Light Painting 101: Three steps to illuminating an eerie abandoned piano

Up in the mountains of Nevada is a ghost town. It was a former old Western mining town, and its fortunes rose and fell with the demand for precious metals.

We arrived at the town, ready for some night photography. One of the largest buildings has two stories, both with high ceilings. When I carefully went up the long stairs to the second story. I found this piano there. I am a musician and play keyboards and guitar. Therefore, whenever I encounter an abandoned piano, I wonder what songs were played, who sung or danced to it, and what symphonies were unfinished. And of course, I always photograph the piano.

 

Haunting melodies

My two friends were still downstairs. For fun, I began playing a few random high keys. These eerie out-of-tune notes echoed downstairs, drawing an immediate reaction: “Whooooaaaaaaaa!” It was eerie enough that we even created a short video of how the notes sounded downstairs a little later!

 

Determining how to light the piano

I walked around the piano for a while, shining my flashlight at various angles. Looking around, I noticed the plaster from the wall had given way, exposing the old studs. The handwriting on the old plaster was interesting as well. Since much of the wall was gone, I could walk to the room in back and illuminate from behind.

However, that room had a couple of rows of connected wooden chairs. This posed a bit of an issue since I would have to work around it. I would need to crawl around underneath them to get similar angles. It would be challenging. But I decided it was worth it.

Three steps to illuminating the piano

1. Backlighting the piano

I crawled underneath the connected wooden chairs, extending my handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device to approximate the angle. It was challenging because the chairs were blocking much of the angle. Nevertheless, I managed to get it close. 

I then backed up and swept the light from left to right, so that this would create more shadows that would emanate forth on the floor from both the piano and the studs. As a bonus, I briefly illuminated the flowers on the top of the piano.

2. Illuminating the piano from the left side

I walked back into the room and walked to the left of the piano. Making sure I would not inadvertently shine the light into the camera, I grazed the front of the piano to create detail.

3. Illuminating the piano from the right side

I walked to the right side of the piano. Here too, I used an angle relatively close to 90 degrees from the camera. This enabled me to graze the piano to create detail and shadow as well. 

Why illuminate from the sides?

Have you ever used the built-in flash of your camera or phone camera to illuminate people or things? What did it look like to you? Probably not very flattering.

Light coming straight on to the subject is often harsh and not very flattering. Many photographers choose to use off-camera flash or bounce the light off a wall or ceiling. 

Light painting is no different. You are still using light. However, you simply are applying it more slowly and cumulatively during a long exposure image. This is one of the advantages of light painting. You may illuminate something from multiple angles in one photo, and with different colors and levels or brightness if you wish. But you can do this without having to set up multiple lights on stands or other complex setups and triggering.

 

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

 

 

Seven reasons Irix may be the greatest budget ultra wide lens for Milky Way photos

What is a good lens for Milky Way photos that won’t break the bank?

This is a common question that frequently pops up in social media discussions everywhere. People ask about recommendations for ultra wide angle lenses for night photography, astrophotography, or photographing the starry night. And with “Milky Way season” upon us, I thought I would mention a high quality option that I use.

My “workhorse” night photography lens is currently the Pentax 15-30mm 2/8 lens. This is the same lens as the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 (Tamron makes it for Pentax). It’s a high quality lens. However, it is also almost $1300 in price. Not everyone can pay that much for lens. 

However, there’s another lens that I use right without hesitation that works extremely well!

Irix 15mm f/2.4

My often-used Irix 15mm f/2.4 ultra wide lens, still going strong after quite a bit of use.

I was one of the first people in the United States to purchase an Irix 15mm f/2.4. In fact, I purchased it in 2016, so early that Irix didn’t have distribution in this country! I had to purchase it through eBay. But I was glad I did.

I have the Blackstone version of this lens (more on this later), which is a sturdy manual focus lens that almost seems made for night photographers, although I believe it would  be a good lens for long exposure photography, landscape, architecture, or real estate as well.

Seven reasons why I love this lens

1. Sharpness even at wide apertures

Even at its widest aperture at f/2.4, it’s surprisingly sharp. Wide open, of course, there is some vignetting in the corners, which is easily addressed. There is slight softness in the corners, less than most ultra wide angle wide-aperture lens.. And the time you stop down to f/2.8, everything seems tack sharp.

