Can you photograph at night with lousy eyesight?

I was recovering from surgery for a detached retina in my right eye. Here’s what I found.

Flashes and floaters

24 hours after the surgery I experienced floaters and flashes in my right eye, I was on the phone with an eye doctor. When I saw the first flash of light in my peripheral vision, I had thought, “That was strange. Was that the reflection from a car whizzing past?” The second time, I knew something was wrong.

The doctor said that I had lattice degeneration. This is a thinning of the peripheral retina, the tissue that lines the back wall of the eye. This also helps maintain sharp vision. Lattice degeneration is a cause for concern. Here, the retina is more susceptible to tearing, which can lead to retinal detachment. The doctor made an appointment for five more weeks.

Night photo of an enormous sculpture by Ricardo Breceda, located in Borrego Springs, CA.

Distracting

The next time I went out to the Arizona desert to photograph at night, my vision had grown increasingly worse. The flashes and floaters were more prominent than ever before. Worse than that, my vision in the right eye had grown a little hazier. 

The squeaky wheel

I called the doctor again. I wanted to see him now, not in several more weeks. However, the receptionist said that he was out of town. I kept the old appointment. However, thinking it over, I felt I really should see a doctor, so I called again. Same message. So I called again, saying the same thing again. This time, I got an appointment with a different doctor the following morning. Sometimes, the third time really is the charm.

Uh, oh!

Night photo of dinosaurs battling. Sculptures by Ricardo Breceda, Borrego Springs, CA.

It didn’t take long. The doctor said, “You have a detached retina.” He explained that since I was nearsighted, I was more susceptible to lattice degeneration and detached retinas. Swell. He made an appointment with another doctor specializing in retinal surgery. In particular, pneumatic retinopexy and a scleral buckle surgery, would be done during the same visit. 

Recovery

Recovery involved staying face down for eight days all day and all night. Yes, that means while sleeping. Or attempting to sleep. I am very active and kinetic. Therefore, I was convinced this was one of the Seven Layers of Hell. My face hurt. My back hurt. And of course, my eye hurt. And with that, I also had headaches for the next three weeks. I rarely looked at myself in the mirror for the first few days. I looked like I had gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.

The blob

No, this isn’t the blob from my eye. In fact, it was larger than this, and yes, right in the center of my vision. This is one of my macro experiments during the pandemic.

I had a weird bubble in my eye from one of the procedures. This air bubble slowly pushes the retina back into place. However, to me, it looked like an enormous blob. Slowly over two weeks, the blob diminished, then broke into several smaller blobs, then went away completely. I was overjoyed when it went away.

Blurry photo near sunset, Borrego Springs. While my vision in my right eye isn’t quite this blurry, it isn’t far off either.

Choosing the location to do night photography

A month after surgery, I was ready to get outside and enjoy some night photography in the desert. I chose Borrego Springs. One of the reasons was that the magnificent sculptures that I was going to photograph were only between five to 10 minutes from the motel. The other reason was that the ground near the sculptures was level and didn’t have many sharp pointy plants. 

And of course, I love Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs was where I had floated in the pool while looking up at the Milky Way, a magical experience I still remember vividly. 

Night photo of a sculpture by Ricardo Breceda in Borrego Springs, CA. April 2022.

Other strategies for doing night photography

While my right eye was healing quite well and I was told I could drive, swim, and exercise, my vision was still blurry. To compensate for this, I began using reading glasses. Rather than fumble around in the dark for them, I purchased eyeglass straps so they could hang around my neck when I wasn’t using them. 

I also used a Coast HX4 80-lumen Clip Light with the red light on to see my way around. Surprisingly, I didn’t need this too much because it was during a full moon, and I could see reasonably well. 

When reviewing my photos, I blew them up more than I usually would just to make sure I had focused properly. I used my reading glasses to make absolutely sure. I often used Live View. With Live View, I found I could also use my reading glasses effectively. If I needed to, I could also shine my light around to see what was going on more.

I also used the autofocus in my camera. I shined a light on the sculpture I was photographing, used the autofocus, and then switched back to manual focus so the camera wouldn’t keep attempting to acquire focus again.

Other thoughts

I was rather pleased that I could photograph so easily in the dark, even with one eye having rather blurry vision. I was able to photograph again the following month as well. I again photographed during a full moon, photographing some unusual art installations in Wonder Valley. And this time, I had also gotten some specially made glasses from the optometrist, so driving at night was much better. I was very specific with what I wanted with the glasses, and they made them with this in mind.

eye on the end of the world
Night photography at the end of the world, or at least Wonder Valley in California. May 2022.

