Photographing Jimmy Page and Jack White: Creating your own opportunities

I met and photographed Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Jack White of … well, all sorts of things. To do this, I had to make it happen. Here’s how I managed to do so.

It never hurts to ask

In 2009, my friend Christal Smith announced on Facebook, “So excited! I am going to be interviewing Jimmy Page and Jack White!” Excited, I mentioned this to my girlfriend. “I’d like to photograph them!”

“She works for The Huffington Post. They have their own photographers. And you just have that little cheap camera.”

“Sure. But I want to photograph them anyway.”

I immediately asked, “Christal, please let me know if you need a photographer. I would love to do this.” She messaged me minutes later. “Actually, I could use a photographer. I don’t have one yet. I can get you in.”

Bam. It was done.

It might get loud

Director Davis Guggenheim filmed a documentary movie, “It Might Get Loud,” featuring Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White hanging out and playing music together. The movie was really, really good.

I’m usually not in fanboy mode. However, this was Jimmy Page, one of my favorite guitarists. Led Zeppelin is one of my favorite bands. Furthermore, Page was notoriously reclusive. But now … now I was going to photograph them at a press conference!

Scotch tape, the diffuser for the rest of us

Davis Guggenheim and Jimmy Page.
Davis Guggenheim and Jimmy Page.

I had a very modest camera, a Nikon D50 6.1MP camera I had purchased used in 2005. And I didn’t have a speedlight — only the built-in pop-up flash on the D50. I wondered if I would be able to get decent photos with such a horrible flash. 

I stuck several layers of Scotch tape over the pop-up flash diffuser. Then I taped a piece of white paper on top to bounce more light. It wouldn’t look great, but it would provide a look that was slightly better. I repeatedly checked my camera far too often to make sure it was working.

This was 2009. It would be years before I became obsessed with night photography, before National Geographic, before Smithsonian. Years before I would have any clue of what I was doing. But I was going to make this work somehow.

Hanging out with the other journalists

I got there early and sat with some other journalists. One journalist mentioned that he couldn’t sleep at all the night before. This was incredible. Here were seasoned journalists. And they were nervous! I wasn’t alone!

The journalist asked me if I could take a photo with him and Jimmy if the opportunity arose (it didn’t). Everyone was genuinely excited. The energy was palpable. I was twitching with nervous energy.

The other journalists and I talked about our favorite scenes from “It Might Get Loud.” I especially loved the scene in Jimmy Page’s home where he lovingly took out a Link Wray record from his very large record collection. He put it on the turntable. He then smiled profusely while playing “air guitar” to every strum and tremolo. “Wobbles,” he called them. Page, still ever a music fan. Perfect.

Jack White.
Jack White

I’m too far away!

Jimmy Page.
Jimmy Page

Eventually, the press conference began. We were seated. Jimmy Page, Jack White and Davis Guggenheim came in and sat behind a long table.

However, I was too far away. I was sitting in the fourth row. However, it felt like it was far away. And my wimpy little pop-up flash covered in Scotch tape wasn’t reaching that far. It was woefully underpowered.

Jimmy Page.
Jimmy Page

As a kid, I had learned that if you act like you know what you’re doing, people often do not say anything. I promptly got up, strode over confidently and sat on the floor, right in front as if I did this all the time. 

This was working! My horrible pop-up flash was no longer holding me back. Sure, I was getting shadows in back from my on-camera flash because the wall was very close. However, I didn’t care. I was going to keep photographing until either the press conference was over or security commandeered my camera. I’d get The Huffington Post those photos. 

Wait, there’s more?

After half an hour, the press conference was over. They left. I was elated. I had managed to kneel next to the front row for the entire press conference, shooting photos unimpeded. A big smile crept across my face. This was a good day.

Outside, however, Christal was upset. “We’re not on the list for the one-on-one!” 

“One-on-one? An interview?” I had no idea.

“Yes, we’re supposed to have a one-on-one interview with the three of them, but my name’s not on the list!”

We asked several organizers. “The Huffington Post doesn’t usually do press conferences,” Christal pointed out, “so we won’t be able to do an article.”

