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

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

About the lens

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

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

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

What’s hot?

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

What’s not?

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

General impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who should use it?

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

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

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

Always welcome in my camera bag

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

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

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

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

Specifications

Specifications from the Ricoh-Pentax page:

Focal Length

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

Maximum Aperture

F3.5-5.6

Minimum Aperture

F22-38

Lens Construction

15 elements in 11 groups

Angle of View (Diagonal)

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

Mount

KAF3

Minimum Focusing Distance

0.5m (1.64 ft.)

Maximum Magnification

0.22x

Filter Diameter

62mm

Diaphragm Control

Fully automatic

Number of Diaphragm Blades

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

Lens Hood

PH-RBC62 (included)

Lens Cap

O-LC62 (included)

Lens Case

S80-120 (optional)

Maximum Diameter x Length

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

Weight

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

BOOKS AND PRINTS:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure prints and more.  My books are available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review, thanks!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Ken Lee’s Abandoned Trains Planes and Automobiles with Tim Little of Cape Nights Photography
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

ARTICLES:
A Photographer Captures Haunting Nighttime Images of Abandoned Buildings, Planes, and Cars in the American Southwest – Business Insider by Erin McDowell
A Photographer Explores Southern California’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

Getting great cameras for cheap: Buying used

When you are a photographer, you get asked this a lot: “I want to do photography like you do. But I don’t have a lot of money.”

I don’t either. That’s why I purchase used equipment. Camera equipment can get expensive in a hurry. 

Milky way night photo with rockiy arch. Photographed with a Nikon D750 purchased used.

Older camera equipment is often still really great

You can purchase a Nikon D750, a great camera, at a fraction of the price of a new body.

A lot of older camera equipment produces fantastic image quality and has great features. It’s just simply older. Look at this way: Photographers were producing mind-blowing images for National Geographic 10 or 15 years ago with the cameras at the time.

A 10-year-old camera is still great enough that if you cannot produce superb images, it’s not the camera. I do night photography. Despite this field pushing cameras’ capabilities to their limits, I can still produce high-quality images with older cameras.

Purchasing professional equipment for less than a budget camera

You can also purchase professional-quality cameras and lenses for a fraction of the cost. I purchased a 36-megapixel Pentax K-1 full frame camera for $900. This camera still rivals some of the finest image quality of any current camera, whether mirrorless or DSLR. And it has a feature set that many other cameras still do not have, including Astrotracer and Pixel Shift for even more detailed images.

A Pentax K-1 and a Pentax 15-30mm lens. Both are great values brand new. But used? Utterly fantastic.

Sure, sometimes the megapixel count on older cameras may be a little lower. But it’s still high enough. Even a camera as old as the classic 12.1-megapixel Nikon D700 from 2008 can still be a great purchase. These cameras once sold for thousands of dollars, and can now sell for under $400. Photographers made fantastic photos with this camera, and still do to this day. Other manufacturers such as Pentax, Canon, Leica and others have five or 10-year-old cameras that are very high quality.

Night image photographed with a Pentax K-1 and Pentax 28-105mm lens.

Legacy lenses

Many camera manufacturers have kit lenses that don’t cost that much. But many of them also have slightly older lenses that are high quality. When updated lenses are released, the previous versions will sometimes drop in value. And sometimes, the only difference between the two are a slightly updated nano-coating on the front element or a slightly improved or quieter focus motor.

Macro photo with used lens.

Most camera manufacturers, such as Nikon, Pentax, Canon and more have a long history of what people call “legacy” lenses. Many of these lenses are still rather high quality. And many of them sell for next to nothing on the used market. For instance, I purchased two Pentax K-mount macro lenses for $20 each, and they produce strong sharp images.

Using a used Sigma Pentax K-mount macro lens to photograph a guitar. I purchased this for free used, only paying $15 for shipping.

Easier to recoup money if you purchase used

Let’s say that you are not totally sure how serious you are about photography. However, you want to make sure that the experience of photography is a solid one. In other words, you don’t want to use a lousy camera. 

Purchasing used professional equipment is an excellent strategy in this situation. You would get to use high-quality equipment to maximize the possibility of you enjoying the experience. If you find yourself not fully immersed by photography, you can always sell it and recoup most if not all of your money. 

Night photo with light painting … on a budget. Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Or better, if you find that you love photography and want to upgrade some of the equipment, you can sell that, recoup your cost, and put it toward newer or different equipment.