I found that one of the challenges was the extremes between bright lights and dark. If it were mostly dark, I didn’t have that many issues at all. But if there were large bright signs and storefronts in an otherwise very dark environment, that sometimes caused haziness. My new glasses corrected for this. I didn’t have them when I photographed in Borrego Springs, so that’s largely why I chose to photograph a location that was only minutes from the motel.

Technically, my eye has not recovered fully. That takes about six months after surgery. Shortly after that point, I will have cataract surgery. After that, my vision in my right eye should be considerably sharper, and not the blurry mess it is now.

Dragon head. Ricardo Breceda. eye.
Night photo of part of the enormous rattledragon sculpture by Ricardo Breceda. April 2022.

And yes, I did swim at night. While the Milky Way wasn’t arching over the sky, the full moon and the starry skies were. And that’s still magical. And I felt particularly joyous after spending such a long time staying face down in the house.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Can I light paint in our National Parks at night?

Can you light paint, or illuminate, a foreground in our National Park system for your night photo? If so, which ones?

Light painting

Light painting is illuminating a subject at night with light. This can be disruptive to others. Or to wildlife. And it’s compounded if it is with a crowd of people, such as what was happening at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

Mojave National Preserve, CA, part of the National Park System.
Mojave National Preserve, CA, part of the National Park System.

While I have joked about this while discussing photographs of people pointing their flashlights up at the Milky Way, this is actually a real issue borne out of some people’s frustration. 

Where can I use artificial lighting in the National Park system?

The National Park Service manages 423 individual units. These 423 also include Monuments, Preserves, Reserves, Lakeshores, Rivers, Parkways, Historical Parks, Battlefields, Forests, and other designations. In 417 of these places, you may use artificial lighting, including light painting.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Where is artificial lighting banned?

This has changed in the past couple of years. However, to the best of my knowledge, the use of artificial light sources to illuminate landscapes, rock formations, or other park features is banned in Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Capitol Reef and Grand Teton National Parks. This of course includes “light painting”. 

However, it also includes ultra-dim static lighting as well. This ultra-dim lighting is typically as bright as the stars and is virtually imperceptible to people. 

Controversy

Arches National Park, Utah.
Arches National Park, Utah.

The ruling from these six units has been controversial among night photographers. Some feel that using very dim lighting from static panels does not disturb anyone, to the point where they are often not discernible except to the very sensitive sensors of a camera set to photograph long exposures at high ISOs.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Some photographers point out that it is OK to have cars racing through the parks at night. And in the case of Grand Teton, there’s also a highway, international airport, and private properties within its boundaries, all of which create more light than photographers ever would. 

There are multiple sides to this issue. And people from these various sides often make strong points. 

Regardless, most night photographers acknowledge that light painting can be disruptive to wildlife and people. Consequently, we choose to respect park regulations and share the space with others.

Inyo National Forest
Inyo National Forest

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Premiere of the beautiful new ambient music of Eleven Shadows!

Today is the premiere for my Eleven Shadows album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind“, full of beautiful deep ambient music. You may listen to or download the entire thing! And of course, it also features otherworldly visual images and elements, although no night photography!

This is the first Eleven Shadows since probably about the year 1791, haha! I had eye surgery for a detached retina and was recovering. I wanted to listen to a ambient music featuring deep otherworldly bell-like sounds while convalescing or working on things while at home. To my surprise, I couldn’t find any. I decided to create it. A week later, in an flurry of inspiration, I had twenty-one tunes that sounded quite beautiful. I began realizing that I could release this as Eleven Shadows music instead of one The Mercury Seven or one of my other musical projects.

The first song, Marismas Oscuras, also has a video!

Listen or download the entire Eleven Shadows album today on Bandcamp.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

How I got the photo: Organizing 40 night photographers with flashlights

What would you do if you hiked up to Delicate Arch at night, only to find 40 photographers waving flashlights around? I decided to organize everyone, creating order from chaos. Here’s how I attempted this in June 2014.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is iconic, so much so that it appears on the Utah license plate. Rightfully so. It’s one of the most unusual geologic features on the face of the planet. It’s a free-standing 52-foot tall arch on the rim of a large rocky bowl. If that’s not spectacular, I’m not sure what is.

