My night photographing an eerie haunted abandoned water park

I had just driven to the front of the post-apocalyptic looking abandoned water park. This was a high-profile abandoned location. After all, you could easily see it while traveling between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Sure enough, there were several cars circling around, wondering where to park or enter. A group of three waved at me.

The entrance to the water park, with the letter “k” missing for quite some time. I lit this with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light during the exposure.

I scooted past the cars, eventually parking at the back end. I had parked here for a couple of reasons. One was so my car would not be on the street. The other was that I hoped to meet with the caretaker.

Encountering the first people at the water park

I wandered the water park as the sun began its descent behind the desert mountains. I didn’t think it was possible, but the place was even more tagged than two years ago when I had first visited. 

Inside the gift shop, with the Interstate in the distance. Lit by a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light during the exposure.

The three people who had seen me on the front street gave me puzzled looks. “Where did you park?” I muttered something about parking in the back. 

“Hey, do you think it’s cool if I paint here?”

“I don’t think so. It’s private property, although it’s not like that’s stopped anyone else.” I had never understood vandalism, even if the place was going to be eventually leveled.

“Cool, man,” he replied, as if I had given him permission to paint. “I’m from San Francisco. We’re on our way to Vegas. Just had to stop by here.”

Scouting for night photography

I continued wandering and taking photos with my phone. All the while, I was thinking about the angles of the moon as it rose and what might look good, taking photos to remind me of potentially good angles later if I were to return in the evening.

A fisheye view of what used to be the arcade. Using a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I lit the interior and exterior of the structure.

But would there be people here in the evening? Would it be safe?

Meeting the guys in the back

I returned to my car, which I had purposely parked near the water tank and the dilapidated house and RV up near the top of the property. As I mentioned, I had hoped to meet the caretaker of the property here. I seem to have this way of connecting with people, and I hoped to do this here.

One guy looked like he was carrying things back and forth between the RV. I waved at him with a smile, doing an almost dorky sort of wave. He waved back and walked slowly down the hill. 

Making a connection

We got to talking about the Mojave Desert area, talking about Joshua Tree, Barstow and more. He was quite nice and smiled when I mentioned some of the history of the water park. 

Generally speaking, I really dislike graffiti. That said, this particular painting of this woman captivated me, and I knew I had to photograph her at night later. I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2, using warm white and blue light from numerous angles during the exposure, to create the lighting for this image.

He had lived up in the hills above Ben Lomond, in Boulder Creek. I knew the area and exclaimed how beautiful it was up there, and how I had spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, playing music and hanging out. 

“You know how there are giant redwood trees that are hollowed out by fire up there?” I nodded. “I lived in one of those trees for two years.”

Now, he was living in an RV parked under a dilapidated house that was tagged. I hadn’t realized how messed up the house was until I had walked closer and began talking to him.

He then mentioned how he had also lived near Beckley in West Virginia. We talked about the beauty of that state, as I had visited numerous times. 

Ghosts, accidents and 50 mile-per-hour waterslides

We ended up going on a mini-tour around the property. “The gift shop is haunted. There is a painting of a woman on the wall inside. People keep tagging it. But the paint never stays on.”

I asked how long this had been happening. “I’m not sure. It’s been happening for a while, though. Don’t worry, they won’t bother you,” he assured me. 

The first building constructed at Lake Dolores is still standing, although I suspect it’s far more colorful than before.

Soon after, he pointed and said, “That was the first building built here.” It was the bathrooms and changing rooms. And it was indeed built like a brick, uh, something-house.

We looked at the enormous pits which were the lakes in Lake Dolores. 

Some of the small waterslides at night, with the Interstate in the distance. The ones that you stood up on or went 50 miles per hour have long since disappeared. This was lit by a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 during the exposure.

He mentioned the long waterslides that used to exist, ones in which one could reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

“And on some slides, you could go down while standing up! Some people got major road rash from that.”

And worse.

“One time, after the park closed, one of the employees wanted to go down the waterslide. The waterslide had been turned off, and the water was not full enough down below. He slid down and badly injured himself and then sued the water park. This shut it down.” 

The weirdest thing

No TV tonight. But plenty of color in this night photo of an abandoned water park.

“We get a lot of visitors here,” he mentioned.

Peering around at all the tagging, I nodded my head. I asked him what the weirdest thing he’s ever seen people do. Without hesitation, he answered, “Seances. I came across people conducting a seance right there,” pointing to an area between what had been the arcade and the gift shop. 

He later said, “Come on back later. You can stay here all night photographing. We’ll patrol the area and make sure no one bothers you.”

Not even ghosts, apparently.

Returning later in the night

I was excited about the prospect of photographing this place unimpeded, given the nod by the caretaker. Earlier, I had been thinking of some themes for a new night photography book on abandoned places. Lake Dolores would fit that theme beautifully. I drove in using the “secret locals” way he had also shown me, proud that I actually remembered how to do it.

An interior photo of the former arcade

I set about photographing and felt very creative, using more color in my lighting than I usually did, befitting the cartoonish, colorful nature of the water park. 