Purchase used through reputable dealers

You don’t have to purchase through Craigslist or eBay. You could purchase through a reputable dealer of camera equipment, like KEH or MPB. Many have warranties or some other level of coverage as well as return policies. I wrote an article listing some of the reputable places where I purchase used equipment.

I purchase used lenses, cameras, backpacks, computers and more. I do not purchase SD cards or hard drives used. But almost anything else, sure. I’ve mentioned the brands above because I am not as familiar with the older equipment for Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and others. But certainly if they have great equipment from a few years ago, the same strategy holds. If we can save hundreds or thousands of dollars and be able to use high-quality equipment, then why not? 

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

 

 

An open letter to beginning photographers

Dear beginning photographer,

If you choose, you are at the beginning of a beautiful journey. There is no destination, just a journey.

If I may, I would love to say a few things to you.

Relax, have fun and play

That thing you have now? It’s a sophisticated bit of equipment. Even if it’s your smartphone, well, that camera does a lot. You don’t have to know everything about the camera. Explore.

Relax. Have fun. Play.

A fun scene in the Mojave Desert at night. This is definitely a case of relaxing, having fun, and playing, all done with a handheld light during the exposure.
A fun scene in the Mojave Desert at night. This is definitely a case of relaxing, having fun, and playing, all done with a handheld light during the exposure.

The world will look more beautiful

I was unprepared for what would happen when I began taking photos. Photography made me experience the world differently. I paid attention to sunsets, starry skies, trees, flowers, people, sure. But I also began noticing how the light hits something beautifully, how it backlights my wife’s hair, how peeling paint can be gorgeous, how long shadows look amazing and how a chair in front of a window is mesmerizing. 

The world will look more beautiful to you. And more interesting. That is the gift of photography.

I can drive well; I just can't park. There's beauty even in the abandoned, the cast off, and the absurd.
I can drive well; I just can’t park. There’s beauty even in the abandoned, the cast off, and the absurd.

Don’t get hung up on gear

I know, I know, we sometimes talk about gear here. I’m not saying that cameras, lenses, software, and accessories aren’t important or don’t help. They do help. 

All I’m suggesting is that you don’t get hung up on it. 

See, here’s the thing. That camera, whatever you have, is considerably more sophisticated than cameras of yesteryear. They’re capable of taking some great photos. Yes, even that tiny smartphone in your pocket. 

Photographers used grainy film. They used lenses that weren’t as sharp. 

But look at the beautiful images they created. We’ve seen them. Life, National Geographic, Time. We’ve seen amazing, timeless images seared into our brain. Even on a much smaller scale, I’ve photographed with an old used 2013 camera and had my photos printed in National Geographic books, Westways Magazine and elsewhere.

Don’t let them grind you down

People are odd sometimes. They can make comments that sap your creative energy. 

A long time ago, I picked up a guitar while camping in Carpinteria Beach. I I knew a few chords, so I played. A girl who was camping with me said, “Oh my gosh, Ken, stick to piano.” 

I put the guitar down. After a week, then realized, “Maybe I sounded awful. But I’m a beginner. I like playing guitar. I think it’s fun.” I then played whenever I felt like it, which was often. I’m still not the greatest guitar player, but does that matter? I’ve had fun playing in bands. And not that it matters, but I’ve even gotten my music in movies and MTV. Good things came about because I was relaxing, having fun and playing.

Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads. This is a long exposure night photo showing the celestial movements over a long period of time.
Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads. This is a long exposure night photo showing the celestial movements over a long period of time.

You might post a photo on social media. Most people are encouraging. A few people, maybe not so much. Some people sometimes feel better because when they offer negative comments, they feel like they know something that you don’t. This elevates them. This makes them feel better, perhaps superior. “That camera’s no good.” “That picture is no good.” “Do something else! Why do you only photograph pictures of your cat?” 

But you know something that you don’t. You’re having fun. It’s your camera, not theirs. You know that you are relaxing, having fun and playing.

Embrace constructive criticism, sure. That can be immensely helpful and supportive.

But negative comments? You don’t need to let that bother you. 

Join supportive, positive communities

There’s plenty of supportive, positive communities. Look for people who will encourage you so you can flourish.