Four minutes and forty five seconds

One woman who seemed to know and respect Christal, said, “I’ll get you in for five minutes. But just five minutes!”

“We’ll do it in 4:45,” Christal said, “I’ve been on both sides of this. We’ll be out of there in 4:45.” They knew Christal, and knew that she would be good to her word.

I could not believe my luck. I hadn’t even known about this several minutes ago!

Christal Smith interviewing Jimmy Page one-on-one.
Christal Smith interviewing Jimmy Page one-on-one.

Interviewing Jimmy Page and Jack White

Mere minutes later, we entered the room. Everyone was fussing with the microphones, doing things. “Hello gentlemen,” I said.

Jimmy turned to me and said, “Did ya take a picture?” 

“Yes, yes, I did, thanks.” I had managed to because I had snuck up front.

“I saw you in the fourth row, it didn’t look like you took photos,” he said.  

I was incredulous. How did he notice that? I had indeed been in the fourth row! This was because I had been sitting in front of the first row for almost the entire time until returning to my seat when we were all asked to take photos row by row.

Fanboy mode. Jimmy Page, me, and Jack White.
Fanboy mode. Jimmy Page, me and Jack White.

Christal and I couldn’t help ourselves. We took photos with Jimmy and Jack really quickly before Christal got on with the interview. Journalistic professionalism had been cast aside. This was Jimmy Page.

And we were out in 4:45 minutes, just as Christal had promised.

Jimmy Page, Christal Smith, and Jack White.
Jimmy Page, Christal Smith and Jack White.

And being ever responsible, I raced back and worked the second half of the day. Sure, I bailed from work that morning. But seriously … wouldn’t you?

Make your own breaks

I had no idea what I was doing, and I had a 6.1MP camera with a pop-up flash. “6.1MP” is not a typo. The images were so small that I had to enlarge one or two portrait-oriented photos for this article. Despite this, I managed to get photos of Jimmy Page and Jack White in The Huffington Post (you can see the article here). I processed them in GIMP using a nine year-old computer running Windows XP with a cheap flat-screen monitor I had gotten for free. 

You may not have high-end equipment. However, you can find a way to make it happen.

If I hadn’t asked, I would have never had the opportunity. If I hadn’t strode up front and plopped myself down, I would have never gotten any photos. If I hadn’t modified my pop-up flash with three layers of Scotch tape and a strip of white lined paper I borrowed from a journalist, the light would have been too harsh.

Sometimes, you need to make your own breaks. I hope you, as a photographer, you as a human being, also seize the moment. We never know if we will have these opportunities again.

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

 

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How I succeeded at event photography the first time

An organization recently asked me to do event photography for a high-profile fundraising event. I accepted, despite never having done it before. It went quite well. Here’s how I went about doing it the first time out.

Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.
Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.

“Can you take some photographs for us?”

The Development Director of a large non-profit organization asked if I wanted to take photos at a large-scale gala fundraising event, awards ceremony and dinner at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, CA. I was intrigued. I had never tried to do event photography. Almost all my successes as a photographer have been doing long exposure night photography, a completely different genre.

I felt I should try something new. Learning different forms of photography often informs your creativity and keeps you more open to other possibilities. I asked some questions, negotiated a fair price, and it was on.

At this point, you might be thinking, “You accepted a gig to photograph millionaires at a high-profile gala fundraising event with no experience in event photography?” Yes, that’s exactly what I did. I had enough confidence to know that I could pull it off. But now, I had some preparation to do.

Finding out about the light

When doing event photography, it can be good to get different perspectives.
When doing event photography, it can be good to get different perspectives.

First, I determined what sort of lighting there would be. I would photograph from about 6–7:30 p.m. The lighting during that time would be a combination of intense summer sun with shade, later becoming mostly shade. I would need to constantly wander indoors and outdoors. In other words, the lighting was quite variable. This was a worthy puzzle to solve.

