ISO made easy: Understanding your ISO settings

ISO allows you to increase the brightness of your image. Let’s help you find out more about ISO.

A handy ISO cheat sheet chart.

What is ISO?

ISO is sort of like volume control for listening to music. If there’s not much signal — in this case, light — you increase the brightness of your image by amplifying the signal.

Film was rated by ISO, too. However, we can now adjust the camera’s sensitivity whenever we want instead of having to change rolls of film! The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light our camera is. An ISO of 100 is not very sensitive. An ISO of 6400 is very sensitive.

When should I change my ISO?

We change ISO based on the scene at hand. Generally speaking, the darker the scene, the more we can consider increasing the ISO. If there is a lot of movement in a dark setting, we may want to make our ISO even higher so we can use a higher shutter speed so moving subjects don’t have as much blur. We can also use a flash to help “freeze” the movement.

What ISO setting should I use?

Generally speaking, you want to use the lowest ISO possible. Why? This will give you the “cleanest” images. This means that there is less “noise” in the images. Some might say that a cleaner image looks less “grainy.”  Let’s look at some examples!

Low ISO settings: It’s bright!

It’s bright out! No need for a super-sensitive ISO setting! A low ISO of around 100 or 200 is perfect here.

For bright scenes such as day landscape photos, day portraits, or sports during the day, you would typically use a low ISO settings. This might be ISO 100, 200 or 400, depending on the light and shadow and time of day.

Medium ISO settings

I would choose to use a medium ISO setting of about ISO 800 or so here, although I did manage to use ISO 640 because I had a flash go off.

For scenes that have less light, such as later in the day, in the shade, or in bright indoors settings, we might raise the ISO to a medium ISO setting, such as around ISO 800 or 1000. As with all settings, adjust this until you get a strong exposure with a lot of information.

High ISO settings — not too much light right now!

ISO 4000 during a 20-second exposure at night because starlight is not very bright.

You might use these for very low light settings, such as nighttime, dark indoors, concerts, plays, lower-light sports, and other events. This could be from ISO 1600 and up. 

Remember, the higher the ISO, the more noise you might have in your images. However, I’d rather have a noisy image than a blurry image (unless I want blur, of course). Many modern cameras and even phones can take surprisingly clean photos in low light. There’s also software that can help you lower the amount of noise while still retaining detail.

Concert photography. I would never use a flash this close to a performer here. Since he was moving around, I used ISO 1600, a relatively high ISO setting, to “freeze” him in place and prevent blur.

Should I use Auto ISO?

The short answer is “it depends.” Auto ISO allows the camera to choose the best ISO for a particular situation. It makes this decision for you depending on what lens you are using, how much available light there is, and what your shutter speed is. Conveniently, it does this from picture to picture!

There are some scenarios in which you could consider using Auto ISO. I would consider using it if your light is unpredictable and keeps changing, you are constantly wandering in and out, or you are photographing rapidly and don’t want to keep adjusting. A camera’s Auto ISO options are sophisticated and can do a great job of making these decisions for you. 

“Real photographers don’t use Auto ISO”

You may occasionally hear someone saying that a “real” photographer will not use Auto ISO on your camera. They say that you should be able to adjust everything manually on your camera. While I am a huge proponent of having photographers understand the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and their relationship to each other), I also am a realist. If I encounter the scenarios described above, I just might go ahead and use Auto ISO. If I get great results and it’s easier, then I’m happy.

Of course, there are times in which you might not want to use Auto ISO. Sometimes you might want to set your ISO manually for creative purposes. Or sometimes, you might know better than the camera and want to make the decisions. That’s OK too. This is why it’s good to have an understanding of ISO.

You don’t always have to increase ISO when it’s dark

Event photography
I used ISO 400, which has low-sensitivity here, even though it was indoors. Why? I was using a flash, which illuminated the subject. On this particular photo, I kept the room dark with the low sensitivity because I wanted them to pop out. Note that this is not typically how one does indoor event photography, but I wanted to do that because the windows in the back were very bright and distracting otherwise.

