Creating an album cover and video for my ambient album – my own!!

I’ll describe how I created an album cover and video using the same setup! Even better, I created these for my own album!

Some of you may not know that I play music and have had numerous recording contracts throughout the years. I’ve been doing it far far longer than night photography.

I record music as Eleven Shadows. But I took a reeeeally long break because I played in a rock band and continue to play in The Mercury Seven.

But funny things happen. Stuck at home after eye surgery, I began creating some new music. I was creating it just to create it. After a while, it occurred to me that this could be new Eleven Shadows music!

Every album needs some artwork, right?

Of course it does! Being a musician who is also a photographer has its advantages. I decided I wanted some mysterious macro photography. I grabbed my Pentax K-1 and an old Pentax M Macro 50mm F/4 Prime MF Lens. I set it so it hovered over a Pyrex dish filled with water and some drops of olive oil. I chose a dark room. But then I illuminated the glass dish from below with some colored lights.

Macro setup.
Similar macro setup. I did this in my tiny recording studio.

You can see how this setup looks in my macro photography article, where I describe this in great detail.

Colorful macro bubble photo.
Macro close-up photo of bubbles.

I decided that I wanted the colors more muted. Also, I wanted it to feel more layered and aquatic. So I used an old photo I took of a strange metal undersea creature I saw in a store many years ago.

Album cover for “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.
The album cover for “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.

I also created some blurring on the sides with Nik Collection Perspective Efex for good measure. This plug-in has an outstanding tilt/shift feature that blurs beautifully. Oh, and yes, it corrects perspective very well!

Every song needs a video, right?

Of course it does. And being a musician who is also a photographer has advantages here as well.

Eleven Shadows “Marismas Oscuras” from the new album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind”.

While I took that colorful macro above, I also used Pentax’s video feature. I simply gently stirred the bubbles with a spoon. Then I recorded the action.

Macro photography video of oil bubbles.

You can see some of it in the video above. I then incorporated this video into the final video along with all the other patterns, glowing lights, and general weirdness.

The new instrumental tune “Marismas Oscuras” fits in well with the various depths and layers.

Where do I get the new Eleven Shadows album?

You can stream or download the new album “The Seahorse in the Center of Your Mind” on Bandcamp!

Eleven Shadows YouTube Playlist

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

 

Nightaxians Video Podcast on YouTube: Pentax, gear, night photography, creativity

The Nightaxians have just launched a new Nightaxians Video Podcast on YouTube. We will discuss all things night photography, Pentax, gear, lenses, urban exploration, night travel adventures and far more. I am proud to be one of the three people in the video podcast along with night photographers Timothy Little and Mike Cooper.

Above is the premiere episode of The Nightaxians Video Podcast. This particular chat is about some of the lenses that we use for our night photography. We discuss not only Pentax lenses, but also Nikon, Canon and more.

What is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

The Nightaxians Video Podcast.
The Nightaxians Video Podcast

Imagine if you are hanging out with three of your friends, listening to a fun, informal chat about all things photography. That’s sort of what The Nightaxians video podcast on YouTube is like. Sure, it’s about night photography. However, it can appeal to those who do different kinds of photography.

Many of the discussions and concepts might center around gear, composition, weather, finding locations, choice of lenses, our weirdest experiences, strange encounters with people and animals, how we pack our bags, software, how we created the photos and more. And since all of us use Pentax gear, there’s always going to be discussion about that.

Night photo by Nightaxian Tim Little

Where is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

You can find it on this YouTube playlist. This is where all Nightaxians video podcasts will be posted. I would encourage you to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes.

Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper

When is the Nightaxians Video Podcast?

We hope to have a new episode for you at least once a week. As of right now, we are posting them on Tuesday. However, the best way to know when we post is of course to subscribe to the channel.

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee

Who are the Nightaxians?

The Nightaxians are three night photographers, also known collectively as Notorious RGB (see what we did there?). Although we live in three different time zones, we are brought together by a love of photography and camaraderie. We would love you to join us. You can even help shape the flow of the show with your suggestions, especially about topics you would like to hear us discuss. Think of it like this. We’re Pentaxians, but with a focus on night photography. And we’re hanging out and talking about all the topics that fascinate us.

I’ll share a brief description of the three of us.

