Frightening encounters: meeting animals in the dark

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

The answer is yes.

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




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

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


Scritch! Scritch! Scritch!


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

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




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

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




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

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



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




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

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

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

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

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



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.

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

Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s