Ojo Oro Arch, a remote arch deep within the Mojave Desert, a Milky Way photo taken with the Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.

2. Detent at true infinity

Move the focal ring and you will feel a detent at true infinity. For photographing the Milky Way or the starry sky, this is invaluable. Just fix the focal ring at detent, and you are ready to go. 

But there’s more. If a foreground is not quite in focus at infinity, you can simply re-focus the lens for the foreground object and then “focus stack” the two photos later in post-processing so that everything is in focus. And this brings me to the next point….

3. Scarcely any focus breathing

There is very little “focus breathing” when re-focusing as described above, having elements grow larger if one is refocusing. The entire time I have been focus stacking with this lens, I have never encountered an issue. It blends beautifully.

4. Rectilinear distortion

For a wide angle lens, the Irix exhibits very little barrel or pincushion distortion. It’s a rectilinear lens, so images with straight features, such as walls of buildings, continue to appear with straight lines instead of being curved. 

5. Accepts filters easily

Most ultra wide angle lenses have bulbous front elements. Not so the Irix. This allows it to accept screw-on filters in the front. Furthermore, it also accepts gel filters in the back. This would make it useful for long exposure photography without the need to use externally-mounted and more expensive filter systems such as Nisi, Lee or Cokin.

6. Inexpensive

TheIrix Blackstone, which a sturdy all-metal model which I have, sells for about $549. The Firefly, which is basically the plastic version of the Blackstone, sells for under $400. You can purchase three Firefly lenses for the price of one Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 and still have enough money left over to purchase a speedlight….or dinner for four at your favorite Mexican restaurant. Mmmmmm……tacos…..

7. Focus lock

How many times have you, as a night photographer, mistakenly knocked the lens out of focus? Raise your hands. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? I often affix gaffer’s tape to the focus ring of my other lenses. I don’t need to with the Irix. The focus ring is appropriately stiff, and it also has a focus lock. I don’t bother using this if I am focusing on infinity since it has a detent there and is unlikely to be knocked out of focus.

More

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone ultra wide lens also comes with a nice case, a soft case which is still firm enough to offer ample protection.

There are few ultra-wide lenses, if any, that can approach the optical quality of the Irix for this price, or even several hundred dollars more, for that matter. The one lens I can think of off the top of my head that one could also consider in the same price range would be the Rokinon ultra wide angle lenses. 

The Irix also has UV Fluorescent Engraved Markings. I was excited about this upon purchase. In practice, however, they don’t seem to be all that visible at night. And I probably wouldn’t use it that much anyway, preferring to manually focus on sight. Still, the fact that the engineers even thought to incorporate this indicates how much they seemed to be designing this lens for night photography.

As I mentioned, this lens would be outstanding in many applications, including landscape, architecture, real estate, and long exposure photography. But isn’t it good that a night photographer is looking out for your needs all the same?

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, California. Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens.

Final words

While I haven’t done a specific side-by-side comparison with the 15-30mm f/2.8 lens that I have, I have alongside or instead of that lens without hesitation for years. And I’ve never felt like I’ve ever perceived a drop-off in image equality or sharpness at any point. It keeps up with that or the venerable 14-24mm f/2.8 F-mount without breaking a sweat. And given that the Firefly version is under $400, less than a third of the price of those other lenses, that’s stunning.

2021-02 Magical moments in night photography: the loudness of silence

Sometimes we have these moments in nature. They may seem magical. Spiritual. Transcendent. Inspiring. Humbling. But whatever it is, we are left with an indelible memory.

The hike to nowhere

We began our May hike to nowhere. This was the middle of the desert. Almost no cars. No trails. no footprints. We parked our cars off the side of the nearest road. Then we walked. We walked for two miles. The terrain became increasingly strange. Odd-shaped rocks seemingly from an episode of “Star Trek”. Weird alcoves. Shallow caves. Lumpy misshapen rocks.

 

Setting up camp

We had brought in gallons of water, emergency supplies, food, and sleeping bags. No tents, though. Too much weight, too much hassle, and no need. It was a warm night. We set out our tarps and sleeping bags. Each of us chose some flat rocks to attempt to avoid scorpions.

 

Photographing at night

The Milky Way core began to show up in all its heavenly glory late at night. We set about photographing, taking turns or simply photographing different areas. We mostly worked in silence, occasionally talking about cameras or how magnificent the stars were. I illuminated Ojo Oro Arch, one of the secret hidden arches in the area, with light to accentuate its shape and features.

