Light Painting 101: How to light the interior of a smokestack building

How do you go about light painting a building so it looks like the lights are on? How do you create texture in a reasonably natural way through the way you light paint? I’ll describe how to do this and more.

A night photo of a dual-smokestack cattle barn building, illuminated during the exposure.

Three steps to light painting

Step one: Illuminating the exterior naturally

I wanted to create some texture on the outside of the building so it wouldn’t be so dark. After all, some of it was in shadow. I thought I would brighten that a little while still making it look reasonably natural. 

Since the nearly full moon was illuminating the scene from the camera right, I used the same angle. Using a shallow 90-degree angle to create texture, I illuminated it for several seconds. I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device with warm white light.

Step two: Light painting the interior

I thought that a bright interior giving the appearance of someone turning the lights on the inside would look good. It would give the building some more pop and make it stand out as well. 

I walked inside and aimed the light up at the ceiling. By reflecting it off the ceiling, it gives the appearance of an overhead light. I did this in both rooms. I also aimed the light out the windows to give a little bit of edge lighting for added drama.

Step three: adding some light to the edges of the two smokestacks

The smokestacks on top of the building were intriguing. I wanted them to stand out while still looking natural. Again, because the moon was shining from the right side, I illuminated the right side of the two smokestacks while behind the building, almost backlighting them, but from an extreme angle. You can see the light painting on their right sides. This gives the smokestacks more definition while still looking natural.

Additional details

The road had occasional trucks zooming past. I made sure to begin the exposure when I saw that a truck was going to pass. I really liked how the red taillights looked, so I waited for a vehicle to be driving away to get those streaks. They seem to represent time passing the abandoned building by.

What is this building?

This building is the front part of a cattle barn. The back structure, where the cattle were housed, has mostly collapsed. This is located in the Mojave Desert between Big Bear Lake and Barstow in California.

Night photo of the collapsed cattle barn building in the back. Light painted during the exposure. This has it all: a Dutch angle with a fisheye lens!

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

 

Light painting 101: How to create soft but detailed Joshua Tree

I wanted to create a soft but detailed illumination on a couple of Joshua Tree photos. I’ll break down how I created this look in Joshua Tree National Park so you can do it in three easy steps!

A special place

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I went into Joshua Tree National Park to take photos of, well, Joshua Trees. I often refer to JTNP as my spiritual home for night photography. This is where it began for me. 

Cloudy with a chance of…?

However, the Clear Outside app called for close to 100% high clouds and about 60% middle clouds. These would largely obscure the moon. However, I was not going to stay away.

When I got there, sure enough, it was cloudy. But there was still some moonlight shining through, the clouds acting like Mother Nature’s largest softbox. Furthermore, the light diffused some of the glow from Coachella Valley and the moon, creating some interest. This could work!

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I decided that I wanted the light to almost seem like it was wrapping around the trees (well, they’re not really trees, but you know…). Here’s how I went about lighting the Joshua Trees in these two photos!

Step one

After focusing on the Joshua Trees in each of the photos, I lit the trees from the left side at 120 degrees to the camera with a warm white light. I stood about 20-25 feet away so the light would be really soft but still be detailed. I kept the handheld light, a ProtoMachines LED2, moving so there wouldn’t be any hot spots.

Step two

I then walked over to the other side of the tree. This time, I was at 240 degrees to the camera. Again, I was about 20-25 feet away to soften the light. For one of the photos, I decided to caress it with a little bit of red light, just for good measure.

Light painting 120 and 240 degrees from the camera.

Step three

I swept the ground with a warm white light for each of the photos, just to create a little bit more texture since the light was otherwise rather flat and dark.

Other details

For each of the photos, I used a Pentax K-1 Mk 1 camera with a 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The settings were two minutes f/8 ISO 200. I kept the ISO low so I had enough time to walk around and light the trees, but also so I could use a slightly dimmer light from farther away to keep the lighting soft while still retaining details.

These Joshua Trees have an enormous amount of character. Keeping the detail is often very important to me so it retains their personality.

I’ll add that these photos were taken one right after another without any attempts!! Niiiice!

