Five Tips All Night Photographers Would Love To Know

Night photography has its own quirks and needs. After all, you’re photographing in the dark, maybe not the most normal thing to do. I decided I would avoid the more obvious sort of tips, such as “know how to operate your camera in the dark” or “understand how to shoot in manual” and get to physical sorts of tips that can help immensely. Let’s dive in.
1.) Gaffer’s Tape
Let’s start off with one that every night photographer could use. Gaffer’s tape. Yeah. This all-purpose tape is used by gaffers in film and TV production. The gaffer is the chief lighting technician, and is typically the head electrician. They need to use tape that is strong but doesn’t leave a residue. This is where we come in. We can use this for all sorts of purposes, so it’s always great to have gaffer’s tape in your bag. Break something? Tape it together. If you break part of your tripod, such as the ballhead, you can tape your camera to the tripod. Need to keep something in place, such as a prop or piece of equipment? Gaffer’s tape to the rescue. With some old cameras that don’t have a self-timer and you are missing your external intervalometer, you can even tape a pebble to the shutter button to hold it down. Need to tape down your focus ring on your lens so you can keep the same focus while moving around? Yes, gaffer’s tape. Too much light coming in to your room when you need to sleep late? Tape a blanket over the window. Want to use some tape to find things easier? I use orange gaffer’s tape (among other things…see below). All this and more, gaffer’s tape is indispensable.
2.) Velcro Your Intervalometer
Do you have an external intervalometer? If so, use hook and loop fasteners to “Velcro” your intervalometer to the leg of your tripod. This allows you to keep it up high without either dangling and swaying from your camera or dragging in the dirt when you are operating down low.
Above: My ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device is not something I want to go missing. There’s gaffer’s tape and glow-in-the-dark tape to help me locate it easier, and that’s a beautiful thing.
3.) Working In Pitch-Black Indoors
I photograph a lot of abandoned places. Many of these places are indoors, so even if there’s a full moon overhead, it’s likely very dark. I’ve photographed abandoned mining houses, penitentiaries, tunnels, factories, and more indoors. They’re completely pitch black, quite often. A great tip is to take dim electric tea lights or even a headlamp, or really, anything that creates a dim light that illuminates the room. Place this anywhere, and then get to work. You can see what you are doing and see the room, but the light is dim enough that it doesn’t adversely affect your light painting of the room. This is also nice because I don’t blow out my eyes, but it’s just bright enough that I can see what I am doing. I also use a red LED headlamp so I don’t blow out my vision as well.
Above: The room here isn’t completely pitch dark, but it was dark enough that I couldn’t really see things very well, and tripped over some huge floorboards upon arrival. I busted out a dim light so I could see the floor, and that really helped prevent further tripping.
4.) Find Your Belongings
I use both reflective tape and glow-in-the-dark tape for finding my equipment. I have both kinds of tape wrapped around my tripod legs and my ProtoMachines LED2 flashlight. Why do I use both? Glow-in-the-dark tape works almost all the time, and 99% of the time, this is enough to find the equipment. But in those cases where it is too dim or it didn’t get enough light to activate it, I also have reflective tape that alternates red and white so if I need to, I can shine a flashlight around and have this reflect back. I prefer not to do this because I like to work in the dark, but also because I might ruin my exposure if I inadvertently shine my flashlight into the camera lens. For other things that are dark, I sometimes use orange gaffer’s tape so that it is a little more visible.
5.) Kneepads
I kneel on a lot of surfaces that are sort of rough, whether it is rocks, sand with sharp little rocks, or abandoned locations. I also climb around sometimes. In those instances, it’s really nice to have kneepads to go a little easier on the knees.  I have knee braces that have pads in the front so they provide a little bit of support for going down hills or bending a lot. This is really nice when I am photographing for 6-8 hours, especially during a cold evening.

Above: I had to climb into this airplane cockpit and squat and kneel around some rather hard and sharp metal. Kneepads would have helped immensely here. I used a blanket, but still managed to scratch up my leg.

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

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

 

 

Ideas For Night Photographers While Staying At Home

Night photographers, just because we are staying at home doesn’t mean that we can’t continue creating photos. Here’s a few ideas we can do while not leaving the house while during the coronavirus.
This first photo of R2D2 above was done in my backyard. I used electroluminescent wire and a little penlight laser to create the lighting as well as a regular LED flashlight. While I did this outside, there’s no reason why you can’t create images like this indoors as well.
“There is no try, only do!”