Timothy Little

Night photo by Tim Little

Timothy Little makes a living specializing in night photography and light painting. I sat down with him and talked with him about how he explores a world lit by Moonlight, stars and street lamps, by his home in Cape Cod, MA and in the southwestern United States.

Tim is able to illuminate subjects with handheld lights to create riveting, often colorful images while remaining as organic, creating the image in-camera.

Mike Cooper

Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper

Southern-based night photographer Mike Cooper has covered broad expanses of the Midwest and Southern US, offering fantastic glimpses of abandoned places lit by the moon, stars and handheld light. The amount of travel and diversity of sites are a testament to his dedication to his craft.

Mike illuminates these mysterious, forgotten locations with often colorful lighting, creating the image in-camera. The results are otherworldly. He has two books that will showcase these worlds.

Ken Lee

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee

Well, that’s me. I am a night photographer. As with many night photographers, I drive long hours in a dusty car listening to weird music, stay out all night creating photos, get dirty, hang out with other creative sleep-deprived weirdos, see the stars drift across the sky and always find the best taco stands while photographing forgotten abandoned locales and amazing nightscapes. I have two books published with two more on the way, and my images have appeared in National Geographic Books, Omni magazine, Los Angeles Times, Westways magazine and numerous other publications.

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

 

How to create star trails in Photoshop in three easy steps

You can create star trails in Photoshop in three easy steps. It’s really quite easy!

Star trails are magical. They show the celestial movements of the stars over a long period of time. And they’re easy to create.

You’ve taken some photos of the night sky in succession, one right after another, using a tripod to keep everything steady. And now you want to use Photoshop to “stack” them to make them into larger star trails. Photoshop has some nice advantages for “stacking”, and I’ll point some of these out near the end.

1. Stack your photos

Load files into stack screenshot.
Load files into stack. We’re gonna create some star trails!

Simply go to “File”. Select “Scripts”. Then select “Load Files into Stack” as shown above. 

2.) Select which files you want stacked

Dialogue box for stacking
Dialogue box for selecting the files you want to “stack” into star trails.

This too is straightforward. Hit the “Browse” button. Then simply navigate to where your files are and select them and hit “OK”. You don’t need to check any of the boxes below assuming that your camera and tripod did not move.

3.) Let the stars shine through!

Photoshop will stack all of your photos. If you had printed all of your individual photos, it would be as if they were all stacked on top of each other in one neat pile. Photoshop is just doing this digitally. Lean back and relax. If you have lots of photos and a slow computer, go get a drink.

Photoshop Layers lighten.
Hey, alright! Photoshop has stacked your photos! But now we need to change the opacity of the Layers from “Normal” to “Lighten”.

Once Photoshop is done, you’ll think, “Okay….I see all the layers of photos on the bottom right side….but I don’t see any star trails!” And you wouldn’t see them if you had stacked all your printed photos one on top of the other either. 

But here in Photoshop, we can turn our stacked “digital papers” (our layers, in other words) into “magic paper”. Cool, huh? 

First, highlight all the layers except the very bottom layer. 

Then go to the Layers Tab just above where all your images are stacked; You’ll see a pulldown menu that says “Normal”. Change that to “Lighten”. Wow! Let the stars shine through!

Photoshop Layers lighten.
Instant star trails! I never get tired of seeing how it all comes together. Where the red arrow is pointing, you change that from “Normal” to “Lighten”, then lean back and smile. Yeah. You just created some star trails!

If you look at this photo above, you can see some airplane trails and some lights from me mistakenly shining the light into the camera while illuminating the giant dragon sculpture. Next we will discuss how to get rid of that.

Bonus Tip: getting rid of airplane trails or unwanted lights

Some people don’t want airplanes in their star trails. Or maybe you mistakenly shine a light in the camera and you don’t want that. This bonus section is for you. This is one of the nice aspects of using Photoshop.

A lot of people choose not to do this. That’s okay. It’s your photo. You’re in charge. You do what you want.

Photoshop masks
The red arrow is pointing to Layer Masks. Here, I’ve created a lot of Layer Masks, one for each Layer, mostly to get rid of lots of airplane trails. There were probably ten airplanes that flew through while I created this image because this location is directly in the flight path of San Diego. I also got rid of some inadvertent lights while light painting and my ghostly shadow image from standing in place a little too long.

