Our many challenges photographing a bus graveyard at night

We attempted to photograph a bus graveyard. The night photography gods threw up some hurdles. Some were dangerous. These are some of the challenges thrown our way that night.

bus graveyard at night
Nighttime at a mysterious bus graveyard in the middle of the desert.

“It’s like a parking lot here!”

I met up with night photographer Tony Donofrio at the lively Lemon Festival in Upland, CA. Later that evening, we drove to a mysterious bus graveyard hidden away in the desert. The freeways were clogged. The last of them involved killing our engines for 20 minutes and sitting on a freeway as emergency vehicles kept trying to inch past everyone.

An hour commute became two. Tony and I felt that if we had known about this traffic, we might have hung out the remainder of the evening at the Lemon Festival instead.

Gas station sandwiches

We realized that we would not be able to eat at the restaurant as planned. It was already dark, and we had planned on getting there while there was still light. We grabbed some pre-packaged gas station sandwiches and ate them en route.

“Where’s Tony?”

I arrived at the bus graveyard. I quickly changed my pants before Tony’s headlights would reveal my indecent exposure. However, he didn’t show up. I called. He had stopped about a quarter mile away. He was concerned that his car would get stuck on the rough dirt road. I went back to get him.

Night photo of an abandoned school bus with the emergency door missing.

“My camera’s dead!”

I had just put a battery in my Nikon D750 camera. To my surprise, the screen suddenly showed a message that I had to reset the clock. That was surprising. I had never seen that happen before. Furthermore, none of the buttons worked. The camera was completely unresponsive.

I changed batteries and lenses, all with the same result. After 20 minutes, I gave up and began using my other camera, the Pentax K-1 with the 28-105mm lens. I would not be able to photograph with the fisheye, which was my intent. I was, however, quite disturbed by this because I had to do event photography in a few days.

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.
Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Stepping on a nail

The photography gods weren’t quite done with me yet. Right after putting away my non-functioning camera, I walked around a shadowy area. Suddenly, I stepped on a nail. This went through my shoe. I could feel the nail on the bottom of my right foot! I immediately felt that something was wrong, so I stopped. A wooden board was stuck to my shoe! I carefully pried it off with my other foot.

However, because I had not put my weight down, the nail never punctured my skin. I immediately went back to the car and put on boots with steel-shank soles. 

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.
Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Meanwhile, on the other side …

While I was having my challenges, Tony’s photoshoot was going well. Mostly. However, he had a near scrape himself. He was lighting the interior of a bus while walking slowly backward down the center aisle. After about 10 feet, he turned around with his light. With a jolt, he realized that the center floor access panel was no longer there! One more step and he would have fallen through!

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.
Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Now, the good news

After the nail, I managed to get in a creative flow. Thankfully, that seems to occur quickly and naturally. I was happy with the process and the results.

Furthermore, I was able to resuscitate the unresponsive camera, the Nikon D750. After leaving the battery in for a while, the camera became responsive again. The camera clock is powered by an independent, rechargeable power source. This is charged when the main battery is installed. When I got home, I left the battery in. After this, it seemed to work fine. The camera worked without issue for the event

The continuing mysteries are this. I had only left the main battery out for three days. However, my camera repairman says that this is long enough to create this problem. Strange. And also what I don’t know is why the camera seized up and was completely non-responsive.


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!


Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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


How We Got the Shots: Five Photographers, Five Stories – Night Photo Summit 2022


Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
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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