Featured Photo: Haunting Ranch Photo

Ryan Ranch, Joshua Tree

This photo of Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree, taken 28 April 2012, took on a very haunting, ethereal quality when converted to black and white, the lone withered tree winding its way to the heavens.

This, taken with a Tokina wide-angle lens I had just purchased prior to the quick 24-hour trip to the high California desert, offers an ants-eye perspective of the ruins of the ranch. I held the camera down at the ground looking up at the outstretched tree and the ranch, perhaps a slightly different perspective than one might ordinarily see in person or in a photograph.

Ryan Ranch has been added National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The site was nominated as a historic district based on its profitable history and depiction of early mining life and, therefore, its local significance to Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding communities.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

Mr. Knight’s Message of Love – Slab City Wedding, Salvation Mountain

Slab City Wedding, Salvation Mountain

Leonard Knight came out to Slab City, near Niland, and liked the area. He began building this as a result for his deep passion for The Lord. He started one week. One week turned into another, then one year into another.

The “Toxic Nightmare”: Saving Salvation Mountain  In summer 1994, the county hired a toxic waste specialist to test for “contaminants.” Even before the test results were back, they cordoned off the area and labeled it a “toxic nightmare.” The tests predictably came back claiming high amounts of lead in the soil. The county petitioned the state of California for funds to tear down the mountain and haul it to a toxic waste disposal site in Nevada, a state that seems to be rather good at this sort of thing.

However, local residents collected hundreds and hundreds of signatures were collected on circulated petitions. Thanks to the help of many old and new found friends, Leonard dug soil samples from the very same holes as the toxic waste specialist had dug, submitting it to an independent lab. The new tests revealed no unacceptable levels of any contaminants, including lead. Salvation Mountain was saved. Just a few year later, in 2002, Salvation Mountain was entered into the Congressional Record proclaiming it as a national treasure. Mr. Knight hopes that someday the museum will hold photos and artifacts of the mountain, including his struggle with the county supervisors, as well as his art. But more than that, he hopes that his message of love and compassion for all will be seen by more.

And indeed, Mr. Knight’s message of love and compassion could be seen in full display. Sara and Mike, residents of Slab City, held a wedding reception at Salvation Mountain in April 2012. Here, Mike puts a ring on Sara.

They were lovely, kind, warm people, and I was happy to be a wedding photographer again, if only for a short while. 😀

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

Featured Photo: Star Trails, Single Long Exposure, 15 Minutes

Joshua Tree Star Trails, Single Long Exposure with Light Painting, 28 April 2012

Joshua Tree National Park, California, U.S.A. 15-minute star trails long exposure photo, Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm lens. Unlike the first photo that was shot on the same night in the same location, this is not a stacked shot, but a single exposure.

Single long exposures have a very different feel from the stacked photo, where more stars show prominently, and I shot both ways because I do really appreciate the different feelings they evoke.

The foreground is lighter because I used a flashlight to “light paint” the trees. Long exposure star trail photos can look fantastic either with silhouettes or with “light painted” foregrounds. The “light painting” probably looks a little more unusual. The act of “light painting” is an absolute blast, and makes time go by very fast. Who knew that waving a flashlight around could be so much fun?

Now, as I mentioned, this is a single exposure, albeit a 15-minute one.  On June 1st, I’ll post about how  a similar photo was created, a “stacked” photo, describing what I did both out in the field and the post-processing afterwards.  Thanks so much for checking this out!

Photo: 11-16mm Tokina at 11mm, f/2.8, ISO 200 for slightly over fifteen minutes

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon.

Featured Photo: Balancing Rock, Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree

Balancing Rock, Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree

Balancing rock, Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park. Changing this photo to black and white heightened the drama and the strength of the composition, so I went with it darkening the blues when processing the photo to heighten the contrast.  And yes, that sliver of white in the sky is the moon.

I also just recently purchased a wide-angle lens by Tokina.  When I shot film, I shot largely with a wide-angle, and found myself really missing that, so for this trip, I shot exclusively with this, a kid with a new toy.  So far, it’s responsive and sharp, and unlike the 18-200mm, retains a consistent aperture all the way through, which is quite nice.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens

Featured Photo: Ventura Pier And the Passage of Time

Ventura Pier, California - Long Exposure (color)

I woke up early Monday morning and decided that I’d take some long exposure photos of the Ventura Pier.