I sat in silence. The glorious silence. I could at one point actually perceive the direction the stars were flowing in. I was completely locked in to the stars, the desert, and the experience. This is what people experienced for most of the time humans have been around. But our cities blot out the skies, and most people have not seen the Milky Way in person.

 

Cocooned by a canopy of stars

I finished photographing. I settled down to sleep under the stars around 3:30 am, cocooned by a canopy of stars and the Milky Way arching directly overhead. Every several minutes, I saw shooting stars streaking through the night sky.  It was so unbelievably vivid. And for so much of dusk or night, I was so aware of the silence. This was a special place where silence is louder and the stars shine brighter. I will always treasure the experience.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos.  My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

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

 

Creepiest place I have ever photographed at night

People ask night photographers all sorts of questions. One of the most common is: what’s the scariest, creepiest place you have ever photographed? 

 

The last stop for almost 1000 souls

The imposing Gothic stone structure, Moundsville Penitentiary in West Virginia, was the last stop for murderers, rapists, and thieves. Almost one thousand men lost their lives here. Between 1876 and 1995, these prisoners were hung, electrocuted, bludgeoned, or committed suicide. Some met grisly deaths in the outside weightlifting area. 

Moundsville was bizarrely violent. It made the United States Department of Justice’s Top Ten Most Violent Correctional Facilities list. 

Some met their deaths at the hands of prison guards. Moundsville broke men, leaving them shattered. Some feel that these tortured prisoners still remain within the large stone walls. 

Moundsville takes its name from Native American burial mounds across the street. Death was no stranger to these parts.

Dark. Creepy. Imposing. Haunted. Old. Abandoned. Strange.

Three of us night photographers could not resist. During a humid summer in 2017, Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I photographed at Moundsville. At night. With no lights on.

 

Preparing for night photography within the stone walls

We arrived shortly after sunset. We were mobile, having all our camera equipment, water, snacks, and accessories in backpacks. We shuffled past “Sparky”, the infamous electric chair that sent many to their deaths. In the hallway, Tim passed out Motorola CP110 radios. These had a range of 1.5 miles. We were not sure if their signal would go through several thick stone walls, but it’s what we had. We would use these to communicate anything, typically using it to let others know where we were going so we wouldn’t interfere with each other or call for help.

 

The Sugar Shack

The Sugar Shack is dark in more than one way. This was a recreation room located downstairs, and is the most infamous room at Moundsville. This room was basically a free-for-all, a place where the guards looked the other way, a place where gambling, fighting, rape, and murder took place. 

The sky was still relatively bright. However, I wanted to begin photographing. I chose the darkest place. This was the Sugar Shack.

I immediately got the creeps upon coming down here. I am typically not prone to being spooked. However, this room had a really ominous feel. I set up for one photo. My headlamp suddenly died. It was pitch dark. I could not see my hand in front of me. To finish off the photo, I counted steps to the wall and “light painted” the room with my ProtoMachines. I then packed up and left. One photo was enough.

 

Blood Red Cells

I photographed the Block J & K cells. This was foreboding. My footsteps echoed throughout. I decided to go with this, choosing a blood red photo, shining the light in such a way that the bars of the prison cells showed on the floor. I did this with every cell. The entire image was red except for some of the lights from outside shining in through the glass brick windows. At one point, something clattered and sounded like it dropped to the floor. I whirled around. No one was there. I never knew what fell.

 

Psych ward

Near the end of the evening, the radio squawked. “We have to be out of here in twelve minutes!” I looked at my phone. Sure enough, it was almost time to leave. I was upstairs. Broken glass, shattered ceramics, and lots of dust lay everywhere, creating scraping sounds as I walked. I had twelve minutes. I had really wanted to photograph the psych ward. This lay on the other side of a large community room, which I had to cross.

FLU-FLU-FLU-FLU-FLUP! 

I whipped around, shining my ProtoMachines light. I was met with a rush of wings and moving air. Bats! As if this Gothic stone building weren’t enough, bats also lived here. 