I wanted to create a soft but detailed illumination on a couple of Joshua Tree photos. I’ll break down how I created this look in Joshua Tree National Park so you can do it in three easy steps!

A special place

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I went into Joshua Tree National Park to take photos of, well, Joshua Trees. I often refer to JTNP as my spiritual home for night photography. This is where it began for me. 

Cloudy with a chance of…?

However, the Clear Outside app called for close to 100% high clouds and about 60% middle clouds. These would largely obscure the moon. However, I was not going to stay away.

When I got there, sure enough, it was cloudy. But there was still some moonlight shining through, the clouds acting like Mother Nature’s largest softbox. Furthermore, the light diffused some of the glow from Coachella Valley and the moon, creating some interest. This could work!

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I decided that I wanted the light to almost seem like it was wrapping around the trees (well, they’re not really trees, but you know…). Here’s how I went about lighting the Joshua Trees in these two photos!

Step one

After focusing on the Joshua Trees in each of the photos, I lit the trees from the left side at 120 degrees to the camera with a warm white light. I stood about 20-25 feet away so the light would be really soft but still be detailed. I kept the handheld light, a ProtoMachines LED2, moving so there wouldn’t be any hot spots.

Step two

I then walked over to the other side of the tree. This time, I was at 240 degrees to the camera. Again, I was about 20-25 feet away to soften the light. For one of the photos, I decided to caress it with a little bit of red light, just for good measure.

chart for light painting angles
Light painting 120 and 240 degrees from the camera.

Step three

I swept the ground with a warm white light for each of the photos, just to create a little bit more texture since the light was otherwise rather flat and dark.

Other details

For each of the photos, I used a Pentax K-1 Mk 1 camera with a 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The settings were two minutes f/8 ISO 200. I kept the ISO low so I had enough time to walk around and light the trees, but also so I could use a slightly dimmer light from farther away to keep the lighting soft while still retaining details.

These Joshua Trees have an enormous amount of character. Keeping the detail is often very important to me so it retains their personality.

I’ll add that these photos were taken one right after another without any attempts!! Niiiice!

I wanted to create a soft but detailed illumination on a couple of Joshua Tree photos. I’ll break down how I created this look in Joshua Tree National Park so you can do it in three easy steps!

A special place

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I went into Joshua Tree National Park to take photos of, well, Joshua Trees. I often refer to JTNP as my spiritual home for night photography. This is where it began for me. 

Cloudy with a chance of…?

However, the Clear Outside app called for close to 100% high clouds and about 60% middle clouds. These would largely obscure the moon. However, I was not going to stay away.

When I got there, sure enough, it was cloudy. But there was still some moonlight shining through, the clouds acting like Mother Nature’s largest softbox. Furthermore, the light diffused some of the glow from Coachella Valley and the moon, creating some interest. This could work!

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I decided that I wanted the light to almost seem like it was wrapping around the trees (well, they’re not really trees, but you know…). Here’s how I went about lighting the Joshua Trees in these two photos!

Step one

After focusing on the Joshua Trees in each of the photos, I lit the trees from the left side at 120 degrees to the camera with a warm white light. I stood about 20-25 feet away so the light would be really soft but still be detailed. I kept the handheld light, a ProtoMachines LED2, moving so there wouldn’t be any hot spots.

Step two

I then walked over to the other side of the tree. This time, I was at 240 degrees to the camera. Again, I was about 20-25 feet away to soften the light. For one of the photos, I decided to caress it with a little bit of red light, just for good measure.

chart for light painting angles
Light painting 120 and 240 degrees from the camera.

Step three

I swept the ground with a warm white light for each of the photos, just to create a little bit more texture since the light was otherwise rather flat and dark.

Other details

For each of the photos, I used a Pentax K-1 Mk 1 camera with a 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The settings were two minutes f/8 ISO 200. I kept the ISO low so I had enough time to walk around and light the trees, but also so I could use a slightly dimmer light from farther away to keep the lighting soft while still retaining details.

These Joshua Trees have an enormous amount of character. Keeping the detail is often very important to me so it retains their personality.

I’ll add that these photos were taken one right after another without any attempts!! Niiiice!

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

 

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