My night photographing an eerie haunted abandoned water park

I had just driven to the front of the post-apocalyptic looking abandoned water park. This was a high-profile abandoned location. After all, you could easily see it while traveling between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Sure enough, there were several cars circling around, wondering where to park or enter. A group of three waved at me.

The entrance to the water park, with the letter “k” missing for quite some time. I lit this with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light during the exposure.

I scooted past the cars, eventually parking at the back end. I had parked here for a couple of reasons. One was so my car would not be on the street. The other was that I hoped to meet with the caretaker.

Encountering the first people at the water park

I wandered the water park as the sun began its descent behind the desert mountains. I didn’t think it was possible, but the place was even more tagged than two years ago when I had first visited. 

Inside the gift shop, with the Interstate in the distance. Lit by a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light during the exposure.

The three people who had seen me on the front street gave me puzzled looks. “Where did you park?” I muttered something about parking in the back. 

“Hey, do you think it’s cool if I paint here?”

“I don’t think so. It’s private property, although it’s not like that’s stopped anyone else.” I had never understood vandalism, even if the place was going to be eventually leveled.

“Cool, man,” he replied, as if I had given him permission to paint. “I’m from San Francisco. We’re on our way to Vegas. Just had to stop by here.”

Scouting for night photography

I continued wandering and taking photos with my phone. All the while, I was thinking about the angles of the moon as it rose and what might look good, taking photos to remind me of potentially good angles later if I were to return in the evening.

A fisheye view of what used to be the arcade. Using a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I lit the interior and exterior of the structure.

But would there be people here in the evening? Would it be safe?

Meeting the guys in the back

I returned to my car, which I had purposely parked near the water tank and the dilapidated house and RV up near the top of the property. As I mentioned, I had hoped to meet the caretaker of the property here. I seem to have this way of connecting with people, and I hoped to do this here.

One guy looked like he was carrying things back and forth between the RV. I waved at him with a smile, doing an almost dorky sort of wave. He waved back and walked slowly down the hill. 

Making a connection

We got to talking about the Mojave Desert area, talking about Joshua Tree, Barstow and more. He was quite nice and smiled when I mentioned some of the history of the water park. 

Generally speaking, I really dislike graffiti. That said, this particular painting of this woman captivated me, and I knew I had to photograph her at night later. I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2, using warm white and blue light from numerous angles during the exposure, to create the lighting for this image.

He had lived up in the hills above Ben Lomond, in Boulder Creek. I knew the area and exclaimed how beautiful it was up there, and how I had spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, playing music and hanging out. 

“You know how there are giant redwood trees that are hollowed out by fire up there?” I nodded. “I lived in one of those trees for two years.”

Now, he was living in an RV parked under a dilapidated house that was tagged. I hadn’t realized how messed up the house was until I had walked closer and began talking to him.

He then mentioned how he had also lived near Beckley in West Virginia. We talked about the beauty of that state, as I had visited numerous times. 

Ghosts, accidents and 50 mile-per-hour waterslides

We ended up going on a mini-tour around the property. “The gift shop is haunted. There is a painting of a woman on the wall inside. People keep tagging it. But the paint never stays on.”

I asked how long this had been happening. “I’m not sure. It’s been happening for a while, though. Don’t worry, they won’t bother you,” he assured me. 

The first building constructed at Lake Dolores is still standing, although I suspect it’s far more colorful than before.

Soon after, he pointed and said, “That was the first building built here.” It was the bathrooms and changing rooms. And it was indeed built like a brick, uh, something-house.

We looked at the enormous pits which were the lakes in Lake Dolores. 

Some of the small waterslides at night, with the Interstate in the distance. The ones that you stood up on or went 50 miles per hour have long since disappeared. This was lit by a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 during the exposure.

He mentioned the long waterslides that used to exist, ones in which one could reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

“And on some slides, you could go down while standing up! Some people got major road rash from that.”

And worse.

“One time, after the park closed, one of the employees wanted to go down the waterslide. The waterslide had been turned off, and the water was not full enough down below. He slid down and badly injured himself and then sued the water park. This shut it down.” 

The weirdest thing

No TV tonight. But plenty of color in this night photo of an abandoned water park.

“We get a lot of visitors here,” he mentioned.

Peering around at all the tagging, I nodded my head. I asked him what the weirdest thing he’s ever seen people do. Without hesitation, he answered, “Seances. I came across people conducting a seance right there,” pointing to an area between what had been the arcade and the gift shop. 

He later said, “Come on back later. You can stay here all night photographing. We’ll patrol the area and make sure no one bothers you.”

Not even ghosts, apparently.

Returning later in the night

I was excited about the prospect of photographing this place unimpeded, given the nod by the caretaker. Earlier, I had been thinking of some themes for a new night photography book on abandoned places. Lake Dolores would fit that theme beautifully. I drove in using the “secret locals” way he had also shown me, proud that I actually remembered how to do it.

An interior photo of the former arcade

I set about photographing and felt very creative, using more color in my lighting than I usually did, befitting the cartoonish, colorful nature of the water park. 

Several times, I saw an ATV pass. One time, he waved. 

Photographing the haunted gift shop

The corner of the allegedly haunted gift shop. Inside is the painting of the girl that allegedly cannot be painted over, according to the caretaker.

Of course, I had to do it. I ventured in, saw the girl, and smiled. I shined some blue light on her to give this eerie, bold and cartoonish quality. This sort of light painting would never stay on her. True to the caretaker’s word, the spirits never bothered me.