If you have a tripod and nothing is moving (or you don’t care if it is moving), you can still use a low ISO. You can use a longer shutter speed to make up the difference. If you are using a flash to illuminate the subject, you might not need to increase your ISO as much either. 

More tweaky stuff

Every time you double your ISO, you increase the camera’s light sensitivity by a full exposure “stop.” Typically, the full-stop ISO scale progresses like this: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12,800 and so on. See how the numbers keep doubling? The light sensitivity doubles. And so does your brightness. For example, ISO 200 is twice as bright as ISO 100. ISO 400 is twice as bright as ISO 200.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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

 

Here’s a beautiful musical offering for you from Eleven Shadows

Some beautiful new music. I record music as Eleven Shadows. Immerse yourself in new worlds. And yes, I created some of this video with my Pentax camera and a Lensbaby lens! Check it out! Please let me know if you like it in the comments!

This Eleven Shadows song is part of a new album, “The Seahorse in the Center of your Mind“. You may listen to the rest of the album on Bandcamp. Thanks!

P.S. The video I created features the wondrous sculptures of Ricardo Breceda as well as a church and fountain in Borrego Springs, CA.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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

 

Why the Nightaxians shoot with it: Pentax K-1

The Nightaxians are all night photographers. And they all use Pentax K-1 full frame cameras. What is it about this camera that makes the it so compelling for the Nightaxians?

Night photo of abandoned mine.
Night photo at an abandoned mine in the Mojave Desert. Pentax K-1 camera.

Much of the camera industry has pivoted toward mirrorless cameras. However, there are compelling reasons why the Pentax K-1 an excellent choice. Find out about this unusual high-quality camera that often flies under the radar on the Nightaxians YouTube podcast.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA. Pentax camera.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA. Pentax camera.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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

 

Can you photograph at night with lousy eyesight?

I was recovering from surgery for a detached retina in my right eye. Here’s what I found.

Flashes and floaters

24 hours after the surgery I experienced floaters and flashes in my right eye, I was on the phone with an eye doctor. When I saw the first flash of light in my peripheral vision, I had thought, “That was strange. Was that the reflection from a car whizzing past?” The second time, I knew something was wrong.

The doctor said that I had lattice degeneration. This is a thinning of the peripheral retina, the tissue that lines the back wall of the eye. This also helps maintain sharp vision. Lattice degeneration is a cause for concern. Here, the retina is more susceptible to tearing, which can lead to retinal detachment. The doctor made an appointment for five more weeks.

Night photo of an enormous sculpture by Ricardo Breceda, located in Borrego Springs, CA.

Distracting

The next time I went out to the Arizona desert to photograph at night, my vision had grown increasingly worse. The flashes and floaters were more prominent than ever before. Worse than that, my vision in the right eye had grown a little hazier. 

The squeaky wheel

I called the doctor again. I wanted to see him now, not in several more weeks. However, the receptionist said that he was out of town. I kept the old appointment. However, thinking it over, I felt I really should see a doctor, so I called again. Same message. So I called again, saying the same thing again. This time, I got an appointment with a different doctor the following morning. Sometimes, the third time really is the charm.

Uh, oh!

Night photo of dinosaurs battling. Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda, Borrego Springs, CA.

It didn’t take long. The doctor said, “You have a detached retina.” He explained that since I was nearsighted, I was more susceptible to lattice degeneration and detached retinas. Swell. He made an appointment with another doctor specializing in retinal surgery. In particular, pneumatic retinopexy and a scleral buckle surgery, would be done during the same visit. 

Recovery

Recovery involved staying face down for eight days all day and all night. Yes, that means while sleeping. Or attempting to sleep. I am very active and kinetic. Therefore, I was convinced this was one of the Seven Layers of Hell. My face hurt. My back hurt. And of course, my eye hurt. And with that, I also had headaches for the next three weeks. I rarely looked at myself in the mirror for the first few days. I looked like I had gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.

The blob

No, this isn’t the blob from my eye. In fact, it was larger than this, and yes, right in the center of my vision. This is one of my macro experiments during the pandemic.