Sports fans can get in on the action as well.

These sorts of images do not need to cost a lot of money or require a lot of setup to do. YOu may have a lot of the materials in your home already, or at least be able to purchase them inexpensively. Electroluminescent wire, for instance, can be purchased easily on Amazon or elsewhere, and often only costs around US$13, not including the battery. Although I use a ProtoMachines LED2 for a lot of “light painting”, a light painting device that is fantastic but rather expensive, many of these were photographed before I purchased that. These were done with a relatively inexpensive LED flashlight. 

Now I am rather lucky in that I have a lot of trees on the periphery of my backyard. Still, I live in the city, and there are a lot of stray lights from the neighbor’s houses that occasionally manage to sneak their way through the trees and into the camera lens. I try to photograph from a lower perspective so it eliminates most of these lights. Still, though, despite my best efforts, some lights still get through. To eliminate these, I sometimes take some dark blankets or paper and hang them from the trees or with some extra stands I have lying around. I do usually have to go into Photoshop later and darken this a little bit more just to make the background even, but it typically does not take very much effort since I am pulling these back farther from the subject and not shining the light on the blankets. I also prefer to underexpose the background and keep it black as well, which helps immensely.

And finally, you can “light write” important messages indoors!

This photo was created in New Year’s Eve with Lisa helping out, not knowing that this was going to be a marriage proposal. I set up the camera, had her help out by lighting me with a flash, and used “light drawing” to write this message while the camera’s shutter was open for this long exposure photo. I did this only once.

Then I had her look at the LED screen on the back of the camera. She was very surprised! She said yes. I joked and said she had to “light draw” her answer.

I had intended to propose in Joshua Tree National Park at night, with the stars in the sky and next to a Joshua Tree, but when we were there, it was 40 degrees and windy, so New Year’s Eve it was, inside the warmth of our house!

I liked that I was able to propose while doing so in a way that was fundamentally me. After all, I am a night photographer, so it’s fun to imbue this with my personality and what I love to do. Being able to create a photo that actually captured the very moment that I proposed as well as creating a fun surprise really illustrates the way that we can create lasting memories – and images – even while inside the home. In fact, it may be that very familiarity that works in your favor. Here, we have an image that makes for a great story and will last a lifetime.

#stayathome #coronavirus  #coronapocalypse  #covid19 #nightphotography

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

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

 

 

Learn in the Time of COVID-19: Photographers, What Will You Do With This Time?

Hello everyone. I hope that you are doing well, and that you are staying safe and healthy.

It is a strange time. Most of us have probably been asked to “shelter in place”, not going out except for essential things.

If you are passionate about photography like I am, what will you do with this time? Will you continue processing your backlog of photos? Try to create new content (blogs, etc.)? Learn new post-processing techniques? Take on new challenges to photograph the things around you that you usually don’t do?

Related to that last question is an awesome exercise where you try to photograph as many cool things around your apartment, back yard, house, or whatever and make it really compelling, practicing new compositions, new techniques, different genres of photography, utilizing new lenses that are ordinarily not used for that purpose, and approaching everything with a fresh perspective. I would heartily encourage you to do this if you don’t already.

If you never do portrait photography, perhaps this would be a good time to experiment with this. Or if you’ve never tried your hand at “light painting”, give it a go. Macro? Why not? Panos, sure, even if it’s in a tiny apartment!

What post-processing can make your images better? Perhaps it might be time to figure out how to dodge and burn. This is a technique going back many decades, one. utilized, as the name “dodge and burn” implies, in the darkroom. Luminosity masks is a great thing to learn, and can help target specific areas. For instance, I use luminosity masks to target the night sky specifically so that I may apply some noise reduction to the sky but not to the foreground or the stars. Layer masks is a beautiful thing. We could learn how to do a better job organizing our photos in Lightroom or whatever program we use that has some sort of file management system.

We can go to lynda.com, YouTube, Phlearn, National Parks At Night, or other places to learn new techniques.

Although we may not be able to run out and photograph, this is a time when we can still step up our creativity, knowledge, and techniques.

Let me know how you are doing in the comments, and what part of your photography or art you might work on during this strange time.

LET’S CONNECT!

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

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 Caoifornia’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

 

 

 

 

Why Should You Do Night Photography When It’s Cloudy?