This can be your family. When I say “family,” I mean friends as well because, after all, friends are simply family that you choose.

watching this magical light show...that's a great way to pass the time while my camera clicks happily away, searching for streaks of light. This is one of the gifts of photography.
I laid on my back for a couple of hours looking up at the sky during the Perseid meteor shower. Laying in a mountain forest watching this magical light show…that’s a great way to pass the time while my camera clicks happily away, searching for streaks of light. This is one of the gifts of photography.

It can also be your local camera club, a friendly Facebook group, or others. And actually, there’s a friendly group called the Photofocus Community. There are people of all different levels who are friendly, helpful and want to see you succeed. And it’s a good place to share, comment, and yes, relax, have fun and play.

You’ve been given this incredible box that collects light. Let it do that instead of collecting dust.

Warmest Regards,

Ken

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

 

Cold weather essentials: gear that keeps you warm in the winter

Winter offers beautiful opportunities for photography like snow-covered landscapes, and even the Northern Lights. But of course, it’s also cold. Here’s some cold weather gear that will keep you warm.

Frosty the Snowman doesn't require warm clothes. But you do.
Frosty the Snowman doesn’t require warm clothes. But you do.

Feet

Merino wool socks
Merino wool socks

I feel like if I can keep my feet warm, I’ve won half the battle. I love merino wool socks. They are a naturally great insulator. Sheep know this, and we should too. 

When cotton gets wet, it loses its insulative properties. Not so with merino wool. It can absorb far more moisture without even feeling amp too. Oh, and as a bonus, it is naturally antimicrobial, more resistant to smelling and dries much quicker than cotton.

Pair merino wool socks with some great waterproof hiking boots, and your feet will thank you profusely.

If you’re planning on stepping around in cold water, consider getting NRS Neoprene Boundary Socks. Sure, it says it’s rated for water 65 degrees and up. But that rating is still higher than your other socks, isn’t it? NRS also makes knee-high water boots as well if you’re really serious about getting that winter waterfall photo.

Legs

I like wearing fleece or fleece-lined long underwear. They are soft and warm, and hold up while photographing during cold winter nights. 

A great alternative to this is a midweight or heavyweight merino wool base layer. It’s still very soft. And remember all those benefits? Warm? Odor-resistant? Stays dry longer? These qualities make for a great base layer.

Most of the time, I wear cheap work pants because I need the pockets. I usually wear old pants that I’ve used to paint the house since I’m going to probably beat them up anyway. Remember, I do night photography, so I figure no one’s going to see me anyway.

If it’s really cold or windy, a good way to go is to wear fleece-lined windproof waterproof hiking pants. These can be found on Amazon for under $40. And they look much better than scruffy work pants in case you need to be seen in daylight.

Even those of us in warm weather climates can get in on the fun of photographing a winter scene. This is an old scan of a film print from long ago that I still find charming.
Even those of us in warm weather climates can get in on the fun of photographing a winter scene. This is an old scan of a film print from long ago that I still find charming.

Torso

My approach to what I wear for the torso is similar to how I approach the legs. First, fleece or fleece-lined long underwear. Once again, they are soft and warm and make a great base layer. 

Again, a great alternative might be a merino wool base layer. 

I often wear a hoodie on top of that. Sometimes, I wear a long-sleeve merino wool sweater or heavier weight shirt. Then on top of that, a warm windproof jacket. I prefer having a jacket with a decent amount of pockets so I can keep photography stuff nearby. Or if it’s really cold, I can stuff my hands inside some warm pockets.

Speaking of pockets, I keep my camera batteries here for added warmth. If I really need to keep them warm, I’ll put them in a small bag with an activated chemical hand warmer like Hot Hands.

If you want to be even warmer, another “trick” is to wear compression sleeves. These feel great anyway, so you might want to do this even if you are not really that cold.

Hands

Speaking of hands, I like to wear gloves with the fingers free. But first, a story.

I found compression gloves for injuries, arthritis and more can work surprisingly well in the cold. And they are inexpensive.
I found compression gloves for injuries, arthritis and more can work surprisingly well in the cold. And they are inexpensive.

A couple of years ago, I injured some fingers on my hand when I mistakenly rammed them into the kitchen sink. The doctor said that I should tape my fingers together and wear compression gloves. This helped immensely.

What I also found was that they kept my hands surprisingly warm, even when the temperatures were barely above freezing. 

