Light Painting 101: How to light a mining walkway in three steps

One of the best parts of photographing with other night photographers is the camaraderie and collaboration. Sometimes, it’s better to have several people working together while creating an image with light painting. I’ll describe how we went about illuminating this photo during the long exposure. Collaborative light painting can be a beautiful, powerful method. But first, I’ll discuss the vandalism/art that you see in the photo.

Lighting a walkway at a remote mining facility walkway.
Lighting a walkway at a remote mining facility walkway.

Aware of destruction, aware of art

Aware is a guerilla vandal/artist that recently passed away. Revered among many graffiti artists, his passing reverberated throughout the community. 

Aware was part of a collective of artists and activists known for making political statements. They were known for making statements through art, graffiti, vandalism, and more, pointing out corporate greed against Wall Street and protesting police brutality against African-Americans. Here at this remote mining complex, this collective created art to protest environmental destruction and the poisoning of our planet.

Their art and vandalism creates polarized opinions. Many regard them as daring guerilla artists making important and necessary statements. Others regard them as vandals hellbent on destroying abandoned property. As is so often the case, many view these actions through an either/or or “us vs. them” lens. They can be both of these things, and more.

Three steps to photographing the walkway

Several of us night photographers travel together occasionally, taking photos during the full moon. We always have a great time. 

1.) Illuminating the interior of the walkway

George Loo, who developed the ProtoMachines light painting devices, climbed up the stairs to light the interior of the overhead walkway. He chose a deep purple light. He walked along the entire length of the walkway with his ProtoMachines lit. The purple light creates depth inside and spills out onto the rocky mountain face below. Also notice how George used shallow angles in the interior to bring out details and create depth.

2.) Bringing out the details

I loved the way the moon was lighting the corrugated walkway. In fact, that’s largely what inspired me to take the photo. Mimicking the way the moon created shadows, I illuminated it from a similar direction. This created further detail while looking natural.

3.) Collaborating

We communicated throughout the shoot. For instance, George would announce that he was about to walk through the overhead walkway. Timothy Little and I would count down a bit, and then trigger the cameras before he began walking through. 

George, Timothy, Mike Cooper and I communicate not only when collaborating on an image together, but also to make sure we don’t blast someone with light and interfere with their photo. For longer distances, we use Motorola two-way radios to communicate with each other.

Why don’t I show up in the photo?

When I illuminated the interior, I walked through the frame — twice! Why didn’t I register? It’s because I walked quickly through an exposure that was several minutes long.

Generally, unless you inadvertently flash a light on yourself, you don’t begin to show up in a photo until you have been standing still for approximately 10% of the overall exposure! So yes, you can walk through the scene and not show up. Spooky, huh?


Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review, thanks!

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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