I peered into the medical room in the psych ward. I could do this. I set up the camera quickly, shined my light into the room, and focused. I tripped the shutter and illuminated the room with red and blue light from the ProtoMachines into the room. It was pitch dark, so it didn’t matter how long the exposure was. It was all dependent on my light. I wanted to photograph quickly since I had to get back to the front, which was at least five minutes away. 24 seconds later, I was done. I closed the shutter. The photo looked good. I could now leave the psych ward. I would no longer disturb the bats. Or anything else.

 

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

 

The power of vignettes: directing the light

Directing the light

A good composition is about directing the viewer through the image. And one of the many ways that effective photographers do this is by directing the light. Vignettes are a powerful tool in doing this. And best of all, it’s easy to do!

 

What’s a vignette?

A vignette is simply a reduction of an image’s brightness or saturation around the edges when compared to the center of the image.  A vignette might occur “naturally” through the lens you use, particularly if you photograph with a very wide aperture. Or we can add it easily through post-processing. I’ll show you how to do the latter to direct the light toward what you want the viewer to see.

 

It is easy to create vignettes!

In this example, I will use Adobe Lightroom Classic. However, you can use just about any program and achieve the same vignettes. I will show you using an example of a night photo. However, you may apply vignettes to any kind of photo. It is up to you!

 

Above, there already appears to be a little bit of vignetting in the original photo. However, the main reason the subject is brighter is because I lit the car grille during the exposure. I let everything else become a little more underexposed. The lights in the distance are more or less in the center, and also aid in creating interest near the center. I have placed the brightest part of the sky directly over the highest part of the car grille for maximum effect.

 

Creating a vignette using Adobe Lightroom

Above, under the effects panel, there are controls for “post-crop vignetting”. You probably already know what to do! Mess around with the controls and get something you like. I find that for most applications, a small amount of vignetting is all that is needed. Most of the time, you might not want to draw attention to the fact that there is vignetting. Subtlety is key. Here, the amount is just a little.

I have also increased the feathering. This controls how gradually the vignette darkens.

See how easy that was?

 

An example of heavy-handed vignetting and hard feathering

Just for fun, I thought I would create an extreme example of vignetting. As you cay see, the Amount Slider has been moved to the left considerably. And so has the Feathering Slider. This is the opposite of a very gradual, subtle gradation from light to dark. For some photos, this might work. For most, probably not.

 

Vignette controls may already be on your phone!

You don’t need to have Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar, Affinity, or other programs to create vignettes. There’s a great chance that you have controls for this on your phone already. Most phones already have simple photo editing features. See if you have one on your phone. The Photos app on iPhones, for instance, have the capability to create vignettes easily, similar to what I’ve shown here.

Directing the light to the subject

Subconsciously, the eyes of the viewers tend to go toward the brighter, more colorful parts of an image. Vignettes are one more tool in a photographer’s bag of tricks for doing so. It also has the subtle effect of almost cradling or framing the image.

What sort of photos do you think can benefit from vignettes? Portraits? Sports? Birds? Wedding?  Fine art?

When you next look at photos, see if the photographer has used vignettes to direct your light toward the subject.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos.  My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

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

 

How to emotionally deal with not being able to photograph

We all love to photograph. However, I’ve spoken to numerous people who now have difficultly photographing. Some of it is due to lack of access or health reasons. Some have immunocompromised people in their family that they don’t wish to endanger.

I am fortunate. Night photography is by its nature considerably more solitary. And I live in an area where I can go to isolated places and back without needing to go on a long trip. I can isolate. I can stay safe and still have fun.

But what is the best way to deal with not being able to do something you love? Here’s some ideas that might help.

 

It’s okay not to be productive

Sometimes, there can be outside pressure telling you that you have more free time and that you should be productive. But is this true? If we are taking care of someone, taking care of our health, traumatized, anxious, or depressed, is that a great time to be productive? If one is laid off, sanitizing groceries, having to learn new technology, or facing uncertainty, is that a great recipe for productivity? I would say take care of yourself first. Pace yourself. There’ll be time to do other things. Or you can do things more slowly. It’s alright.

 

Do things that help other people

For instance, help people who cannot or should not leave their home. These might be neighbors, friends, or family members with serious illnesses or disabilities who should minimize public settings. You can do this directly or indirectly. You can donate to Meals on Wheels or other places. This helps out someone. And it helps you out by connecting, feeling involved, and giving.

 

Connect with nature

Those of you who know me personally probably knew I was going to say this. It’s one of the reasons why I love night photography so much. If it’s safe, get outside, exercise, walk around, go to a nearby park that doesn’t have lots of people, go for a walk in the woods, walk around the block, eat outside, plant a garden.