As I photographed some of the other buildings, an eerie cold wind blew in from nowhere. The air had been still and hot, but the sudden wind was gusty and cooler. Then just as suddenly, it stopped. Whether this was an atmospheric anomaly or the last vestiges of a seance, who can say?

I worked with mostly primary colors for much of this photoshoot, enhancing the already colorful, cartoonish look of the retro-futuristic water park. I’ll often use only warm white light for photo shoots, or perhaps a dash of color here and there, but here, I let the colors fly.

I packed up and left shortly after 2 a.m. This had been a great, creative night. And the ghosts had been kind.

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

 

Amazing adventures of creating a night photography history book

Old passenger trains with air conditioning units using ice, located in the Mojave Desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure. This was one of the many adventures I had while writing my second book of history and night photography.

Night photography explorations bring about fantastic experiences and adventures. Certainly when exploring abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles.

Over the years, I had amassed quite a few stories. I would tell these to friends. Occasionally I would post about them. I had to abbreviate these stories quite often, creating more questions than answers. I now have a second book where I can share these stories and images of strange abandoned sites, secret locations, and the characters along the way.

The Federal Clown Prison bus, one of many stories in a new book published by Fonthill/America Through Time. This is one of numerous fascinating things you see when you seek out abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles in the California desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

The mythical cars jammed in desert sand

Ken Lee’s photo

We had heard about mysterious cars jammed into the desert sand. These are the locations that you hear about and wonder if it is myth or truth. We rumbled down an impossibly long sandy dirt road, only to come across a car with the rear end sticking up, stranded motorists standing forlornly to one side, stranded. Eventually continuing, we walk across the desert floor for twenty minutes, an area with no trails and no light, guided by the mountains and the glow of our GPS-tracking equipment. Odd shapes finally emerge. Cars jammed into the sand at awkward angles, some sideways, some upside down, some buried.

Oh, and yes, I gave the stranded motorists a ride back to town.

Was this the Manson family car?

A wrecked Corvair hidden in the hills above Spahn Ranch. Was this used by the Manson Family? Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

Some adventures were solo. As an adult, I heard rumors of a Corvair that was hidden up in the hills above Spahn Ranch. Manson had a right hand man named Bruce Davis who drove a Corvair. Many believe that this rusty 1960s Corvair belonged to him. Some refer to this car as the Zodiac Car due to a popular myth that Bruce Davis was involved in the Zodiac killing, although this was never established. If this car could speak, would it tell tales of horror and violence? I decided that I would photograph this car at night. To do this, I had to hike through a couple of miles of hillside, the rugged hills illuminated by the moon. I found the car nestled under a tree in a rocky canyon overlooking the lights of the San Fernando Valley. The location was both beautiful and creepy. On my hike back, I took a wrong turn and discovered another abandoned car.

Another abandoned car, most likely stolen, peering over Los Angeles. I discovered this when I took a wrong turn on the way back to the car. There are several more cars hidden here. Perhaps there will be further adventures. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

Desert rats, philosophers and scientists

Halloween at an abandoned WWII air field. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

For many photo shoots, I had permission to be on the grounds. But these often bring about a different kind of experience. I’ve connected with people through our shared love of history. I’ve made friends with people who have enormous collections of old 1920s trains on their property, outdoor military plane museums, collections of hundred year old vintage trucks, many trucks and airplanes on an abandoned WWII airfields during Halloween night, railroad museums, and more. Preservationists, government workers, desert rats, music fans, philosophers, nature lovers, astronomers, scientists, mechanics, and lovers of weird, unusual, and vintage things – I’ve shared time and often dinner with them.

Airplane, abandoned WWII airfield with a full moon peaking behind it. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

To good friends

The interior of a vintage 1928 Moreland truck, illuminated by a ProtoMachines LED2 during the exposure.

But most importantly, many of the adventures have involved other friends who are night photographers. Rattling through dirt roads on multi-night journeys with friends may be the best gift of all. There is a certain magic in sharing the journey over traveling hours on dirt roads throughout the desert, finding the best taco stands, and photographing at night while waving flashlights in the dark to illuminate these special planes, trains and automobiles.

International Loadstar, with a shooting star aiming toward its crown during this long exposure night photo.

Telling the stories about hopes, dreams and secret locations

Abandoned airplane parts, WW II airfield, California. Illuminated with warm white and red light during the exposure.

I’ve compiled these images and adventures into a book, filled with stories and history of abandoned locations, outlining the successes and failures, dreams and hopes of those who came tried, peeling back some of the secrets that the California desert holds.

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: California Revealed

$23.99; available via Amazon or signed via Ken Lee Photography

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles book cover.
Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles book cover.

This is the description of the book: “Abandoned Planes Trains and Automobiles: California Revealed” is an unforgettable nocturnal journey through secret locations hidden in the deserts of California. California has more than its share of abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles. Famous for its aviation and aerospace, the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad, and car culture, California has long been at the forefront of transportation. Wander with Ken through rarely seen locations as he illuminates these forgotten scenes with light, creating haunting dreamlike exposures of several minutes or more. Immerse yourself in the experiences and adventures. Discover precisely how these night photos are created. If you are a fan of creative photography, transportation history, or vivid travel stories, this exploration of California’s abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles is for you.”

