Patriot Day: remembering 9/11 on the 20th anniversary through photography

Since 2008, and started by students, Pepperdine University in Malibu, California stages the Waves of Flags display for Patriot Day. Each flag represents one of the lives lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The sight of nearly 3,000 flags perched on their lawn is at turns inspiring yet heart wrenching.

Nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of those who lost their lives during 9/11.

Where were you during 9/11?

As with most, I vividly remember how I found out about 9/11 and the shock I felt as it unfolded. While driving in to work, I listened intently to what was ordinarily a goofy early morning comedy show on a rock station. They weren’t very goofy this morning. It was a whirlwind of panic, confusion, shock, and more as they reported on things that they heard, some true, some rumor.

Nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of those who lost their lives during 9/11 in this surreal sort of photo using a Lensbaby Sweet 35.

When I heard that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center, I initially assumed it was something like a small Cessna, and that it had been an accident. But of course, as it unfolded, I realized this was not what had happened.

My friends and family in New York were gobsmacked. Panic, confusion, shock, defiance, fear. Their emotions swung wildly in the weeks that followed. Many of us also felt patriotism, anger, sadness, and/or xenophobia as well.

The attacks have left an indelible mark on our nation’s psyche. As with most Americans, I subconsciously divide our country’s timeline into before and after 9/11.

Photographing the flags

Nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of those who lost their lives during 9/11 in this surreal sort of photo using a Lensbaby Sweet 35.

I had this idea. I would wake up early, drive to Pepperdine University in Malibu, and photograph the flags in the glorious morning light.

The fog had other ideas.

One of the trees in Pepperdine’s Alumni Park, where nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of lives lost during 9/11. Patriot Day in 2021 will be the the 20th anniversary.

Still, I figured I would try to make lemonade out of lemons. I needed to be flexible. I decided to photograph using some of my more unusual lenses, including the Lensbaby Sweet 35 and my Rokinon 12mm fisheye. And given the fog, I decided that it might look better in black and white.

A particularly moody, surreal look at some of the many flags flying in remembrance of Patriot Day, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California.

The end result is a considerably moodier, more surreal sort of feel.

A fisheye view of the flags at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
Waves of Flags Commemoration – video from Pepperdine University in Malibu. Patriot Day in 2021 will be the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

ARTICLES:
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

 

 

Light painting 101: five steps to light painting an Old West gas station

This is a night photo of an old garage and vintage 1940s Cadillac Fleetwood (with an old Buick front end) on a beautiful Mojave evening, underneath the light of a full moon. The camera shutter was open for 396 seconds. During this time, I “light painted” the scene, illuminating it from numerous angles with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device. Here’s how I did it!
Night photo of an old Western service station lit up with a handheld light during the exposure. Read up on how the lighting was done!

Five steps to light painting the gas station

1.) Creating detail in front

I wanted a bit of texture in the ground in the front. Holding the ProtoMachines low to the ground I swept the ground from side to side on each side of the camera, standing about ten feet further back and ten feet to the side in each of the two locations.

2.) Light painting the exterior

The moon was shining from camera right. You can tell by the way the long shadows fall. I wanted to pick up more detail and illumination on the wooden front of the gas station. To do this, I stood to the right, as close to 90 degrees as possible to the front of the building. I moved the flashlight slowly up and down, “painting” the front with light. I kept the light moving to try to make sure all the illumination was nice and even.

3.) Light painting the interior of the garage

I walked around the right side of the garage. There was a large opening on that side. Again, standing as close to 90 degrees as possible to the back wall of the interior, I illuminated the back in the same manner as the front of the structure. This time, I used the color green for good measure. Night photographer Mike Cooper loves illuminating his interiors in green. He was there this evening as well, so clearly I was inspired by him.

4.) Making the car glow from within

Just for fun, I thought I would make the Cadillac glow eerily from within. Why not? I stuck my hand inside and managed to capture the shadow of the steering wheel in the front windshield for good measure.