I had a weird bubble in my eye from one of the procedures. This air bubble slowly pushes the retina back into place. However, to me, it looked like an enormous blob. Slowly over two weeks, the blob diminished, then broke into several smaller blobs, then went away completely. I was overjoyed when it went away.

Blurry photo near sunset, Borrego Springs. While my vision in my right eye isn’t quite this blurry, it isn’t far off either.

Choosing the location to do night photography

A month after surgery, I was ready to get outside and enjoy some night photography in the desert. I chose Borrego Springs. One of the reasons was that the magnificent sculptures that I was going to photograph were only between five to 10 minutes from the motel. The other reason was that the ground near the sculptures was level and didn’t have many sharp pointy plants. 

And of course, I love Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs was where I had floated in the pool while looking up at the Milky Way, a magical experience I still remember vividly. 

Night photo of a sculpture by Ricardo Breceda in Borrego Springs, CA. April 2022.

Other strategies for doing night photography

While my right eye was healing quite well and I was told I could drive, swim, and exercise, my vision was still blurry. To compensate for this, I began using reading glasses. Rather than fumble around in the dark for them, I purchased eyeglass straps so they could hang around my neck when I wasn’t using them. 

I also used a Coast HX4 80-lumen Clip Light with the red light on to see my way around. Surprisingly, I didn’t need this too much because it was during a full moon, and I could see reasonably well. 

When reviewing my photos, I blew them up more than I usually would just to make sure I had focused properly. I used my reading glasses to make absolutely sure. I often used Live View. With Live View, I found I could also use my reading glasses effectively. If I needed to, I could also shine my light around to see what was going on more.

I also used the autofocus in my camera. I shined a light on the sculpture I was photographing, used the autofocus, and then switched back to manual focus so the camera wouldn’t keep attempting to acquire focus again.

Other thoughts

I was rather pleased that I could photograph so easily in the dark, even with one eye having rather blurry vision. I was able to photograph again the following month as well. I again photographed during a full moon, photographing some unusual art installations in Wonder Valley. And this time, I had also gotten some specially made glasses from the optometrist, so driving at night was much better. I was very specific with what I wanted with the glasses, and they made them with this in mind.

eye on the end of the world
Night photography at the end of the world, or at least Wonder Valley in California. May 2022.

I found that one of the challenges was the extremes between bright lights and dark. If it were mostly dark, I didn’t have that many issues at all. But if there were large bright signs and storefronts in an otherwise very dark environment, that sometimes caused haziness. My new glasses corrected for this. I didn’t have them when I photographed in Borrego Springs, so that’s largely why I chose to photograph a location that was only minutes from the motel.

Technically, my eye has not recovered fully. That takes about six months after surgery. Shortly after that point, I will have cataract surgery. After that, my vision in my right eye should be considerably sharper, and not the blurry mess it is now.

Dragon head. Ricardo Breceda. eye.
Night photo of part of the enormous rattledragon sculpture by Ricardo Breceda. April 2022.

And yes, I did swim at night. While the Milky Way wasn’t arching over the sky, the full moon and the starry skies were. And that’s still magical. And I felt particularly joyous after spending such a long time staying face down in the house.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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

 

Can I light paint in our National Parks at night?

Can you light paint, or illuminate, a foreground in our National Park system for your night photo? If so, which ones?

Light painting

Light painting is illuminating a subject at night with light. This can be disruptive to others. Or to wildlife. And it’s compounded if it is with a crowd of people, such as what was happening at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

Mojave National Preserve, CA, part of the National Park System.
Mojave National Preserve, CA, part of the National Park System.

While I have joked about this while discussing photographs of people pointing their flashlights up at the Milky Way, this is actually a real issue borne out of some people’s frustration. 

Where can I use artificial lighting in the National Park system?

The National Park Service manages 423 individual units. These 423 also include Monuments, Preserves, Reserves, Lakeshores, Rivers, Parkways, Historical Parks, Battlefields, Forests, and other designations. In 417 of these places, you may use artificial lighting, including light painting.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Where is artificial lighting banned?

