An open letter to beginning photographers

Dear beginning photographer,

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

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

Relax, have fun and play

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

Relax. Have fun. Play.

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

The world will look more beautiful

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

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

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

Don’t get hung up on gear

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t let them grind you down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join supportive, positive communities

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

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

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

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

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

Warmest Regards,

Ken

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

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

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

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

Feet

Merino wool socks
Merino wool socks

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

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

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

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

Legs

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

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

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

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

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

Torso

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

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

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

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

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

Hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photographer’s gloves with open fingers

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

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

Photographer’s gloves with closed fingers

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

Winter wonderland in Southern California
Winter wonderland in Southern California

Ski gloves

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

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

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

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

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

Head

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

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

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

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

In the car

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

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

5 inspirational quotes about photography for 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

Amazing adventures of creating a night photography history book

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Old passenger trains with air conditioning units using ice, located in the Mojave Desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure. This was one of the many adventures I had while writing my second book of history and night photography.
Old passenger trains with air conditioning units using ice, located in the Mojave Desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure. This was one of the many adventures I had while writing my second book of history and night photography.

Night photography explorations bring about fantastic experiences and adventures. Certainly when exploring abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles.

Over the years, I had amassed quite a few stories. I would tell these to friends. Occasionally I would post about them. I had to abbreviate these stories quite often, creating more questions than answers. I now have a second book where I can share these stories and images of strange abandoned sites, secret locations, and the characters along the way.

The Federal Clown Prison bus, one of many stories in a new book published by Fonthill/America Through Time. This is one of numerous fascinating things you see when you seek out abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles in the California desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.
The Federal Clown Prison bus, one of many stories in a new book published by Fonthill/America Through Time. This is one of numerous fascinating things you see when you seek out abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles in the California desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

The mythical cars jammed in desert sand

Ken Lee’s photo

We had heard about mysterious cars jammed into the desert sand. These are the locations that you hear about and wonder if it is myth or truth. We rumbled down an impossibly long sandy dirt road, only to come across a car with the rear end sticking up, stranded motorists standing forlornly to one side, stranded. Eventually continuing, we walk across the desert floor for twenty minutes, an area with no trails and no light, guided by the mountains and the glow of our GPS-tracking equipment. Odd shapes finally emerge. Cars jammed into the sand at awkward angles, some sideways, some upside down, some buried.

Oh, and yes, I gave the stranded motorists a ride back to town.

Was this the Manson family car?

A wrecked Corvair hidden in the hills above Spahn Ranch. Was this used by the Manson Family? Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.
A wrecked Corvair hidden in the hills above Spahn Ranch. Was this used by the Manson Family? Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

Some adventures were solo. As an adult, I heard rumors of a Corvair that was hidden up in the hills above Spahn Ranch. Manson had a right hand man named Bruce Davis who drove a Corvair. Many believe that this rusty 1960s Corvair belonged to him. Some refer to this car as the Zodiac Car due to a popular myth that Bruce Davis was involved in the Zodiac killing, although this was never established. If this car could speak, would it tell tales of horror and violence? I decided that I would photograph this car at night. To do this, I had to hike through a couple of miles of hillside, the rugged hills illuminated by the moon. I found the car nestled under a tree in a rocky canyon overlooking the lights of the San Fernando Valley. The location was both beautiful and creepy. On my hike back, I took a wrong turn and discovered another abandoned car.

Another abandoned car, most likely stolen, peering over Los Angeles. I discovered this when I took a wrong turn on the way back to the car. There are several more cars hidden here. Perhaps there will be further adventures.
Another abandoned car, most likely stolen, peering over Los Angeles. I discovered this when I took a wrong turn on the way back to the car. There are several more cars hidden here. Perhaps there will be further adventures. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

Desert rats, philosophers and scientists

Halloween at an abandoned WWII air field. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.
Halloween at an abandoned WWII air field. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

For many photo shoots, I had permission to be on the grounds. But these often bring about a different kind of experience. I’ve connected with people through our shared love of history. I’ve made friends with people who have enormous collections of old 1920s trains on their property, outdoor military plane museums, collections of hundred year old vintage trucks, many trucks and airplanes on an abandoned WWII airfields during Halloween night, railroad museums, and more. Preservationists, government workers, desert rats, music fans, philosophers, nature lovers, astronomers, scientists, mechanics, and lovers of weird, unusual, and vintage things – I’ve shared time and often dinner with them.