 

Play cool, soothing music

I love to play ambient music while around the house, working on things, relaxing, or even writing articles like this one. I have odd taste in music, so I listen to Brian Eno or The Mercury Seven. But I’ve turned on many friends to Andy Othling, who frequently does beautiful live ambient guitar improvisations called Morning Care on YouTube.

Okay, sure, suggestions for photography-related stuff

As you feel better, you may wish to begin with some small photography-related projects. Something easy to get you in the flow when you have time. Choose something that is doable and immediately gratifying. I’ve been dabbling in macro photography, for example. It’s easy to do and I don’t need to leave the house. Take photos of family, cats, children, flowers, heirlooms, whatever.

Other ideas include learning some new software. I’ve been experimenting with LuminarAI, for example. It’s easy to use and immediately gratifying while producing quality results.

Perhaps reading books on photography might be calming and inspiring as well. You can never go wrong with reading books on lighting or composition.

You could also cull your catalogue, back up (you DO back up your photographs, don’t you? Don’t you?) your photographs to another hard drive and cloud back-up service.

 

Final thoughts

Find gratitude in what you do have that is positive.Take control of the things you can control. Best wishes in getting through this and achieving balance.

 

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

 

10-minute DIY: an easy-to-make snoot for light painting

This is admittedly a rather specific DIY project, but hopefully it fills a niche, however small that might be. And the twenty-three people who want to do this might be really happy.

I cannot take credit for this fine design. Night photographer Tyler Heibeck told me how to do this, showing this to me when we were traveling in Iceland. But it’s easy to do. It’s simply sanding and gluing. If I can do it, you can do it. And probably better.

The specific design I’ll describe is for a ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light painting device. It has threads so you can screw them on. And so do a lot of lights. But even if they don’t, as long as you have a piece that attaches to your light source and you can glue modifiers on to that, you can run with this idea.

 

What’s a snoot and how do you use one?

In photography, it’s a tube or something similar that allows you to direct light. You can fit one over a studio light or a portable flash or a flashlight. Here, it’s most similar to a flashlight. This allows you to control the direction and radius of the light beam. I’ve done that with the above photo of the bus.

I use this for various reasons. The most common for me is to light paint a headlight so it looks like it’s on. This is great fun.

Above: A finished snoot attached to a ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device.

 

What you need:

Aluminum Step Up Filter Ring. These are usually used for things like UV filters on camera lens. This one is a 58-77MM thread.

Bushing for connecting two pipes with different diameters I used a 2″ x 1-1/2″ bushing here. 

Coupling for connecting two pipes with the same diameter in a straight run. This is for connecting the long tube to the bushing. This particular one is a 2″ coupling on the exterior, but it fits a 1-1/2″ pipe.

ABS pipe or something similar. The particular one I purchased before is not sold any more, but any ABS or PVC pipe should work. 

J-B Weld 8265S Original Cold-Weld Steel Reinforced Epoxy – 2 oz. This is a two-part epoxy system that is designed as an alternative to torch welding. It’s bizarrely strong. One bottle has a sort of liquid steel, and the other bottle has a fluid that chemically hardens the steel so that it creates a bond that is stronger than steel. I can attest to it lasting through for years of abuse.

3M Garnet Sandpaper, Very Fine Grit, 9-Inch by 11-Inch, 5-Sheet

 

Sanding and gluing

Step 1 – Sanding. First, sand all the surfaces that you will be gluing. Roughen them up and then wipe off the dust.

You really only need to glue the aluminum step-up ring to the bushing (shown above after it was sanded). That’s what I did for my first snoot, and that lasted without incident for four years before I left it in an airplane hangar. However, if you wish to glue everything else as I’ve done this time, sand all the surfaces first.

Step 2: Gluing: Take the J-B Weld and add the steel to one side and the hardener to the other side. Apply this with Q-tips or something similar. You can also mix them together on one surface, but I found it was easier and less messy to apply them separately. Above is the step-up ring and the bushing just before I glued them together.

Step 3 – More gluing (optional): Remember, you don’t have to glue the other pieces if you don’t want to. Here, from the bottom up, you can see the step-up ring glued to the bushing, and then the coupling has been inserted into the bushing. I really didn’t need to glue the coupling into the bushing. It is a tight fit and doesn’t come apart. But when you have extra glue, why not?