Steam locomotive, Laws Museum near Bishop, CA.
A ghostly view of a vintage GMC truck with an odd tilt-shift blur effect courtesy of a Lensbaby lens.

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 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.

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

What are hot pixels, and how can you remove them?

Hot pixels are defects commonly found in digital cameras. You can determine if they are hot pixels because they will show in the same location in every frame — they do not move. They will look extra sharp because they are just one pixel. Below, I’ll discuss what they are and talk about three ways to remove them.

What are hot pixels?

Hot pixels are caused by electrical charges which leak into the sensor wells. You usually begin noticing them when you go home and look at your images more closely during post-processing.

Hot pixels can become more visible at high ISOs. They can also become more visible when the sensor becomes hot. This can occur when you are photographing during a hot day or evening. They tend to be more visible in dark areas of your image. They tend to show up far more often in long exposure images. And of course, this includes dark night photography images!

Hot pixels in the upper right corner.
After removing the hot pixels from the upper right corner.

Above, I used the Dust& Scratches filter in Photoshop to remove hot pixels. This is viewing the image at 200% zoom.

A pixel by any other name …

For the purposes of this article, I am not going to differentiate between hot pixels, dead pixels (a pixel that is no longer receiving any information) or a stuck pixel (pixels that receive erroneous information, often showing up as red, blue or green). I’m simply going to refer to them as hot pixels for the sake of expediency.

Three ways to get rid of wayward pixels

1. Pixel mapping

We’ll start straight at your source: Your camera. Your camera may include pixel mapping features in its firmware. The general idea is that your camera takes a black reference frame and then eliminates the detected stuck pixels. Easy. Pentax and Olympus have pixel mapping features.

2. Removing noise

I’ll use Photoshop as an example, mostly because, well, that’s what I use. If you don’t use Photoshop, look for a similar feature on your photo editor.

Photoshop already has an excellent method of getting rid of hot pixels without resorting to third party plug-ins. It’s quite easy.

Using the Dust & Scratches filter to eliminate something other than dust and scratches. Many programs other than Photoshop have the ability to remove dust and scratches. Give it a try!
Using the Dust & Scratches filter to eliminate something other than dust and scratches. Many programs other than Photoshop have the ability to remove dust and scratches. Give it a try!

Go to Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches. This will open a dialog box.

Adjusting the threshold in the "Dust & Scratches" Filter. Look! No more hot pixels!
Adjusting the threshold in the “Dust & Scratches” Filter. Look! No more hot pixels!

Set the pixel radius to 1-2 pixels. Set the threshold based on how much you wish to eliminate the offending pixels. 

The long exposure night image after reducing noise from the "Dust & Scratch" Filter.
The long exposure night image after reducing noise from the “Dust & Scratch” Filter.

What if the Dust & Scratches Filter messes up other parts of my image?

If this occurs, do one of the following:

Paint out the pixels with Layer Masks

Create a Layer Mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All). This should create a white mask in the Layers Window. Then click that white mask, select a brush with the color black and paint out all the areas where you feel the image has been adversely affected.

Use luminosity masks
Creating a luminosity mask. Notice that all the darkest areas are white?
Creating a luminosity mask. Notice that all the darkest areas are white?

Since offending pixels are far more visible in dark, shadowy or unexposed areas, you may target these in those areas with a luminosity mask. Create a luminosity mask where only the darker areas of the image are targeted. The pixels should be gone. If there are other pixels visible, you can paint those out on the mask itself with a white brush, brushing on more of the effect. 

is targeted to affect the darkest areas of the image. It's easier and quicker to create a luminosity mask than it is to paint on a Layer Mask, and sometimes can be extremely helpful if you know exactly what you wish to target.is targeted to affect the darkest areas of the image. It's easier and quicker to create a luminosity mask than it is to paint on a Layer Mask, and sometimes can be extremely helpful if you know exactly what you wish to target.
This is a screenshot of the Layers palette. The luminosity mask is the small black and white mask to the right of the top layer. It’s a Layer Mask, but is targeted to affect the darkest areas of the image. It’s easier and quicker to create a luminosity mask than it is to paint on a Layer Mask, and sometimes can be extremely helpful if you know exactly what you wish to target.

3. Dark frame subtraction

There are two ways of doing dark frame subtraction — long exposure noise reduction and dark frame subtraction.

Long exposure noise reduction

You can turn on long exposure noise reduction (LENR) in your camera’s settings.

Remember, though, that this will result in your long exposure taking twice as long. For example, if you do a 3-minute exposure, your camera will then employ LENR for an additional three minutes, so your wait time will be six minutes total. Because of this, you also should not have LENR on if you are doing stacking of any kind. For these reasons, I rarely use LENR.

Dark frame subtraction in post-processing

This is how I prefer to do dark frame subtraction. While you are out in the field taking long exposure photos, take a dark exposure image. 

Set up your camera with the settings you are using. However, keep the lens cap on. This may get puzzled looks from your family if they are not photographers. Take the photo. 

Remove the lens cap and go ahead and take the long exposure. 

When you do your post-processing, open the dark frame subtraction image and your regular image. Put the dark image as the top layer. Change the Blend Mode to Subtract. Boom! That gets rid of whatever errant pixels you may have had.

It’s easy to deal with hot pixels

As I mentioned earlier, this mostly occurs with long exposure photos, especially in the dark areas. This unfortunately makes them particularly noticeable, especially when viewed on a large screen. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to address taking them out. And most of them are easy.