Now, I’m not going to tell you that they are as warm as winter gloves. Far from it. But I found that even for temperatures as low as 35-40°F (1.6-4.44°C), I didn’t really need to wear other gloves very much if I dressed warmly and it wasn’t windy. 

Now, I should mention that I typically move around quite a bit at night and am often quite warm anyway. If your hands get cold easily, these may not work for you. But what I loved about these gloves were that since they didn’t cover my fingers, it was easy to use the camera. And they cost much less than photographer’s gloves.

Photographer’s gloves with open fingers

Photographer’s gloves are basically a better, warmer version of the compression gloves. You could consider the Heat Company Heat Tube Fingerless Gloves/Liners. These also leave your fingers free.

However, they also have thicker fabric but are still elastic and have longer wrist sleeves to keep out the cold. Not only that, you can also stuff chemical hand warmers inside. Now that will keep your hands seriously warm! These also have a D-ring so you can keep gloves (shells) attached. 

Photographer’s gloves with closed fingers

I have never used Vallerret Power Stretch Pro Liner Photography Gloves. I found these while looking for the link to the Heat Company gloves above. However, they appear like you might be able to have enough sensitivity to operate the camera and tripod.

Winter wonderland in Southern California
Winter wonderland in Southern California

Ski gloves

I have a pair of $10 ski gloves. They work great and are absurdly warm, but they are inconvenient since you usually have to take them off to operate the camera. Unless you cut one of the fingers off the glove. They’re only $10, right? 

Like ski gloves with the fingers chopped off … only better!

The last glove I’ll add here, I must confess, I’ve never used either. I suppose I’m OK with destroying $10 gloves. And I don’t use them much anyway.

Vallerret also makes Markhof Pro Photography Gloves. These have fingers that zip and flip. Not bad, eh? But there’s more. They use a nonslip grip fabric. And they have an inner liner of merino wool, so they’re nice and warm.

As a bonus, they have a little pocket on the back of the thumb for SD card or hand warmer and microfiber lens wipe. Great. And I’ve mentioned already how much I love pockets. While I’ve never used these, some of our Photofocus team swears by them. They sound like a winner.

Head

We’ve heard for years that we lose 30% of our heat from the top of our head. While it’s not nearly that high, we still want to keep our head — and ears — warm.

I don’t have anything fancy here. I wear a beanie that is very special to me, something my friend’s dad once wore. It’s super warm, and I’ve worn it the mountains of Chile, where it kept me quite warm. Never forget, though, the magic of merino wool. Consider a wool beanie. And, well, there’s always the hood of your jacket too. But I strongly prefer beanies for warmth and comfort.

George modeling my friend's dad's beanie. I take this beanie everywhere. Well, when it's cold.
George modeling my friend’s dad’s beanie. I take this beanie everywhere. Well, when it’s cold.

If it’s windy or really cold, I’ll also wear a wool scarf to keep my neck nice and warm. This has the added bonus of preventing your nose from sticking to the camera if it’s absurdly cold out. No, I’m not kidding.

In the car

I have a small old suitcase. I dropped it off at the airport on the East Coast with four wheels. When I picked it up on the West Coast, it only had three wheels. I now use this for storing extra pants, shirts, socks and a towel in my car. This has come in handy several times, enabling me to get damp clothes off or dry things off.

I also keep several plastic bags and a large trash bag here as well. When I’m finished for the evening, I can wrap my camera in a large ziplock bag or sealed plastic bag or, perhaps easier, wrap my entire camera backpack in a trash bag, before taking it indoors. This helps prevent damaging condensation.

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

 

 

5 inspirational quotes about photography for 2022

We can always use several short inspirational quotes about photography, can’t we? As a bonus, these quotes can inform our lives in positive ways. You’ll be able to see why as someone who does night photography and long exposure, I might gravitate toward some of these. However, all of us can be inspired by them. They can make our holidays more joyful. Perhaps if we embrace them, they can make our lives more joyful and meaningful. Thanks, and enjoy!

My spiritual home for night photography, Joshua Tree National Park in California.
My spiritual home for night photography, Joshua Tree National Park in California.

“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.” – David Alan Harvey

Scene inside an abandoned truck at an old abandoned WWII airfield.
Scene inside an abandoned truck at an old abandoned WWII airfield.

