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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1822_kenlee_joshuatree_200306_2310_9mtotal-3mf8iso200_trains_riogrande-dinnercar_unionpacificindistance_1600px-photofocus.jpg
Old passenger trains with air conditioning units using ice, located in the Mojave Desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure. This was one of the many adventures I had while writing my second book of history and night photography.
Old passenger trains with air conditioning units using ice, located in the Mojave Desert. Illuminated with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device during the exposure. This was one of the many adventures I had while writing my second book of history and night photography.

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

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

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

The mythical cars jammed in desert sand

Ken Lee’s photo

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

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

Was this the Manson family car?

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

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

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

Desert rats, philosophers and scientists

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

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

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

To good friends

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

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

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

Telling the stories about hopes, dreams and secret locations

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

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

Abandoned Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: California Revealed

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

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

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

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

Why don’t cameras use smartphone technology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Instant image processing similar to smartphones

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

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

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

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

2. Bokeh 

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

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

3. Top Shot

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

4. Capturing life experiences in three dimensions

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

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

5. Combining elements

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

Using smartphone OS and apps on cameras

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

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

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

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

1. Alice Camera

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

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

2. Yongnuo YN455

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

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

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

Security technology in cameras

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

Cameras could also incorporate smartphone technology in other ways. 

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

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

Tracking your camera

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

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

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

What’s the holdup?

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

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

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

2021 Holiday Gift Guide for night photographers

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

Below $25

Storacell SL18650ORG by Powerpax SlimLine 18650 Battery Caddy

$5.94; available via Amazon

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

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

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

$14.99; available via Amazon

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

Under $50

Abandoned Texas: Under a Lone Star Moon, Mike Cooper

$23.99; available via Amazon

Abandoned Texas: Under a Lone Star Moon, Mike Cooper

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

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

$24.99; available via Amazon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under $100

Oben CTT-1000 Carbon Fiber Tabletop Tripod

$99.95; available at B&H

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

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

Under $250

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

$126.40; available via Amazon

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

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

Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic lens

$179.95; available via Lensbaby

Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic lens. Instant fun.

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

Under $500

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

$399.95; available via B&H

Photographed using a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye.

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

Under $1000

Robus RC-5570 Vantage Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod

$549.95; available via B&H

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

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

Over $1000

Cape Nights Photography night photography workshops and more

Prices vary; available via Cape Nights Photography

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

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

National Parks at Night night photography workshops and more

Prices vary; available via National Parks at Night

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

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


VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

My night photographing an eerie haunted abandoned water park

I had just driven to the front of the post-apocalyptic looking abandoned water park. This was a high-profile abandoned location. After all, you could easily see it while traveling between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Sure enough, there were several cars circling around, wondering where to park or enter. A group of three waved at me.

The entrance to the water park, with the letter “k” missing for quite some time. I lit this with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light during the exposure.

I scooted past the cars, eventually parking at the back end. I had parked here for a couple of reasons. One was so my car would not be on the street. The other was that I hoped to meet with the caretaker.

Encountering the first people at the water park

I wandered the water park as the sun began its descent behind the desert mountains. I didn’t think it was possible, but the place was even more tagged than two years ago when I had first visited. 

Inside the gift shop, with the Interstate in the distance. Lit by a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light during the exposure.

The three people who had seen me on the front street gave me puzzled looks. “Where did you park?” I muttered something about parking in the back. 

“Hey, do you think it’s cool if I paint here?”

“I don’t think so. It’s private property, although it’s not like that’s stopped anyone else.” I had never understood vandalism, even if the place was going to be eventually leveled.

“Cool, man,” he replied, as if I had given him permission to paint. “I’m from San Francisco. We’re on our way to Vegas. Just had to stop by here.”

Scouting for night photography

I continued wandering and taking photos with my phone. All the while, I was thinking about the angles of the moon as it rose and what might look good, taking photos to remind me of potentially good angles later if I were to return in the evening.