The hike to Delicate Arch

A friend had warned me that even though the hike was only 1.5 miles each way, part of the path became narrow. Worse, it had a steep drop-off of several hundred feet. He was concerned about me hiking back that way at night. Consequently, I prepared to stay the night up at Delicate Arch if necessary. I took ample food, over two gallons of water, a sleeping bag, a light jacket, and much more, along with my camera equipment.

A rock concert

organizing crowds at Delicate Arc
Some of the crowd at Delicate Arch after sunset.

To my utter dismay, there were approximately 150 people there when I arrived shortly before sunset. It was chaos. They were seated around the lip of the bowl as if watching a rock concert. Many were hanging around the arch. 50 people remained long after dark to photograph the Milky Way. They waved flashlights around. They wandered around Delicate Arch with flashlights. Some pointed blindingly bright lights up at the arch from directly below.

Creating something original

Delicate Arch has been photographed many times. To set my photo apart, I had thought I would try a different composition that I had never seen before. I would frame the Milky Way through the arch while looking up at it. Using Google Earth and the Photographer’s Ephemeris, I determined that I could do this after 11:30 p.m.

However, I would not be able to create a good photo if there were 40 people waving flashlights around randomly and wandering around the arch.

Organizing People on arch.
Hanging around the arch after sunset.

Creating order from chaos

By 11:30 p.m., the crowd had thinned slightly. There were probably 40 photographers who remained. And yes, they were still waving flashlights around. 

I decided to coordinate our efforts. 

I spoke to get their attention, telling them that I wanted to take a photo from below. And I mentioned that I could illuminate Delicate Arch for everyone if we coordinated our times. There were murmurs of agreement. “Sounds great to us!” Fantastic. I was now coordinating the efforts of over 30 photographers. 

But there was one more thing to overcome.

Now came the frightening part

The ledge where I wanted to photograph from looked somewhat easy to get to when there was light. But now, it was completely dark. The ledge underneath Delicate Arch was all there was. After that, it was nothing but a steep drop hundreds of feet to the bottom of the bowl below.

Could I safely get to the vantage point needed to take a photo like this? 

I carefully climbed down there. And while I felt reasonably safe, I also felt terrified. Climbing down in the dark made it exponentially worse.

Furthermore, to illuminate the arch, I would have to climb back up, illuminate it, and then carefully climb back down. 

I decided I would only do this once. I kept the camera clicking away while I climbed back up and illuminated it numerous times, changing the angle to make certain something looked decent. Then I went back down to turn off the camera and get out of there. Whew! 

Gratitude

I felt grateful that I hadn’t even slipped. I had been on solid footing the whole time. And my camera had remained rock solid, not plummeting to the rocky bottom below.

Several photographers walked up to me and thanked me. They said that they really liked my light painting of the arch and that they were very happy with their images. 

I created the photo I wanted and helped many people in the process. Win-win.

I will say, however, that I will never do that again.

My photo

Delicate Arch with the Milky Way.
Delicate Arch with the Milky Way.

This is the photo that I planned, which I’ve called “Door to Infinity.” As you can see, I achieved my vision. This is an image looking up, the arch framing the magnificent Milky Way.

For this photo, I “light painted” the arch with a small Streamlight 88040 ProTac Professional Handheld Flashlight. This was done to keep it from becoming a silhouette. To do this, I had to walk back and forth from the scary ledge to higher ground. 

Please note that I photographed this on 25 June 2014 at 12:37 a.m. Since then, Arches National Park has banned “light painting” at night. This was photographed with a Nikon D610 and a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens at 14mm. For a single exposure, I used a 20-second exposure at f/2.8 with an ISO of 4000.

I should also mention that I was able to safely hike back down to the car at night. The narrower footpath was approximately six feet wide and didn’t feel treacherous. I went on to photograph numerous other locations, staying out until the sun rose.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Creating an album cover and video for my ambient album – my own!!

I’ll describe how I created an album cover and video using the same setup! Even better, I created these for my own album!

Some of you may not know that I play music and have had numerous recording contracts throughout the years. I’ve been doing it far far longer than night photography.

I record music as Eleven Shadows. But I took a reeeeally long break because I played in a rock band and continue to play in The Mercury Seven.

But funny things happen. Stuck at home after eye surgery, I began creating some new music. I was creating it just to create it. After a while, it occurred to me that this could be new Eleven Shadows music!

Every album needs some artwork, right?