But if you want to try this, you can rid yourself of them by creating Layer Masks. Those are those white rectangles to the right of the layers in our example below. 

Creating Layer Masks so we can mask out unwanted stuff

Select one layer that has the airplane trails or unwanted light that you don’t want. You’ll create a Layer Mask that will block this out. Go to the top menu. “Choose Layer” > “Layer Mask” > “Reveal All”. This should produce a white rectangle to the right of your selected layer.

Then select the Brush tool. This is located on the left side of the image. Choose the black color. Make sure that the white Layer Mask is selected instead of the actual layer itself. Then simply start painting away on the area that you want concealed. You should see the unwanted item begin to disappear. The black color stops that one part of the image from shining through! It’s like magic!

Rattledragon star trails photo
The enormous rattledragon sculpture in Borrego Springs, California. The sculpture was created by Ricardo Breceda. This image is 28 minutes total exposure. Each individual photo was a two-minute exposure at f/6.3 and ISO 200. The star trails are relatively straight because I am zooming in from farther away and we are not facing directly north or south, so they tend to be straighter and longer when they are farther from the North or South Celestial Poles.

It’s really that easy. If you don’t like it, hit “Undo” (or paint over what you did after selecting a white color). 

Additional tips

Layer Masks can be used to get rid of “hot spots” from your light painting as well. Or shadows. Really, anything that only exists on one layer, you can eliminate non-destructively. If you don’t like it later, go back and change it.

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

 

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

 

How to create a Star Wars photography project 

Creating a project, theme, or series can be rewarding and lead to a lot of creative ideas. I created a Star Wars photography project for Star Wars day on May 4th (“May the 4th be with you!”).

I illuminated Yoda from the top as if it were a spotlight. This was photographed in my backyard at night.

Purchasing Star Wars toys to photograph

I purchased some Star Wars toys. Sometimes, I was able to find a Yoda bank. Other times, the toys were reasonably large toys or action figures. A pawn shop near my house had a three-foot tall Yoda for $500. It was all I could do to resist purchasing it.

Finding fun locations

Since I do night photography, I decided to do a series of photographs with the Star Wars figures. While photographing in a galaxy far far away sounded enticing, I photographed these closer to home. In fact, some of them were done in my backyard. Other times, I photographed them in the Mojave Desert. It was humorous stuffing my backpack full of Star Wars figures just before wandering through the rocks of the Alabama Hills to find interesting locations for them to look their best.

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter

I illuminated the luminous beings – the Star Wars figures – with a handheld light after carefully placing them in their best locations. The action figures, such as Darth Vader, toppled due to the wind sometimes! I had to photograph quickly before the Sith Lord face-planted in the Alabama Hills.

Then, from various angles, I shined an LED flashlight on them during the exposure.

I used several different lights to light paint R2-D2 at night.

For R2-D2, I used El Wire, or electroluminescent wire, to create the look of the fire. And for good measure, I added a blue ray of light seemingly emanating from his top using a small laser pen light.

Working from a project or series

Now, of course you don’t have to do a Star Wars series (although…why not?). The idea here is to create a fun series from something that you love. The project practically generates fun ideas on its own, stoking your creativity.

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

 

Five great ideas for photographers with less mobility

Mobility can be an issue for those wanting to photograph certain places. I hear from people that they would love to do photography but sometimes they have mobility issues or cannot walk far. Here are five ideas for those who have mobility challenges.

Some years ago, I had knee surgery. “Overuse,” the surgeon had said. I had just gained momentum with my night photography. National Geographic Books, Westways Magazine, and others had just published some of my images. But for some time, I could barely walk. During this time, I developed some ideas that helped me continue to do night photography and other forms of photography. I thought I would share them with you.

National Parks offer many mobility solutions

One of the great things about our National Park system is that they try and make the outdoors accessible, as much as that is possible. Each National Park boasts countless beautiful vistas. And the nice thing is that much of it requires little or no walking. Typically, there are wheelchair-accessible walks as well. These are great even if you don’t require a wheelchair, as the walkways are broad and relatively flat.