On average, 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook each day. Almost all of these illustrate what a thing, person, place, or cat looks like. We have a glut of these. What we might find beautiful is if a more of us photographed how we feel. Whether it’s a mood or passage of time or interpretation, inspiration, insight or emotion, this is what so often connects us to one another.

“Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.” – Michael Kenna

As a night photographer, thing rings so true, as we so often show a distinct passage of time and a light painting performance that will never occur again. But regardless, whether we are capturing a birthday, a wedding, a celebration, a football game, a street scene, or anything else, we have a moment frozen in time. But within that moment, there are so many ways to view things. And to interpret them and impart how it felt.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” – Dorothea Lange

The old Whiting Brothers Motel sign, Route 66, Arizona.
The old Whiting Brothers Motel sign, Route 66, Arizona.

I have said so often to people that I appreciate everything around me because of photography. This is its gift to me.

As many of you who read this regularly know, I often create night photos of abandoned cars, buildings and more, that which society has discarded. But because of photography, I find the beauty in these cast-offs. I also value the looks of trees, stones, skies and more like I never did before.

“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.” – Susan Sontag

The magical parched floor, Death Valley National Park, California.
The magical parched floor, Death Valley National Park, California.

This beautiful quote from Susan Sontag is cut from the same cloth as the first quote from David Alan Harvey. As humans, we so often are inundated with photos that show how something appears. What we often crave is interpretation, feeling, and emotion. We wish to connect.

“When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt

A decaying piano in a large auditorium of an abandoned state mental hospital, Pennsylvania.
A decaying piano in a large auditorium of an abandoned state mental hospital, Pennsylvania.

I have a feeling that a few street, event, and travel photographers may be slowly nodding their heads.

More than a few of us photographers may be introverts. But for many of us, hand us a camera. We are empowered. This camera gives us a license to approach, interact, and connect.

But even for those of us who photograph in nature, the camera becomes a reason to interact with the environment. We lose the hours to our creativity, wandering, exploring, admiring, thinking, feeling, and creating.

The glorious Milky Way in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, always an inspiration.
The glorious Milky Way in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, always an inspiration.

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

 

 

Amazing adventures of creating a night photography history book

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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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Abandoned airplane parts, WW II airfield, California. Illuminated with warm white and red light during the exposure.
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.
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.
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.
A ghostly view of a vintage GMC truck with an odd tilt-shift blur effect courtesy of a Lensbaby 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 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

 

 

Why don’t cameras use smartphone technology?

It’s a question many photographers, including myself, have been asking for years. Why don’t mirrorless and DSLR cameras utilize smartphone technology and apps?

My friend Mary Wade, using a co-worker’s ring light, had photographed portraits of her fellow employees using both an older DSLR and her new Google Pixel smartphone. “The photos that I took with my phone looked a lot better,” she noted. 

After she found that much of that is due to how newer camera phone tech processes the images, she thought, “Sign me up for auto processing!” She’s busy, after all. She writes and does a billion other things at the office.

Could computational photography take a single exposure image such as this Milky Way, and applies keystoning corrections to straighten the building, add noise reduction without ruining the pinpoints of the stars, color correct, apply white balance and more automatically and instantaneously? Would it allow you to "stack" photos and add in a low ISO foreground to provide an absurdly clean image? And could it do this all while leveraging full-frame sensors and high-quality lens?
Could computational photography take a single exposure image such as this Milky Way, and applies keystoning corrections to straighten the building, add noise reduction without ruining the pinpoints of the stars, color correct, apply white balance and more automatically and instantaneously? Would it allow you to “stack” photos and add in a low ISO foreground to provide an absurdly clean image? And could it do this all while leveraging full-frame sensors and high-quality lens?

Four benefits we might get with smartphone processing technology applied to cameras

Cameras on smartphones can take some astonishingly great photos. Given that they use a considerably smaller sensor, just think what images we could take if this technology were applied to much larger, more detailed sensors found in mirrorless and DSLR cameras. Just think what it might look like if we applied that to all that amazing glass. Computational photography would no longer have to battle the physics of smaller sensors and tiny lenses.

1. Instant image processing similar to smartphones

Many of us, like Mary, often like the way modern smartphones automatically process photos. Smartphones, after all, automatically adjust white balance, adjust color, automatically sharpen, create high-dynamic photos and more, using computational photography. It can reduce noise or brighten certain aspects of an image automatically. And it can do it at lightning speed.