Of course it does! Being a musician who is also a photographer has its advantages. I decided I wanted some mysterious macro photography. I grabbed my Pentax K-1 and an old Pentax M Macro 50mm F/4 Prime MF Lens. I set it so it hovered over a Pyrex dish filled with water and some drops of olive oil. I chose a dark room. But then I illuminated the glass dish from below with some colored lights.

Macro setup.
Similar macro setup. I did this in my tiny recording studio.

You can see how this setup looks in my macro photography article, where I describe this in great detail.

Colorful macro bubble photo.
Macro close-up photo of bubbles.

I decided that I wanted the colors more muted. Also, I wanted it to feel more layered and aquatic. So I used an old photo I took of a strange metal undersea creature I saw in a store many years ago.

Album cover for “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.
The album cover for “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.

I also created some blurring on the sides with Nik Collection Perspective Efex for good measure. This plug-in has an outstanding tilt/shift feature that blurs beautifully. Oh, and yes, it corrects perspective very well!

Every song needs a video, right?

Of course it does. And being a musician who is also a photographer has advantages here as well.

Eleven Shadows “Marismas Oscuras” from the new album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.

While I took that colorful macro above, I also used Pentax’s video feature. I simply gently stirred the bubbles with a spoon. Then I recorded the action.

Macro photography video of oil bubbles.

You can see some of it in the video above. I then incorporated this video into the final video along with all the other patterns, glowing lights, and general weirdness.

The new instrumental tune “Marismas Oscuras” fits in well with the various depths and layers.

Where do I get the new Eleven Shadows album?

You can stream or download the new album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind” on Bandcamp!

Eleven Shadows YouTube Playlist

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Nightaxians Video Podcast on YouTube: Pentax, gear, night photography, creativity

The Nightaxians have just launched a new Nightaxians Video Podcast on YouTube. We will discuss all things night photography, Pentax, gear, lenses, urban exploration, night travel adventures and far more. I am proud to be one of the three people in the video podcast along with night photographers Timothy Little and Mike Cooper.

Above is the premiere episode of The Nightaxians Video Podcast. This particular chat is about some of the lenses that we use for our night photography. We discuss not only Pentax lenses, but also Nikon, Canon and more.

What is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

The Nightaxians Video Podcast.
The Nightaxians Video Podcast

Imagine if you are hanging out with three of your friends, listening to a fun, informal chat about all things photography. That’s sort of what The Nightaxians video podcast on YouTube is like. Sure, it’s about night photography. However, it can appeal to those who do different kinds of photography.

Many of the discussions and concepts might center around gear, composition, weather, finding locations, choice of lenses, our weirdest experiences, strange encounters with people and animals, how we pack our bags, software, how we created the photos and more. And since all of us use Pentax gear, there’s always going to be discussion about that.

Night photo by Nightaxian Tim Little

Where is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

You can find it on this YouTube playlist. This is where all Nightaxians video podcasts will be posted. I would encourage you to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes.

Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper

When is the Nightaxians Video Podcast?

We hope to have a new episode for you at least once a week. As of right now, we are posting them on Tuesday. However, the best way to know when we post is of course to subscribe to the channel.

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee

Who are the Nightaxians?

The Nightaxians are three night photographers, also known collectively as Notorious RGB (see what we did there?). Although we live in three different time zones, we are brought together by a love of photography and camaraderie. We would love you to join us. You can even help shape the flow of the show with your suggestions, especially about topics you would like to hear us discuss. Think of it like this. We’re Pentaxians, but with a focus on night photography. And we’re hanging out and talking about all the topics that fascinate us.

I’ll share a brief description of the three of us.

Timothy Little

Night photo by Tim Little

Timothy Little makes a living specializing in night photography and light painting. I sat down with him and talked with him about how he explores a world lit by Moonlight, stars and street lamps, by his home in Cape Cod, MA and in the southwestern United States.

Tim is able to illuminate subjects with handheld lights to create riveting, often colorful images while remaining as organic, creating the image in-camera.

Mike Cooper

Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper

Southern-based night photographer Mike Cooper has covered broad expanses of the Midwest and Southern US, offering fantastic glimpses of abandoned places lit by the moon, stars and handheld light. The amount of travel and diversity of sites are a testament to his dedication to his craft.

Mike illuminates these mysterious, forgotten locations with often colorful lighting, creating the image in-camera. The results are otherworldly. He has two books that will showcase these worlds.