Several times, I saw an ATV pass. One time, he waved. 

Photographing the haunted gift shop

The corner of the allegedly haunted gift shop. Inside is the painting of the girl that allegedly cannot be painted over, according to the caretaker.

Of course, I had to do it. I ventured in, saw the girl, and smiled. I shined some blue light on her to give this eerie, bold and cartoonish quality. This sort of light painting would never stay on her. True to the caretaker’s word, the spirits never bothered me.

As I photographed some of the other buildings, an eerie cold wind blew in from nowhere. The air had been still and hot, but the sudden wind was gusty and cooler. Then just as suddenly, it stopped. Whether this was an atmospheric anomaly or the last vestiges of a seance, who can say?

I worked with mostly primary colors for much of this photoshoot, enhancing the already colorful, cartoonish look of the retro-futuristic water park. I’ll often use only warm white light for photo shoots, or perhaps a dash of color here and there, but here, I let the colors fly.

I packed up and left shortly after 2 a.m. This had been a great, creative night. And the ghosts had been kind.

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

 

Amazing adventures of creating a night photography history book

Old passenger trains with air conditioning units using ice, located in the Mojave Desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure. This was one of the many adventures I had while writing my second book of history and night photography.

Night photography explorations bring about fantastic experiences and adventures. Certainly when exploring abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles.

Over the years, I had amassed quite a few stories. I would tell these to friends. Occasionally I would post about them. I had to abbreviate these stories quite often, creating more questions than answers. I now have a second book where I can share these stories and images of strange abandoned sites, secret locations, and the characters along the way.

The Federal Clown Prison bus, one of many stories in a new book published by Fonthill/America Through Time. This is one of numerous fascinating things you see when you seek out abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles in the California desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

The mythical cars jammed in desert sand

Ken Lee’s photo

We had heard about mysterious cars jammed into the desert sand. These are the locations that you hear about and wonder if it is myth or truth. We rumbled down an impossibly long sandy dirt road, only to come across a car with the rear end sticking up, stranded motorists standing forlornly to one side, stranded. Eventually continuing, we walk across the desert floor for twenty minutes, an area with no trails and no light, guided by the mountains and the glow of our GPS-tracking equipment. Odd shapes finally emerge. Cars jammed into the sand at awkward angles, some sideways, some upside down, some buried.

Oh, and yes, I gave the stranded motorists a ride back to town.

Was this the Manson family car?

A wrecked Corvair hidden in the hills above Spahn Ranch. Was this used by the Manson Family? Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

Some adventures were solo. As an adult, I heard rumors of a Corvair that was hidden up in the hills above Spahn Ranch. Manson had a right hand man named Bruce Davis who drove a Corvair. Many believe that this rusty 1960s Corvair belonged to him. Some refer to this car as the Zodiac Car due to a popular myth that Bruce Davis was involved in the Zodiac killing, although this was never established. If this car could speak, would it tell tales of horror and violence? I decided that I would photograph this car at night. To do this, I had to hike through a couple of miles of hillside, the rugged hills illuminated by the moon. I found the car nestled under a tree in a rocky canyon overlooking the lights of the San Fernando Valley. The location was both beautiful and creepy. On my hike back, I took a wrong turn and discovered another abandoned car.

Another abandoned car, most likely stolen, peering over Los Angeles. I discovered this when I took a wrong turn on the way back to the car. There are several more cars hidden here. Perhaps there will be further adventures. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

Desert rats, philosophers and scientists

Halloween at an abandoned WWII air field. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

For many photo shoots, I had permission to be on the grounds. But these often bring about a different kind of experience. I’ve connected with people through our shared love of history. I’ve made friends with people who have enormous collections of old 1920s trains on their property, outdoor military plane museums, collections of hundred year old vintage trucks, many trucks and airplanes on an abandoned WWII airfields during Halloween night, railroad museums, and more. Preservationists, government workers, desert rats, music fans, philosophers, nature lovers, astronomers, scientists, mechanics, and lovers of weird, unusual, and vintage things – I’ve shared time and often dinner with them.

Airplane, abandoned WWII airfield with a full moon peaking behind it. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

To good friends

The interior of a vintage 1928 Moreland truck, illuminated by a ProtoMachines LED2 during the exposure.

But most importantly, many of the adventures have involved other friends who are night photographers. Rattling through dirt roads on multi-night journeys with friends may be the best gift of all. There is a certain magic in sharing the journey over traveling hours on dirt roads throughout the desert, finding the best taco stands, and photographing at night while waving flashlights in the dark to illuminate these special planes, trains and automobiles.

International Loadstar, with a shooting star aiming toward its crown during this long exposure night photo.

Telling the stories about hopes, dreams and secret locations

Abandoned airplane parts, WW II airfield, California. Illuminated with warm white and red light during the exposure.

I’ve compiled these images and adventures into a book, filled with stories and history of abandoned locations, outlining the successes and failures, dreams and hopes of those who came tried, peeling back some of the secrets that the California desert holds.