I felt like I was at the beach for an hour, but I was there for almost three. The process of doing long time exposures seems to blur time. Michael Kenna mentions something that I believe has something to do with this quality.

“Getting photographs is not the most important thing. For me it’s the act of photographing. It’s enlightening, therapeutic and satisfying, because the very process forces me to connect with the world. When you make four-hour exposures in the middle of the night, you inevitably slow down and begin to observe and appreciate more what’s going on around you. In our fast-paced, modern world, it’s a luxury to be able to watch the stars move across the sky.” I love this quote so much that I devoted a blog post to it a few months ago.  It really summarizes how I feel about photography.

This photo was taken with my trusty old 18-200mm lens, a lens I call my “walkabout” lens. Perfect for travel due to its flexibility. The camera was just above the shade of the pier, so I stood in front of the camera, blocking the sunlight from  the lens. Let this be a lesson to you never to forget your lens hood – my folly is your gain! 😀

The glow of the water is from the morning sun, but the long exposure gives it a mystical quality.  It is not “Photoshopped” in any way except for some of the usual contrast and sharpening.  The cool otherworldly look is solely due to the long exposure!

Ventura Pier, Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, f/29, 10 second exposure, two Tifffen 0.9 ND filters – at Ventura Pier, California.

Featured Photo: Go With the Gut (Jumbo Rock, Joshua Tree)

Epic Rock, Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree

Jumbo Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park, taken 28 April 2012 during my a 24-hour photographic trip to the desert.

Usually, I get an idea that the photos I’m taking might be great in black and white. Not so here. It was only when I was fiddling around in Photoshop that I felt the drama and emotional potency of the photo was greatly enhanced in black and white. With photos or any sort of art, I go with the gut.

Taken with the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, which I just purchased very recently.  And you know how it is with a new lens.  You must use it *everywhere*!  I never took the 18-200mm VR or the 50mm f/1.4 out of the bag. I took this photo with an especially small aperture to create the rays emanating from the sun at the crown of the rock.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like).

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  And you may purchase prints, framed or unframed, at my photo store.  Thank you very much for visiting!

Please consider using the links below from amazon.com to support this photography blog.  It doesn’t cost you anything but helps keep the blog going.  Thanks!

Nikon D90 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Feisol Travel CT-3441S Rapid 4-Section Carbon Traveler Tripod with PC-36N/NS Photo Clam Ballhead. I actually have the CT-3441T tripod, which is a bit taller.

Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

Featured Photo: Photographing Stars In the Desert

A photo of the movement of the stars (well, okay, primarily the movement of the earth!), the result of 24 hours of photography in Joshua Tree, California, United States. Just because the day is over doesn’t mean photography needs to come to an end. And next month, I’ll give you a bunch of info on how to create a photo like this.

Star Trails, 28 April 2012, Joshua Tree National Park by Ken Lee

This photo: Star trails in what is a 40-minute exposure in total, combining eighty 30-second photos (“stacking”) to create this photo, showing the movement of the stars and earth.

The faint almost horizontal red line on the left side is an airplane. The faint white dots on the far right hand side is a falling star. I initially took them out, then decided I’d leave them in and give the photo a little patina. 😀

The foreground was “light painted” by the ambient light from a couple of passing vehicles. It’s a bit “softer” than the photo below, which I “light painted” with my flashlight. Long exposure star trail photos can look fantastic either with silhouettes or with “light painted” foregrounds. The “light painting” probably looks a little more unusual. The act of “light painting” is an absolute blast, and makes time go by very fast. Who knew that waving a flashlight around could be so much fun?

On June 1st, I’ll post about how this photo was created, both out in the field and the post-processing afterwards “stacking” photos.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon, and other equipment below.  Each of the eighty photos was f/4, ISO 800, for 30 seconds each.

Tip of the Month: 7 Tips For Beautiful Waterfall Photos!