Airplane, abandoned WWII airfield with a full moon peaking behind it. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.
Airplane, abandoned WWII airfield with a full moon peaking behind it. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure.

To good friends

The interior of a vintage 1928 Moreland truck, illuminated by a ProtoMachines LED2 during the exposure.
The interior of a vintage 1928 Moreland truck, illuminated by a ProtoMachines LED2 during the exposure.

But most importantly, many of the adventures have involved other friends who are night photographers. Rattling through dirt roads on multi-night journeys with friends may be the best gift of all. There is a certain magic in sharing the journey over traveling hours on dirt roads throughout the desert, finding the best taco stands, and photographing at night while waving flashlights in the dark to illuminate these special planes, trains and automobiles.

Abandoned airplane parts, WW II airfield, California. Illuminated with warm white and red light during the exposure.
International Loadstar, with a shooting star aiming toward its crown during this long exposure night photo.

Telling the stories about hopes, dreams and secret locations

Abandoned airplane parts, WW II airfield, California. Illuminated with warm white and red light during the exposure.
Abandoned airplane parts, WW II airfield, California. Illuminated with warm white and red light during the exposure.

I’ve compiled these images and adventures into a book, filled with stories and history of abandoned locations, outlining the successes and failures, dreams and hopes of those who came tried, peeling back some of the secrets that the California desert holds.

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: California Revealed

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

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles book cover.
Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles book cover.

This is the description of the book: “Abandoned Planes Trains and Automobiles: California Revealed” is an unforgettable nocturnal journey through secret locations hidden in the deserts of California. California has more than its share of abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles. Famous for its aviation and aerospace, the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad, and car culture, California has long been at the forefront of transportation. Wander with Ken through rarely seen locations as he illuminates these forgotten scenes with light, creating haunting dreamlike exposures of several minutes or more. Immerse yourself in the experiences and adventures. Discover precisely how these night photos are created. If you are a fan of creative photography, transportation history, or vivid travel stories, this exploration of California’s abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles is for you.”

Steam locomotive, Laws Museum near Bishop, CA.
Steam locomotive, Laws Museum near Bishop, CA.
A ghostly view of a vintage GMC truck with an odd tilt-shift blur effect courtesy of a Lensbaby lens.
A ghostly view of a vintage GMC truck with an odd tilt-shift blur effect courtesy of a Lensbaby lens.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

2021 Holiday Gift Guide for night photographers

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

Below $25

Storacell SL18650ORG by Powerpax SlimLine 18650 Battery Caddy

$5.94; available via Amazon

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

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

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

$14.99; available via Amazon

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

Under $50

Abandoned Texas: Under a Lone Star Moon, Mike Cooper

$23.99; available via Amazon

Abandoned Texas: Under a Lone Star Moon, Mike Cooper

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

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

$24.99; available via Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going to be crass and recommend my second book, offering many nocturnal glimpses into forgotten locales. “Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: California Revealed is an unforgettable nocturnal journey through secret locations hidden in the deserts of California. California has more than its share of abandoned planes, trains, and automobiles. Famous for its aviation and aerospace, the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad, and car culture, California has long been at the forefront of transportation. Wander with Ken through rarely seen locations as he illuminates these forgotten scenes with light, creating haunting dreamlike exposures of several minutes or more. Immerse yourself in the experiences and adventures. Discover precisely how these night photos are created.”

Under $100

Oben CTT-1000 Carbon Fiber Tabletop Tripod

$99.95; available at B&H

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

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

Under $250

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

$126.40; available via Amazon

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

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

Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic lens

$179.95; available via Lensbaby

Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic lens. Instant fun.

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

Under $500

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

$399.95; available via B&H

Photographed using a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye.