Above: I’ve now glued the ABS (similar to PVC) pipe into the coupling. This will make for a good, solid fit. Again, you do not need to glue this. In fact, if you wish to swap up different lengths of ABS pipe, it’s a good idea not to glue it! Your choice.

 

Does it have to be black?

No, absolutely not. But people who light paint frequently walk through the frame. We like to use dark things to minimize the chance of it showing in the photo or reflecting something. We wear dark clothes and use dark things. So it is with this snoot. But if you wanted, you could get most of these parts in white. That would certainly make getting the pipe easier, as you could use PVC pipe, which is generally found in white. ABS pipe is black. It also tends to be a little more solid and can withstand more shock, which probably isn’t that crucial unless you slam the car door on it or something. Well, okay, that sounds like something I might do, so maybe that is more crucial!

 

An even easier, cheaper snoot

Although this takes only about ten minutes to do, you can certainly use a cruder, simpler snoot. For instance, you can use a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube, available just about anywhere. The advantage is that it is cheap.

Two disadvantages of a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube

One disadvantage is that it “leaks” light slightly between the tube and the flashlight and can show up if you walk across the frame or otherwise need to get close to the headlight. This was the case in the photo of the bus above.

The other disadvantage is that you have to use both hands. In reality, this second point isn’t really that big of a deal, but it bears mentioning.

 

Conclusion

I hope this helps! Again, I want to emphasize that if you can find one piece that attaches to your light, you can simply, uh, modify this light modifier to suit your needs! I hope this helps! If you can, please leave a link to any similar DIY light modifier project that you’ve done in the comments!

 

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

 

The Battle of AI: Adobe Sky Replacement vs. Luminar 4 AI Sky Replacement

Recently, in conjunction with the October 2020 Adobe MAX Creativity Conference, Adobe released the eagerly awaited version of Photoshop version 22.0, which comes with quite a few new features, many of which are powered by AI. 

Sky Replacement

One of the most anticipated features in Photoshop is their AI-powered Sky Replacement. While I don’t generally replace skies, I do take low-ISO night or “blue hour” twilight photos of the foreground, then take successive “stacked” photos of the night sky, and then blend them together. This can be time-consuming, so I am always interested in ways to quicken the process. 

Luminar 4 AI Sky Replacement vs. Adobe Sky Replacement

I’ve used Luminar 4’s AI Sky Replacement to do “drop in” my own sky before. I was curious as to how it would compare with Photoshop Sky Replacement.

Luminar 4 can only use JPG or TIFF files. There is no such limitation with Adobe. When used in Photoshop, Luminar 4 will create another layer. Photoshop offers the choice of creating another layer or a duplicate layer, including all the masks and the layer of the sky that come with it.

Another difference is that Photoshop version 22 has so far been absurdly slow for almost every function on my 2017 iMac with 40 GB of RAM. Photoshop 2020 was also very slow. Luminar 4, and for that matter, Photoshop 2019, run very quickly. Not everyone experiences this, but it’s worth mentioning.

First example – night photo

I began with a photo that I took of an unprocessed 3 minute low-ISO photo of a radio telescope taken at night. Luminar 4 struggled with identifying the night sky. How would Adobe fare?

Adobe recognized the night sky as being a sky, but struggled to determine what was sky and what was not. And as previously mentioned, I had the choice of creating a duplicate layer, which would allow me to tweak the layer further in a non-destructive manner. In this example, I chose one of Adobe’s skies, as numerous skies come with the program.

Above, you can see that Luminar’s Sky Replacement feature is ghosted. It could not recognize the night sky at all.

Second example – blue hour photo

I chose a “blue hour” photo of a lake in the Eastern Sierras, taken not long after the sun had set. I decided that this time, I would “drop in” one of my skies, a “stacked” Milky Way photo taken with the same setup later that evening.

Adobe performed quite admirably here, dropping in the sky, although I did have to adjust the size slightly to get it to match. This was easily done.

Next was Luminar 4. Luminar recognized the sky but struggled with both the blending of the sky itself as well as the horizon. Luminar struggles with darker skies. If I had increased the brightness of the Eastern Sierras photos by a stop or two, it would have been fine.