For real estate or sports photographers, this could also mean being able to send images to clients faster than ever. Photographers could also send their images to printers much more efficiently as well. 

Some photographers, including us night photographers, might not want the camera to process our photos automatically. Or perhaps we might want it to, but also leave the original copy intact so we can process it on our own and compare. Cameras could offer these choices.

iPhone SE 2020. This was a quick photo taken for selling the photos. One person wrote in simply to tell me that it was the most beautiful photo of a vehicle she had ever seen in the used ads. Applying this instant processing to cameras with much larger sensors could benefit us all.
iPhone SE 2020. This was a quick photo taken for selling the photos. One person wrote in simply to tell me that it was the most beautiful photo of a vehicle she had ever seen in the used ads. Applying this instant processing to cameras with much larger sensors could benefit us all.

2. Bokeh 

Portrait Mode in iPhone or Android, creating bokeh, might also be a great application. Being able to use machine learning to automatically focus on eyes (yes, I know many mirrorless cameras already do this) while creating a creamy bokeh might be good. 

instantly able to create this selfie, which uses the more inferior of the two cameras on the phone, and send this to our families while we were at the beach. What could this technology do in a camera with a much better lens and larger sensor?
iPhone SE 2020 — not the highest end camera phone by a long shot. However, simply by selecting Portrait Mode and black and white, I was instantly able to create this selfie, which uses the more inferior of the two cameras on the phone, and send this to our families while we were at the beach. What could this technology do in a camera with a much better lens and larger sensor?

3. Top Shot

Mirrorless cameras could incorporate technology such as Google’s Top Shot. For instance, You might take a photo where one person blinks. Top Shot to the rescue. Top Shot will work to select the best shots through utilizing a three-second video and on-device machine learning, taking into account open eyes or other factors such as smiling or whether the subjects are looking at the camera, and create a photo for you.

4. Capturing life experiences in three dimensions

iPhone has already rolled out a LiDAR scanner and app. This allows you to take night mode portraits, video-based Portrait Mode, and low-light bokeh to new heights. But coupled with machine learning, it promises more, such as 3D photography, augmented reality, and of course, continually improving bokeh for day portraits.

The idea of capturing your child’s first birthday or your wedding using LiDAR to create a three-dimensional documentation is intriguing. Much of the issue with LiDAR so far has been lack of resolution. However, quality lenses and large sensors may offset this.

5. Combining elements

Perhaps machine learning might be applied toward combining qualities not physically possible in a lens. Could we have a weird 400mm fisheye? Or a 180-degree wide-angle that blurs like a Lensbaby? 

Using smartphone OS and apps on cameras

A rather fun if crude re-imagining of a full-sensor camera with interchangeable lens coupled with a large smartphone screen and technology.
A rather fun if crude re-imagining of a full-sensor camera with interchangeable lens coupled with a large smartphone screen and technology.

I would love to see my cameras with larger screens and sporting operating systems such as the ones found in our smartphones. Wouldn’t it be particularly powerful if a camera had the ability to use apps such as Clear Outside, PhotoPills or apps that offered more specific controls over the camera, such as exposure ramping (gradually changing your camera’s settings) for time-lapses? The mount just reels at the amount of control, information and ease of operation you could have.

Going further, one could also have photo editing apps in-camera. One could use Photoshop Express, Lightroom, Snapseed or many others.

Two cameras that may bring us closer to smartphone-like technology

1. Alice Camera

Alice Camera, currently in development, shows promise. This device promises the experience of a smartphone coupled with the capability of a high-end mirrorless camera. Alice is an AI-accelerated computational camera with a high-resolution four-thirds sensor and interchangeable lens. You may instantly stream and post in 4K to Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram or Facebook easily.

Unlike previous smartphone attachments such as lenses, this is a full slim-lined camera where you slide the smartphone on so both are integrated. It feels more like the smartphone is attached to the camera, not the other way around. 

2. Yongnuo YN455

Yongnuo is perhaps best known in the United States for producing inexpensive flashes, lenses and other accessories. But they did begin manufacturing cameras incorporating a smartphone with traditional camera functions, running an older version of Android. 

Now, Yongnuo has submitted a patent for a modular mirrorless camera. And it’s also announced a new camera, the YN455. Like its predecessor, the not-fully-realized YN450, the YN455 incorporates an Android operating system. Yongnuo says that it will have a micro four-thirds sensor, cellular 4G and Wi-Fi. And yes, you guessed it, that means that like Alice Camera, you may also share straight to social media easily. 