Ken Lee

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee

Well, that’s me. I am a night photographer. As with many night photographers, I drive long hours in a dusty car listening to weird music, stay out all night creating photos, get dirty, hang out with other creative sleep-deprived weirdos, see the stars drift across the sky and always find the best taco stands while photographing forgotten abandoned locales and amazing nightscapes. I have two books published with two more on the way, and my images have appeared in National Geographic Books, Omni magazine, Los Angeles Times, Westways magazine and numerous other publications.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

How to create star trails in Photoshop in three easy steps

You can create star trails in Photoshop in three easy steps. It’s really quite easy!

Star trails are magical. They show the celestial movements of the stars over a long period of time. And they’re easy to create.

You’ve taken some photos of the night sky in succession, one right after another, using a tripod to keep everything steady. And now you want to use Photoshop to “stack” them to make them into larger star trails. Photoshop has some nice advantages for “stacking”, and I’ll point some of these out near the end.

1. Stack your photos

Load files into stack screenshot.
Load files into stack. We’re gonna create some star trails!

Simply go to “File”. Select “Scripts”. Then select “Load Files into Stack” as shown above. 

2.) Select which files you want stacked

Dialogue box for stacking
Dialogue box for selecting the files you want to “stack” into star trails.

This too is straightforward. Hit the “Browse” button. Then simply navigate to where your files are and select them and hit “OK”. You don’t need to check any of the boxes below assuming that your camera and tripod did not move.

3.) Let the stars shine through!

Photoshop will stack all of your photos. If you had printed all of your individual photos, it would be as if they were all stacked on top of each other in one neat pile. Photoshop is just doing this digitally. Lean back and relax. If you have lots of photos and a slow computer, go get a drink.

Photoshop Layers lighten.
Hey, alright! Photoshop has stacked your photos! But now we need to change the opacity of the Layers from “Normal” to “Lighten”.

Once Photoshop is done, you’ll think, “Okay….I see all the layers of photos on the bottom right side….but I don’t see any star trails!” And you wouldn’t see them if you had stacked all your printed photos one on top of the other either. 

But here in Photoshop, we can turn our stacked “digital papers” (our layers, in other words) into “magic paper”. Cool, huh? 

First, highlight all the layers except the very bottom layer. 

Then go to the Layers Tab just above where all your images are stacked; You’ll see a pulldown menu that says “Normal”. Change that to “Lighten”. Wow! Let the stars shine through!

Photoshop Layers lighten.
Instant star trails! I never get tired of seeing how it all comes together. Where the red arrow is pointing, you change that from “Normal” to “Lighten”, then lean back and smile. Yeah. You just created some star trails!

If you look at this photo above, you can see some airplane trails and some lights from me mistakenly shining the light into the camera while illuminating the giant dragon sculpture. Next we will discuss how to get rid of that.

Bonus Tip: getting rid of airplane trails or unwanted lights

Some people don’t want airplanes in their star trails. Or maybe you mistakenly shine a light in the camera and you don’t want that. This bonus section is for you. This is one of the nice aspects of using Photoshop.

A lot of people choose not to do this. That’s okay. It’s your photo. You’re in charge. You do what you want.

Photoshop masks
The red arrow is pointing to Layer Masks. Here, I’ve created a lot of Layer Masks, one for each Layer, mostly to get rid of lots of airplane trails. There were probably ten airplanes that flew through while I created this image because this location is directly in the flight path of San Diego. I also got rid of some inadvertent lights while light painting and my ghostly shadow image from standing in place a little too long.

But if you want to try this, you can rid yourself of them by creating Layer Masks. Those are those white rectangles to the right of the layers in our example below. 

Creating Layer Masks so we can mask out unwanted stuff

Select one layer that has the airplane trails or unwanted light that you don’t want. You’ll create a Layer Mask that will block this out. Go to the top menu. “Choose Layer” > “Layer Mask” > “Reveal All”. This should produce a white rectangle to the right of your selected layer.

Then select the Brush tool. This is located on the left side of the image. Choose the black color. Make sure that the white Layer Mask is selected instead of the actual layer itself. Then simply start painting away on the area that you want concealed. You should see the unwanted item begin to disappear. The black color stops that one part of the image from shining through! It’s like magic!