From the side of the road or the parking lot, nature abounds. You can have some great wildlife opportunities too. As with the suggestions for photographing wildlife above, the key is to relax, be patient, not make quick sudden movements and have fun. Quite often, the wildlife will come up close enough for you to photograph. Whether it’s the National Parks, National Monuments, Bureau of Land Management land, National Forests, State Parks or other areas, much of it is quite accessible.

Santa Cruz Natural Bridges
Natural Bridges, Santa Cruz, California.

There can also be some beautiful opportunities just off the side of the road. Every state offers many scenic vistas that you can just pull over and see. For instance, most of the photos in my West Virginia article required very little walking.

waterfall West Virginia
Cathedral Falls, West Virginia, right off the side of the road.

Night photography

Joshua Tree National Park at night
Just off the side of the road. Night photo, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Of course, I am going to write about night photography. National Parks, Monuments, Bureau of Land Management land, and National Forests all provide ample opportunities for night photography. With places such as Joshua Tree National Park or National Forests, just simply staying in a parking lot or getting to the side of the road presents many awesome opportunities for you to create stunning night photos.

Wildlife photography

deer Yosemite National Park
A deer just outside my car, Yosemite National Park, CA.

This seems like the very sort of photography that might be challenging if you have mobility issues. After all, the thought of traipsing through trails seems counterintuitive. But here are some ideas that I hope can help you.

Puffin Iceland
No, this isn’t from my backyard or from a bird feeder. It’s an Icelandic puffin. But I hardly walked to get this photo, and in fact, was laying on my stomach for an hour, hardly moving, resting my camera on a bean bag.

Bird feeder

If you have a house or apartment, you may be able to set up a bird feeder. Then, from a patio or even inside your house, you would be able to take photos. As a bonus, you might even be able to set your camera on a tripod, pre-focus on the area where the birds will be, and sit there snapping away. I’d recommend a remote shutter release for this.

Bird bath

A variation on the bird feeder idea. This may make it slightly more challenging to pre-focus

Wildlife in a yard or park

Squirrel back yard
Squirrels make fun photographic subjects and can be photographed almost anywhere.

You can get some excellent photos from a yard or your local park. The key here is to hang out, relax and move slowly. I can get some good squirrel photos here sometimes and I can also photograph birds and other animals as well.

Macro photography

blue macro bubbles
Macro photo of bubbles backlit with light.

You don’t even need to leave the house! Create mind-boggling macro images from the comfort of your own home and on your own time.

macro bubbles oil
Macro photo of bubbles backlit with light.

Outdoor museums 

outdoor museum airplane night photo
Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California. Space shuttle transport carrier for NASA.

There are a lot of outdoor museums that have fascinating things, such as trains or airplanes. Go there during the day. Or make special arrangements for night photography if you can. I find that site supervisors are often amenable if you are respectful, kind and offer a print in return for access.

outdoor museum trains night
Night photo of trains in the desert, photographed with special permission.

Additional thoughts on mobility friendly photography

Tibetan candlelight vigil Los Angeles
Tibetan candlelight vigil, Los Angeles.

I have just scratched the surface of what you can do. There are so many more ideas. These include street photography (where patience and remaining still is often a virtue, not a detriment), farmers markets, dog parks, zoos, wildlife safaris, animal sanctuaries, light painting of interesting objects in the backyard at night, kid photos, family photos, portraits, product photography, food photography, candlelight vigils, public gatherings, and more.

I hope whether you have limited mobility or not, this article inspires you to create. If you have other ideas, please drop them in the comments!

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

 

Behind the new Abandoned Planes and Automobiles book

Discover what went into creating the new “Abandoned Planes and Automobiles” book I have written. I spoke with night photographer Timothy Little during this YouTube interview. He also inquires about several specific photos of his choice.

abandoned airplane cockpit night photo
Abandoned plane at night from “Abandoned Planes Trains and Automobiles” book.

“Abandoned Planes Trains and Automobiles: California Revealed” is published by Arcadia Publishing. It is my second book with them. I also have two more books that I am currently creating.

In the book, I explore many secret locations hidden in the deserts of California at night. I illuminate these forgotten scenes with light. This creates haunting dreamlike long exposures. It’s full of vivid travel stories, transportation history, and creative night photography. I drove for thousands of miles throughout several years to create this book. 

abandoned train night photo
Night photo of a train from “Planes Trains and Automobiles” book.