There are other methods of removing them as well. You could use either the Spot Healing Brush or the Clone Stamp tool to remove them. However, you would need to generally remove them individually. I tend to use the Spot Healing Brush for removing sensor dust more so than hot pixels.

You might also be able to use a noise reduction program such as Topaz Labs DeNoise AI.

Do you have a preferred method of removing hot pixels? If so, please tell me 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

 

 

How can you be a colorblind photographer?

“Why does that dog look green?”

That comment led to my parents discovering that I was red-green colorblind. Years later, I am now a colorblind night photographer.

What do I see since I’m colorblind?

Some people think that if someone is colorblind, they see only black and white. That is an extremel1y rare occurrence. 

I am red-green colorblind, also known as deuteranopia. Approximately 8% of males have this, so it’s not unusual. There are different degrees of this. Mine is relatively strong. 

It's a fire truck. I know it's red. Got it. Good.
It’s a fire truck. I know it’s red. Got it. Good.

I can easily differentiate between bold colors of red and green. Traffic lights are no issue at all. Grass is green. Fire trucks are red. 

However, throw in subtle hues of reds and greens, as well as related colors, such as oranges and browns, and I’m usually sunk. When people discuss cyan, teal, turquoise, chartreuse or aquamarine, they hold little meaning to me. 

If someone told me a color were teal instead of blue, I might not know any better. I have little concept about what taupe or chartreuse are. Pale pinks and light gray, subtle shades of blue and purple, bright greens and yellows, or dark greens and gray — they are confusing to me.

How do I take photos?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 5020_kenlee_october2019trip_191011_0017_12mtotal_3mf8iso320_schoolbus-madmax-blueinterior_1600px-no-metadata.jpg
Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.
Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Taking photos is relatively simple. However, I sometimes light my subjects with different colors. Sometimes, I’ve attempted to select blue, only to find that I’ve selected teal. If I select a color like green and I want to be absolutely sure, I will increase the saturation and hold the light against a relatively neutral surface. Same with pink. 

How do I post-process photos?

Post-processing colors is one of many reasons why I would never be a wedding photographer. If someone has a specific clothing and I don’t nail the exact color, that’s not so good. 

Consequently, I try to set a proper white balance when photographing despite already shooting in RAW. I find nailing the white balance really helps me later. It also enables me to see the histogram out in the field.

When I begin editing, I simply don’t mess with the colors very much. I rarely use saturation much anyway. 

How do I really know what color this is?

If I’m really not sure what color something is, I use Photoshop’s Color Picker. I select the color in question on the image. This produces a dialog box that tells gives me a visual representation of where things are on the RGB spectrum. Usually, that’s enough.

The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

If I need more information or confirmation, I simply copy the color hex code, as shown above. This is simply a hexadecimal way to represent a specific color in RGB format.

An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

Then I paste the code into a site such as ColorHexa. This provides a lot of information about the color.

Saturation

Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert
Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert.

If I am not certain about how much of a particular color is in an image, I will crank that color to 100% temporarily using a saturation slider. If that color is not there, little will change. If something does change, then I will make subtle adjustments. I don’t overdo it because other people will perceive that as oversaturated. 

I have trouble using things like hue sliders and color mix panels. If I shift hues, I will crank the saturation of that color by 100% temporarily so I can determine what color that is.

Natural looking photos thanks to LuminarAI

More recently, I have been experimenting with the Templates in LuminarAI. Because Luminar is using machine learning from millions of photos, it sometimes helps me to achieve a more natural looking photo. 

Color Cast in Nik Color Efex

I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.
I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.

I occasionally use the Color Cast function in Nik Color Efex. I’ll click on something that I know is supposed to be white. Even if I don’t end up applying the Color Cast function, this can sometimes help me to become more aware of some of the colors or casts in my image.

Asking for help while post-processing

What colors are in the Milky Way? I don't know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.
What colors are in the Milky Way? I don’t know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.

If I create any shifts in color, something that might occur if processing a Milky Way photo, I will ask someone if the colors look amiss. And again, I really try not to change or mess with the colors very much at all.

Is there any cure or treatment for deuteranopia?

No, there’s not. However, there are glasses that somewhat address color blindness. You’ve probably seen the videos on social media where someone weeps because they’re seeing colors for the first time.

Curious about this, I purchased Pilestone red-green colorblind glasses. While I did not experience any emotional revelations, they did help me differentiate between challenging colors. However, the colors looked tinted. It was nothing that would help me edit photos. I returned the glasses.

With some ingenuity and persistence, you can definitely overcome color blindness. While occasionally it might be confusing or frustrating, I would urge you not to be discouraged. Photography is something that has brought me great joy despite my deuteranopia. I hope it does for you as well.

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

Seven reasons the Irix 15mm f/2.4 may be the greatest budget ultrawide lens

 

What is a good lens for Milky Way photos that won’t break the bank?

This is a common question that frequently pops up in social media discussions everywhere. People ask about recommendations for ultra wide-angle lenses for night photography, astrophotography, or photographing the starry night. And with “Milky Way season” upon us, I thought I would mention a high quality option that is great for this as well as landscape, architecture, real estate and long exposure photography

My “workhorse” night photography lens is currently the Pentax 15-30mm 2/8 lens. This is the same lens as the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 (Tamron makes it for Pentax). It’s a beautiful, high-quality lens. However, it is also almost $1300 in price. Not everyone can pay that much for lens. 

But what if I told you that there’s another amazing lens which sells for a fraction of that price?

Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 ultra wide angle lens, shown here with a Nikon D750 DSLR camera, Robus RTH-1050 ball head and a Robus RC-5570 tripod.

I was one of the first people in the United States to purchase an Irix 15mm f/2.4. In fact, I purchased it in 2016, so early that Irix didn’t have distribution in this country! I had to purchase it through eBay. But I was glad I did.

I have the Blackstone version of this lens (more on this later), which is a sturdy manual focus lens that almost seems made for night photographers, although I believe it would be a good lens for long exposure photography, landscape, architecture, or real estate as well.

Seven reasons why I love this lens

1. Sharpness even at wide apertures

Even at its widest aperture at f/2.4, it’s surprisingly sharp. Wide-open, of course, there is some vignetting in the corners, which is easily addressed. There is slight softness in the corners, less than most ultra wide-angle wide-aperture lens. And the time you stop down to f/2.8, everything seems tack sharp.

Ojo Oro Arch, a remote arch deep within the Mojave Desert, a Milky Way photo taken with the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.
Ojo Oro Arch, a remote arch deep within the Mojave Desert, a Milky Way photo taken with the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.

2. Detent at true infinity

Move the focal ring and you will feel a detent at true infinity. For photographing the Milky Way or the starry sky, this is invaluable. Just fix the focal ring at detent, and you are ready to go. 

But there’s more. If a foreground is not quite in focus at infinity, you can simply refocus the lens for the foreground object and then “focus stack” the two photos later in post-processing so that everything is in focus. And this brings me to the next point…

3. Scarcely any focus breathing

There is very little “focus breathing” when refocusing as described above, having elements grow larger if one is refocusing. The entire time I have been focus stacking with this lens, I have never encountered an issue. It blends beautifully.

4. Rectilinear distortion

For a wide-angle lens, the Irix exhibits very little barrel or pincushion distortion. It’s a rectilinear lens, so images with straight features, such as walls of buildings, continue to appear with straight lines instead of being curved. 

5. Accepts filters easily

Most ultra wide-angle lenses have bulbous front elements. Not so the Irix. This allows it to accept screw-on filters in the front. Furthermore, it also accepts gel filters in the back. This would make it useful for long exposure photography without the need to use externally-mounted and more expensive filter systems such as NiSi, Lee or Cokin.

6. Inexpensive

The Irix Blackstone, which a sturdy all-metal model which I have, sells for about $549. The Firefly, which is basically the plastic version of the Blackstone, sells for under $400. You can purchase three Firefly lenses for the price of one Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 and still have enough money left over to purchase a speedlight…or dinner for four at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Mmmmmm…tacos…

7. Focus lock

How many times have you, as a night photographer, mistakenly knocked the lens out of focus? Raise your hands. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? I often affix gaffer’s tape to the focus ring of my other lenses. I don’t need to with the Irix. The focus ring is appropriately stiff, and it also has a focus lock. I don’t bother using this if I am focusing on infinity since it has a detent there and is unlikely to be knocked out of focus.

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone ultra wide lens also comes with a nice case, a soft case which is still firm enough to offer ample protection.
The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone ultra wide lens also comes with a nice case, a soft case which is still firm enough to offer ample protection.

There are few ultrawide lenses, if any, that can approach the optical quality of the Irix for this price, or even several hundred dollars more, for that matter. The one lens I can think of off the top of my head that one could also consider in the same price range would be the Rokinon ultra wide-angle lenses. 

The Irix also has UV Fluorescent Engraved Markings. I was excited about this upon purchase. In practice, however, they don’t seem to be all that visible at night. And I probably wouldn’t use it that much anyway, preferring to manually focus on sight. Still, the fact that the engineers even thought to incorporate this indicates how much they seemed to be designing this lens for night photography.

As I mentioned, this lens would be outstanding in many applications, including landscape, architecture, real estate and long exposure photography. But isn’t it good that a night photographer is looking out for your needs all the same?

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California. Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California. Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.

While I haven’t done a specific side-by-side comparison with the 15-30mm f/2.8 lens that I have, I have used the Irix alongside or instead of that lens without hesitation for years. And I’ve never felt like I’ve ever perceived a drop-off in image equality or sharpness at any point. It keeps up with that or the venerable 14-24mm f/2.8 Nikon F-mount without breaking a sweat. And given that the Firefly version is under $400, less than a third of the price of those other lenses, that’s stunning.

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

My favorite music for culling and editing photos

What do you listen to when culling or editing photos? I would love to know. I have a shortlist go-to music that I’ll share.

Ambient music

I listen to a lot of instrumental ambient music. And one of my favorite artists in this genre is Brian Eno. His music is sonically rich and complex enough that it pleases my ears while providing a beautiful soundtrack for culling and editing photos.

I also enjoy Andy Othling’s “Morning Care” series, which he performed live during the pandemic. He manipulates electric guitar with various pedals into a deep landscape of sounds. Like Eno, it’s sonically rich while still not being too distracting. 

I play music, and don’t typically listen to what I’ve done. However, there are exceptions. This includes The Mercury Seven. Usually, I listen to “mcmlvii.”

Jazz

Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. He has played with luminaries such as the ever-passionate Billy Higgins and Alice Coltrane. He is musical joy personified in person. This was taken before I began doing night photography. You may be able to see a Herman Leonard influence here.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. He has played with luminaries such as the ever-passionate Billy Higgins and Alice Coltrane. He is musical joy personified in person. This was taken before I began doing night photography. You may be able to see a Herman Leonard influence here.

