Light painting 101: two quick steps to lighting a Joshua Tree for dimensionality at night


I had a chance to run out to Joshua Tree National Park in California.  This is where I began learning night photography.

I photograph a lot of abandoned sites. This came about in part because I have a multi-book deal that encourages this sort of thing. Truthfully, however, I just love photographing abandoned areas anyway.

But this night was different. I was excited to photograph some nightscapes in my spiritual home for night photography. I was going back to my roots. However, I can’t help but think that perhaps I subconsciously applied some of the approaches from trying trying to pull out texture and create a 3-D feel from abandoned areas to these trees and rocks.

4013_kenlee_joshuatree_210320_2220_30sf71iso1600_wishbone-joshua-tree-sidelit-1600px-metadata photofocus

Two quick steps to lighting the Joshua Tree

1.) I ran to camera left about 25 feet away and lit the tree from the left for about two seconds. At that location, I blocked part of the beam of the light from my ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light so that it would be confined to either the tree or directly behind it.

2.) I ran quickly to the other side, about 25 feet to the right of the camera, and did the same thing, only from the right side.

Why am I running?

I was trying to get the stars to show as pinpoints of light for this photo. Consequently, I set the camera for only a 30-second exposure. Not very much time. I guess I needed the exercise.  When I mean “quick”, I really mean “quick”!

Angles of lighting

angles of light painting-joshua tree 2021-03 120-degrees-white

If you look at the photo, you can see that the right and left side of the c=branches and trunk of the Joshua Tree are lit. The center is in shadow. Why? I like it that way. It imparts a sense of mystery and doesn’t look like everyone else’s photo.

I lit the tree from about 25 feet away on each side at approximately 120 degrees on each side from the camera (well, okay, 120 and 240 degrees…you know what I mean!). This is shown in the “angles of light painting” picture above. I stay out of the frame of the camera because I don’t wish to shine the light into the lens. Also, lighting the tree from at least 25 feet away softens the quality of the light, which I like.


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





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