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: California Revealed

$23.99; available via Amazon or signed via Ken Lee Photography

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles book cover.
Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles book cover.

This is the description of the book: “Abandoned Planes Trains and Automobiles: California Revealed” is an unforgettable nocturnal journey through secret locations hidden in the deserts of California. California has more than its share of abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles. Famous for its aviation and aerospace, the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad, and car culture, California has long been at the forefront of transportation. Wander with Ken through rarely seen locations as he illuminates these forgotten scenes with light, creating haunting dreamlike exposures of several minutes or more. Immerse yourself in the experiences and adventures. Discover precisely how these night photos are created. If you are a fan of creative photography, transportation history, or vivid travel stories, this exploration of California’s abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles is for you.”

Steam locomotive, Laws Museum near Bishop, CA.
A ghostly view of a vintage GMC truck with an odd tilt-shift blur effect courtesy of a Lensbaby lens.

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 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.

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

How can you be a colorblind photographer?

“Why does that dog look green?”

That comment led to my parents discovering that I was red-green colorblind. Years later, I am now a colorblind night photographer.

What do I see since I’m colorblind?

Some people think that if someone is colorblind, they see only black and white. That is an extremel1y rare occurrence. 

I am red-green colorblind, also known as deuteranopia. Approximately 8% of males have this, so it’s not unusual. There are different degrees of this. Mine is relatively strong. 

It's a fire truck. I know it's red. Got it. Good.
It’s a fire truck. I know it’s red. Got it. Good.

I can easily differentiate between bold colors of red and green. Traffic lights are no issue at all. Grass is green. Fire trucks are red. 

However, throw in subtle hues of reds and greens, as well as related colors, such as oranges and browns, and I’m usually sunk. When people discuss cyan, teal, turquoise, chartreuse or aquamarine, they hold little meaning to me. 

If someone told me a color were teal instead of blue, I might not know any better. I have little concept about what taupe or chartreuse are. Pale pinks and light gray, subtle shades of blue and purple, bright greens and yellows, or dark greens and gray — they are confusing to me.

How do I take photos?

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Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.
Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Taking photos is relatively simple. However, I sometimes light my subjects with different colors. Sometimes, I’ve attempted to select blue, only to find that I’ve selected teal. If I select a color like green and I want to be absolutely sure, I will increase the saturation and hold the light against a relatively neutral surface. Same with pink. 

How do I post-process photos?

Post-processing colors is one of many reasons why I would never be a wedding photographer. If someone has a specific clothing and I don’t nail the exact color, that’s not so good. 

Consequently, I try to set a proper white balance when photographing despite already shooting in RAW. I find nailing the white balance really helps me later. It also enables me to see the histogram out in the field.

When I begin editing, I simply don’t mess with the colors very much. I rarely use saturation much anyway. 

How do I really know what color this is?

If I’m really not sure what color something is, I use Photoshop’s Color Picker. I select the color in question on the image. This produces a dialog box that tells gives me a visual representation of where things are on the RGB spectrum. Usually, that’s enough.

The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

If I need more information or confirmation, I simply copy the color hex code, as shown above. This is simply a hexadecimal way to represent a specific color in RGB format.

An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

Then I paste the code into a site such as ColorHexa. This provides a lot of information about the color.

Saturation

Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert
Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert.

If I am not certain about how much of a particular color is in an image, I will crank that color to 100% temporarily using a saturation slider. If that color is not there, little will change. If something does change, then I will make subtle adjustments. I don’t overdo it because other people will perceive that as oversaturated. 

I have trouble using things like hue sliders and color mix panels. If I shift hues, I will crank the saturation of that color by 100% temporarily so I can determine what color that is.

Natural looking photos thanks to LuminarAI

More recently, I have been experimenting with the Templates in LuminarAI. Because Luminar is using machine learning from millions of photos, it sometimes helps me to achieve a more natural looking photo. 

Color Cast in Nik Color Efex

I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.
I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.

I occasionally use the Color Cast function in Nik Color Efex. I’ll click on something that I know is supposed to be white. Even if I don’t end up applying the Color Cast function, this can sometimes help me to become more aware of some of the colors or casts in my image.

Asking for help while post-processing

What colors are in the Milky Way? I don't know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.
What colors are in the Milky Way? I don’t know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.

If I create any shifts in color, something that might occur if processing a Milky Way photo, I will ask someone if the colors look amiss. And again, I really try not to change or mess with the colors very much at all.

Is there any cure or treatment for deuteranopia?

No, there’s not. However, there are glasses that somewhat address color blindness. You’ve probably seen the videos on social media where someone weeps because they’re seeing colors for the first time.

Curious about this, I purchased Pilestone red-green colorblind glasses. While I did not experience any emotional revelations, they did help me differentiate between challenging colors. However, the colors looked tinted. It was nothing that would help me edit photos. I returned the glasses.

With some ingenuity and persistence, you can definitely overcome color blindness. While occasionally it might be confusing or frustrating, I would urge you not to be discouraged. Photography is something that has brought me great joy despite my deuteranopia. I hope it does for you as well.

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