I sometimes listen to jazz, but I won’t go for the skronky stuff most of the time while editing. My shortlist includes Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, kozmigroov stuff like Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck Take Five.

Below is Alice Coltrane’s “Journey Into Satchidananda.” As an aside, I knew her for many years, going to her ashram and having dinner with her once. To describe her as extraordinary doesn’t even do her justice.

Metal

Curiously, though, every once in a while, I listen to metal. I usually go for classic metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest as well as Tool and Testament. Sometimes, I listen to more contemporary metal. I’ll share Judas Priest “Firepower,” a relatively recent album for them, just to show that they’ve still got it.

Random 

From time to time, I also listen to the following as well while culling and editing. 

  • Anna Thorvaldsdottir: “In the Light of Air.” This is an Icelandic artist. There are numerous Icelandic artists that create great music for creating a sense of openness, wind-swept mountains, and more. 
  • Sade: “Lovers Rock.” This beautiful album takes me back to sitting in the beaches of South Thailand. Gorgeous melodies.
  • Harold Budd and Brian Eno: “The Pearl.” Ambient goodness.
  • Brian Eno: “The Shutov Assembly.” Often overlooked by Eno fans.
  • Ethiopiques 11: Alemu Aga — The Harp of King David. This is an unusual deep sound that is mystical and ancient.
  • “Timeless: Ali Akbar Khan & L. Subramaniam,” Universal Music India Pvt., Ltd., 2002, Made in India. Probably difficult to track down now, but worth a listen. This is my favorite Carnatic raga.
  • Brian Eno: “On Land.” Evokes another world, diffused glows, and unusual sounds. Very rich and textured.
  • Henryk Gorecki: “Symphony #3.” An absolute classic, and one of the greatest minimalistic classical pieces ever created. Dawn Upshaw’s vocals are transcendent and heart-wrenching.
  • Hamza El Din: “Eclipse.” Sensual.
  • Rebab and Female Singing of Central Javanese Gamelan (World Music Library). Unusual gamelan music, creating a rich tapestry of rhythms and textures.
  • Cluster live USA 1996. Improvisational electronics done by some of the best, all done live.
  • Future Sound of London: “Lifeforms.” A 1990s ambient classic.
  • Vidna Obmana: “Memories Compiled.” Evocative ambient music.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. I found myself with an enormous smile throughout the entire show. I've seen him perform three times, all at the same place. Once again exhibiting a bit of influence from Herman Leonard.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. I found myself with an enormous smile throughout the entire show. I’ve seen him perform three times, all at the same place. Once again exhibiting a bit of influence from Herman Leonard.

Please share music that you love to listen to while culling and editing your photos! I would love to hear your choices!

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: How to photograph a historic Route 66 Whiting Bros Motel sign

I love old signs, especially if they are located along the Mother Road, Route 66. I had two locations to get to for night photography. I thought I would photograph some historic signs in Yucca, AZ, and then drive west to another Route 66 location an hour away.

I photographed this during Blue Hour, a time when many of the colors of the sky come alive in deep hues.

A brief history 

Like many of the towns along Route 66, Yucca thrived, serving the needs of motorists heading west. And when the Interstate Highway system was put in, motorists bypassed the businesses in Route 66. Many of those businesses eventually evaporated, often abandoned along the route.

Once a large complex complete with a station and a motel with a swimming pool along Route 66, all that’s left today are the signs and a large empty parking lot. June 2021, Yucca, AZ.

Three steps to light painting the sign

1. Adjusting the light for light painting during blue hour

I was photographing approximately during blue hour, about 25 minutes after the sun had set behind the mountains. Therefore, I needed a much stronger light than I typically need for light painting near a full moon. I also wanted a warm white light. I set the ProtoMachines LED2 for its strongest setting. I mixed in some yellow color for good measure.

2. Determining the best angle for light painting the sign

It’s important to consider the directionality of the already existing light when light painting if one wants the photo to look slightly more natural. Here, the light was coming from the horizon, already illuminating the sign from that direction. I wanted more of that.

I stood closer to the road. Shielding my handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I illuminated the sign at approximately the same angle. This would create additional contrast while looking natural.

3. Waiting for the right moment to open the shutter

I set my Pentax K-1 camera for a 20-second exposure at f/14. This was in part because I wanted to illuminate the sign for a decent amount of time. But it was also so that I could begin the long exposure with enough time to make sure that I got red streaks of light from a passing truck. I wanted the red taillights in particular because I felt they would match really nicely with the sign. That simply meant waiting until a truck was driving north, then beginning the long exposure.

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

 

 

Halloween night photography: a creepy bunny, an abandoned Chevy truck, and a blue moon

On Halloween day, I was rumbling toward an old airfield, littered with rusting abandoned vehicles, airplanes, and more. I had just called the previous day spontaneously, wondering if I could run up and photograph at night. It was a special day. Yes, Halloween, but a Halloween with a blue moon. What could be better? I was only too happy to make the three and a half hour drive to the airfield for some night photography.

In honor of Halloween, I had also brought a bag full of creepy looking dolls. They’d be difficult to explain if I got pulled over by California Highway Patrol. Thankfully, the only thing I stopped for was gas and tacos.