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

Under $1000

Robus RC-5570 Vantage Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod

$549.95; available via B&H

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

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

Over $1000

Cape Nights Photography night photography workshops and more

Prices vary; available via Cape Nights Photography

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

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

National Parks at Night night photography workshops and more

Prices vary; available via National Parks at Night

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

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


VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

Seven reasons the Irix 15mm f/2.4 may be the greatest budget ultrawide lens

 

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 is great for this as well as landscape, architecture, real estate and long exposure photography

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 beautiful, high-quality lens. However, it is also almost $1300 in price. Not everyone can pay that much for lens. 

But what if I told you that there’s another amazing lens which sells for a fraction of that price?

Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 ultra wide angle lens, shown here with a Nikon D750 DSLR camera, Robus RTH-1050 ball head and a Robus RC-5570 tripod.

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.
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 refocus 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 refocusing 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

The Irix 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.

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

While I haven’t done a specific side-by-side comparison with the 15-30mm f/2.8 lens that I have, I have used the Irix 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 Nikon 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.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

My favorite music for culling and editing photos

What do you listen to when culling or editing photos? I would love to know. I have a shortlist go-to music that I’ll share.

Ambient music

I listen to a lot of instrumental ambient music. And one of my favorite artists in this genre is Brian Eno. His music is sonically rich and complex enough that it pleases my ears while providing a beautiful soundtrack for culling and editing photos.

I also enjoy Andy Othling’s “Morning Care” series, which he performed live during the pandemic. He manipulates electric guitar with various pedals into a deep landscape of sounds. Like Eno, it’s sonically rich while still not being too distracting. 

I play music, and don’t typically listen to what I’ve done. However, there are exceptions. This includes The Mercury Seven. Usually, I listen to “mcmlvii.”

Jazz

Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. He has played with luminaries such as the ever-passionate Billy Higgins and Alice Coltrane. He is musical joy personified in person. This was taken before I began doing night photography. You may be able to see a Herman Leonard influence here.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. He has played with luminaries such as the ever-passionate Billy Higgins and Alice Coltrane. He is musical joy personified in person. This was taken before I began doing night photography. You may be able to see a Herman Leonard influence here.

I sometimes listen to jazz, but I won’t go for the skronky stuff most of the time while editing. My shortlist includes Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, kozmigroov stuff like Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck Take Five.

Below is Alice Coltrane’s “Journey Into Satchidananda.” As an aside, I knew her for many years, going to her ashram and having dinner with her once. To describe her as extraordinary doesn’t even do her justice.

Metal

Curiously, though, every once in a while, I listen to metal. I usually go for classic metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest as well as Tool and Testament. Sometimes, I listen to more contemporary metal. I’ll share Judas Priest “Firepower,” a relatively recent album for them, just to show that they’ve still got it.

Random 

From time to time, I also listen to the following as well while culling and editing. 

  • Anna Thorvaldsdottir: “In the Light of Air.” This is an Icelandic artist. There are numerous Icelandic artists that create great music for creating a sense of openness, wind-swept mountains, and more. 
  • Sade: “Lovers Rock.” This beautiful album takes me back to sitting in the beaches of South Thailand. Gorgeous melodies.
  • Harold Budd and Brian Eno: “The Pearl.” Ambient goodness.
  • Brian Eno: “The Shutov Assembly.” Often overlooked by Eno fans.
  • Ethiopiques 11: Alemu Aga — The Harp of King David. This is an unusual deep sound that is mystical and ancient.
  • “Timeless: Ali Akbar Khan & L. Subramaniam,” Universal Music India Pvt., Ltd., 2002, Made in India. Probably difficult to track down now, but worth a listen. This is my favorite Carnatic raga.
  • Brian Eno: “On Land.” Evokes another world, diffused glows, and unusual sounds. Very rich and textured.
  • Henryk Gorecki: “Symphony #3.” An absolute classic, and one of the greatest minimalistic classical pieces ever created. Dawn Upshaw’s vocals are transcendent and heart-wrenching.
  • Hamza El Din: “Eclipse.” Sensual.
  • Rebab and Female Singing of Central Javanese Gamelan (World Music Library). Unusual gamelan music, creating a rich tapestry of rhythms and textures.
  • Cluster live USA 1996. Improvisational electronics done by some of the best, all done live.
  • Future Sound of London: “Lifeforms.” A 1990s ambient classic.
  • Vidna Obmana: “Memories Compiled.” Evocative ambient music.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. I found myself with an enormous smile throughout the entire show. I've seen him perform three times, all at the same place. Once again exhibiting a bit of influence from Herman Leonard.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. I found myself with an enormous smile throughout the entire show. I’ve seen him perform three times, all at the same place. Once again exhibiting a bit of influence from Herman Leonard.

