Overcoming issues while adding 1 TB of blazing fast SSD storage inexpensively

Not long ago, I wrote about running out of SSD storage and how I added more for under $125. After all, you can never have too much storage, right? Especially fast storage.

It worked great at first, then began to go south.

This article continues my quest to add blazing fast SSD storage, including some of the bumps along the way.

Running out of SSD storage

I have a 500MB SSD in my iMac. I was using this to process photos, then shuttle them over to an external SATA drive, a spinning drive that I use as long-term storage. But lately, I had been back-logged. My projects were piling up, and I was running out of space to process my photos quickly.

However,  my friend Dave told me about a great solution. And to my surprise, it was considerably cheaper than replacing the SSD in my iMac or getting an external “hard drive toaster” or Synology or other solutions everyone else kept suggesting.

Small but mighty

My friend Dave suggested that I purchase a 1TB NVMe Internal SSD. He also suggested a small enclosure. This would act like a small portable USB. But faster. Way faster. This would connect via Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, which most modern computers have.

One small problem

This worked great. I was happy. But after several days, the drive stopped mounting. In other words, the computer could not properly recognize the drive.

This was intermittent at first. I would pull out the cable. It would then mount. But when I logged out and logged back in, it would often disappear from the hard drive again.

Troubleshooting the issue

I attempted to figure out the source of the problem. I switched cables, using the USB 3.1 port instead of Thunderbolt 3. This worked. Until it didn’t.

I reseated everything. I then began more drastic measures. I ran First Aid from Disk Utility. This worked. Until it didn’t. I erased the drive. This worked. Until it didn’t. Time and time again, it seemed like I had fixed the issue, only to have it not mount after one or two more tries.

Hot, hot, hot

Another aspect I disliked was that within minutes, the enclosure was hot to the touch. I had mounted it to the back of my computer to get as much air as possible. However, it still always ran really hot.

Return to sender

I gave up. I returned everything since it was still well within the 30-day period. After all, I had only been using it less than a week.

Replacements to the rescue!

I decided I would try to get a different NVMe equipment. After poking around on various tech sites, I was drawn to a Sabrent USB 3.2 Tool-Free Enclosure. I liked that it was also a little larger, made of solid aluminum and designed to dissipate heat efficiently. It looked strong.

I also decided to get the same brand, although that wasn’t necessary. I also purchased a Sabrent Rocket Q 1TB NVMe  Internal SSD. It was also highly rated on various tech sites, performing well on benchmarks and apparently reliable. Surprisingly, these came in the mail the next day, the same day that I went to The UPS Store to return the other items.

Four quick steps to placing the SSD in the enclosure

In my last article about adding SSD, I mentioned how easy installation was. In fact, it took me longer to take photos of everything and upload them than it did for me to connect everything. And so it was again.

Step One: I opened the enclosure by turning the round recessed handle. This case was quite solid. The peg at the bottom is a notched, rubber SSD rentention peg that was located inside. This holds the internal SSD in place.

Step Two: I opened the Sabrent SSD, which came in a rather nice case, carefully holding it by its sides.

Step Three: I slid the SSD inside. It only fits one way, so it’s easy to figure out where it goes. I placed the rubber retention peg in. A magnetized bottom holds it in place.

Step Four: After closing the enclosure, I simply connected the cables to the computer. You don’t need a photo for that, do you?

Making sure your computer recognizes the drive

This should be the same as installing any other drive. I’ll briefly describe the process on my iMac.

After Initializing

I received this dialogue box as shown above, prompting me to, well, do something. I initialized it.

However, like last time, the drive didn’t mount. I couldn’t see it on my desktop or use it, in other words.

I went into Disk Utility. On a Mac, you can do a quick search or go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utilities.

Erase Disk

From Disk Utilities, do what you would normally do when installing any new disk. Here, I pressed the “erase” function and then formatted the drive. Because of the fast speed of the connection, I’ve basically increased my hard drive space by 1TB. A friend of mine runs all his software from one of them because it’s a similar speed to his internal SSD. Nice.

Also notice the icon I gave it. Yes, instead of a rectangle, my icon is the U.S.S. Enterprise. Fly that geek flag high and proud, I say!

Remember, leave the unit in a place where it will not get covered and gets lots of air flow.

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

 

The Christmas Star: the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on the shortest day of the year

The winter solstice brings many things. Celebrations, holidays, the longest night of the year, rebirth, and much more.

On December 21 of 2020, it also brought the “The Christmas Star”, what people called the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. The two planets were separated by just six arc minutes, equal to about one-fifth the apparent width of the moon.

 

A rare celestial event

In our night sky, the two planets haven’t appeared this close and visible to most of the population since March 5, 1226. Sure, they came close in 1623, but just for a short while in northern South America, central Africa and Indonesia. If you missed the conjunction, you can live vicariously through my photos or polish up your camera in 2080.

I stood outside with several other groups of people in Vasquez Rocks, CA. Some were in folding chairs, admiring with silence and reverence.

About the photos

I showed up at Vasquez Rocks after a long drive over the mountains to avoid traffic, driving there with my wife, who wanted to see this historic event. I had my camera set up for only about twenty minutes, perched up about twenty feet above the desert floor. Although I did bring light painting equipment, I decided that I wanted to keep the iconic Vasquez Rocks in shadow to bring more attention to the Jupiter-Saturn pairing. I shot all photos between 5:43 and 5:54 PM.

 

The above photo was shot at a focal length of 95mm. With this, more than the others, you can see the two distinct planets quite easily.

 

Above, a couple is walking around the rocks where years ago, Captain Kirk made his stand against a lizard creature called the Gorn in “Star Trek”.

Let me know if you saw the conjunction in the comments 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

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

 

I just added 1TB of blazing fast SSD storage to my computer for $125!

If you’re like me, you have photos. Lots of photos.

And you need storage. Lots of storage.

Running out of SSD storage

I have a 500MB SSD in my iMac. I was using this to process photos, then shuttle them over to an external SATA drive, a spinning drive that I use as long-term storage. But lately, I had been back-logged. My projects were piling up, and I was running out of space to process my photos quickly.

However,  my friend Dave told me about a great solution. And to my surprise, it was considerably cheaper than replacing the SSD in my iMac or getting an external “hard drive toaster” or Synology or other solutions everyone else kept suggesting.

Small but mighty

He suggested that I purchase a Western Digital NVMe Internal SSD. It was 1TB. And it was tiny. And for barely more than $100, it seemed like a great deal.

I’ve got you covered

Now, I did mention that the SSD is internal. Dave suggested that I purchase a small enclosure. I purchased an M.2 NVME SSD Enclosure Adapter as well. This would connect via Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 Gen 2 port, which most modern computers have.

Five quick steps to placing the SSD in the enclosure

Installation was very easy and took no time at all. In fact, it took me longer to take photos of everything and upload them than it did for me to connect everything.

 

Step One: The Mokin case slid open easily. The peg just to the right is a notched, rubber SSD rentention peg. They are located inside. I removed them before sliding the NVMe SSD in.

 

Step Two: I slid in the SSD until it locks in place. I could easily determine which side to slide in by the pattern of the connectors.

 

Step Three: A closer look at the rubber retention peg, which I’ve placed by the notch of the SSD.

 

Step Four: Here, I am sliding the tray into the enclosure. From there, a plastic cap slides into place, keeping everything locked.

 

Step Five: I connected using the provided USB-C cable, which fits into the Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.1 port. Above, you can see that I’ve also mounted the drive to the back of my iMac. This gets it off the surface of my desk, which is already cluttered enough. As a bonus, this helps dissipate heat more. That’s good because these little things get noticeably hot, particularly when transferring lots of files.

Making sure your computer recognizes the drive

This should be the same as installing any other drive. I’ll briefly describe the process on my iMac.

 

There’s a chance that your computer may not immediately be able to use the drive. That was certainly the case with my iMac. I received a dialogue box as shown above, prompting me to, well, do something. I initialized it.

However, the drive didn’t mount. I couldn’t see it on my desktop or use it, in other words.

I went into Disk Utility. On a Mac, you can do a quick search or go to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utilities.

 

From Disk Utilities, do what you would normally do when installing any new disk. Here, I pressed the “erase” function and then formatted the drive. Because of the fast speed of the connection, I’ve basically increased my hard drive space by 1TB. A friend of mine runs all his software from one of them because it’s a similar speed to his internal SSD. Nice.

Remember, leave the unit in a place where it will not get covered and gets lots of air flow.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

Light painting 101: behind the scenes while illuminating an abandoned bus

Light painting is a term that is often used loosely to describe any addition of light to a night photograph. Really, though, light painting is a technique that uses a handheld light source to illuminate a scene during a long exposure. You are quite literally painting the scene with light. Night photographers have used this technique for many decades.

Here’s how I illuminated an abandoned bus.

 

 

Cracks in the glass

I love patina. The cracks in the glass caught my eye. I wanted to illuminate that to really bring them out. I used a ProtoMachines LED2 set to a color “patented” by Timothy Little called Gas Station Teal (TM).  Using a piece of cardboard to block the light from shining directly into the camera lens, I skimmed along the cracks from the driver’s side window. I walked to the back of the bus and illuminated the rest of the interior through a window because the bus was locked.

 

Illuminating the front

From there, I walked around to camera left and illuminated the bus. This was in part to mimic the direction of the moon. Sure, the moon is in back of the bus, but it still implies directionality. I used a warm white light for this. I skimmed it off the surface so it would create texture.

 

Illuminating the headlights

This sometimes confuses people. They cannot figure out why the headlights look like they’re on. Confusion is fun. I used a homemade snoot screwed on to my ProtoMachines light and quickly illuminated this for a second or so using a warm white light. I did the same with the smaller red light on on the top, switching the color to red. The snoot was handy because it forms a tight seal between the light and the tube so it would not “leak” out directly into the lens and leave an odd spot or trail. This was especially important here because the lens was very close to the bus, and I had to get very close to the lens to illuminate the headlights.

 

The moon

A 78% full moon illuminated the rest of the scene during the three-minute exposure. This provided just enough light to illuminate the rest of the scene. I kept the scene bright enough that it would have detail, but dark enough that it would provide contrast with the bus.

I hope you found this helpful!

 

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

 

10-minute DIY: an easy-to-make snoot for light painting

This is admittedly a rather specific DIY project, but hopefully it fills a niche, however small that might be. And the twenty-three people who want to do this might be really happy.

I cannot take credit for this fine design. Night photographer Tyler Heibeck told me how to do this, showing this to me when we were traveling in Iceland. But it’s easy to do. It’s simply sanding and gluing. If I can do it, you can do it. And probably better.

The specific design I’ll describe is for a ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light painting device. It has threads so you can screw them on. And so do a lot of lights. But even if they don’t, as long as you have a piece that attaches to your light source and you can glue modifiers on to that, you can run with this idea.

 

What’s a snoot and how do you use one?

In photography, it’s a tube or something similar that allows you to direct light. You can fit one over a studio light or a portable flash or a flashlight. Here, it’s most similar to a flashlight. This allows you to control the direction and radius of the light beam. I’ve done that with the above photo of the bus.

I use this for various reasons. The most common for me is to light paint a headlight so it looks like it’s on. This is great fun.

Above: A finished snoot attached to a ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device.

 

What you need:

Aluminum Step Up Filter Ring. These are usually used for things like UV filters on camera lens. This one is a 58-77MM thread.

Bushing for connecting two pipes with different diameters I used a 2″ x 1-1/2″ bushing here. 

Coupling for connecting two pipes with the same diameter in a straight run. This is for connecting the long tube to the bushing. This particular one is a 2″ coupling on the exterior, but it fits a 1-1/2″ pipe.

ABS pipe or something similar. The particular one I purchased before is not sold any more, but any ABS or PVC pipe should work. 

J-B Weld 8265S Original Cold-Weld Steel Reinforced Epoxy – 2 oz. This is a two-part epoxy system that is designed as an alternative to torch welding. It’s bizarrely strong. One bottle has a sort of liquid steel, and the other bottle has a fluid that chemically hardens the steel so that it creates a bond that is stronger than steel. I can attest to it lasting through for years of abuse.

3M Garnet Sandpaper, Very Fine Grit, 9-Inch by 11-Inch, 5-Sheet

 

Sanding and gluing

Step 1 – Sanding. First, sand all the surfaces that you will be gluing. Roughen them up and then wipe off the dust.

You really only need to glue the aluminum step-up ring to the bushing (shown above after it was sanded). That’s what I did for my first snoot, and that lasted without incident for four years before I left it in an airplane hangar. However, if you wish to glue everything else as I’ve done this time, sand all the surfaces first.

Step 2: Gluing: Take the J-B Weld and add the steel to one side and the hardener to the other side. Apply this with Q-tips or something similar. You can also mix them together on one surface, but I found it was easier and less messy to apply them separately. Above is the step-up ring and the bushing just before I glued them together.

Step 3 – More gluing (optional): Remember, you don’t have to glue the other pieces if you don’t want to. Here, from the bottom up, you can see the step-up ring glued to the bushing, and then the coupling has been inserted into the bushing. I really didn’t need to glue the coupling into the bushing. It is a tight fit and doesn’t come apart. But when you have extra glue, why not?

Above: I’ve now glued the ABS (similar to PVC) pipe into the coupling. This will make for a good, solid fit. Again, you do not need to glue this. In fact, if you wish to swap up different lengths of ABS pipe, it’s a good idea not to glue it! Your choice.