This has changed in the past couple of years. However, to the best of my knowledge, the use of artificial light sources to illuminate landscapes, rock formations, or other park features is banned in Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Capitol Reef and Grand Teton National Parks. This of course includes “light painting”. 

However, it also includes ultra-dim static lighting as well. This ultra-dim lighting is typically as bright as the stars and is virtually imperceptible to people. 

Controversy

Arches National Park, Utah.
Arches National Park, Utah.

The ruling from these six units has been controversial among night photographers. Some feel that using very dim lighting from static panels does not disturb anyone, to the point where they are often not discernible except to the very sensitive sensors of a camera set to photograph long exposures at high ISOs.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Some photographers point out that it is OK to have cars racing through the parks at night. And in the case of Grand Teton, there’s also a highway, international airport, and private properties within its boundaries, all of which create more light than photographers ever would. 

There are multiple sides to this issue. And people from these various sides often make strong points. 

Regardless, most night photographers acknowledge that light painting can be disruptive to wildlife and people. Consequently, we choose to respect park regulations and share the space with others.

Inyo National Forest
Inyo National Forest

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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

 

Premiere of the beautiful new ambient music of Eleven Shadows!

Today is the premiere for my Eleven Shadows album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind“, full of beautiful deep ambient music. You may listen to or download the entire thing! And of course, it also features otherworldly visual images and elements, although no night photography!

This is the first Eleven Shadows since probably about the year 1791, haha! I had eye surgery for a detached retina and was recovering. I wanted to listen to a ambient music featuring deep otherworldly bell-like sounds while convalescing or working on things while at home. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any. I decided to create it. A week later, in an flurry of inspiration, I had twenty-one tunes that sounded quite beautiful. I began realizing that I could release this as Eleven Shadows music instead of one The Mercury Seven or one of my other musical projects.

The first song, Marismas Oscuras, also has a video!

Listen or download the entire Eleven Shadows album today on Bandcamp.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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 I got the photo: Organizing 40 night photographers with flashlights

What would you do if you hiked up to Delicate Arch at night, only to find 40 photographers waving flashlights around? I decided to organize everyone, creating order from chaos. Here’s how I attempted this in June 2014.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is iconic, so much so that it appears on the Utah license plate. Rightfully so. It’s one of the most unusual geologic features on the face of the planet. It’s a free-standing 52-foot tall arch on the rim of a large rocky bowl. If that’s not spectacular, I’m not sure what is.

The hike to Delicate Arch

A friend had warned me that even though the hike was only 1.5 miles each way, part of the path became narrow. Worse, it had a steep drop-off of several hundred feet. He was concerned about me hiking back that way at night. Consequently, I prepared to stay the night up at Delicate Arch if necessary. I took ample food, over two gallons of water, a sleeping bag, a light jacket, and much more, along with my camera equipment.

A rock concert

organizing crowds at Delicate Arc
Some of the crowd at Delicate Arch after sunset.

To my utter dismay, there were approximately 150 people there when I arrived shortly before sunset. It was chaos. They were seated around the lip of the bowl as if watching a rock concert. Many were hanging around the arch. 50 people remained long after dark to photograph the Milky Way. They waved flashlights around. They wandered around Delicate Arch with flashlights. Some pointed blindingly bright lights up at the arch from directly below.

Creating something original

Delicate Arch has been photographed many times. To set my photo apart, I had thought I would try a different composition that I had never seen before. I would frame the Milky Way through the arch while looking up at it. Using Google Earth and the Photographer’s Ephemeris, I determined that I could do this after 11:30 p.m.

However, I would not be able to create a good photo if there were 40 people waving flashlights around randomly and wandering around the arch.

Organizing People on arch.
Hanging around the arch after sunset.

Creating order from chaos

By 11:30 p.m., the crowd had thinned slightly. There were probably 40 photographers who remained. And yes, they were still waving flashlights around. 

I decided to coordinate our efforts. 

I spoke to get their attention, telling them that I wanted to take a photo from below. And I mentioned that I could illuminate Delicate Arch for everyone if we coordinated our times. There were murmurs of agreement. “Sounds great to us!” Fantastic. I was now coordinating the efforts of over 30 photographers. 