Cathedral Falls, West Virginia
Cathedral Falls, West Virginia, Nikon D90, 18-200mm lens, 18mm, f/22, 1.6 seconds.  West Virginia has at least 3500 waterfalls.

Is there anyone who doesn’t love waterfalls?  Okay, maybe besides that one cranky great-uncle?  By request, I’m going to cover the best tips for getting gorgeous waterfall photos!

1.  Slow Shutter Speed. This is up to you and your tastes.  If you want to “freeze-frame” the spray, the specific waves, the droplets of water, you want a really fast shutter speed.  Once in a while, I like this to capture the power or drama of the falls.

Or do you prefer a soft, silky, ethereal feel of the water?  This is usually my preference.  If so, you want a slow shutter speed.  I shoot waterfalls, depending on the light, anywhere from 1/2 second to 1.6 seconds, using a low ISO.  But how can you shoot this slowly?

Upper Yosemite Falls
The Mighty Upper Yosemite Falls.  Although I generally prefer to shoot waterfalls using a slow shutter speed, there are sometimes in which I prefer a fast shutter speed to capture the individual waves and spray of the water, which can sometimes add more drama.

2.  Use a tripod.  You knew that, didn’t you?  This’ll keep everything sharp – except for everything that’s moving, of course. I like to use a Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord to further minimize camera shake, which can be introduced if you are touching the shutter button on your camera.

If you are hiking, use either a lightweight carbon fiber tripod or, like I did for the Cathedral Falls photo, a Joby Gorillapod.  It lightens the load and allows you to take photos of beautiful waterfalls, even if they are miles along the trail.

3.  Filters.  If the light is bright, you may not be able to slow down the shutter speed to 1/2 second or more. So, what to do?  You can screw on a neutral density filter or a polarizing filter to let in less light.  Cool, huh? For this photo, I used a polarizing filter because I left the neutral density filters at home.  Using a combination of the polarizing filter and a really small aperture allowed me to get a shutter speed as slow as 1/6 seconds.

4.  Figure Out The Best Time To Shoot!  When’s the best season?  When does the foliage look the best?  When does the water flow?  Might it look really cool in winter? Often, spring or fall is the best time for water flow, while the winter or summer may hardly have anything at all.

The time of day matters too.  The harsh light of day may not be the most flattering.  but certain times of the day may not be so great either if there’s strong contrast from trees or foliage overhead, with “hot spots” from the sun mixed with shade form the leaves and branches or trees. Most of the time, early morning or late afternoon is best.  Cloudy, foggy, or misty days can also provide good light for photographing waterfalls. But talking to people, checking out the falls, and otherwise doing research is best, particularly if you’re visiting.  Figure out when the light looks the best, or the most dramatic. Popular places like Yosemite often have a lot of information online or in photography books.

5.  Take Photos at Different Exposures and Shutter Speeds.  You never know what you might really like when you get home.  Experiment.  I mess with the shutter speeds, taking them from very fast shutter speeds to as long as 5 seconds or more, although for slow shutter speeds, I usually end up going for somewhere around 1/2 second to 1.6 seconds.  But not always.

6.  Small Apertures.  Consider using small aperture settings when shooting waterfalls.  Why?  As I mentioned, it lights in less light, handy if you are trying to achieve that silky smooth look of the water.  But more than that, what it allows you to do is keep more of the waterfall and surrounding landscape in focus.  This allows you to have a greater depth of field and keep the foreground elements as well as the leaves and trees around the waterfall, as well as the top of the waterfall, in focus.  My very small aperture of f/22 is a little smaller than most people do, but I did that because it was relatively bright and I wanted to get the shutter speed slower.  But experimenting with apertures between f6.3-f/13 in most cases will do the trick.

7.  Bring Microfiber Cloths and Plastic Bags.  Indispensable when you’re shooting around spraying water. You can use a plastic bag to cover the camera until you are ready to shoot. Using your lens hood can sometimes keep some of the water droplets (or sun) off the lens as well.

When I was shooting Cathedral Falls, most of the water on my lens came from a little boy who suddenly chose to throw rocks in the water pools right in front of my camera while his mother looked on and did nothing.  Because I’m helpful, I gave her some tips on parenting.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, Sto-Fen Flash Diffuser.