Using my night photography background

I did light painting during long exposure night photography, I had a strong foundation of how light shapes and controls an image. I had also done some night portraits using off-camera flash. This too would help. I’d think of it like light painting, only doing it much faster.

Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.
Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.

Flash bracket

After some thought, I purchased an inexpensive Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 Flash Bracket. While I rarely used on-camera flash, I felt this might work. 

Rogue Flashbender, Nikon SB-600 speedlight, Stroboframe flash bracket, Vivitar FCNIK Flash Cord, and Nikon D750.
Rogue FlashbenderNikon SB-600 speedlight, Stroboframe flash bracket, Vivitar FCNIK Flash Cord and Nikon D750.

Why? 

First of all, I received only vague information about the room. During the rare times that I did use flash, I bounced it off a wall or ceiling. This produces a more pleasing light than pointing the flash at people and getting harsh, flat light and unflattering shadows, red-eye, and irritated looks. But could I do that here?

I also needed to walk indoors and outdoors many times. The light would change dramatically.

And finally, I wanted consistency in my lighting. 

I felt the flash bracket— although cumbersome — would provide this.

Balancing ambient light vs. flash

Generally, the concept of using a flash during these varied lighting scenarios is simple. You set the camera to expose for the existing ambient light. We all do this naturally anyway. The only difference is that you then use the flash to fill in the subject more. Hmm. Sounds like night photography with light painting to me, only done much quicker!

The aperture remains the same (more or less)

I knew that I wanted to keep the aperture at similar settings. This would create consistency in how softly the background would be in focus. 

Adjusting shutter speeds while the light from the flash remains constant

What is really fun here is that I could use a slow or quick shutter speed to determine the ambient light. However, my flash setting would light the subject by about the same amount. 1/50s? 1/200s? It didn’t matter. This made everything easy. 

Furthermore, even if I used a slow shutter speed, the instant burst of light from the flash would “freeze” the subject so that they wouldn’t be blurry. Cool!

Shaping the light

I decided I would point the flash straight up to reflect light off the ceiling. This would result in a nice even light from above.

Also, I would use a light modifier called a Rogue Flashbender Reflector to direct the light forward as well. I could bend this back or forward as necessary to determine how much light went forward. This setup gave me flexibility. It would also create catchlights in the eyes in almost any configuration.

Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.
Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.

Developing muscle memory

It’s one thing to know how a flash works conceptually. However, it’s quite another to do it. I wanted to achieve sufficient mastery so I wouldn’t need to think about it. The camera and flash had to be an extension of me.

I photographed items around the house two days before the event. The first day, I photographed some products for a Photofocus article. I photographed dark objects, bright objects and more. And I photographed my wife. I used darker rooms, brighter rooms, photographed near a window or doorway and photographed outside. 

The second day, I did all of the above, but wandered in and out of the house very quickly. I became quicker at adjusting or modifying my settings. I had developed muscle memory.

The day of the event

I arrived two hours early. I love arriving early. I love to walk around, look at where I would photograph, determine the light and take a few photos of décor details. 

Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.
Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.

I spoke to the marketing director. She gave me some advice. “You’re not creating art. If the lighting isn’t perfect, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting the photos of the people.”

I had already heard this advice. However, I must say, it was reassuring to hear this. This was probably especially true for me since almost all the photography I do is for creating art. She pulled me to photograph some prominent people several times. I made certain they were well-lit but took comfort in the fact that they didn’t need to be.

Creating fun

Fortunately, at gala fundraising events, most people want to have their picture taken to show they were there. They expect it. We as photographers can have fun, engage people, be friendly and act like we belong by being confident and dressing appropriately. This is what I did for the next 90 minutes.

Photobombed at event, Skirball.
Getting photobombed by the CEO. And he enlisted one of his buddies for this one! The combination of very bright light and shadow can make photos like this very challenging. Flash photography helps even out the subjects quite a bit.

In fact, several of us had quite a bit of fun. The CEO kept laughing and photobombing me for fun. Another guest invited me to sit at his table. If I had any more fun, I might have felt guilty for getting paid. And all of this also creates more intimate, fun and memorable images.

Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.
Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.