It’s the weekend. You’re finally have some time away from your job. You’re ready to hop in the car with your camera gear, ready to drive a few hours at night listening to weird music and get good and dusty. You’re ready for night photography.
But it’s cloudy.
Should you pack it in and fire up Netflix?
Maybe not.
Clouds can add immense drama and interest to your photo, and can sometimes make a night photo better. They can frame your subject or add interest to the night sky or glow from the moon or even light pollution. They can add a beautiful mysterious glow to the stars. Moon or no, clouds can look magnificent. Just as with day photography, they can add interest, so it is with night photography as well.
For long exposures, it’s usually best when they are moving a bit and not completely covering the sky, although even then, it’s possible to get some good photos.
Let’s look at a few photos.
The photo above has quite a few clouds. I checked my app, Clear Outside, and it stated that that the sky could be as much as 100% total cloud cover. The app does describe whether the clouds are high clouds, medium clouds, or low clouds as well as giving total cloud cover, so you can tell the character of the clouds, which is rather useful. Additionally, the app gives other information, such as when the International Space Station is visible, visibility, fog, rain, and wind. On this particular night, I saw that there was some wind and that there was between 80-100% high clouds. This sounded grim. And it was a long drive to this location. But we had received permission, so we perservered. We were rewarded with beautiful dramatic skies that glowed profusely from light pollution, streaked wispily across the sky, yet revealed the glorious Milky Way over head. In this photo, I quietly observed which way the wind was blowing so I could pre-visualize how the clouds would look. I knew that they were sort of coming toward the camera and would dramatically bracket the airplane in the foreground. And here, because these clouds are higher, wispier clouds and because they are moving from wind, they don’t completely occlude the stars, but add a gorgeous, diffuse glow.
The next photo, shown above, is absurdly cloudy. It was initially somewhat clear, but as the sun melted into the horizon, more and more clouds appeared until finally, almost the entire sky was covered. Initially disappointed, I began to realize that the clouds might add a certain eeriness to some of the photos of houses buried in sand. Here’s a photo in which I actually desaturated the photo slightly to go with the cloudy feel and exaggerate the already eerie feel.
Partially cloudy skies work as well, even when the clouds are low, as with this photo above, taken in Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert. The blurring of the moving clouds adds drama and movement to the composition, and bracket the rocky foreground, adding to the already surreal landscape. Although this would be more romantic if we knew the glow were from a setting sun, the reality is that this is light pollution from Coachella Valley.
The above photo, also taken in Joshua Tree National Park, shows quickly moving low clouds, and again, the long exposure adds a sense of drama and movement. Here, an almost full moon backlights the Joshua Tree and adds a beautiful glow to the clouds.
This last example of night photography with clouds is admittedly more obvious since it’s accompanied by the additional drama of a lightning storm. This is of course the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I was doubly lucky because to the back of me was a full moon that was beautifully illuminating the canyon below, with the Colorado snaking through the rocky terrain. Here, the clouds are also in movement, coming almost right toward the camera and adding, once again, drama and movement to the photo.
When you see clouds before going out to photograph, remember that this doesn’t mean you are automatically hosed. Sure, maybe it may block your Milky Way. But maybe it won’t. And maybe, it will add drama to the night sky that you never even imagined possible. I hope this was helpful or inspiring. Please share if you like it, and please leave a comment below.

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

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 Caoifornia’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

 

My “Abandoned Southern CA” book featured in Business Insider!

Hello, I was recently interviewed by Business Insider journalist Erin McDowell for my new book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing Of Time” (America Through Time). Click here to see the article and 25 night photography photos!

Here’s some photos from the book, available on Amazon and kenleephotography.com. Thanks so much for looking.

 