But there was one more thing to overcome.

Now came the frightening part

The ledge where I wanted to photograph from looked somewhat easy to get to when there was light. But now, it was completely dark. The ledge underneath Delicate Arch was all there was. After that, it was nothing but a steep drop hundreds of feet to the bottom of the bowl below.

Could I safely get to the vantage point needed to take a photo like this? 

I carefully climbed down there. And while I felt reasonably safe, I also felt terrified. Climbing down in the dark made it exponentially worse.

Furthermore, to illuminate the arch, I would have to climb back up, illuminate it, and then carefully climb back down. 

I decided I would only do this once. I kept the camera clicking away while I climbed back up and illuminated it numerous times, changing the angle to make certain something looked decent. Then I went back down to turn off the camera and get out of there. Whew! 

Gratitude

I felt grateful that I hadn’t even slipped. I had been on solid footing the whole time. And my camera had remained rock solid, not plummeting to the rocky bottom below.

Several photographers walked up to me and thanked me. They said that they really liked my light painting of the arch and that they were very happy with their images. 

I created the photo I wanted and helped many people in the process. Win-win.

I will say, however, that I will never do that again.

My photo

Delicate Arch with the Milky Way.
Delicate Arch with the Milky Way.

This is the photo that I planned, which I’ve called “Door to Infinity.” As you can see, I achieved my vision. This is an image looking up, the arch framing the magnificent Milky Way.

For this photo, I “light painted” the arch with a small Streamlight 88040 ProTac Professional Handheld Flashlight. This was done to keep it from becoming a silhouette. To do this, I had to walk back and forth from the scary ledge to higher ground. 

Please note that I photographed this on 25 June 2014 at 12:37 a.m. Since then, Arches National Park has banned “light painting” at night. This was photographed with a Nikon D610 and a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens at 14mm. For a single exposure, I used a 20-second exposure at f/2.8 with an ISO of 4000.

I should also mention that I was able to safely hike back down to the car at night. The narrower footpath was approximately six feet wide and didn’t feel treacherous. I went on to photograph numerous other locations, staying out until the sun rose.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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

 

Creating an album cover and video for my ambient album – my own!!

I’ll describe how I created an album cover and video using the same setup! Even better, I created these for my own album!

Some of you may not know that I play music and have had numerous recording contracts throughout the years. I’ve been doing it far far longer than night photography.

I record music as Eleven Shadows. But I took a reeeeally long break because I played in a rock band and continue to play in The Mercury Seven.

But funny things happen. Stuck at home after eye surgery, I began creating some new music. I was creating it just to create it. After a while, it occurred to me that this could be new Eleven Shadows music!

Every album needs some artwork, right?

Of course it does! Being a musician who is also a photographer has its advantages. I decided I wanted some mysterious macro photography. I grabbed my Pentax K-1 and an old Pentax M Macro 50mm F/4 Prime MF Lens. I set it so it hovered over a Pyrex dish filled with water and some drops of olive oil. I chose a dark room. But then I illuminated the glass dish from below with some colored lights.

Macro setup.
Similar macro setup. I did this in my tiny recording studio.

You can see how this setup looks in my macro photography article, where I describe this in great detail.

Colorful macro bubble photo.
Macro close-up photo of bubbles.

I decided that I wanted the colors more muted. Also, I wanted it to feel more layered and aquatic. So I used an old photo I took of a strange metal undersea creature I saw in a store many years ago.

Album cover for “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.
The album cover for “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.

I also created some blurring on the sides with Nik Collection Perspective Efex for good measure. This plug-in has an outstanding tilt/shift feature that blurs beautifully. Oh, and yes, it corrects perspective very well!

Every song needs a video, right?

Of course it does. And being a musician who is also a photographer has advantages here as well.

Eleven Shadows “Marismas Oscuras” from the new album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.

While I took that colorful macro above, I also used Pentax’s video feature. I simply gently stirred the bubbles with a spoon. Then I recorded the action.

Macro photography video of oil bubbles.