5.) More strange glowing

Before exiting the interior of the garage, I created some odd glowing by holding the light down low and reflecting it off some objects. You can see this interesting glow on the side of the car, below the car, on the panes of the front window, and elsewhere around the room. I bounced some of the light off the ceiling as well. Reflected light is an often overlooked aspect of “light painting”. I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to read them.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE: 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. SOCIAL MEDIA: Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like) Instagram PODCAST: Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020 VIDEO INTERVIEW: Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night ARTICLES: 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

 

Off the eaten path: finding food for photographers in Owens Valley, California

Part of the fun in night photography is in the eatin’.

“Off the eaten path” will good eats in out of the way places. Landscape and night photographers often go to remote places off the beaten path. Although we bring our own food, sometimes, it feels really great to enjoy a well-cooked meal in a restaurant.

Admittedly, it’s not that challenging to find a decent place to eat in the Owens Valley. Even outside Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, there are plenty of great places. I’ll cover a few that I enjoy. 

These are good stops when going to photograph landscapes or dark sky places along the Eastern Sierra, Ancient Bristlecone PIne Forest, Alabama Hills, Mono Lake, Tioga Pass, Bodie Ghost Town or Yosemite. I will go from south to north.

Seasons, Lone Pine

This is located right near Dow Villa along the highway. Good sandwiches, very friendly service. 

Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery, Lone Pine

Most of my night photography friends seem to like Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery, so I’ll mention them here. However, I always seem to get meals that are okay, not amazing. But this is one of those places that serve big, hearty, gloppy American breakfasts, burgers, and baked goods, and they almost always have a line out the door. 

Merry Go Round, Lone Pine

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I like this place. Alright, it’s not amazing food. But it does taste good. It’s probably closer to Chinese-American food. You are not going to confuse it with really delicious restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles. However, it’s quite welcome, and I find myself going there often when in Lone Pine. However, my other night photography friends seem reluctant to eat here.

Merry Go Round is a Chinese restaurant inside what looks like a cool old historic round building, and doesn’t appear like a stereotypical Chinese restaurant from the exterior. Very friendly staff and a good selection of food.The mapo tofu is good, although I was surprised that crunchy little strips of water chestnuts and Chinese black beans are included in the dish, something I don’t think I’ve seen before (and I’m Chinese, so I’ve eaten my share of Chinese food). Giant portion as well. I mean huge.

Also, one can order steaks and a few American items. After all, this used to be a steakhouse. And it offers a few items in their South of the Border section as well, including cheese enchiladas, as the cook from the steakhouse, who is of Mexican descent, apparently works in the kitchen as well as the Asian chef.

Still Life Cafe, Independence

Blink and you’ll miss it. Behind a charming if unassuming storefront is an amazing bistro run by super friendly chef Malika Adjaoud Patron. The locals say that him and his wife do this just for the love of cooking. Great ambience, festooned with photos and paintings too. This place gets pegged as a French bistro, but really, they just serve good food. That’s all you have to know. Whether it’s Merguez (North African sausage), spaghetti bolognese, boeuf bourguignon, flank steak, and delicious salads, this place is a total gem. Check their hours before going, as they can be a bit erratic.

Copper Top BBQ, Big Pine

Close to the Copper Top even though it feels like a million miles away…

I’m going to mention this place even though I wasn’t blown away by what I had simply because everyone else seems to love it. I had a tri-tip sandwich. Although the taste was good, it was strangely dry. If I ever eat here again, I will probably try a pulled pork sandwich instead. Regardless, this place boasts quite a reputation. After all, according to the LA Times and Yelp, it received the title of “America’s Best Restaurant.”

Erick Schat’s Bakery

I wasn’t going to mention a restaurant in Bishop only because it’s a decent-sized town. Here and in Mammoth Lakes, it’s not that hard to find a decent meal. But this place bears mentioning because their bread is insanely good. And they also make great sandwiches. Whether you stop off here to get their Original Sheepherder Bread fresh from their stone ovens to make sandwiches or whatever, any number of astounding baked goods, or to order a sandwich from the back, you will not be disappointed. I personally love their cheese bread. Many of us make a special point to stop here. There’s another Schat’s Bakery in Mammoth which is run by a former sister-in-law.

Ohanas395, June Lake

Now we’re on to the tacos. This is a truck that is located right by June Lake Brewery along the June Lake Loop, another gorgeous area along Eastern Sierra that is known for their lakes and trees. It’s particularly popular with photographers in autumn when the trees turn vivid colors. 