The day after

I had set the final images’ delivery time and method beforehand. All of this, the hours, the general approach to photography and much more need to be set with the client prior to the event.

I prefer “under promising and over delivering.” The client and I had agreed on a time to deliver the photos. I delivered them 24 hours beforehand, completely finished and professionally processed.

How I processed the photos so quickly

Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.
Fundraiser event photography, Skirball Cultural Center.

I could have still delivered the photographs before the deadline using Adobe Lightroom Classic. However, I had read about Imagen in Photofocus. They describe themselves as being able to dramatically speed up workflow using “AI-powered batch photo editing desktop app for Adobe Lightroom Classic workflows” for both Mac and PC. 

To my utter delight, this worked quite well. I submitted almost 100 photos. In the time I walked to the kitchen to get a drink and return, Imagen had finished editing. More importantly, the photos looked great. Although I would have felt more than comfortable delivering the photos edited by Imagen, I tweaked them a little more. I also cropped and straightened them. But Imagen saved me hours of editing (I wrote about my experiences here). The client was very happy with the quality of the photos and the quick turnaround time.

By the way, Imagen offers free editing on your first 1,000 photos (1,500 if you use this link). 

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

 

Our many challenges photographing a bus graveyard at night

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

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

“It’s like a parking lot here!”

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

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

Gas station sandwiches

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

“Where’s Tony?”

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

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

“My camera’s dead!”

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

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

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Stepping on a nail

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

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

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Meanwhile, on the other side …

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

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Now, the good news

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Aware of destruction, aware of art

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

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

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

Three steps to photographing the walkway

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

1.) Illuminating the interior of the walkway

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

2.) Bringing out the details

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

3.) Collaborating

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

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

Why don’t I show up in the photo?

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

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

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 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

 

 

The Christmas Star: the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on the shortest day of the year

The winter solstice brings many things. Celebrations, holidays, the longest night of the year, rebirth, and much more.

On December 21 of 2020, it also brought the “The Christmas Star”, what people called the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets were separated by just six arc minutes, equal to about one-fifth the apparent width of the moon.

 

A rare celestial event

In our night sky, the two planets haven’t appeared this close and visible to most of the population since March 5, 1226. Sure, they came close in 1623, but just for a short while in northern South America, central Africa and Indonesia. If you missed the conjunction, you can live vicariously through my photos or polish up your camera in 2080.

I stood outside with several other groups of people in Vasquez Rocks, CA. Some were in folding chairs, admiring with silence and reverence.

About the photos

I showed up at Vasquez Rocks after a long drive over the mountains to avoid traffic, driving there with my wife, who wanted to see this historic event. I had my camera set up for only about twenty minutes, perched up about twenty feet above the desert floor. Although I did bring light painting equipment, I decided that I wanted to keep the iconic Vasquez Rocks in shadow to bring more attention to the Jupiter-Saturn pairing. I shot all photos between 5:43 and 5:54 PM.

 

The above photo was shot at a focal length of 95mm. With this, more than the others, you can see the two distinct planets quite easily.

 

Above, a couple is walking around the rocks where years ago, Captain Kirk made his stand against a lizard creature called the Gorn in “Star Trek”.

Let me know if you saw the conjunction in the comments below!

 

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: behind the scenes while illuminating an abandoned bus

Light painting is a term that is often used loosely to describe any addition of light to a night photograph. Really, though, light painting is a technique that uses a handheld light source to illuminate a scene during a long exposure. You are quite literally painting the scene with light. Night photographers have used this technique for many decades.

Here’s how I illuminated an abandoned bus.

 

 

Cracks in the glass

I love patina. The cracks in the glass caught my eye. I wanted to illuminate that to really bring them out. I used a ProtoMachines LED2 set to a color “patented” by Timothy Little called Gas Station Teal (TM).  Using a piece of cardboard to block the light from shining directly into the camera lens, I skimmed along the cracks from the driver’s side window. I walked to the back of the bus and illuminated the rest of the interior through a window because the bus was locked.