A fisheye view of what used to be the arcade. Using a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I lit the interior and exterior of the structure.

But would there be people here in the evening? Would it be safe?

Meeting the guys in the back

I returned to my car, which I had purposely parked near the water tank and the dilapidated house and RV up near the top of the property. As I mentioned, I had hoped to meet the caretaker of the property here. I seem to have this way of connecting with people, and I hoped to do this here.

One guy looked like he was carrying things back and forth between the RV. I waved at him with a smile, doing an almost dorky sort of wave. He waved back and walked slowly down the hill. 

Making a connection

We got to talking about the Mojave Desert area, talking about Joshua Tree, Barstow and more. He was quite nice and smiled when I mentioned some of the history of the water park. 

Generally speaking, I really dislike graffiti. That said, this particular painting of this woman captivated me, and I knew I had to photograph her at night later. I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2, using warm white and blue light from numerous angles during the exposure, to create the lighting for this image.

He had lived up in the hills above Ben Lomond, in Boulder Creek. I knew the area and exclaimed how beautiful it was up there, and how I had spent a lot of time in Santa Cruz, Ben Lomond and Boulder Creek, playing music and hanging out. 

“You know how there are giant redwood trees that are hollowed out by fire up there?” I nodded. “I lived in one of those trees for two years.”

Now, he was living in an RV parked under a dilapidated house that was tagged. I hadn’t realized how messed up the house was until I had walked closer and began talking to him.

He then mentioned how he had also lived near Beckley in West Virginia. We talked about the beauty of that state, as I had visited numerous times. 

Ghosts, accidents and 50 mile-per-hour waterslides

We ended up going on a mini-tour around the property. “The gift shop is haunted. There is a painting of a woman on the wall inside. People keep tagging it. But the paint never stays on.”

I asked how long this had been happening. “I’m not sure. It’s been happening for a while, though. Don’t worry, they won’t bother you,” he assured me. 

The first building constructed at Lake Dolores is still standing, although I suspect it’s far more colorful than before.

Soon after, he pointed and said, “That was the first building built here.” It was the bathrooms and changing rooms. And it was indeed built like a brick, uh, something-house.

We looked at the enormous pits which were the lakes in Lake Dolores. 

Some of the small waterslides at night, with the Interstate in the distance. The ones that you stood up on or went 50 miles per hour have long since disappeared. This was lit by a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 during the exposure.

He mentioned the long waterslides that used to exist, ones in which one could reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

“And on some slides, you could go down while standing up! Some people got major road rash from that.”

And worse.

“One time, after the park closed, one of the employees wanted to go down the waterslide. The waterslide had been turned off, and the water was not full enough down below. He slid down and badly injured himself and then sued the water park. This shut it down.” 

The weirdest thing

No TV tonight. But plenty of color in this night photo of an abandoned water park.

“We get a lot of visitors here,” he mentioned.

Peering around at all the tagging, I nodded my head. I asked him what the weirdest thing he’s ever seen people do. Without hesitation, he answered, “Seances. I came across people conducting a seance right there,” pointing to an area between what had been the arcade and the gift shop. 

He later said, “Come on back later. You can stay here all night photographing. We’ll patrol the area and make sure no one bothers you.”

Not even ghosts, apparently.

Returning later in the night

I was excited about the prospect of photographing this place unimpeded, given the nod by the caretaker. Earlier, I had been thinking of some themes for a new night photography book on abandoned places. Lake Dolores would fit that theme beautifully. I drove in using the “secret locals” way he had also shown me, proud that I actually remembered how to do it.

An interior photo of the former arcade

I set about photographing and felt very creative, using more color in my lighting than I usually did, befitting the cartoonish, colorful nature of the water park. 

Several times, I saw an ATV pass. One time, he waved. 