Just the right amount of cobwebs, dust and rust

After photographing some rusty airplanes and trucks, I found the perfect setting for my Halloween photo. I opened the creaky door of an abandoned Chevy flatbed. The cab was perfect. Just the right amount of cobwebs, dust and rust. 

I became rather choosy about posing the bunny. The bunny should slump a certain way. I wanted the eye to look warily elsewhere. And also, I wanted one ear up, the other down. This was not something I usually did.

A bunny, truck, cobwebs, rust, and a blue moon: the perfect recipe for a Halloween night photo.
A bunny, truck, cobwebs, rust, and a blue moon: the perfect recipe for a Halloween night photo.

Setting up the camera

Satisfied, I set up the Pentax K-1, using a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic. This creates these quasi-tilt-shift blurs, keeping a slice of the image in focus. During daylight, this lens is somewhat challenging to focus. At night, it was really difficult.

I managed to adjust the slice of focus so that it was on the eye and head of the bunny. The rest would fall into blur. I opened the shutter. Holding a ProtoMachines LED2 in my hand, I carefully shined it overhead, trying to get some texture and illuminate the bunny in an abnormal, creepy sort of way, keeping most of the cab in almost total darkness. I “grazed” some of the rusty springs, steering wheel and cobwebs with the light quickly, just for good measure. Satisfied that I completed the photo, I closed the shutter. 

A 75-second exposure, all done. Good, weird, creepy, and dark, just as it should be. 

I continued photographing among the creaky trucks and airplanes. Tonight was Halloween. Tonight was a good night.

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

Exploring the history of Route 66 through photography: Goffs Cultural Center

I woke to horrible news. Before I had gotten out of bed, I saw a photo of the historic Goffs General Store along Route 66 engulfed in flames. An abandoned home in Goffs had burned the same day, as had an abandoned building in nearby Essex. Officials suspected foul play.

I had been working on my third book, a history and night photography book about Route 66, and had photographed Goffs before. I knew Goffs had played an important part of that history.

And I was to have photographed that structure a week later.

Saving history through photography

I had photographed Goffs General Store before. I now felt fortunate that I had done so.

The photo that saved the Goffs General Store and Saloon sign.

Also, I had photographed the store sign at night. It had fallen and was leaning against one of the exterior walls. Someone had seen the sign. That person brought it to the attention of the nearby Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in Goffs. They took the sign over to the cultural center for preservation.

Now, that sign was all that was left of Goffs General Store.

Route 66 and Goffs

Goffs is an almost-ghost town. There are few residents left. Located hours from Los Angeles or Las Vegas, it sits on an old alignment of Route 66 approximately half an hour west of Needles, CA. The town prospered until 1931, when Route 66 was realigned and bypassed Goffs by six miles.

The restored Goffs Schoolhouse, photographed at night with a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic, which produces a side-to-side, slice of focus effect.

The cultural center includes the restored historic mission-style Goffs Schoolhouse, built in 1914. The school served students until 1937. After that, things changed. The U.S. Army stationed troops in Goffs during World War II, with the school serving as a cafe for soldiers. It eventually fell into disrepair before Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier purchased it. They and MDHCA eventually raised money and restored the historic structure.

The cultural center also has an impressive outdoor display of items from the Mojave Desert and Route 66, occupying some of the 70-acre property. This land was donated to the Association by the Casebiers.

I was going to stay there for three nights.

The perfect place to stay

Night photo of an old vintage gas pump at Goffs Cultural Center.

The last time I had photographed the cultural center, one of the volunteers asked if I wanted to stay there the next time I visited. It’s a fantastic place for history as well as for night photography. Everyone there is extremely friendly. I was excited.

Goffs is spitting distance from the fascinating Mojave National Preserve. It’s also reasonably close to many historic areas that I would want to photograph or visit along Route 66, including Amboy, Essex, Oatman, Yucca and, of course, Goffs itself. Other places to stay are at least half an hour away or more. Therefore, it would also drastically reduce the amount of late-night driving.

A beautiful surprise

I was greeted warmly by Mo and Judy on June 21, 2021. They showed me where I was staying. It was a comfortable single-wide trailer with air conditioning, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting area with a microwave. Luxurious!

To stay here, I became a member of the association. I also left a donation. There’s no way I couldn’t.

My trailer sat among numerous travel trailers or RVs. The cultural center holds various events. Members and guests gather for a still-operating historic 10-stamp mill in April, the Mojave Road Rendezvous in October and even a camel trek along 90 miles of the Mojave Trail. They can stay in one of the trailers.

The first night of photography

Night photo, Goffs Cultural Center, showing the movement of the stars over long periods of time.

I wandered the grounds of the cultural center, photographing with a Pentax K-1 and 15-30mm f/2.8 lens, creating three to 15-minute long exposures while light painting with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device. It was a hot night. At 12:30 a.m., it was still close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But it didn’t matter. I was out in the quiet of the desert, with only the nearby trains to break the silence.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Almost nothing left of the historic Goffs General Store. The light on the horizon is the light pollution from Las Vegas, NV, about 100 miles away.

I did briefly drive over to the Goffs General Store. To my surprise, there was nothing left. Workers had cleared the remains. I photographed the area from three different angles anyway. I included a similar angle to an earlier photo for the sake of comparison. I then returned to the cultural center to photograph more.

Finishing, I simply walked over to the trailer to go to sleep. This felt luxurious. Usually, I would have to drive back to a motel, one that was not always near.

The second night of photography

Upon waking up, I opened the outside door. An oven-blast of air greeted me. I had slept blissfully late, but now it was over 100° F outside. I retreated back inside.