I love their ahi tuna tacos. These are delicious by any standard. Excellent. The rest of their food looks and smells fantastic too. Super friendly people as well.

As a bonus, you can have a brew at the June Lake Brewing Company, and these guys will bring your food over. Just don’t ask June Lake Brewing Company what any of their beers are. I said hello and about their milk stout, and the guy replied, “You don’t know much about craft beer, do you?”

Tioga Gas Mart & Whoa Nellie Deli, Lee Vining

Fish tacos! At a Mobil gas station! And one of them even had mango salsa! 

This is a good place to stop and enjoy some tacos and beers after  photographing Bodie ghost town, Mono Lake, Yosemite, Saddlebag Lake, or other nearby areas.

Whoa Nellie Deli is a very popular stop for people going up or returning from Yosemite. Consequently, you’ll see lots of hikers, rock climbers, nature enthusiasts, and tourists hanging out and drinking beer in the very large outdoor area and relaxing. I do like the tacos at Ohanas395 more, but still, it’s good to know that you can grab a decent taco when heading up Tioga Pass or returning from a long photography expedition in Tuolumne Meadows. This place is just off Tioga Pass Road just outside Lee Vining.

Mmmmm…..tacos….

Night adventure among the mysterious sliding stones in remote Death Valley National Park

 

Scattered about Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park are mysterious sliding or sailing stones, leaving snakelike trails behind them on the cracked dry lake bed, often for longer than 250 meters.

How these stones — some weighing hundreds of kilograms — slid was a mystery for many decades. Was it from hurricane-like winds? Magnetic forces? Pranks? UFOs? Geologists had been studying the sailing stones since the 1940s, with the first theory suggesting that they were moved by “dust devils.” And one of the many reasons the mystery endured was that the stones often did not move for decades until a specific set of natural circumstances occurrent this remote region.

This was the remote area that I had wanted to photograph for years.

 

Venturing to a remote part of Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is an enormous, sprawling park with deserts, playas, mountains, ghost towns, sand dunes and more. It can take hours to drive to its main attractions. The Racetrack Playa is about two hours from the centrally-located Stovepipe Wells. However, the last hour or so is on a bumpy, rough road with sharp rocks. Many motorists have had flat tires as a result of these rocks.

I had joined up with a group of photographers, one of whom teaches for National Parks at Night. We decided to take two cars and also tell the rangers where we were heading. We arrived after dark, with the winter temperatures approaching freezing.

Brrrrrrrr!

One member in our party of five people forgot his pants and only had long underwear. Wearing a winter coat and gloves but short pants and long underwear … this was a comical look. Although very cold, he persevered, photographing much of the time until he got too cold to continue. He retreated to the warmth of his rental car.

Bathed in Moonlight

The way the full moon illuminated the parched white dry flat lake bed was magical, with the dark mountains looming in the distance, the dark blue night sky hanging overhead, and the ground below almost glowing. We walked out onto the dry lake bed for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and then spread apart to begin photographing.

Lighting for texture

I wanted to accentuate the surface cracks and the tracks that the sailing stones had left. To do that, I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, which is designed for light painting, holding it very low to the ground to pick up the texture off the ground and create shadows and depth.

The ProtoMachines flashlight also can produce vivid colors. You can control the saturation, brightness and color quickly, and it is designed to provide hours of illumination on a single battery charge. It is very expensive, but it replaces a bag full of batteries and gels. This is important when hiking in the dark for long periods of time. It also enables you to create the light you want much more efficiently.

 

There’s always technical difficulties, aren’t there?

I had two technical difficulties, but nothing serious. For some reason, my full-frame sensor camera, the Nikon D610, reverted to crop sensor format. Consequently, my first several photos had the edges cropped off. At first, I thought I was doing a lousy job framing the photos.

Later, the Vello Shutterboss II wired intervalometer would not shut off despite repeated attempts. The camera kept firing automatically every time I turned it back on. I finally had to remove the battery to make it stop.

After that, it operated beautifully.

After that, I concentrated on my light painting. I wanted to pick up as much texture as possible, and look as magical as possible. I used a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 ultra wide-angle lens to capture the magic.