Please share music that you love to listen to while culling and editing your photos! I would love to hear your choices!

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

Light painting 101: How to photograph a historic Route 66 Whiting Bros Motel sign

I love old signs, especially if they are located along the Mother Road, Route 66. I had two locations to get to for night photography. I thought I would photograph some historic signs in Yucca, AZ, and then drive west to another Route 66 location an hour away.

I photographed this during Blue Hour, a time when many of the colors of the sky come alive in deep hues.

A brief history 

Like many of the towns along Route 66, Yucca thrived, serving the needs of motorists heading west. And when the Interstate Highway system was put in, motorists bypassed the businesses in Route 66. Many of those businesses eventually evaporated, often abandoned along the route.

Once a large complex complete with a station and a motel with a swimming pool along Route 66, all that’s left today are the signs and a large empty parking lot. June 2021, Yucca, AZ.

Three steps to light painting the sign

1. Adjusting the light for light painting during blue hour

I was photographing approximately during blue hour, about 25 minutes after the sun had set behind the mountains. Therefore, I needed a much stronger light than I typically need for light painting near a full moon. I also wanted a warm white light. I set the ProtoMachines LED2 for its strongest setting. I mixed in some yellow color for good measure.

2. Determining the best angle for light painting the sign

It’s important to consider the directionality of the already existing light when light painting if one wants the photo to look slightly more natural. Here, the light was coming from the horizon, already illuminating the sign from that direction. I wanted more of that.

I stood closer to the road. Shielding my handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I illuminated the sign at approximately the same angle. This would create additional contrast while looking natural.

3. Waiting for the right moment to open the shutter

I set my Pentax K-1 camera for a 20-second exposure at f/14. This was in part because I wanted to illuminate the sign for a decent amount of time. But it was also so that I could begin the long exposure with enough time to make sure that I got red streaks of light from a passing truck. I wanted the red taillights in particular because I felt they would match really nicely with the sign. That simply meant waiting until a truck was driving north, then beginning the long exposure.

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

 

 

Exploring the history of Route 66 through photography: Goffs Cultural Center

I woke to horrible news. Before I had gotten out of bed, I saw a photo of the historic Goffs General Store along Route 66 engulfed in flames. An abandoned home in Goffs had burned the same day, as had an abandoned building in nearby Essex. Officials suspected foul play.

I had been working on my third book, a history and night photography book about Route 66, and had photographed Goffs before. I knew Goffs had played an important part of that history.

And I was to have photographed that structure a week later.

Saving history through photography

I had photographed Goffs General Store before. I now felt fortunate that I had done so.

The photo that saved the Goffs General Store and Saloon sign.

Also, I had photographed the store sign at night. It had fallen and was leaning against one of the exterior walls. Someone had seen the sign. That person brought it to the attention of the nearby Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in Goffs. They took the sign over to the cultural center for preservation.

Now, that sign was all that was left of Goffs General Store.

Route 66 and Goffs

Goffs is an almost-ghost town. There are few residents left. Located hours from Los Angeles or Las Vegas, it sits on an old alignment of Route 66 approximately half an hour west of Needles, CA. The town prospered until 1931, when Route 66 was realigned and bypassed Goffs by six miles.

The restored Goffs Schoolhouse, photographed at night with a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic, which produces a side-to-side, slice of focus effect.