 

Illuminating the front

From there, I walked around to camera left and illuminated the bus. This was in part to mimic the direction of the moon. Sure, the moon is in back of the bus, but it still implies directionality. I used a warm white light for this. I skimmed it off the surface so it would create texture.

 

Illuminating the headlights

This sometimes confuses people. They cannot figure out why the headlights look like they’re on. Confusion is fun. I used a homemade snoot screwed on to my ProtoMachines light and quickly illuminated this for a second or so using a warm white light. I did the same with the smaller red light on on the top, switching the color to red. The snoot was handy because it forms a tight seal between the light and the tube so it would not “leak” out directly into the lens and leave an odd spot or trail. This was especially important here because the lens was very close to the bus, and I had to get very close to the lens to illuminate the headlights.

 

The moon

A 78% full moon illuminated the rest of the scene during the three-minute exposure. This provided just enough light to illuminate the rest of the scene. I kept the scene bright enough that it would have detail, but dark enough that it would provide contrast with the bus.

I hope you found this helpful!

 

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

 

How I got the photo: Rag doll atop a tricycle in a ghost town

Sometimes, spooky, creepy Halloween-type photos walk up to you with a demonic smile and say, “Hey, I’ve got it half set up for you! Bring it home!” And so it was at this Arizona ghost town. I was walking around at night with one of the volunteers who stays at the ghost town. I came across this scene with this red-headed rag doll sitting atop a tricycle. The universe had smiled upon me. I was meant to take this photo.

Setting up for snickering

Using a Feisol CT-3372 tripod, I positioned a Nikon D610 at “eye level”, using a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens to make the scene look even weirder.  I did admittedly position the rag doll so she would be peering straight into the camera. While I did so, the volunteer started half-chuckling, half-snickering, saying, “You are one sick person. I love it!”

I wanted the room dark. There’s a fine line between a dark image and underexposure. I was going to try and walk that tightrope while still giving the shadows some detail.

Lighting it up

Then I took my ProtoMachines LED2 and used a white light from the right side to illuminate part of the rag doll, keeping the left side in shadow. I did this from a low vantage point so I would also create texture on the wooden floor. I handheld the ProtoMachines, as I almost always do, so I could light quickly and efficiently while the camera shutter was open.

I switched the ProtoMachines to a red light and briefly illuminated the circular Polly Gas sign in the back. With photos like this, any time I can make something look weirder, I’m all for it!

I chose to do a 61 second exposure, as I wanted to keep everything relatively dark while keeping detail in the shadows instead of being completely black.

When the volunteer peered into the LED monitor to view this photo, he cocked his head back and laughed. We had answered the smile of the universe, and all was good.

 

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

 

 

How I got the photo: Spooky ghost on a swing set

My friend has six acres of property pressed up against Topanga State Park in California. I visited there in September, eager to create a spooky ghost photo for the holiday using a form of photography called “light writing”. It doesn’t take much equipment. You need some cheap lights and a camera with manual control. A tripod or stable surface is helpful too, of course.

Inexpensive lights

I used EL Wire, otherwise known as electroluminescent wire. This is a thin copper wire coated in a phosphor that produces light when an alternating current from a battery is put through it. It’s very portable and very inexpensive. 

I also grabbed a red LED head lamp out of my backpack.

 

Eerie swing set

I set up around an old rusty swing set. The setting, after all, had to be spooky.

 

Here’s how I did it

I set up my Nikon D610 on a tripod and focused on the swing set since that’s where the ghost was going to be. In manual mode, I held the shutter open. Then the fun began.

Holding a white EL wire by the swing, I activated it and waved it back and forth gently to create the head, arms, and body of the ghost that would register in the camera. I then took my LED head lamp and activated it briefly two times, one for each eye, where I had just “placed” the ghostly head.

After that, I illuminated the swing set and the trees and grass just a little bit, just to give it a little bit of texture. I did this with a ProtoMachines LED2 using a warm white light, but you can do this with any LED flashlight.

After that, I simply walked over and shut the camera off. The total exposure was 182 seconds.