“Wait for me!”

After a while, the other photographers signaled that they going back to the car to leave soon. So many times, I will keep photographing and photographing and photographing. Time stands still, and it’s just me and the stars moving and my camera clicking.

With lots of water and snacks and warm clothes, I could keep going. But it was time to go. I will forever remember this magical evening at Racetrack Playa, and hope to return someday.

 

Oh, and about that sliding stone mystery …

In 2011, cousins Richard Norris, a paleontologist, and James Norris, a research engineer, began attempting to solve the mystery, placing GPS devices on some of the stones. Later, they finally were rewarded, witnessing the stones moving.

The cousins determined that to create the sailing stones, first, it must rain create a shallow water layer on the parched dry lake bed. This needed to be followed quickly by the temperature falling low enough to freeze the water overnight before it evaporates.

Then the sun has to come out and thaw the ice so that it breaks into thin sheets. And finally, the wind has to blow strongly enough to break the ice into floes, the wind pushing the floating ice against the bloopers so that the ice acts as a sail and making the rocks slowly slide across the wet, muddy earth.

Getting there

Racetrack Playa is remote. It takes over an hour on a very rough dirt road to get from Ubehebe Crater (we always called it Heebie Jeebies Crater) to Racetrack Playa. The road generally doesn’t require a high-clearance vehicle, although I sure wouldn’t try this in a Prius. Most standard crossover vehicles and SUVs have enough clearance. After all, we did it in a Toyota Rav 4 — hardly an off-road beast.

The larger issue is sharp rocks. I know one person who got two flat tires on the way back. Therefore, ideally, you should have a Jeep or truck or other vehicle with large all-terrain tires. These tires are less likely to be punctured.

And you should be equipped for emergencies. I would recommend having at least one spare tire, tons of water, a radio to contact the outside world, a can of fix-a-flat or tire plug kit, a 12-volt air-compressor, a lug wrench and obviously a car jack. You can probably think of more essential items, depending on the weather.

If you decide to go, you should know that if you require a tow truck, it will cost you. The rangers said that tow trucks have to come from far away. They will charge you $1000 or more.

You may also rent a 4×4 vehicle. It’s expensive, but it may be well worth saving yourself some grief.

Keep it pristine for others

Stay on the road. Off-roading is prohibited. And whatever you do, do not drive on the playa. Ever. Enjoy the magic and the mystery and keep it beautiful for others. Do not move or remove any of the rocks. When the playa is wet, avoid walking in muddy areas and leaving ugly footprints.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

ARTICLES:
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

 

 

 

 

Light Painting 101: Three steps to illuminating an eerie abandoned piano

Up in the mountains of Nevada is a ghost town. It was a former old Western mining town, and its fortunes rose and fell with the demand for precious metals.

We arrived at the town, ready for some night photography. One of the largest buildings has two stories, both with high ceilings. When I carefully went up the long stairs to the second story. I found this piano there. I am a musician and play keyboards and guitar. Therefore, whenever I encounter an abandoned piano, I wonder what songs were played, who sung or danced to it, and what symphonies were unfinished. And of course, I always photograph the piano.

 

Haunting melodies

My two friends were still downstairs. For fun, I began playing a few random high keys. These eerie out-of-tune notes echoed downstairs, drawing an immediate reaction: “Whooooaaaaaaaa!” It was eerie enough that we even created a short video of how the notes sounded downstairs a little later!

 

Determining how to light the piano

I walked around the piano for a while, shining my flashlight at various angles. Looking around, I noticed the plaster from the wall had given way, exposing the old studs. The handwriting on the old plaster was interesting as well. Since much of the wall was gone, I could walk to the room in back and illuminate from behind.

However, that room had a couple of rows of connected wooden chairs. This posed a bit of an issue since I would have to work around it. I would need to crawl around underneath them to get similar angles. It would be challenging. But I decided it was worth it.

Three steps to illuminating the piano

1. Backlighting the piano

I crawled underneath the connected wooden chairs, extending my handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device to approximate the angle. It was challenging because the chairs were blocking much of the angle. Nevertheless, I managed to get it close. 