The cultural center includes the restored historic mission-style Goffs Schoolhouse, built in 1914. The school served students until 1937. After that, things changed. The U.S. Army stationed troops in Goffs during World War II, with the school serving as a cafe for soldiers. It eventually fell into disrepair before Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier purchased it. They and MDHCA eventually raised money and restored the historic structure.

The cultural center also has an impressive outdoor display of items from the Mojave Desert and Route 66, occupying some of the 70-acre property. This land was donated to the Association by the Casebiers.

I was going to stay there for three nights.

The perfect place to stay

Night photo of an old vintage gas pump at Goffs Cultural Center.

The last time I had photographed the cultural center, one of the volunteers asked if I wanted to stay there the next time I visited. It’s a fantastic place for history as well as for night photography. Everyone there is extremely friendly. I was excited.

Goffs is spitting distance from the fascinating Mojave National Preserve. It’s also reasonably close to many historic areas that I would want to photograph or visit along Route 66, including Amboy, Essex, Oatman, Yucca and, of course, Goffs itself. Other places to stay are at least half an hour away or more. Therefore, it would also drastically reduce the amount of late-night driving.

A beautiful surprise

I was greeted warmly by Mo and Judy on June 21, 2021. They showed me where I was staying. It was a comfortable single-wide trailer with air conditioning, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting area with a microwave. Luxurious!

To stay here, I became a member of the association. I also left a donation. There’s no way I couldn’t.

My trailer sat among numerous travel trailers or RVs. The cultural center holds various events. Members and guests gather for a still-operating historic 10-stamp mill in April, the Mojave Road Rendezvous in October and even a camel trek along 90 miles of the Mojave Trail. They can stay in one of the trailers.

The first night of photography

Night photo, Goffs Cultural Center, showing the movement of the stars over long periods of time.

I wandered the grounds of the cultural center, photographing with a Pentax K-1 and 15-30mm f/2.8 lens, creating three to 15-minute long exposures while light painting with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device. It was a hot night. At 12:30 a.m., it was still close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But it didn’t matter. I was out in the quiet of the desert, with only the nearby trains to break the silence.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Almost nothing left of the historic Goffs General Store. The light on the horizon is the light pollution from Las Vegas, NV, about 100 miles away.

I did briefly drive over to the Goffs General Store. To my surprise, there was nothing left. Workers had cleared the remains. I photographed the area from three different angles anyway. I included a similar angle to an earlier photo for the sake of comparison. I then returned to the cultural center to photograph more.

Finishing, I simply walked over to the trailer to go to sleep. This felt luxurious. Usually, I would have to drive back to a motel, one that was not always near.

The second night of photography

Upon waking up, I opened the outside door. An oven-blast of air greeted me. I had slept blissfully late, but now it was over 100° F outside. I retreated back inside.

I had brought lots of food. With the closest restaurant at least half an hour away, this was especially great. The trailer had a refrigerator. Actually, two. Fantastic.

Night photo of the old Whiting Brothers Motel sign in Yucca, AZ.

After consulting the Clear Outside app to determine weather conditions, I decided to drive to Yucca, AZ, a little more than an hour away. Yucca is also along Route 66. It has a number of historic signs, including a motel sign and Whiting Brothers service station sign as well as an old cafe and a truck on a pole.

I arrived during blue hour, after the sun had set. I photographed there with the same setup as the previous night.

Photographing Essex

The Wayside Cafe as well as the station and market were built in the 1930s, selling much-needed water, among other things. Illuminated by a full moon and warm white and teal light from a handheld ProtoMachines LED2.

After an hour, I drove to the almost-ghost town of Essex. It feels like there are more abandoned structures than occupied ones there. I had heard about the aforementioned structure fire from the week before. I was concerned about what would be left. Would the cafe still be standing? The old wooden homes?

I quickly saw that the building that had burned was 1.6 miles outside of the town center.

A fisheye night photo of an abandoned house along Route 66 in Essex, CA, located in the Mojave Desert. Once considered the “Mother Road,” much of Route 66 dried up when the Interstate Highway System was built.