There is no news on when this will be released or whether it will be available outside China. If it’s as good as it seems, you might want to begin making friends with someone in China now so you can get your mitts on this.

Security technology in cameras

 Fingerprint sensor photo by George Prentzas on Unsplash.
 Fingerprint sensor photo by George Prentzas on Unsplash.

Cameras could also incorporate smartphone technology in other ways. 

Canon has already patented a fingerprint sensor on not only the camera but also the lens. What security implications could this provide?

Beyond security, the sensor might also be able to instantly load custom presets for particular photographers. This obviously has some downsides, such as identity failure or slowing down someone from using the camera. But perhaps this sort of technology could be activated only during certain times.

Tracking your camera

If a camera were running iOS or Android, perhaps we could also track cameras. This could be valuable if the camera is lost, stolen, or left in the last Lyft car we took. 

I once came across a night photographer in Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley National Park. “Have you seen a camera anywhere?” He continued frantically searching.

Now, if you’ve been to Mesquite Dunes, you know that it’s quite possible for miles of sand dunes to look similar after a while. This would be exponentially compounded at night. But if you could use something similar to a Find Your Phone app, perhaps you could greatly narrow down the location. Perhaps you could make it emit a sound. After all, most cameras already have GPS devices on board. 

What’s the holdup?

Why haven’t the largest camera manufacturers, such as Sony, Nikon, Canon and others not fully embraced the sort of technology in smartphones that seem intuitive to just about everyone? Why is this left to smaller companies such as Alice Camera and Yongnuo?

Major camera manufacturers seem to mostly produce incrementally better cameras with each generation. But they seem reluctant to incorporate smartphone technology. Rarely if ever do we see operating systems with the ability to use apps. With sales of mirrorless and especially DSLRs dwindling, this makes their decision all the more puzzling.

What smartphone technology would you love to see on a camera?

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 Holiday Gift Guide for night photographers

As night photographers, we have different needs than a lot of everyday photographers out there. While we already have an amazing holiday gift guide on Photofocus, I thought I’d make a gift guide targeted at us night photographers.

Below $25

Storacell SL18650ORG by Powerpax SlimLine 18650 Battery Caddy

$5.94; available via Amazon

Organization is important, especially for flying, keeping the terminals from touching. But it’s also crucial when trying to find things in the dark, as you would with night photography.

The one I am showing is for 18650 batteries, but you can get this for AA or AAA batteries as well. I like that both ends of the battery are protected. And as a night photographer, I also appreciate that it is orange so it is easier to see in the dark. This keeps your terminals from touching, something that your TSA employee will love. But it also keeps you organized, enabling you to find your batteries easily in the dark.

Coast HX4 80 Lumen Dual Color (White & Red) Magnetic LED Clip Light with Beam Rotation, black

$14.99; available via Amazon

Sometimes, head lamps don’t work so well. For instance, when wearing a beanie, they tend to push the beanie up and slip off. Enter the Coast light, with its strong clip, holding it firm to the brim of a baseball cap, the straps of your backpack, your pocket, or your jacket. The light is fully adjustable for hands-free operation. 

Under $50

Abandoned Texas: Under a Lone Star Moon, Mike Cooper

$23.99; available via Amazon

Abandoned Texas: Under a Lone Star Moon, Mike Cooper

Gifted night photographer Mike Cooper, whom we interviewed in Photofocus, has released his second monograph, this time covering the enormous state of Texas. That he pulls this off is in itself astounding given his wide variety of locations. “In Abandoned Texas: Under a Lone Star Moon, join photographer Mike Cooper as he travels thousands of miles on his late-night treks across Texas. From the ruins of a school in Terlingua to the burned-out remains of a hotel in Caterina to the crumbling, deserted hangars of Rattlesnake Bomber Base, Cooper illuminates a side of Texas you’ve likely never seen.”