Photographing the haunted gift shop

The corner of the allegedly haunted gift shop. Inside is the painting of the girl that allegedly cannot be painted over, according to the caretaker.

Of course, I had to do it. I ventured in, saw the girl, and smiled. I shined some blue light on her to give this eerie, bold and cartoonish quality. This sort of light painting would never stay on her. True to the caretaker’s word, the spirits never bothered me.

As I photographed some of the other buildings, an eerie cold wind blew in from nowhere. The air had been still and hot, but the sudden wind was gusty and cooler. Then just as suddenly, it stopped. Whether this was an atmospheric anomaly or the last vestiges of a seance, who can say?

I worked with mostly primary colors for much of this photoshoot, enhancing the already colorful, cartoonish look of the retro-futuristic water park. I’ll often use only warm white light for photo shoots, or perhaps a dash of color here and there, but here, I let the colors fly.

I packed up and left shortly after 2 a.m. This had been a great, creative night. And the ghosts had been kind.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

What are hot pixels, and how can you remove them?

Hot pixels are defects commonly found in digital cameras. You can determine if they are hot pixels because they will show in the same location in every frame — they do not move. They will look extra sharp because they are just one pixel. Below, I’ll discuss what they are and talk about three ways to remove them.

What are hot pixels?

Hot pixels are caused by electrical charges which leak into the sensor wells. You usually begin noticing them when you go home and look at your images more closely during post-processing.

Hot pixels can become more visible at high ISOs. They can also become more visible when the sensor becomes hot. This can occur when you are photographing during a hot day or evening. They tend to be more visible in dark areas of your image. They tend to show up far more often in long exposure images. And of course, this includes dark night photography images!

Hot pixels in the upper right corner.
After removing the hot pixels from the upper right corner.

Above, I used the Dust& Scratches filter in Photoshop to remove hot pixels. This is viewing the image at 200% zoom.

A pixel by any other name …

For the purposes of this article, I am not going to differentiate between hot pixels, dead pixels (a pixel that is no longer receiving any information) or a stuck pixel (pixels that receive erroneous information, often showing up as red, blue or green). I’m simply going to refer to them as hot pixels for the sake of expediency.

Three ways to get rid of wayward pixels

1. Pixel mapping

We’ll start straight at your source: Your camera. Your camera may include pixel mapping features in its firmware. The general idea is that your camera takes a black reference frame and then eliminates the detected stuck pixels. Easy. Pentax and Olympus have pixel mapping features.

2. Removing noise

I’ll use Photoshop as an example, mostly because, well, that’s what I use. If you don’t use Photoshop, look for a similar feature on your photo editor.

Photoshop already has an excellent method of getting rid of hot pixels without resorting to third party plug-ins. It’s quite easy.

Using the Dust & Scratches filter to eliminate something other than dust and scratches. Many programs other than Photoshop have the ability to remove dust and scratches. Give it a try!
Using the Dust & Scratches filter to eliminate something other than dust and scratches. Many programs other than Photoshop have the ability to remove dust and scratches. Give it a try!

Go to Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches. This will open a dialog box.

Adjusting the threshold in the "Dust & Scratches" Filter. Look! No more hot pixels!
Adjusting the threshold in the “Dust & Scratches” Filter. Look! No more hot pixels!

Set the pixel radius to 1-2 pixels. Set the threshold based on how much you wish to eliminate the offending pixels. 

The long exposure night image after reducing noise from the "Dust & Scratch" Filter.
The long exposure night image after reducing noise from the “Dust & Scratch” Filter.

What if the Dust & Scratches Filter messes up other parts of my image?

If this occurs, do one of the following:

Paint out the pixels with Layer Masks

Create a Layer Mask (Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All). This should create a white mask in the Layers Window. Then click that white mask, select a brush with the color black and paint out all the areas where you feel the image has been adversely affected.

Use luminosity masks
Creating a luminosity mask. Notice that all the darkest areas are white?
Creating a luminosity mask. Notice that all the darkest areas are white?