You can see some of it in the video above. I then incorporated this video into the final video along with all the other patterns, glowing lights, and general weirdness.

The new instrumental tune “Marismas Oscuras” fits in well with the various depths and layers.

Where do I get the new Eleven Shadows album?

You can stream or download the new album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind” on Bandcamp!

Eleven Shadows YouTube Playlist

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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

 

Nightaxians Video Podcast on YouTube: Pentax, gear, night photography, creativity

The Nightaxians have just launched a new Nightaxians Video Podcast on YouTube. We will discuss all things night photography, Pentax, gear, lenses, urban exploration, night travel adventures and far more. I am proud to be one of the three people in the video podcast along with night photographers Timothy Little and Mike Cooper.

Above is the premiere episode of The Nightaxians Video Podcast. This particular chat is about some of the lenses that we use for our night photography. We discuss not only Pentax lenses, but also Nikon, Canon and more.

What is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

The Nightaxians Video Podcast.
The Nightaxians Video Podcast

Imagine if you are hanging out with three of your friends, listening to a fun, informal chat about all things photography. That’s sort of what The Nightaxians video podcast on YouTube is like. Sure, it’s about night photography. However, it can appeal to those who do different kinds of photography.

Many of the discussions and concepts might center around gear, composition, weather, finding locations, choice of lenses, our weirdest experiences, strange encounters with people and animals, how we pack our bags, software, how we created the photos and more. And since all of us use Pentax gear, there’s always going to be discussion about that.

Night photo by Nightaxian Tim Little

Where is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

You can find it on this YouTube playlist. This is where all Nightaxians video podcasts will be posted. I would encourage you to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes.

Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper

When is the Nightaxians Video Podcast?

We hope to have a new episode for you at least once a week. As of right now, we are posting them on Tuesday. However, the best way to know when we post is of course to subscribe to the channel.

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee

Who are the Nightaxians?

The Nightaxians are three night photographers, also known collectively as Notorious RGB (see what we did there?). Although we live in three different time zones, we are brought together by a love of photography and camaraderie. We would love you to join us. You can even help shape the flow of the show with your suggestions, especially about topics you would like to hear us discuss. Think of it like this. We’re Pentaxians, but with a focus on night photography. And we’re hanging out and talking about all the topics that fascinate us.

I’ll share a brief description of the three of us.

Timothy Little

Night photo by Tim Little

Timothy Little makes a living specializing in night photography and light painting. I sat down with him and talked with him about how he explores a world lit by Moonlight, stars and street lamps, by his home in Cape Cod, MA and in the southwestern United States.

Tim is able to illuminate subjects with handheld lights to create riveting, often colorful images while remaining as organic, creating the image in-camera.

Mike Cooper

Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper

Southern-based night photographer Mike Cooper has covered broad expanses of the Midwest and Southern US, offering fantastic glimpses of abandoned places lit by the moon, stars and handheld light. The amount of travel and diversity of sites are a testament to his dedication to his craft.

Mike illuminates these mysterious, forgotten locations with often colorful lighting, creating the image in-camera. The results are otherworldly. He has two books that will showcase these worlds.

Ken Lee

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee

Well, that’s me. I am a night photographer. As with many night photographers, I drive long hours in a dusty car listening to weird music, stay out all night creating photos, get dirty, hang out with other creative sleep-deprived weirdos, see the stars drift across the sky and always find the best taco stands while photographing forgotten abandoned locales and amazing nightscapes. I have two books published with two more on the way, and my images have appeared in National Geographic Books, Omni magazine, Los Angeles Times, Westways magazine and numerous other publications.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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 create star trails in Photoshop in three easy steps

You can create star trails in Photoshop in three easy steps. It’s really quite easy!

Star trails are magical. They show the celestial movements of the stars over a long period of time. And they’re easy to create.

You’ve taken some photos of the night sky in succession, one right after another, using a tripod to keep everything steady. And now you want to use Photoshop to “stack” them to make them into larger star trails. Photoshop has some nice advantages for “stacking”, and I’ll point some of these out near the end.