Rattledragon star trails photo
The enormous rattledragon sculpture in Borrego Springs, California. The sculpture was created by Ricardo Breceda. This image is 28 minutes total exposure. Each individual photo was a two-minute exposure at f/6.3 and ISO 200. The star trails are relatively straight because I am zooming in from farther away and we are not facing directly north or south, so they tend to be straighter and longer when they are farther from the North or South Celestial Poles.

It’s really that easy. If you don’t like it, hit “Undo” (or paint over what you did after selecting a white color). 

Additional tips

Layer Masks can be used to get rid of “hot spots” from your light painting as well. Or shadows. Really, anything that only exists on one layer, you can eliminate non-destructively. If you don’t like it later, go back and change it.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Pentax 28-105mm: greatest cheap lens you don’t know about?

Once in a rare while, a cheap lens is a great lens. Is the overlooked Pentax 28-105mm such a lens? Read on!

About the lens

Pentax-D FA 28-105mm F3.5-5.6 ED DC WR zoom lens with a Pentax K-1 DSLR.

The Pentax-D FA 28-105mm F3.5-5.6 ED DC WR zoom lens (currently $496.95 at B&H or used for around $300) is a versatile and reasonably compact zoom lens, compatible with the full-frame Pentax K-1 DSLR. Indeed, the two were launched at the same time. It can also be used with other K-mount cameras, including APS-C cameras as well as older 35mm film cameras.

Ghost town, Sonoran Desert. 28-105mm lens with Pentax K-1.

What’s hot?

  • Excellent image quality. We’ll get this out of the way since it’s largely what interests us. The image quality is good. The lens seems sharp across the various focal lengths. As with many lenses, this lens is generally the sharpest between f/8 and f/11 across all focal lengths. I have no hesitation in using this for night photography shoots. In fact, I have been using it in place of the venerable but heavy 15-30mm more and more.
  • It’s a great walkabout lens. Given that it goes surprisingly wide but extends to 105mm, it’s reasonably wide and useful for most situations.
  • Solid weather sealing. Like a lot of Pentax products, including the K-1, the weather sealing is excellent. It even has a rubber O-ring on the back of the lens designed to seal against the camera to keep moisture and dust out. So far, it’s survived mist, desert sand, and more without a hitch.
  • Feels good to use. It’s light, reasonably compact, and has texturized rubber grips that make it pleasant to use.
  • Little lens flare.
  • Works with Astrotracer. A lot of Pentax photographers report that slightly longer focal lengths work optimally when using the Astrotracer. In other words, people are reporting that generally speaking, longer focal lengths exhibit fewer artifacts than wide focal lengths such as 15mm. 
  • The price! Wow! The price!!
Abandoned farmhouse. 28-105mm lens with Pentax K-1.

What’s not?

  • Variable aperture. As you extend the zoom, the aperture will vary from f/3.5 to f/5.6. I feel that expecting a fixed aperture lens for under $500 is unrealistic. And, well, a variable aperture does keep the size of the lens down. Nevertheless, I should mention this. I use this primarily for night photography, so it’s not much of an issue for me. For those who really want a fixed aperture but can’t afford it, the easiest “workaround” is probably photographing with Auto ISO. 
  • The manual focus ring spins continuously instead of stopping. This took me a little getting used to, as the manual focus ring does not have a stop. There’s nothing wrong with the manual focus, but I had to grow accustomed to the lack of throw.

General impressions

Pentax-D FA 28-105mm F3.5-5.6 ED DC WR zoom lens with a Pentax K-1 camera.

I have owned the 28-105mm lens for a while. However, I must confess I was initially biased. Although my night photographer friend spoke of its virtues, I continued subconsciously dismissing it as a “kit lens”. I packed it in my bag as a backup. There it stayed for many months. However, I began using it when I wanted more “reach”. After doing that, I’ve begun using it more and more, as the images are beautiful.

Detail, detail, detail! 28-105mm lens has detail for days.

I use its autofocus all the time, both day and night, and never had an issue with it. Obviously, it will not focus as quickly as the 15-30mm lens would. But that’s just physics, isn’t it, when it has a considerably wider focal range. 

House buried in sand, Mojave Desert. 28-105mm lens with Pentax K-1.

The bokeh is fine. It’s not that creamy, luscious bokeh that you have with wider apertures such as a 50mm f/1.4 or a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic. Obviously, you’ll see more bokeh when you use longer focal lengths, and less with wide-angle, just like any other lens.

Who should use it?