Since offending pixels are far more visible in dark, shadowy or unexposed areas, you may target these in those areas with a luminosity mask. Create a luminosity mask where only the darker areas of the image are targeted. The pixels should be gone. If there are other pixels visible, you can paint those out on the mask itself with a white brush, brushing on more of the effect. 

is targeted to affect the darkest areas of the image. It's easier and quicker to create a luminosity mask than it is to paint on a Layer Mask, and sometimes can be extremely helpful if you know exactly what you wish to target.is targeted to affect the darkest areas of the image. It's easier and quicker to create a luminosity mask than it is to paint on a Layer Mask, and sometimes can be extremely helpful if you know exactly what you wish to target.
This is a screenshot of the Layers palette. The luminosity mask is the small black and white mask to the right of the top layer. It’s a Layer Mask, but is targeted to affect the darkest areas of the image. It’s easier and quicker to create a luminosity mask than it is to paint on a Layer Mask, and sometimes can be extremely helpful if you know exactly what you wish to target.

3. Dark frame subtraction

There are two ways of doing dark frame subtraction — long exposure noise reduction and dark frame subtraction.

Long exposure noise reduction

You can turn on long exposure noise reduction (LENR) in your camera’s settings.

Remember, though, that this will result in your long exposure taking twice as long. For example, if you do a 3-minute exposure, your camera will then employ LENR for an additional three minutes, so your wait time will be six minutes total. Because of this, you also should not have LENR on if you are doing stacking of any kind. For these reasons, I rarely use LENR.

Dark frame subtraction in post-processing

This is how I prefer to do dark frame subtraction. While you are out in the field taking long exposure photos, take a dark exposure image. 

Set up your camera with the settings you are using. However, keep the lens cap on. This may get puzzled looks from your family if they are not photographers. Take the photo. 

Remove the lens cap and go ahead and take the long exposure. 

When you do your post-processing, open the dark frame subtraction image and your regular image. Put the dark image as the top layer. Change the Blend Mode to Subtract. Boom! That gets rid of whatever errant pixels you may have had.

It’s easy to deal with hot pixels

As I mentioned earlier, this mostly occurs with long exposure photos, especially in the dark areas. This unfortunately makes them particularly noticeable, especially when viewed on a large screen. Thankfully, there are numerous ways to address taking them out. And most of them are easy.

There are other methods of removing them as well. You could use either the Spot Healing Brush or the Clone Stamp tool to remove them. However, you would need to generally remove them individually. I tend to use the Spot Healing Brush for removing sensor dust more so than hot pixels.

You might also be able to use a noise reduction program such as Topaz Labs DeNoise AI.

Do you have a preferred method of removing hot pixels? If so, please tell me in the comments!

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

How can you be a colorblind photographer?

“Why does that dog look green?”

That comment led to my parents discovering that I was red-green colorblind. Years later, I am now a colorblind night photographer.

What do I see since I’m colorblind?

Some people think that if someone is colorblind, they see only black and white. That is an extremel1y rare occurrence. 

I am red-green colorblind, also known as deuteranopia. Approximately 8% of males have this, so it’s not unusual. There are different degrees of this. Mine is relatively strong. 

It's a fire truck. I know it's red. Got it. Good.
It’s a fire truck. I know it’s red. Got it. Good.

I can easily differentiate between bold colors of red and green. Traffic lights are no issue at all. Grass is green. Fire trucks are red. 

However, throw in subtle hues of reds and greens, as well as related colors, such as oranges and browns, and I’m usually sunk. When people discuss cyan, teal, turquoise, chartreuse or aquamarine, they hold little meaning to me. 

If someone told me a color were teal instead of blue, I might not know any better. I have little concept about what taupe or chartreuse are. Pale pinks and light gray, subtle shades of blue and purple, bright greens and yellows, or dark greens and gray — they are confusing to me.