Timothy Little makes a living specializing in night photography and light painting. He also explores a world lit by moonlight, stars, Christmas lights and street lamps near his home in Cape Cod, MA as well as the southwestern United States. He knows what goes into traveling for night photography and special considerations to make while still keeping the interview accessible to everyone.

bunny abandoned truck night photo
Night photo from “Abandoned Planes Trains and Automobiles” book.

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 the interior of a smokestack building

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

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

Three steps to light painting

Step one: Illuminating the exterior naturally

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

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

Step two: Light painting the interior

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

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

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

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

Additional details

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

What is this building?

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

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Seven reasons why you may love fisheye lens!

 A fisheye lens may be exactly what you need in your photography bag. Here’s seven reasons why.

1. Instant creativity

abandoned airplane night photo
The fisheye here, along with the light painting makes the scene look even more otherworldly. Instant creativity. Abandoned airplane underneath the Milky Way.

Instant creativity is my number one reason why I love fisheye lenses. There have been times in which I have been doing night photography and was stuck or distracted. I’ve gotten calls before that distracted my creative process. However, if I attach a fisheye lens, I feel like it turbo-charges my creativity. A fisheye lens seems to create a lot of ideas.

2. New perspectives

abandoned fisheye night photo mining camp
Abandoned mining camp with fisheye lens.

Even if I have been to a location numerous times before, I can always count on fisheye lens to give me a new glimpse into the world. After all, who looks at the world from a fisheye perspective regularly – besides, well, fish? Fisheye lens allows us to pull back and get a beautiful, distorted 180-degree view of the world. Or we can jam it in close to something to get an almost macro view, going for detail. Or add a surreal or psychedelic look to some portraits or album covers!

fisheye night portrait
A surreal night portrait photo of two musicians in the Mojave Desert.

3. See the whole sky

Milky Way fisheye photo
Made from 20 light frames (captured with a NIKON CORPORATION camera) by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.6.1. Algorithm: Median

That’s right. That 180-degree view (or so) works wonders for capturing the whole sky. Stick your lens straight up. There you go. A lot of times, what is on the ground will surround the periphery, cradling the photo. This is great for night photography, astrophotography, and so forth. And as a bonus, a lot of fisheye lens have wide apertures. They can let in a lot more light. This means that you can shoot faster and capture the stars as pinpoints, if that’s what you want to do.

4. Context

Get a lot of what is going on around you. And do so easily! Context is key for a lot of photos. I should add here that if you wish, you can use a fisheye lens and fix the distortion later if you choose not to have it. And you do have choices. Photoshop and other programs can address this. You may also use PTLens, which gives a lot of control over lens correction. Or you can photograph panoramas by combining several photos and fixing the distortion in post-processing.

5. Objects in your lens may appear larger than they are

abandoned bathtub fisheye night photo
Bathtub al fresco at night at an abandoned farmhouse, photographed by a fisheye lens up close.

I love this sort of distortion. The elements in the distance fall away and look small, while anything up close looks larger than life. How fun!

6. Don’t worry about straight lines

fisheye abandoned room
Don’t worry about straight lines. If you were a real estate photographer, this might not work. But for creative purposes? I say yes! As you may suspect, this is a night photo of an abandoned mining camp deep in the Mojave Desert.

A lot of times, we need to address keystoning, straight lines on buildings or other things, and maintain proper perspective. Not here! Let it fly! Have fun!

7. It’s weird

Weird is great. Embrace your inner weirdness.

landscape night photo fisheye
Landscapes can get in on the weird act too! Night photo in Utah with a fisheye lens.

What I use

I have been using a Rokinon 12mm 2.8 fisheye lens since 2017. It’s good and sharp. Although it’s manual focus, it’s rather easy and forgiving to focus. Of course, there are many different types of fisheye lens. Explore a little and see what each one offers.

abandoned waterpark night photo fisheye
An abandoned waterpark becomes a surreal display of light and shadow with a fisheye lens.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

How I got the photo: A weird teleportation device?

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

night photo of abandoned smelter
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

behind the scenes smelter
Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

night photo of abandoned smelter
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

behind the scenes smelter
Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

night photo of abandoned smelter
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

behind the scenes smelter
Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

Abandoned smelter night photo
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

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