold any more, but any ABS or PVC pipe should work. 

J-B Weld 8265S Original Cold-Weld Steel Reinforced Epoxy – 2 oz. This is a two-part epoxy system that is designed as an alternative to torch welding. It’s bizarrely strong. One bottle has a sort of liquid steel, and the other bottle has a fluid that chemically hardens the steel so that it creates a bond that is stronger than steel. I can attest to it lasting through for years of abuse.

3M Garnet Sandpaper, Very Fine Grit, 9-Inch by 11-Inch, 5-Sheet

 

Sanding and gluing

Step 1 – Sanding. First, sand all the surfaces that you will be gluing. Roughen them up and then wipe off the dust.

You really only need to glue the aluminum step-up ring to the bushing (shown above after it was sanded). That’s what I did for my first snoot, and that lasted without incident for four years before I left it in an airplane hangar. However, if you wish to glue everything else as I’ve done this time, sand all the surfaces first.

Step 2: Gluing: Take the J-B Weld and add the steel to one side and the hardener to the other side. Apply this with Q-tips or something similar. You can also mix them together on one surface, but I found it was easier and less messy to apply them separately. Above is the step-up ring and the bushing just before I glued them together.

Step 3 – More gluing (optional): Remember, you don’t have to glue the other pieces if you don’t want to. Here, from the bottom up, you can see the step-up ring glued to the bushing, and then the coupling has been inserted into the bushing. I really didn’t need to glue the coupling into the bushing. It is a tight fit and doesn’t come apart. But when you have extra glue, why not?

Above: I’ve now glued the ABS (similar to PVC) pipe into the coupling. This will make for a good, solid fit. Again, you do not need to glue this. In fact, if you wish to swap up different lengths of ABS pipe, it’s a good idea not to glue it! Your choice.

 

Does it have to be black?

No, absolutely not. But people who light paint frequently walk through the frame. We like to use dark things to minimize the chance of it showing in the photo or reflecting something. We wear dark clothes and use dark things. So it is with this snoot. But if you wanted, you could get most of these parts in white. That would certainly make getting the pipe easier, as you could use PVC pipe, which is generally found in white. ABS pipe is black. It also tends to be a little more solid and can withstand more shock, which probably isn’t that crucial unless you slam the car door on it or something. Well, okay, that sounds like something I might do, so maybe that is more crucial!

 

An even easier, cheaper snoot

Although this takes only about ten minutes to do, you can certainly use a cruder, simpler snoot. For instance, you can use a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube, available just about anywhere. The advantage is that it is cheap.

Two disadvantages of a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube

One disadvantage is that it “leaks” light slightly between the tube and the flashlight and can show up if you walk across the frame or otherwise need to get close to the headlight. This was the case in the photo of the bus above.

The other disadvantage is that you have to use both hands. In reality, this second point isn’t really that big of a deal, but it bears mentioning.

 

Conclusion

I hope this helps! Again, I want to emphasize that if you can find one piece that attaches to your light, you can simply, uh, modify this light modifier to suit your needs! I hope this helps! If you can, please leave a link to any similar DIY light modifier project that you’ve done in the comments!

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
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 California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols