The Nightaxians Video Podcast on YouTube is here to help you!

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

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

What is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

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

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

The Nightaxians Video Podcast.
The Nightaxians Video Podcast.
Night photo by Nightaxian Tim Little.
Night photo by Nightaxian Tim Little.

Where is The Nightaxians Video Podcast?

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

Nightaxian screenshot.
Screenshot of the first show of the Nightaxians. The red arrow is pointing to the Subscribe Button. You can also press the white bell icon to select “All” so you don’t miss any episodes.
Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper.
Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper.

When is the Nightaxians Video Podcast?

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

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee.
Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee.

Who are the Nightaxians?

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

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

Night photo by Tim Little.

Timothy Little

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

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

Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper.
Night photo by Nightaxian Mike Cooper.

Mike Cooper

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

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

Night photo by Nightaxian Ken Lee.

Ken Lee

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Why you should clone your drive now

Why should you clone your hard drive? And what is the difference between creating a clone and a backup hard drive?

How is a clone different from a backup?

A disk clone moves the entire contents of one hard disk drive to another. This is effective when you want to include the operating system and installed programs. If the hard drive with your operating system fails or has an issue, you would be able to boot from your clone disk.

Backup hard drives
Backup hard drives

A backup drive creates an image file for backing up and recovering data. You may add more information on to a backup and not have to fully backup all data each subsequent time you back up. 

A clone does not offer the flexibility of a backup drive as described above. 

Why should you clone your hard drive?

The bonus of a clone is that you can boot from it. Consequently, many people use it for backing up the drive that contains their operating system. 

Clones do tend to require more space because you may not compress or encrypt the data. And as you might guess, you cannot incrementally add to a clone. In other words, your clone is an exact picture of your drive at that time.

If you need a bootable spare drive to be up and running quickly after your hard drive fails, a clone is what you want to do. 

Best practices

A combination of a clone and backups is best practice.

Use the clone of a system drive (operating system) to recover quickly after an emergency.

Use regular hard drive backups for your daily data, such as photos, videos, files, and documents.

I prefer to save these to both external hard drives and the cloud, using a 3-2-1 backup plan. I’ve been using Carbon Copy Cloner for my Mac with good success.

Carbon Copy Cloner screensho
Carbon Copy Cloner screenshot

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

What is better with tripods — twist locks or lever locks?

You’ve noticed that tripods come with two basic kinds of locks — twist locks and lever locks. They’re quite different. Which should you purchase? I’ll tell you my experiences and observations.

Twist locks

The Robus RC-5570 has high-quality twist locks.

I generally like twist locks, or collar locks, but I feel that you have to really go out of your way to make sure that they are locked down because occasionally, if you are not careful, they can slip. 

Using twist locks

A great advantage is that you can grab all the twist locks and untighten them simultaneously and deploy everything quickly. You can also, after collapsing the legs, tighten them all down in one motion as well. This is especially true of well-made tripods.

This maneuver is relatively quick. However, in practice, I believe lever locks still are faster when setting up the tripod. I’ll mention why later.

Maintenance of twist locks

If you photograph in really sandy, dirty places like I do (desert, beach), they can eventually get sand caught in there, and you have to take it apart, clean and lubricate it with marine grease. This is in practice not really a bad thing as I’ve only had to take my tripods apart once or twice in the last eight or nine years, and it’s rather simple to do. 

Lever locks

Lever locks from a Benro Adventure 2 Series Aluminum tripod. They’ve seen a lot of nights shooting, but are rugged enough to keep coming back for more.

The advantage of lever locks, or clamp locks, is that you KNOW when they are locked down. I mean, you’re 100% sure. You can visually see it. And when you are pressing the clamp down, you can feel it.

Using lever locks

With lever locks, you can accidentally pinch your finger. I’ve never had this happen with twist locks. The locks also sometimes snag on cactus and branches.

Some people say that it hurts their hands when they lock it down. Some with arthritis have mentioned that it’s too hard on their hands. I’ve never had this issue, thankfully, but I thought I might pass this along.

The people who love lever locks really love them and will avoid twist locks at all costs. I get it. There’s a simplicity in locking your legs down, knowing that they’re locked.

Maintenance of lever locks

From my limited experience with lever locks, they seem to loosen up over time. I’ve also seen more people with broken lever locks than twist locks. This is despite the fact that most of the night photographers I know use twist locks. This makes me believe that if you are going to get a tripod with a lever lock, don’t get cheap ones.

My opinion so far

In theory, I prefer lever locks. 

In practice, however, lever locks catch on things either in my car, in storage, or even in the field. My twist locks don’t pull my underwear out of my backpack. They don’t snag on creosote or tree branches. They don’t hitch on to my baggy pants or shorts. I unfortunately speak from experience.

Consequently, I use twist locks.

If you are less clumsy than me or if you are not in these environments, I would give lever locks some serious consideration.

Bonus tip: My twist lock routine

While using twist locks, though, I have gotten in the habit of checking everything before trusting that my tripod is rock solid and ready to go. This is my routine:

  1. I twist the locks twice
  2. I push my tripod into the ground once or twice to make sure that it sinks down and doesn’t have any issues. Because I mostly photograph in the desert or on the coast, I was already in the habit of pushing my tripod down to create additional stability.

Because of this, I believe that using a tripod with lever locks is quicker and more convenient. It might be quicker anyway. And again, there’s that knowledge of knowing that a lever lock is, well, locked.

If you are going to use a tripod with twist locks, try this routine. It works really well for me and has become a habit.

Old school lever locks from my 1970s aluminum tripod I inherited from my Dad. For many years, this has been my backup tripod, left in the car in case I forgot my carbon fiber tripod.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

How to create mysterious night portraits in the desert

I created otherworldly night portraits of a musical group during a winter evening in the California desert. I’ll describe how I went about photographing these surreal images.

Firing up the machine

I was contacted by electronic/psychedelic band Bloomfield Machine, a band masterminded by Brian Kassan, who has also created music with Chewy Marble and The Wondermints. He wanted some night photos that looked, well, like my photos. We chose Joshua Tree National Park for its strange landscape.

Cloudy with a chance of weirdness

After a delicious lunch at Pie for the People in Yucca Valley, we drove into Joshua Tree National Park, one of my favorite places for night photography.

Although the weather forecasts called for extremely cloudy skies, we were happy to find out that it was only partially cloudy. I love clouds at night. They add a lot of texture and interest to photos. I also love the way they “smear” during long exposure photographs.

Deciding on the camera settings

As those of you who read my articles know, I love to photograph near a full moon. It illuminates much of the surrounding area and is perfect for light painting. 

Because the band would need to stand still, I decided to photograph with a 30-second exposure instead of 2 or 3-minute exposures. To do this, I figured I would use an ISO of 800. ISO 800 still does not produce very much noise, certainly not with the Pentax K-1 or Nikon D750. But it would create enough light sensitivity so I could get a decent exposure, even at an aperture of f/8. 

The band said that they wanted a little bit of blur so it would look a bit strange. Otherwise, I could have done a quicker exposure, such as 10 or 15 seconds. But 30 seconds was perfect for me. This would allow me to be able to run around and illuminate the scene from several different areas while the camera shutter was open! Excellent!

Fisheye night portrait in Joshua Tree National Park, CA. Taken with the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens.

The look I wanted through lighting

I really wanted the band to pop out of the photo and have a three-dimensional quality to them. I decided that I would illuminate them using a handheld Nikon SB-600 Speedlight from the side, popping the flash manually. This would create shadow and depth. Also, this way, I wouldn’t pop a flash right in their face. And it would “freeze” them so there would be less blur.

Beginning the exposure

I positioned the two musicians and focused on them. I did this with two setups. I had the Pentax K-1 with a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. I chose this lens for its clarity and general flexibility with its wider focal range than my ultra wide-angle lens. For weirder fisheye angles, I used the Nikon D750 with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens.

I then triggered the camera with a Vello Shutterboss II wired intervalometer (Pentax users, you can use the Canon Sub Mini Connection / Nikon with DC2 connection).

Running around in the dark waving lights

Sometimes, when people ask what I do as a night photographer, I tell them, “I run around in the dark waving lights.” It’s actually reasonably accurate. I used two handheld lights, the Nikon SB-600 Speedlight and the ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light painting device. I also had a Viola Luxli LED panel packed and ready to go, but I never needed to use it. And run around I did!

Adding color and shadows

Night photo with the band, Joshua Tree National Park, CA. Taken with the Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

After triggering the camera for its 30-second exposure, I would run to the side and pop the speedlight manually. By this, I literally mean that I would hold the flash off-camera and pop it by pressing the flash button. PZAWWWW!! This would illuminate the two people in the band.

For some of the photos, I wanted more color and interest. After popping the flash, I would jam it in my pocket and then run to the side and illuminate the rocks in back of the band with the ProtoMachines light.

Fisheye night portrait in Joshua Tree National Park, CA with some extra backlighting in red for good measure. Taken with the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens.

During one of the fisheye photos, I did all of the above. Then after that, I ran over and stood in back of each of them for several seconds, shining a red light so that it would produce eerie shadows as well. Fun!

As a bonus, running kept me warm and gave me some exercise, even while photographing on a winter night! But of course, I also had to finish my lighting within 30 seconds as well. And I wanted to keep moving so I would minimize my chances of showing up in the photo.

Chimping

Of course, the band kept wanting to check out the photos. Part of this was that they wanted to make sure that their eyes weren’t closed. After all, I was popping a flash at them! Despite counting down, we did get a few photos where one person’s eyes were closed.

I pointed out how their face was sharp where the flash had illuminated them, but a little blurry on the other side. They loved that and wanted to keep it because they wanted the photos to look “extra weird.” Mission accomplished.

Processing the photos

The photos were relatively straightforward to process since they were all single exposures. Although there wasn’t that much noise, I wanted to make sure that the images were clean. The band, after all, might print some large posters. Therefore, I ran the photos through Topaz DeNoise AI before doing anything else. After that, I simply made a few adjustments using LuminarAI as a plugin in Adobe Photoshop, then using Lumenzia luminosity masks for some light dodging and burning.

“Are these composites?”

This is the question I am asked most often by other photographers. No. They are all single exposures. 

Windy night photoshoots in winter

We had arrived at our location in Joshua Tree around 4 p.m. By 7:30 p.m., we were already packing up. I was of course used to this sort of thing by now and had dressed for the cold weather. In fact, I had photographed until 10 p.m. the previous night, stopping because I didn’t want to “stay out too late” and be tired the next day.

But to be fair, the two musicians had been asked to stand still for long periods of time. And it was also windy, which added a real “bite” to the air. 

The band said, “We love what we’ve seen! Time to pack up!” One said that his toes felt numb. Not to worry, though. Before long, we were enjoying a nice hot meal in town.

Altogether, we had created 16 promotional photos for Bloomfield Machine, with six of them being long exposure night portraits. This was for sure a fun, creative, productive night.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

How you can light paint using angles effectively!

I gave a short presentation on how to light paint effectively using various angles, using them to create drama and detail. Check it out. Also, I am not 100% sure how long this will be up ! This is a preview for the Night Photo Summit virtual conference coming Feb 4-6. Each of us give 5-10 minute presentations. Enjoy!

Night Photo Summit mini-presentations
Night Photo Summit mini-presentations

http://npsummit.live/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 PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Light painting 101: How to create soft but detailed Joshua Tree

I wanted to create a soft but detailed illumination on a couple of Joshua Tree photos. I’ll break down how I created this look in Joshua Tree National Park so you can do it in three easy steps!

A special place

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I went into Joshua Tree National Park to take photos of, well, Joshua Trees. I often refer to JTNP as my spiritual home for night photography. This is where it began for me. 

Cloudy with a chance of…?

However, the Clear Outside app called for close to 100% high clouds and about 60% middle clouds. These would largely obscure the moon. However, I was not going to stay away.

When I got there, sure enough, it was cloudy. But there was still some moonlight shining through, the clouds acting like Mother Nature’s largest softbox. Furthermore, the light diffused some of the glow from Coachella Valley and the moon, creating some interest. This could work!

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I decided that I wanted the light to almost seem like it was wrapping around the trees (well, they’re not really trees, but you know…). Here’s how I went about lighting the Joshua Trees in these two photos!

Step one

After focusing on the Joshua Trees in each of the photos, I lit the trees from the left side at 120 degrees to the camera with a warm white light. I stood about 20-25 feet away so the light would be really soft but still be detailed. I kept the handheld light, a ProtoMachines LED2, moving so there wouldn’t be any hot spots.

Step two

I then walked over to the other side of the tree. This time, I was at 240 degrees to the camera. Again, I was about 20-25 feet away to soften the light. For one of the photos, I decided to caress it with a little bit of red light, just for good measure.

Light painting 120 and 240 degrees from the camera.

Step three

I swept the ground with a warm white light for each of the photos, just to create a little bit more texture since the light was otherwise rather flat and dark.

Other details

For each of the photos, I used a Pentax K-1 Mk 1 camera with a 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The settings were two minutes f/8 ISO 200. I kept the ISO low so I had enough time to walk around and light the trees, but also so I could use a slightly dimmer light from farther away to keep the lighting soft while still retaining details.

These Joshua Trees have an enormous amount of character. Keeping the detail is often very important to me so it retains their personality.

I’ll add that these photos were taken one right after another without any attempts!! Niiiice!

I wanted to create a soft but detailed illumination on a couple of Joshua Tree photos. I’ll break down how I created this look in Joshua Tree National Park so you can do it in three easy steps!

A special place

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I went into Joshua Tree National Park to take photos of, well, Joshua Trees. I often refer to JTNP as my spiritual home for night photography. This is where it began for me. 

Cloudy with a chance of…?

However, the Clear Outside app called for close to 100% high clouds and about 60% middle clouds. These would largely obscure the moon. However, I was not going to stay away.

When I got there, sure enough, it was cloudy. But there was still some moonlight shining through, the clouds acting like Mother Nature’s largest softbox. Furthermore, the light diffused some of the glow from Coachella Valley and the moon, creating some interest. This could work!

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I decided that I wanted the light to almost seem like it was wrapping around the trees (well, they’re not really trees, but you know…). Here’s how I went about lighting the Joshua Trees in these two photos!

Step one

After focusing on the Joshua Trees in each of the photos, I lit the trees from the left side at 120 degrees to the camera with a warm white light. I stood about 20-25 feet away so the light would be really soft but still be detailed. I kept the handheld light, a ProtoMachines LED2, moving so there wouldn’t be any hot spots.

Step two

I then walked over to the other side of the tree. This time, I was at 240 degrees to the camera. Again, I was about 20-25 feet away to soften the light. For one of the photos, I decided to caress it with a little bit of red light, just for good measure.

chart for light painting angles
Light painting 120 and 240 degrees from the camera.

Step three

I swept the ground with a warm white light for each of the photos, just to create a little bit more texture since the light was otherwise rather flat and dark.

Other details

For each of the photos, I used a Pentax K-1 Mk 1 camera with a 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The settings were two minutes f/8 ISO 200. I kept the ISO low so I had enough time to walk around and light the trees, but also so I could use a slightly dimmer light from farther away to keep the lighting soft while still retaining details.

These Joshua Trees have an enormous amount of character. Keeping the detail is often very important to me so it retains their personality.

I’ll add that these photos were taken one right after another without any attempts!! Niiiice!

I wanted to create a soft but detailed illumination on a couple of Joshua Tree photos. I’ll break down how I created this look in Joshua Tree National Park so you can do it in three easy steps!

A special place

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I went into Joshua Tree National Park to take photos of, well, Joshua Trees. I often refer to JTNP as my spiritual home for night photography. This is where it began for me. 

Cloudy with a chance of…?

However, the Clear Outside app called for close to 100% high clouds and about 60% middle clouds. These would largely obscure the moon. However, I was not going to stay away.

When I got there, sure enough, it was cloudy. But there was still some moonlight shining through, the clouds acting like Mother Nature’s largest softbox. Furthermore, the light diffused some of the glow from Coachella Valley and the moon, creating some interest. This could work!

Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Night photo with light painting, Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

I decided that I wanted the light to almost seem like it was wrapping around the trees (well, they’re not really trees, but you know…). Here’s how I went about lighting the Joshua Trees in these two photos!

Step one

After focusing on the Joshua Trees in each of the photos, I lit the trees from the left side at 120 degrees to the camera with a warm white light. I stood about 20-25 feet away so the light would be really soft but still be detailed. I kept the handheld light, a ProtoMachines LED2, moving so there wouldn’t be any hot spots.

Step two

I then walked over to the other side of the tree. This time, I was at 240 degrees to the camera. Again, I was about 20-25 feet away to soften the light. For one of the photos, I decided to caress it with a little bit of red light, just for good measure.

chart for light painting angles
Light painting 120 and 240 degrees from the camera.

Step three

I swept the ground with a warm white light for each of the photos, just to create a little bit more texture since the light was otherwise rather flat and dark.

Other details

For each of the photos, I used a Pentax K-1 Mk 1 camera with a 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens. The settings were two minutes f/8 ISO 200. I kept the ISO low so I had enough time to walk around and light the trees, but also so I could use a slightly dimmer light from farther away to keep the lighting soft while still retaining details.

These Joshua Trees have an enormous amount of character. Keeping the detail is often very important to me so it retains their personality.

I’ll add that these photos were taken one right after another without any attempts!! Niiiice!

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Join me for a special Night Photo Summit event tonight (Monday 31 January)!

Tonight at 8pm ET – I’ll be presenting at Night Photo Summit – Pre-Event talk on how I Got the Shot. Joining me will be Kevin Adams, Susan Magnano, Lance Keimig, and Tim Cooper.  
This event is free for those who have registered for our 2nd Annual Night Photo Summit that kicks off this Friday, February 4th!  For more info http://npsummit.live/ken

Join us for the Night Photo Summit February 4-6 2022 as well! If you are interested in night photography, you won’t want to miss it!

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

Light Painting 101: How to light a mining walkway in three steps

One of the best parts of photographing with other night photographers is the camaraderie and collaboration. Sometimes, it’s better to have several people working together while creating an image with light painting. I’ll describe how we went about illuminating this photo during the long exposure. Collaborative light painting can be a beautiful, powerful method. But first, I’ll discuss the vandalism/art that you see in the photo.

Lighting a walkway at a remote mining facility walkway.
Lighting a walkway at a remote mining facility walkway.

Aware of destruction, aware of art

Aware is a guerilla vandal/artist that recently passed away. Revered among many graffiti artists, his passing reverberated throughout the community. 

Aware was part of a collective of artists and activists known for making political statements. They were known for making statements through art, graffiti, vandalism, and more, pointing out corporate greed against Wall Street and protesting police brutality against African-Americans. Here at this remote mining complex, this collective created art to protest environmental destruction and the poisoning of our planet.

Their art and vandalism creates polarized opinions. Many regard them as daring guerilla artists making important and necessary statements. Others regard them as vandals hellbent on destroying abandoned property. As is so often the case, many view these actions through an either/or or “us vs. them” lens. They can be both of these things, and more.

Three steps to photographing the walkway

Several of us night photographers travel together occasionally, taking photos during the full moon. We always have a great time. 

1.) Illuminating the interior of the walkway

George Loo, who developed the ProtoMachines light painting devices, climbed up the stairs to light the interior of the overhead walkway. He chose a deep purple light. He walked along the entire length of the walkway with his ProtoMachines lit. The purple light creates depth inside and spills out onto the rocky mountain face below. Also notice how George used shallow angles in the interior to bring out details and create depth.

2.) Bringing out the details

I loved the way the moon was lighting the corrugated walkway. In fact, that’s largely what inspired me to take the photo. Mimicking the way the moon created shadows, I illuminated it from a similar direction. This created further detail while looking natural.

3.) Collaborating

We communicated throughout the shoot. For instance, George would announce that he was about to walk through the overhead walkway. Timothy Little and I would count down a bit, and then trigger the cameras before he began walking through. 

George, Timothy, Mike Cooper and I communicate not only when collaborating on an image together, but also to make sure we don’t blast someone with light and interfere with their photo. For longer distances, we use Motorola two-way radios to communicate with each other.

Why don’t I show up in the photo?

When I illuminated the interior, I walked through the frame — twice! Why didn’t I register? It’s because I walked quickly through an exposure that was several minutes long.

Generally, unless you inadvertently flash a light on yourself, you don’t begin to show up in a photo until you have been standing still for approximately 10% of the overall exposure! So yes, you can walk through the scene and not show up. Spooky, huh?

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

 

 

Night Photo Summit 2022: Inspiring night photographers across the galaxy

The well-respected National Parks at Night held their first Night Photo Summit last year. This was a great success. Consequently, they’ve decided to hold another Night Photo Summit this year as well. I am also deeply honored to say that I am one of the 25 presenters.  My presentation will be “How to Use Light Painting Angles to Create Detail, Texture, and Drama”.

"How to Use Light Painting Angles to Create Detail, Texture, and Drama" presented by Ken Lee
“How to Use Light Painting Angles to Create Detail, Texture, and Drama” presented by Ken Lee

What is National Parks at Night?

National Parks at Night hold night photography workshops that provide top-shelf education both in the classroom and in the field, and are arguably the best in the world at doing so. They also have an extremely informative blog.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, CA. This photo was featured in National Geographic Books and Westways Magazine.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, CA USA. This photo was featured in National Geographic Books and Westways Magazine.

What is Night Photo Summit 2022?

A couple of years ago, National Parks at Night had been wanting to hold an in-person event, but decided not to wait and hold a virtual event instead. This event will have 40 classes with over 25 speakers discussing a wide range of topics on all things night photography. This includes NPAN’s own elite group of instructors. 

The speakers will include not only night photographers, but also astrophysicists, writers, artists and rangers. They will speak about astronomy, dark skies, creativity and of course photo techniques — both in the field and post-processing.

There are video presentations and classes for all levels, including beginners, intermediate, and those looking to hone their skills even more. The presentations include such disparate topics as creating time-lapses, photographing fireflies, photographing the Milky Way, night portraiture, and more. Every presentation will have live chat opportunities. 

Additionally, there will also be unscripted panel discussions, virtual parties, and networking opportunities. 

Everyone who purchases this will get access to full streaming access of all videos for the next year.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA USA
Joshua Tree National Park, CA USA

Who are the presenters?

The presenters include Gabriel Biderman, Lance Keimig, Matt Hill, Chris Nicholson, Tim Cooper from National Parks at Night. 

Other presenters include Adam Woodworth, Amir Shahcheraghian, Art Wolfe, Autumn Schrock, Colleen Miniuk, Erik Kuna, Forest Chaput, Gunther Wegner, Hannu Huhtamo, Imma Barrera, Jess Santos, Kah-Wai Lin, Kevin Adams, Michael DeYoung, Michael Frye, Mike Mezeul II, Nicole Mortillaro, Rafael Pons, Royce Bair, Sherry Pincus, and Susan Magnano, and, as mentioned, me.

Texture and shadows inside an enormous WWII airplane hangar, Nevada desert.
Texture and shadows inside an enormous WWII airplane hangar, Nevada desert.

When is it?

The Night Photo Summit 2022 takes place February 4-6 2022. 

How much is it?

Night Photo Summit is $399 for 45+ hours of night photography education, camaraderie, fun, full replay access for a year. This is my affiliate link, so when you sign up, please use this link!

I hope to see you there!

"How to Use Light Painting Angles to Create Detail, Texture, and Drama" presented by Ken Lee
“How to Use Light Painting Angles to Create Detail, Texture, and Drama” presented by Ken Lee

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

 

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