Given the sharp image quality, flexibility, and strong weather sealing, it’s great for just about any Pentax K-1 user. When you factor in the low price, it’s a no-brainer. I would recommend it for general use as a “walkabout” lens. Bring it hiking. It’s good for night photography, landscape, street photography, or travel.

Ghost town, Sonoran Desert. 28-105mm lens with Pentax K-1.

There is a saying, of course: “jack of all trades, master of none.” Most likely, all zooms with reasonably flexible focal lengths fall into this. Is it as sharp as a quality prime lens? No. That’d be silly. The lens exhibits some of the compromises that an inexpensive reasonably long zoom lens might have. This includes some softness in the edges, especially with wider apertures. There’s some vignetting. And of course, it changes the aperture when you zoom. If these are deal-killers, well, you probably shouldn’t be looking at a general-purpose zoom lens under $500.

Always welcome in my camera bag

For me, its merits far supersede these compromises. It is wonderfully flexible and light, and the image equality is beautiful. It’s an excellent lens for night photography during a full moon with light painting and star trails. 

And although ordinarily, it wouldn’t have a very wide aperture for Milky Way photos, when used with a tracker or Astrotracer on Pentax cameras, it shines here too.

This often-overlooked “jack of all trades” is always welcome in my camera bag. I will use it for any of my night photography without hesitation. In fact, two of my Pentaxian night photography friends and I, collectively known as The Nightaxians, have discussed this lens on our video podcast show on YouTube. We all use it and love it.

Some amazing detail on an abandoned garage at night, Route 66. 28-105mm lens with Pentax K-1.
I want to believe. Yes, the mighty 28-105mm lens again.

Specifications

Specifications from the Ricoh-Pentax page:

Focal Length

28-105mm
Equivalent to 43-161mm in 35mm format (when attached to PENTAX APS-C size DSLR cameras)

Maximum Aperture

F3.5-5.6

Minimum Aperture

F22-38

Lens Construction

15 elements in 11 groups

Angle of View (Diagonal)

75-23.5°(when attached to PENTAX 35mm full-frame SLR cameras)
53-15.5°(when attached to PENTAX APS-C size DSLR cameras)

Mount

KAF3

Minimum Focusing Distance

0.5m (1.64 ft.)

Maximum Magnification

0.22x

Filter Diameter

62mm

Diaphragm Control

Fully automatic

Number of Diaphragm Blades

9 Rounded diaphragm (28mm: F3.5-6.3 105mm: F5.6-10)

Lens Hood

PH-RBC62 (included)

Lens Cap

O-LC62 (included)

Lens Case

S80-120 (optional)

Maximum Diameter x Length

approx. 73.0mm x 86.5mm (approx. 2.9in. x 3.4in.)

Weight

approx. 440g / with hood approx. 463g
(approx. 15.5oz./ with hood approx. 16.3oz.)

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

How to create a Star Wars photography project 

Creating a project, theme, or series can be rewarding and lead to a lot of creative ideas. I created a Star Wars photography project for Star Wars day on May 4th (“May the 4th be with you!”).

I illuminated Yoda from the top as if it were a spotlight. This was photographed in my backyard at night.

Purchasing Star Wars toys to photograph

I purchased some Star Wars toys. Sometimes, I was able to find a Yoda bank. Other times, the toys were reasonably large toys or action figures. A pawn shop near my house had a three-foot tall Yoda for $500. It was all I could do to resist purchasing it.

Finding fun locations

Since I do night photography, I decided to do a series of photographs with the Star Wars figures. While photographing in a galaxy far far away sounded enticing, I photographed these closer to home. In fact, some of them were done in my backyard. Other times, I photographed them in the Mojave Desert. It was humorous stuffing my backpack full of Star Wars figures just before wandering through the rocks of the Alabama Hills to find interesting locations for them to look their best.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter

I illuminated the luminous beings – the Star Wars figures – with a handheld light after carefully placing them in their best locations. The action figures, such as Darth Vader, toppled due to the wind sometimes! I had to photograph quickly before the Sith Lord face-planted in the Alabama Hills.

Then, from various angles, I shined an LED flashlight on them during the exposure.

I used several different lights to light paint R2-D2 at night.

For R2-D2, I used El Wire, or electroluminescent wire, to create the look of the fire. And for good measure, I added a blue ray of light seemingly emanating from his top using a small laser pen light.