Third example – day photo with lots of trees

All examples of both programs use day photos for sky replacement. And for good reason. Both their AI recognize it very well. But how would they recognize something complicated such as trees with lots of fine leaves? 

I used a bright day photo of the forest in Mount Pinos in the mountains north of Los Angeles as the base photo. I decided to use the same Milky Way photo as the previous attempt. This would look incredibly fake. However, I felt the darkness would create greater contrast. We could then  examine the blend by zooming in close to see what was happening with the leaves of the trees.

Adobe’s Sky Replacement didn’t struggle to determine where the sky was here. First appearances looked good.

Next was Luminar 4. This also performed admirably. Although a little darker than the Adobe version, this could have been easily adjusted by using a slider. First appearances also looked good!

I’m ready for my close-up!

For Instagram or Facebook, either sky replacement would look good. But what if we zoomed in? What if we printed this at 100%? For this, I zoomed in to 200% so you could see the masking in detail. 

Looking closely at the details of the leaves and branches in the Photoshop version above, we can see that it’s generally quite good, but that some of the branches and leaves are missing.

Examining Luminar 4’s version above, we can see that the leaves and branches are noticeably more intact. The mask, even zoomed in at 200%, is quite good.

Which one is better?

 I don’t know that there is a clear, definitive winner here. We all love “bottom line” answers, and I would give you one if I had one.

For day photos, Luminar 4 created a better mask. It requires JPGs, although in practice, I doubt this will matter with almost anyone.

However, for night photos, Luminar 4 struggled immensely. Photoshop was able to create a mask even with the very dark night photo of the radio telescope, no easy feat. And with the ability to duplicate layers, one could work on the mask some more to get it to blend better.

I for one am happy to have both. And with LuminarAI and subsequent versions of Photoshop looming on the horizon, I’d say that things are looking good. Whatever your position on sky replacement, we all can agree that if AI can make our repetitive or time-consuming tasks faster, then we all win.

I thought I would share this just for fun. I finished this after I created the examples above, experimenting with both Photoshop and Luminar 4. This is a photo of the radio telescope facing north. This is a version of the first photo combined with “stacked’ photos of the starry night sky to reduce noise reduction. I masked this using a combination of Starry Landscape Stacker and Photoshop CC 2019.

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos.  My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

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

 

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

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

Setting up for snickering

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

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

Lighting it up

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

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

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

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

 

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

MY WEBSITE:
Head on over to the Ken Lee Photography website to purchase books or look at night photography and long exposure photos.  My latest book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” is available there and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target, Booktopia, Books A Million, IBS, and Aladin. If you enjoy the book, please leave a nice review.

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO INTERVIEW:
Conversation about night photography and my book with Lance Keimig of National Park At Night

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

 

 

Why I love Google Maps

I use Google Maps to find interesting landscape and abandoned areas that I want to photograph. Here’s just a few of the ways that I use the mobile app.

Finding locations

Although you most certainly could find locations and examine them on your phone, I find it’s more efficient on a desktop or laptop. I mark areas of interest, “star” them, and they sync with the app after a short while.
Above: an example of the starred areas of interest that sync on Google Maps.

Offline maps

One of the bonuses of Google Maps is that I can download a map. This not only saves on cellular data usage, it also allows me to navigate when there is no cell signal. You heard that right. I should say right here that while it works almost all the time, it does occasionally glitch. I like to have a back-up, whether that’s a paper map or another app such as ViewRanger that also has the coordinates and a downloaded map.

Above: you can access the offline map area by tapping your icon on the upper right, then tapping on “Offline Maps”.

After downloading your map, you can access this whether you have cellular data or cellphone coverage at all because of your phone’s built-in GPS.

Satellite View

Both the website and the Google Maps app have satellite view. This enables you to zoom in close and see the lay of the land. This can be particularly handy for getting to see where everything is or where the sun is going to hit it. I’ve sometimes almost felt like I had already visited a place when I showed up because I could imagine it clearly.

 

Google Maps lists

On both the website and the app, I can create saved places and assign them to lists. Then I can access the list any time I want. I have lists for specific regions as well as for trips, as you can see above. And as you can also see, the lists and sites that I mark don’t have to be public. Mine are private.

Contained in this lists, as shown above, is additional information. Some of it, such as with more well-known tourist places such as the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley above, already have information. Or you can write your own information and put in photos yourself.

 

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