I then backed up and swept the light from left to right, so that this would create more shadows that would emanate forth on the floor from both the piano and the studs. As a bonus, I briefly illuminated the flowers on the top of the piano.

2. Illuminating the piano from the left side

I walked back into the room and walked to the left of the piano. Making sure I would not inadvertently shine the light into the camera, I grazed the front of the piano to create detail.

3. Illuminating the piano from the right side

I walked to the right side of the piano. Here too, I used an angle relatively close to 90 degrees from the camera. This enabled me to graze the piano to create detail and shadow as well. 

Why illuminate from the sides?

Have you ever used the built-in flash of your camera or phone camera to illuminate people or things? What did it look like to you? Probably not very flattering.

Light coming straight on to the subject is often harsh and not very flattering. Many photographers choose to use off-camera flash or bounce the light off a wall or ceiling. 

Light painting is no different. You are still using light. However, you simply are applying it more slowly and cumulatively during a long exposure image. This is one of the advantages of light painting. You may illuminate something from multiple angles in one photo, and with different colors and levels or brightness if you wish. But you can do this without having to set up multiple lights on stands or other complex setups and triggering.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

ARTICLES:
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

 

 

Seven reasons Irix may be the greatest budget ultra wide lens for Milky Way photos

What is a good lens for Milky Way photos that won’t break the bank?

This is a common question that frequently pops up in social media discussions everywhere. People ask about recommendations for ultra wide angle lenses for night photography, astrophotography, or photographing the starry night. And with “Milky Way season” upon us, I thought I would mention a high quality option that I use.

My “workhorse” night photography lens is currently the Pentax 15-30mm 2/8 lens. This is the same lens as the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 (Tamron makes it for Pentax). It’s a high quality lens. However, it is also almost $1300 in price. Not everyone can pay that much for lens. 

However, there’s another lens that I use right without hesitation that works extremely well!

Irix 15mm f/2.4

My often-used Irix 15mm f/2.4 ultra wide lens, still going strong after quite a bit of use.

I was one of the first people in the United States to purchase an Irix 15mm f/2.4. In fact, I purchased it in 2016, so early that Irix didn’t have distribution in this country! I had to purchase it through eBay. But I was glad I did.

I have the Blackstone version of this lens (more on this later), which is a sturdy manual focus lens that almost seems made for night photographers, although I believe it would  be a good lens for long exposure photography, landscape, architecture, or real estate as well.

Seven reasons why I love this lens

1. Sharpness even at wide apertures

Even at its widest aperture at f/2.4, it’s surprisingly sharp. Wide open, of course, there is some vignetting in the corners, which is easily addressed. There is slight softness in the corners, less than most ultra wide angle wide-aperture lens.. And the time you stop down to f/2.8, everything seems tack sharp.

Ojo Oro Arch, a remote arch deep within the Mojave Desert, a Milky Way photo taken with the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.

2. Detent at true infinity

Move the focal ring and you will feel a detent at true infinity. For photographing the Milky Way or the starry sky, this is invaluable. Just fix the focal ring at detent, and you are ready to go. 

But there’s more. If a foreground is not quite in focus at infinity, you can simply re-focus the lens for the foreground object and then “focus stack” the two photos later in post-processing so that everything is in focus. And this brings me to the next point….

3. Scarcely any focus breathing

There is very little “focus breathing” when re-focusing as described above, having elements grow larger if one is refocusing. The entire time I have been focus stacking with this lens, I have never encountered an issue. It blends beautifully.

4. Rectilinear distortion

For a wide angle lens, the Irix exhibits very little barrel or pincushion distortion. It’s a rectilinear lens, so images with straight features, such as walls of buildings, continue to appear with straight lines instead of being curved. 

5. Accepts filters easily

Most ultra wide angle lenses have bulbous front elements. Not so the Irix. This allows it to accept screw-on filters in the front. Furthermore, it also accepts gel filters in the back. This would make it useful for long exposure photography without the need to use externally-mounted and more expensive filter systems such as Nisi, Lee or Cokin.