I photographed the old Wayside Cafe, the rustic Western-style wooden homes, and an old house with the roof beams still showing, the rest of the roof stripped away. Then I grabbed the Nikon D750 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye to create different looks.

This was a beautifully quiet night with almost no traffic. I returned to my trailer in Goffs around 3 a.m.

The third night of photography

I woke up late. This time, upon opening the door, the air was noticeably cooler. A cloud cover had helped with that.

I visited with Laura, the Executive Director of MDHCA. I wandered the outside area around the exhibits for two hours, enjoying the cooler weather. 

Photographing at an abandoned home in Goffs

Nighttime with an abandoned camper on the property of a house recently destroyed by a fire. I lit the scene with warm white and red light from a handheld ProtoMachines during the exposure.

Laura suggested that I photograph the nearby abandoned Harris House, the house that had burned under suspicious circumstances. I ordinarily don’t photograph structures after fires, but she had mentioned that there were some interesting vehicles and trailers there. I would be photographing history.

All that was left of the house were several charred posts, lots of ash, a surprising amount of appliances and several vehicles and trailers. The area still had that sickening smell of a house fire, a smell I knew all too well since my house had caught on fire years ago. It’s a smell that you never forget.

I primarily photographed the trailers and vehicles. After a while, the smell got to me. I returned to the cultural center, just a minute away.

Atlas Engine Works boiler, photographed at night with the Lesbaby Edge 35 Optic.

This time, I used The Nikon D750 and fisheye lens as well as the Pentax with a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic, experimenting with some different looks. I went to sleep around 3 a.m.

I will return

I woke up very late and said my goodbyes. This had been an amazing experience. And I was now a proud member of the MDHCA. As I was leaving, I was already plotting my return.

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

 

 

Photographing autumn traditions: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) 

Photographers in the United States love fall. Whether it’s football, autumn chill, leaves turning color, family gatherings, or Halloween, it’s a very photogenic time of year. However, for many of us living in the Southwest, The vibrant Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is also a huge holiday. For photographers, it’s a dream come true, an intoxicating blend of culture, amazing aesthetics, family, friends, color, tradition, history, gathering, and love

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

The rise of Dia de los Muertos

In recent years, this holiday has gone mainstream here in this country. Years ago, I had to explain this holiday to my friends in the Midwest or the East Coast. Not so much any more. Indeed, with the 2017 Disney and Pixar film “Coco”, the Mexican tradition has largely been embraced throughout the United States. While “Coco” may not be the most authentic amalgamation of the Mexican holiday, it does indicate how meaningful the holiday is throughout the country.

There are events in most major cities, typically festivals, art walks, concerts, altar exhibitions, food, and more. While customs may vary, traditionally family and friends focus on the memories of deceased loved ones. 

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

The biggest event in Los Angeles is at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Here, face painting and costumes show up in a big way, perhaps a more recent phenomenon for this holiday. And there are many booths that will paint your face so that it resembles a sugar skull.

Sugar skulls (calavera de azugar) figure prominently. People create these skulls for children or as offerings to be placed on altars (ofrendas). They are made of sugar paste and often decorated with colorful icing.

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

Dia de los Muertos is about gathering families and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls and the favorite foods, beverages, and objects of the departed. Historians trace the origins to indigenous observances 2500-3000 years ago as well as to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl.

What I find appealing is that when I view altars, I often feel like I sort of know the person. Altars can be sad, sure, but they also can be beautiful, funny, inspirational, and more. Throughout, a genuine sweetness permeates the occasion. I find that utterly appealing. 

I love the aesthetics and sentiment of the holiday. The candles, rituals, altars, face painting, sugar skulls, vibrancy, and love – all of it.

What can I photograph?

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

Really, everything. You may have enough time to photograph everything!

I personally love photographing people. People are happy to pose for photos. Even if you are shy about approaching people, this is one event where you can cast that aside. But certainly, the altars, marigolds, sugar skulls, flags, skeletons, dancing, musical performances, art, graphics, and more will appeal to all but the most jaded photographer. Give your children some cameras and watch them have fun for hours.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

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