I had brought lots of food. With the closest restaurant at least half an hour away, this was especially great. The trailer had a refrigerator. Actually, two. Fantastic.

Night photo of the old Whiting Brothers Motel sign in Yucca, AZ.

After consulting the Clear Outside app to determine weather conditions, I decided to drive to Yucca, AZ, a little more than an hour away. Yucca is also along Route 66. It has a number of historic signs, including a motel sign and Whiting Brothers service station sign as well as an old cafe and a truck on a pole.

I arrived during blue hour, after the sun had set. I photographed there with the same setup as the previous night.

Photographing Essex

The Wayside Cafe as well as the station and market were built in the 1930s, selling much-needed water, among other things. Illuminated by a full moon and warm white and teal light from a handheld ProtoMachines LED2.

After an hour, I drove to the almost-ghost town of Essex. It feels like there are more abandoned structures than occupied ones there. I had heard about the aforementioned structure fire from the week before. I was concerned about what would be left. Would the cafe still be standing? The old wooden homes?

I quickly saw that the building that had burned was 1.6 miles outside of the town center.

A fisheye night photo of an abandoned house along Route 66 in Essex, CA, located in the Mojave Desert. Once considered the “Mother Road,” much of Route 66 dried up when the Interstate Highway System was built.

I photographed the old Wayside Cafe, the rustic Western-style wooden homes, and an old house with the roof beams still showing, the rest of the roof stripped away. Then I grabbed the Nikon D750 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye to create different looks.

This was a beautifully quiet night with almost no traffic. I returned to my trailer in Goffs around 3 a.m.

The third night of photography

I woke up late. This time, upon opening the door, the air was noticeably cooler. A cloud cover had helped with that.

I visited with Laura, the Executive Director of MDHCA. I wandered the outside area around the exhibits for two hours, enjoying the cooler weather. 

Photographing at an abandoned home in Goffs

Nighttime with an abandoned camper on the property of a house recently destroyed by a fire. I lit the scene with warm white and red light from a handheld ProtoMachines during the exposure.

Laura suggested that I photograph the nearby abandoned Harris House, the house that had burned under suspicious circumstances. I ordinarily don’t photograph structures after fires, but she had mentioned that there were some interesting vehicles and trailers there. I would be photographing history.

All that was left of the house were several charred posts, lots of ash, a surprising amount of appliances and several vehicles and trailers. The area still had that sickening smell of a house fire, a smell I knew all too well since my house had caught on fire years ago. It’s a smell that you never forget.

I primarily photographed the trailers and vehicles. After a while, the smell got to me. I returned to the cultural center, just a minute away.

Atlas Engine Works boiler, photographed at night with the Lesbaby Edge 35 Optic.

This time, I used The Nikon D750 and fisheye lens as well as the Pentax with a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic, experimenting with some different looks. I went to sleep around 3 a.m.

I will return

I woke up very late and said my goodbyes. This had been an amazing experience. And I was now a proud member of the MDHCA. As I was leaving, I was already plotting my return.

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

 

 

Photographing autumn traditions: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) 

Photographers in the United States love fall. Whether it’s football, autumn chill, leaves turning color, family gatherings, or Halloween, it’s a very photogenic time of year. However, for many of us living in the Southwest, The vibrant Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is also a huge holiday. For photographers, it’s a dream come true, an intoxicating blend of culture, amazing aesthetics, family, friends, color, tradition, history, gathering, and love

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

The rise of Dia de los Muertos

In recent years, this holiday has gone mainstream here in this country. Years ago, I had to explain this holiday to my friends in the Midwest or the East Coast. Not so much any more. Indeed, with the 2017 Disney and Pixar film “Coco”, the Mexican tradition has largely been embraced throughout the United States. While “Coco” may not be the most authentic amalgamation of the Mexican holiday, it does indicate how meaningful the holiday is throughout the country.

There are events in most major cities, typically festivals, art walks, concerts, altar exhibitions, food, and more. While customs may vary, traditionally family and friends focus on the memories of deceased loved ones. 

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

The biggest event in Los Angeles is at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Here, face painting and costumes show up in a big way, perhaps a more recent phenomenon for this holiday. And there are many booths that will paint your face so that it resembles a sugar skull.

Sugar skulls (calavera de azugar) figure prominently. People create these skulls for children or as offerings to be placed on altars (ofrendas). They are made of sugar paste and often decorated with colorful icing.

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

Dia de los Muertos is about gathering families and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls and the favorite foods, beverages, and objects of the departed. Historians trace the origins to indigenous observances 2500-3000 years ago as well as to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl.

What I find appealing is that when I view altars, I often feel like I sort of know the person. Altars can be sad, sure, but they also can be beautiful, funny, inspirational, and more. Throughout, a genuine sweetness permeates the occasion. I find that utterly appealing. 

I love the aesthetics and sentiment of the holiday. The candles, rituals, altars, face painting, sugar skulls, vibrancy, and love – all of it.

What can I photograph?

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

Really, everything. You may have enough time to photograph everything!

I personally love photographing people. People are happy to pose for photos. Even if you are shy about approaching people, this is one event where you can cast that aside. But certainly, the altars, marigolds, sugar skulls, flags, skeletons, dancing, musical performances, art, graphics, and more will appeal to all but the most jaded photographer. Give your children some cameras and watch them have fun for hours.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

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