6. Inexpensive

TheIrix Blackstone, which a sturdy all-metal model which I have, sells for about $549. The Firefly, which is basically the plastic version of the Blackstone, sells for under $400. You can purchase three Firefly lenses for the price of one Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 and still have enough money left over to purchase a speedlight….or dinner for four at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Mmmmmm……tacos…..

7. Focus lock

How many times have you, as a night photographer, mistakenly knocked the lens out of focus? Raise your hands. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? I often affix gaffer’s tape to the focus ring of my other lenses. I don’t need to with the Irix. The focus ring is appropriately stiff, and it also has a focus lock. I don’t bother using this if I am focusing on infinity since it has a detent there and is unlikely to be knocked out of focus.

More

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone ultra wide lens also comes with a nice case, a soft case which is still firm enough to offer ample protection.

There are few ultra-wide lenses, if any, that can approach the optical quality of the Irix for this price, or even several hundred dollars more, for that matter. The one lens I can think of off the top of my head that one could also consider in the same price range would be the Rokinon ultra wide angle lenses. 

The Irix also has UV Fluorescent Engraved Markings. I was excited about this upon purchase. In practice, however, they don’t seem to be all that visible at night. And I probably wouldn’t use it that much anyway, preferring to manually focus on sight. Still, the fact that the engineers even thought to incorporate this indicates how much they seemed to be designing this lens for night photography.

As I mentioned, this lens would be outstanding in many applications, including landscape, architecture, real estate, and long exposure photography. But isn’t it good that a night photographer is looking out for your needs all the same?

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California. Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.

Final words

While I haven’t done a specific side-by-side comparison with the 15-30mm f/2.8 lens that I have, I have alongside or instead of that lens without hesitation for years. And I’ve never felt like I’ve ever perceived a drop-off in image equality or sharpness at any point. It keeps up with that or the venerable 14-24mm f/2.8 F-mount without breaking a sweat. And given that the Firefly version is under $400, less than a third of the price of those other lenses, that’s stunning.

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.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

ARTICLES:
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

 

 

 

Light painting 101: five easy steps to illuminating cyanide tanks carved with guerilla art

This is an old mining site located deep within the Mojave Desert. Guerilla artists came and carved this art, depicting a miner with equipment on cyanide tanks. This was an artistic statement commenting on the destruction of the ecology on this site. But it makes for interesting night photography subjects. I lined up my camera so that the art would appear “intact” on all four of the cyanide tanks. Then I set about illuminating them.

Step 1: setting the light for a brilliant red

I set my handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device for a brilliant red. Red would be urgent and emotional. I wanted a good amount of saturation. One must be careful of blowing highlights with red. Why? Digital cameras are typically very sensitive to red light. 100% saturation doesn’t always work well, depending on how bright the light is and how long the subject is illuminated. I find that a setting around 65-70% is often sufficient. If you do not have a ProtoMachines, I would recommend using a red gel in front of an LED flashlight for quality results.

Step 2: Illuminating the interior of the tanks to glow from within

I had to stick my ProtoMachines inside each of the canisters. For the one closest to the camera, I lit it from three different angles, moving quickly so I would not “register” as a faint black smudge in the image if I stood still for too long. I bounced the light around inside, making sure to “paint” everything evenly. Then for the second canister, I was able to hide behind the first canister.

I had to be careful for two reasons. One is that some of the openings were jagged from the artists carving into the metal. The second was that I had to make sure I had a firm grip on the ProtoMachines. If I dropped it, I would probably not be able to retrieve it.

Step 3: Illuminating the exterior of the tanks

I switched my ProtoMachines to a warm white light. I stood to camera right and illuminated the tanks. I did this in part because I wanted the white paint to be whiter than what they would appear to be. I kept the light moving, sweeping, painting gently so that it would be even. It really is painting with light.

Step 4: Illuminating the front tank from another angle

I illuminated the front tank from camera left for a short while. I normally would not do this, but I wanted the white paint to glow more evenly. Ordinarily, I would leave this in shadow for a more “natural” look.

Step 5: Creating texture on the ground

There was one finishing touch to complete this image. I wanted to create a little bit of texture on the ground. I stood to camera right, but far away. I held the light very low to the ground and gently “swept” the ground with light to pick up some extra shadow and texture. It’s very subtle, and if I didn’t mention it, you probably wouldn’t know it.