How I Find Interesting Foregrounds and Abandoned Locations

Especially since my first book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” was released, I have been asked how I find interesting foregrounds and abandoned locations a couple of times lately, and thought I would answer in my blog, which I’ve resuscitated to go along with my shiny new Ken Lee Photography website.
My philosophy is that regardless of whether it you are photographing the night sky or not, it’s all about the composition, where the subject matter still counts. And rarely for me is the night sky the subject matter. I’m particularly fascinated by the marriage of sky and earth. Astrophotography and deep sky photography hold less interest for me personally.
Ideally, I hike around the area during the day and return at night, although that doesn’t always happen due to time constraints or life throwing one challenges.
I photograph a lot of abandoned items that I found interesting, but really, anything that’s interesting is something that I love to photograph, including fantastic natural landscapes or unique features. Often, the weirder, the better. When I’m in the area during the day, I usually try to make notes about where the moon might come out, how the foreground subject will be illuminated, or where the Milky Way might be, things like that. I use apps such as PhotoPills to help determine things such as this. I also look to see whether there might be streetlights in the area or there might be some danger in walking (sharp cactus, floorboards that are about to give way, possibility for animals or people, homeless encampments, whatever). And of course, I am always thinking about how I might “light paint” the foreground so that I can create visually strong and creative images. “Light painting” is illuminating the foreground while the camera shutter is open, acting almost like the director of a movie, determining what to illuminate, and what to keep in shadow. This helps the image to tell a story about the place.
I devote quite a bit of time to finding interesting areas. When researching new locations and determining how to approach photographing them, I use a combination of Google Maps, the history of a region, looking at old photographs, driving around the area, other photographer friends, blogs, old maps, and Facebook groups about a particular subject matter. If I think there are some ghost towns or abandoned houses in a particular region, I’ll also try to see if I can find abandoned places on Google Earth.
I try not to copy other people’s photographs. Also, I don’t actively seek to photograph some locations there despite it having great subjects if 1.) I feel like I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said before, and 2.) they are too crowded, which isn’t the sort of photographic experience I’m after. Locations like this would include Mesa Arch at sunrise, Kanarra Creek Canyon, the sun shining on Horsetail Fall in Yosemite in February, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon. This is not a condemnation of anyone photographing these locations. They are stunning locations for photography. Because of #1 and #2, they simply hold less interest for me.
Finally, I am working on two more night photography books on abandoned sites, both of which have themes. Themes are fantastic because they drive me to seek out these things more, and make it a lot of fun! I also record music this way by having this sort of theme, and it serves as a guidepost for what one seeks out or does. I often find myself thinking about the approach in novel ways, and that can create additional creativity.
What foregrounds interest you? What methods do you use to find fascinating foregrounds and cool abandoned sites? Let us know in the comments section!

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

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 Caoifornia’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

Abandoned Southern California book and book signing-CANCELED!

BOOK EVENT CANCELED:

Well, this is very frustrating. Like the NBA and Disneyland, we too need to close the doors to events. This is the second time my book event has been canceled. Puhhhhh.

There is currently no date for a future event. We live in strange, strange times right now, and most anything that has a decent crowd has been canceled. Thank you so much for your patience.
Since everyone is hoarding toilet paper in preparation for the impending virus, I would encourage all involved to also hoard copies of “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time”. If people feel they will spend that much time on the throne, they deserve good reading material. I’m here to help. www.kenleephotography.com will get that done.

Please let other people know that it is canceled. I really try my best to let everyone know, but it is so hard to do.

Thanks!
“Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” @ Valley Relics (Sunday March 22nd is canceled).

 

NEW BOOK: I’m going to start this blog again after taking a hiatus. And what better way than to announce my first book? I have a new book entitled “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time”. The book features night photography photos of abandoned locations, some of them well known, others rather secret and obscure. The book is published by Fonthill Media/Arcadia Publishing. I am also working on two more books featuring night photography photos of abandoned locations.

BOOK SIGNING EVENT – CANCELED: I will be having a book signing on March 22 2020 at 5 pm at Valley Relics Museum in Los Angeles, CA at 7900 Balboa Blvd. Lake Balboa CA 91406 Hangar C 3 and 4. The entrance is on Stagg Street. Although it begins at 5 pm, I would encourage people to show up early to check out the fascinating museum. Admission is $10. I will also be giving a half hour slide show presentation on some of the locations in the book.

Facebook Event sign-up and tickets

 

BLOG: I am going to begin writing blog posts. However, it’s going to be different this time. I had problems trying to post so many times before, so I am going to slow it down to approximately one time a month. I will write more about night photography in general, including occasionally answering more commonly asked questions about night photography, including star trails, Milky Way, abandoned locations, gear, and other topics, keeping it loose and informal and fun and interesting.

NEW WEBSITE: I have a fresh new look for my website. Check it out! I am super happy with how beautifully it displays the photos and how it seamlessly integrates purchasing prints and various other items. www.kenleephotography.com

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

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 Caoifornia’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

Thank you!

-Ken