How do I take photos?

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Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.
Night photo of a strange Mad Max-like bus in the desert. I thought I was lighting it with blue. When I saw this on my LED screen, I then knew that it was a patented color known as GST (Gas Station Teal), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Taking photos is relatively simple. However, I sometimes light my subjects with different colors. Sometimes, I’ve attempted to select blue, only to find that I’ve selected teal. If I select a color like green and I want to be absolutely sure, I will increase the saturation and hold the light against a relatively neutral surface. Same with pink. 

How do I post-process photos?

Post-processing colors is one of many reasons why I would never be a wedding photographer. If someone has a specific clothing and I don’t nail the exact color, that’s not so good. 

Consequently, I try to set a proper white balance when photographing despite already shooting in RAW. I find nailing the white balance really helps me later. It also enables me to see the histogram out in the field.

When I begin editing, I simply don’t mess with the colors very much. I rarely use saturation much anyway. 

How do I really know what color this is?

If I’m really not sure what color something is, I use Photoshop’s Color Picker. I select the color in question on the image. This produces a dialog box that tells gives me a visual representation of where things are on the RGB spectrum. Usually, that’s enough.

The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
The Color Picker dialog box in Photoshop. Most photo editors have something similar for matching and identifying colors. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

If I need more information or confirmation, I simply copy the color hex code, as shown above. This is simply a hexadecimal way to represent a specific color in RGB format.

An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.
An example of pasting the hex color code into a website such as ColorHexa to identify the color. The color I am choosing here sometimes looks like somewhat brown, especially when mixed among other colors. This is a great way to determine the color without guessing.

Then I paste the code into a site such as ColorHexa. This provides a lot of information about the color.

Saturation

Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert
Green tanks, red lights. Despite my red-green colorblindness, I can see this. More subtle hues, maybe not so much. This is a night photo of an old mine in the Mojave Desert.

If I am not certain about how much of a particular color is in an image, I will crank that color to 100% temporarily using a saturation slider. If that color is not there, little will change. If something does change, then I will make subtle adjustments. I don’t overdo it because other people will perceive that as oversaturated. 

I have trouble using things like hue sliders and color mix panels. If I shift hues, I will crank the saturation of that color by 100% temporarily so I can determine what color that is.

Natural looking photos thanks to LuminarAI

More recently, I have been experimenting with the Templates in LuminarAI. Because Luminar is using machine learning from millions of photos, it sometimes helps me to achieve a more natural looking photo. 

Color Cast in Nik Color Efex

I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.
I added a green interior to contrast this with blue during this night photo. This, however, is quite a bold green, so I can plainly determine that this is green.

I occasionally use the Color Cast function in Nik Color Efex. I’ll click on something that I know is supposed to be white. Even if I don’t end up applying the Color Cast function, this can sometimes help me to become more aware of some of the colors or casts in my image.

Asking for help while post-processing

What colors are in the Milky Way? I don't know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.
What colors are in the Milky Way? I don’t know. I basically left the colors alone, just saturating them and warming them ever so slightly. This was photographed at about 11,000 feet in elevation in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California.

If I create any shifts in color, something that might occur if processing a Milky Way photo, I will ask someone if the colors look amiss. And again, I really try not to change or mess with the colors very much at all.

Is there any cure or treatment for deuteranopia?

No, there’s not. However, there are glasses that somewhat address color blindness. You’ve probably seen the videos on social media where someone weeps because they’re seeing colors for the first time.

Curious about this, I purchased Pilestone red-green colorblind glasses. While I did not experience any emotional revelations, they did help me differentiate between challenging colors. However, the colors looked tinted. It was nothing that would help me edit photos. I returned the glasses.

With some ingenuity and persistence, you can definitely overcome color blindness. While occasionally it might be confusing or frustrating, I would urge you not to be discouraged. Photography is something that has brought me great joy despite my deuteranopia. I hope it does for you as well.

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