Alternate photo

For good measure, I created a fisheye version. Enjoy!

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

ARTICLES:
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

 

This year, can we stop taking photos with flashlight beams aiming at the Milky Way?

I know. I’m going to be called a killjoy. “It’s my photo! I can do what I want!” And you’re right. I’m not the night photography police.  But you know, I am here to help you.

Therefore, I’ll ask politely: this year, can we stop taking photos with flashlight beams pointing at the Milky Way?

See here? Not one flashlight pointing at the Milky Way! Not one!

 

It’s a cliche

All the same, people have been doing this for years. It seemed to suddenly start about five years ago. And it’s never stopped. It’s the day photography equivalent of taking a photo of a model on train tracks or photographing people sitting on a couch in a grassy field. Yes. It’s a cliche. And you want your night photos to stand out from the pack, don’t you? Don’t you?

When there are actually video tutorials telling you how to create Milky Way photos with flashlight beams pointing at them, you know it’s run it’s course, right?

It’s bad for animals

To photograph this, you typically need a absurdly bright beam. Especially if it is not hazy or dusty. That messes up animals’ sleep habits and sets them off. It’s startling.  You don’t want to do that, do you?

No torches aiming up at the Milky Way here either.

It makes zero sense

When does anyone point a flashlight at the Milky Way? Yeah. Never. It never happens. Why? Because it makes zero sense. You can’t see them any better. And see those Milky Ways that you tried so hard to photograph? Well, they’re less visible now because, well, you’re creating light pollution, the very thing that you tried to avoid. Besides, when was the last time you saw someone aiming their flashlight at the Milky Way? Yeah. Never.

 

Above: there’s no Milky Way, but we do have the flashlight beam of the universe. This is okay. A handheld torch, maybe that’s run its course.

It’s not patriotic

After all, you’ve never seen a single photo of Abraham Lincoln doing this, have you? Be like Abe.

Take up the challenge

Let’s challenge ourselves to create more compelling, original night photography images this Milky Way season. Something that has more original focal points. We’ve seen plenty of people aiming flashlights at the Milky Way, and really, even enough people photographing glowing tents in the foreground. Consider trying something else, just for the fun of it.  Thank you in advance.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

ARTICLES:
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

 

2021-02 Magical moments in night photography: the loudness of silence

Sometimes we have these moments in nature. They may seem magical. Spiritual. Transcendent. Inspiring. Humbling. But whatever it is, we are left with an indelible memory.

The hike to nowhere

We began our May hike to nowhere. This was the middle of the desert. Almost no cars. No trails. no footprints. We parked our cars off the side of the nearest road. Then we walked. We walked for two miles. The terrain became increasingly strange. Odd-shaped rocks seemingly from an episode of “Star Trek”. Weird alcoves. Shallow caves. Lumpy misshapen rocks.

 

Setting up camp

We had brought in gallons of water, emergency supplies, food, and sleeping bags. No tents, though. Too much weight, too much hassle, and no need. It was a warm night. We set out our tarps and sleeping bags. Each of us chose some flat rocks to attempt to avoid scorpions.

 

Photographing at night

The Milky Way core began to show up in all its heavenly glory late at night. We set about photographing, taking turns or simply photographing different areas. We mostly worked in silence, occasionally talking about cameras or how magnificent the stars were. I illuminated Ojo Oro Arch, one of the secret hidden arches in the area, with light to accentuate its shape and features.

I sat in silence. The glorious silence. I could at one point actually perceive the direction the stars were flowing in. I was completely locked in to the stars, the desert, and the experience. This is what people experienced for most of the time humans have been around. But our cities blot out the skies, and most people have not seen the Milky Way in person.

 

Cocooned by a canopy of stars

I finished photographing. I settled down to sleep under the stars around 3:30 am, cocooned by a canopy of stars and the Milky Way arching directly overhead. Every several minutes, I saw shooting stars streaking through the night sky.  It was so unbelievably vivid. And for so much of dusk or night, I was so aware of the silence. This was a special place where silence is louder and the stars shine brighter. I will always treasure the experience.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
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.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

ARTICLES:
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