Working from a project or series

Now, of course you don’t have to do a Star Wars series (although…why not?). The idea here is to create a fun series from something that you love. The project practically generates fun ideas on its own, stoking your creativity.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Five great ideas for photographers with less mobility

Mobility can be an issue for those wanting to photograph certain places. I hear from people that they would love to do photography but sometimes they have mobility issues or cannot walk far. Here are five ideas for those who have mobility challenges.

Some years ago, I had knee surgery. “Overuse,” the surgeon had said. I had just gained momentum with my night photography. National Geographic Books, Westways Magazine, and others had just published some of my images. But for some time, I could barely walk. During this time, I developed some ideas that helped me continue to do night photography and other forms of photography. I thought I would share them with you.

National Parks offer many mobility solutions

One of the great things about our National Park system is that they try and make the outdoors accessible, as much as that is possible. Each National Park boasts countless beautiful vistas. And the nice thing is that much of it requires little or no walking. Typically, there are wheelchair-accessible walks as well. These are great even if you don’t require a wheelchair, as the walkways are broad and relatively flat.

From the side of the road or the parking lot, nature abounds. You can have some great wildlife opportunities too. As with the suggestions for photographing wildlife above, the key is to relax, be patient, not make quick sudden movements and have fun. Quite often, the wildlife will come up close enough for you to photograph. Whether it’s the National Parks, National Monuments, Bureau of Land Management land, National Forests, State Parks or other areas, much of it is quite accessible.

Santa Cruz Natural Bridges
Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz, California.

There can also be some beautiful opportunities just off the side of the road. Every state offers many scenic vistas that you can just pull over and see. For instance, most of the photos in my West Virginia article required very little walking.

waterfall West Virginia
Cathedral Falls, West Virginia, right off the side of the road.

Night photography

Joshua Tree National Park at night
Just off the side of the road. Night photo, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Of course, I am going to write about night photography. National Parks, Monuments, Bureau of Land Management land, and National Forests all provide ample opportunities for night photography. With places such as Joshua Tree National Park or National Forests, just simply staying in a parking lot or getting to the side of the road presents many awesome opportunities for you to create stunning night photos.

Wildlife photography

deer Yosemite National Park
A deer just outside my car, Yosemite National Park, CA.

This seems like the very sort of photography that might be challenging if you have mobility issues. After all, the thought of traipsing through trails seems counterintuitive. But here are some ideas that I hope can help you.

Puffin Iceland
No, this isn’t from my backyard or from a bird feeder. It’s an Icelandic puffin. But I hardly walked to get this photo, and in fact, was laying on my stomach for an hour, hardly moving, resting my camera on a bean bag.

Bird feeder

If you have a house or apartment, you may be able to set up a bird feeder. Then, from a patio or even inside your house, you would be able to take photos. As a bonus, you might even be able to set your camera on a tripod, pre-focus on the area where the birds will be, and sit there snapping away. I’d recommend a remote shutter release for this.

Bird bath

A variation on the bird feeder idea. This may make it slightly more challenging to pre-focus

Wildlife in a yard or park

Squirrel back yard
Squirrels make fun photographic subjects and can be photographed almost anywhere.

You can get some excellent photos from a yard or your local park. The key here is to hang out, relax and move slowly. I can get some good squirrel photos here sometimes and I can also photograph birds and other animals as well.

Macro photography

blue macro bubbles
Macro photo of bubbles backlit with light.

You don’t even need to leave the house! Create mind-boggling macro images from the comfort of your own home and on your own time.

macro bubbles oil
Macro photo of bubbles backlit with light.

Outdoor museums 

outdoor museum airplane night photo
Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California. Space shuttle transport carrier for NASA.

There are a lot of outdoor museums that have fascinating things, such as trains or airplanes. Go there during the day. Or make special arrangements for night photography if you can. I find that site supervisors are often amenable if you are respectful, kind and offer a print in return for access.

outdoor museum trains night
Night photo of trains in the desert, photographed with special permission.

Additional thoughts on mobility friendly photography

Tibetan candlelight vigil Los Angeles
Tibetan candlelight vigil, Los Angeles.

I have just scratched the surface of what you can do. There are so many more ideas. These include street photography (where patience and remaining still is often a virtue, not a detriment), farmers markets, dog parks, zoos, wildlife safaris, animal sanctuaries, light painting of interesting objects in the backyard at night, kid photos, family photos, portraits, product photography, food photography, candlelight vigils, public gatherings, and more.

I hope whether you have limited mobility or not, this article inspires you to create. If you have other ideas, please drop them in the comments!

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
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!

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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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