Camera settings

Nikon D610, AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens at 14mm. 182s f/8 ISO 200 White Balance of 4000K.

 

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

 

How I got the photo: Ojo Oro Arch

I was instant messaging with a night photographer I had known mostly online for a few years when he extended the invitation: “It’s a secret area that only a few of us know. There’s no trails, and we have to hike out really far to some rocky arch formations and very dark skies. We are going to explore out there, take Milky Way photos of Ojo Oro Arch, and sleep overnight under the stars. Would you like to join my friend and I?”
What would you do? Right. Me too. No night photographer would say no.
We met in the middle of the Mojave Desert on a hot but gorgeous late afternoon, parked our cars, grabbed our gear, and began walking straight into the heart of nowhere. Bizarre otherworldly rock formations lay in front of us, drawing close as we walked approximately two miles to the hidden arch. We circled several times before finding it since they were trying to locate it by sight rather than GPS, coming across mysterious alcoves and still unnamed small arches. After a couple of minutes of this, I saw Ojo Oro Arch from the back, seeing the blue sky through the arch.

The desert as philosopher

We set down our gear, sleeping bags, and gallons of water and roamed about, exploring as the sun melted into the mountains. We ate, talked about night photography, gear, life, teaching, the coronavirus, sheltering in place, women, constellations, our place in the universe, philosophy, religion, and more. Night photography in the quiet evening desert has a way of drawing out discussions that are increasingly esoteric, after all.
We drank copious amounts of water. I had brought over a gallon and a half for this overnight outing, and I was going to make sure I didn’t carry very much of it on the long walk back to the car.

The mysterious hum of the magic desert

As we rested, the silence of the desert overwhelmed me. Two miles from the closest road, we heard nothing human-made. No cars, no airplanes, nothing. And often, there was no breeze, either. Silence. Or not quite. There’s a certain sort of hum that one can hear when there’s absolute silence, and at times, when there were no whispering of the breeze through the cactus, there was that hum. It was majestic. I found myself smiling.

Setting up the camera

We had already set up our cameras and taken “blue hour” photos of the arch in case we wished to blend them with the Milky Way photos later in post-processing. After 11 pm, we knew that the Milky Way would begin rising out of the Southeast. We knew this from experience, although we used apps such as PhotoPills or SkyView Lite to look anyway.
I often will do a low-ISO photo of the foreground so I have less noise. For this evening, I determined that I would be photographing with a 15 second exposure at f/2.5 using a relatively high ISO of 4000. Because of this, I could determine the settings that would give me the equivalent exposure but at a much lower, less noisy ISO. I chose ISO 400. This is ten times less sensitive than ISO 4000.  Therefore, I would need to increase the exposure by ten times to compensate. I like simple math. I would keep the aperture constant, so that didn’t need to be adjusted. So therefore, my low-noise foreground setting would be 150 second exposure at f/2.5 at ISO 400. Not only would this reduce the noise, but it would also give me 150 seconds to do the “light painting”!

Illuminating the arch for the photo

I began “light painting” the arch, walking around with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, illuminating the arch as I went. I prefer to use a handheld device instead of stationary light panels to illuminate foregrounds because I can “light paint” from many angles quickly, and if I wish, also change colors quickly.

Photographing the Milky Way

After creating the low-noise foreground photo, I adjusted my camera settings to 15 seconds at f/2.5 ISO 4000, and keeping my camera in the same place, began clicking off successive 15 second photos, one right after the other. Although I most certainly could use one of these, having numerous photos gives me options, including the ability to “stack” them together using Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce the noise and bring out more of the stars.

Wash, rinse, repeat

I mostly did several similar setups with my camera, photographing the same arch from different angles. First the low-noise foreground photo, then the higher-ISO photos for the sky. I did do some star trails photos as well.
I stopped photographing at 3:30 in the morning. I made one last check for scorpions by shining a bIack light around me, looking to see any glowing scorpions. Thankfully, none. I lay in my sleeping bag looking up at the sky. The Milky Way arched directly overhead. Again, that magical hum of complete desert silence. I found myself smiling.

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