Night Salvage: Haunting SoCal’s Automotive Graveyards, Troy Paiva

$24.99; available via Amazon

Night Salvage: Haunting SoCal’s Automotive Graveyards, Troy Paiva

Troy Paiva is a pioneering night photographer who has been honing his craft for decades. He has almost singlehandedly starting a night photography/light painting movement. We caught up with him in a four-part interview here in Photofocus. As usual, his book is stunning. “Night Salvage is a nocturnal love letter to three rarely seen collections of junk cars, lost in the deserts of Southern California. Follow the author as he haunts these vehicular graveyards. Even as he paints his scenes with light during the lengthy time exposures, he paints pictures with words as his essays capture the essence of the experience. Drift with him like a ghost through these strange sites: a classic abandoned High Desert junkyard; a TV and movie prop vehicle graveyard; and a little known art project, consisting of thousands of cars, forgotten up a remote canyon.”

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: California Revealed, Ken Lee

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

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: California Revealed, Ken Lee

I’m going to be crass and recommend my second book, offering many nocturnal glimpses into forgotten locales. “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.”

Under $100

Oben CTT-1000 Carbon Fiber Tabletop Tripod

$99.95; available at B&H

Oben CT-1100 tripod with a giant DSLR on top. It still held its own.

I wrote about the strengths of this tripod earlier, noting, “The Oben CTT-1000 impressed me with its build and stability. It won this large tripod user over after employing the multiple exposure test with a macro lens. I would definitely recommend this for any application requiring a small desktop tripod.”

Under $250

StarTech.com SATA Hard Drive Docking Station – USB 3.1 (10Gbps) Hard Drive Dock for 2.5″ & 3.5″ SATA SSD/HDD Drives

$126.40; available via Amazon

StarTech.com SATA Hard Drive Docking Station – USB 3.1 (10Gbps) Hard Drive Dock for 2.5″ & 3.5″ SATA SSD/HDD Drives. Looks like a toaster,

This is a really super easy, robust, inexpensive way to connect your SATA hard drives to your computer for additional storage and backing up your computer. You DO back up your computer, right?

Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic lens

$179.95; available via Lensbaby

Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic lens. Instant fun.

Lensbaby makes innovative lenses designed for creativity. This lens enables you to place your subject in a sharp sweet spot of focus framed by beautiful blur.

Under $500

Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 ED AS IF NCS UMC Fisheye Lens

$399.95; available via B&H

Photographed using a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye.

I was concerned that I would use the Rokinon fisheye a few times, and it would become a gimmick. However, I found so many creative uses for it that I cannot help but love it. Sometimes, when stuck, I will stick this fisheye on my camera for instant weirdness and creativity.

Under $1000

Robus RC-5570 Vantage Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod

$549.95; available via B&H

Robus RC-5570 Vantage Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod, tall and mighty.

The quality of the Robus tripod impressed me, as I wrote earlier: “The Robus RC-5570 Vantage Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod has the fantastic combination of high quality, rock solid stability, and low price. It is made for photographers who need extra stability and height, and value the added bonus of being able to use a Robus 75mm Leveling Adapter (sold separately) when using its included video bowl.” As a bonus, for how sturdy it is, it’s really not that heavy.

Over $1000

Cape Nights Photography night photography workshops and more

Prices vary; available via Cape Nights Photography

Cape Cod Nights offers a wide variety of night photography experiences and personal tours of the Cape Cod area. Photo by Tim Little.

Tim Little specializes in night photography workshops and private night tours of Cape Cod and the surrounding area. He has done over 150 night experiences. He even occasionally conducts workshops on the West Coast, as he did with a recent Nelson ghost town extravaganza with the incredible Troy Paiva. Tim writes, “This is our 11th year of offering night photography workshops here on beautiful Cape Cod.  More than seventy percent of our attendees are returning participants!  Make some new friends or see some old ones!   Like minded, fun people sharing these experiences in great locations make for good memories and an artistic diversion from crazy times.  Be part of it!” Photography teachers don’t get much better, knowledgeable, or kinder than Tim.

National Parks at Night night photography workshops and more

Prices vary; available via National Parks at Night

Rapa Nui, Easter Island, one of the many fantastic locations you could sign up for in a National Parks at Night workshop. Photo by Lance Keimig/NPAN.

The ever-popular National Parks at Night continues to expand their night photography workshops. “In 2021-22, we are delighted to offer even more learning experiences: the tried-and-true Passport and Adventure Series workshops, a bevy of scintillating Voyager Series international photo tours, plus three Skills development workshops including two weeks of post-processing and an expanded week of night portraiture!” How do they keep getting better than they already are? I’m not sure, but they do.


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

 

 

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