1. Stack your photos

Load files into stack screenshot.
Load files into stack. We’re gonna create some star trails!

Simply go to “File”. Select “Scripts”. Then select “Load Files into Stack” as shown above. 

2.) Select which files you want stacked

Dialogue box for stacking
Dialogue box for selecting the files you want to “stack” into star trails.

This too is straightforward. Hit the “Browse” button. Then simply navigate to where your files are and select them and hit “OK”. You don’t need to check any of the boxes below assuming that your camera and tripod did not move.

3.) Let the stars shine through!

Photoshop will stack all of your photos. If you had printed all of your individual photos, it would be as if they were all stacked on top of each other in one neat pile. Photoshop is just doing this digitally. Lean back and relax. If you have lots of photos and a slow computer, go get a drink.

Photoshop Layers lighten.
Hey, alright! Photoshop has stacked your photos! But now we need to change the opacity of the Layers from “Normal” to “Lighten”.

Once Photoshop is done, you’ll think, “Okay….I see all the layers of photos on the bottom right side….but I don’t see any star trails!” And you wouldn’t see them if you had stacked all your printed photos one on top of the other either. 

But here in Photoshop, we can turn our stacked “digital papers” (our layers, in other words) into “magic paper”. Cool, huh? 

First, highlight all the layers except the very bottom layer. 

Then go to the Layers Tab just above where all your images are stacked; You’ll see a pulldown menu that says “Normal”. Change that to “Lighten”. Wow! Let the stars shine through!

Photoshop Layers lighten.
Instant star trails! I never get tired of seeing how it all comes together. Where the red arrow is pointing, you change that from “Normal” to “Lighten”, then lean back and smile. Yeah. You just created some star trails!

If you look at this photo above, you can see some airplane trails and some lights from me mistakenly shining the light into the camera while illuminating the giant dragon sculpture. Next we will discuss how to get rid of that.

Bonus Tip: getting rid of airplane trails or unwanted lights

Some people don’t want airplanes in their star trails. Or maybe you mistakenly shine a light in the camera and you don’t want that. This bonus section is for you. This is one of the nice aspects of using Photoshop.

A lot of people choose not to do this. That’s okay. It’s your photo. You’re in charge. You do what you want.

Photoshop masks
The red arrow is pointing to Layer Masks. Here, I’ve created a lot of Layer Masks, one for each Layer, mostly to get rid of lots of airplane trails. There were probably ten airplanes that flew through while I created this image because this location is directly in the flight path of San Diego. I also got rid of some inadvertent lights while light painting and my ghostly shadow image from standing in place a little too long.

But if you want to try this, you can rid yourself of them by creating Layer Masks. Those are those white rectangles to the right of the layers in our example below. 

Creating Layer Masks so we can mask out unwanted stuff

Select one layer that has the airplane trails or unwanted light that you don’t want. You’ll create a Layer Mask that will block this out. Go to the top menu. “Choose Layer” > “Layer Mask” > “Reveal All”. This should produce a white rectangle to the right of your selected layer.

Then select the Brush tool. This is located on the left side of the image. Choose the black color. Make sure that the white Layer Mask is selected instead of the actual layer itself. Then simply start painting away on the area that you want concealed. You should see the unwanted item begin to disappear. The black color stops that one part of the image from shining through! It’s like magic!

Rattledragon star trails photo
The enormous rattledragon sculpture in Borrego Springs, California. The sculpture was created by Ricardo Breceda. This image is 28 minutes total exposure. Each individual photo was a two-minute exposure at f/6.3 and ISO 200. The star trails are relatively straight because I am zooming in from farther away and we are not facing directly north or south, so they tend to be straighter and longer when they are farther from the North or South Celestial Poles.

It’s really that easy. If you don’t like it, hit “Undo” (or paint over what you did after selecting a white color). 

Additional tips

Layer Masks can be used to get rid of “hot spots” from your light painting as well. Or shadows. Really, anything that only exists on one layer, you can eliminate non-destructively. If you don’t like it later, go back and change it.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are 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, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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 PRESENTATION:

How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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