 

Does it have to be black?

No, absolutely not. But people who light paint frequently walk through the frame. We like to use dark things to minimize the chance of it showing in the photo or reflecting something. We wear dark clothes and use dark things. So it is with this snoot. But if you wanted, you could get most of these parts in white. That would certainly make getting the pipe easier, as you could use PVC pipe, which is generally found in white. ABS pipe is black. It also tends to be a little more solid and can withstand more shock, which probably isn’t that crucial unless you slam the car door on it or something. Well, okay, that sounds like something I might do, so maybe that is more crucial!

 

An even easier, cheaper snoot

Although this takes only about ten minutes to do, you can certainly use a cruder, simpler snoot. For instance, you can use a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube, available just about anywhere. The advantage is that it is cheap.

Two disadvantages of a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube

One disadvantage is that it “leaks” light slightly between the tube and the flashlight and can show up if you walk across the frame or otherwise need to get close to the headlight. This was the case in the photo of the bus above.

The other disadvantage is that you have to use both hands. In reality, this second point isn’t really that big of a deal, but it bears mentioning.

 

Conclusion

I hope this helps! Again, I want to emphasize that if you can find one piece that attaches to your light, you can simply, uh, modify this light modifier to suit your needs! I hope this helps! If you can, please leave a link to any similar DIY light modifier project that you’ve done 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

 

The Battle of AI: Adobe Sky Replacement vs. Luminar 4 AI Sky Replacement

Recently, in conjunction with the October 2020 Adobe MAX Creativity Conference, Adobe released the eagerly awaited version of Photoshop version 22.0, which comes with quite a few new features, many of which are powered by AI. 

Sky Replacement

One of the most anticipated features in Photoshop is their AI-powered Sky Replacement. While I don’t generally replace skies, I do take low-ISO night or “blue hour” twilight photos of the foreground, then take successive “stacked” photos of the night sky, and then blend them together. This can be time-consuming, so I am always interested in ways to quicken the process. 

Luminar 4 AI Sky Replacement vs. Adobe Sky Replacement

I’ve used Luminar 4’s AI Sky Replacement to do “drop in” my own sky before. I was curious as to how it would compare with Photoshop Sky Replacement.

Luminar 4 can only use JPG or TIFF files. There is no such limitation with Adobe. When used in Photoshop, Luminar 4 will create another layer. Photoshop offers the choice of creating another layer or a duplicate layer, including all the masks and the layer of the sky that come with it.

Another difference is that Photoshop version 22 has so far been absurdly slow for almost every function on my 2017 iMac with 40 GB of RAM. Photoshop 2020 was also very slow. Luminar 4, and for that matter, Photoshop 2019, run very quickly. Not everyone experiences this, but it’s worth mentioning.

First example – night photo

I began with a photo that I took of an unprocessed 3 minute low-ISO photo of a radio telescope taken at night. Luminar 4 struggled with identifying the night sky. How would Adobe fare?

Adobe recognized the night sky as being a sky, but struggled to determine what was sky and what was not. And as previously mentioned, I had the choice of creating a duplicate layer, which would allow me to tweak the layer further in a non-destructive manner. In this example, I chose one of Adobe’s skies, as numerous skies come with the program.

Above, you can see that Luminar’s Sky Replacement feature is ghosted. It could not recognize the night sky at all.

Second example – blue hour photo

I chose a “blue hour” photo of a lake in the Eastern Sierras, taken not long after the sun had set. I decided that this time, I would “drop in” one of my skies, a “stacked” Milky Way photo taken with the same setup later that evening.

Adobe performed quite admirably here, dropping in the sky, although I did have to adjust the size slightly to get it to match. This was easily done.

Next was Luminar 4. Luminar recognized the sky but struggled with both the blending of the sky itself as well as the horizon. Luminar struggles with darker skies. If I had increased the brightness of the Eastern Sierras photos by a stop or two, it would have been fine.

Third example – day photo with lots of trees

All examples of both programs use day photos for sky replacement. And for good reason. Both their AI recognize it very well. But how would they recognize something complicated such as trees with lots of fine leaves? 

I used a bright day photo of the forest in Mount Pinos in the mountains north of Los Angeles as the base photo. I decided to use the same Milky Way photo as the previous attempt. This would look incredibly fake. However, I felt the darkness would create greater contrast. We could then  examine the blend by zooming in close to see what was happening with the leaves of the trees.

Adobe’s Sky Replacement didn’t struggle to determine where the sky was here. First appearances looked good.

Next was Luminar 4. This also performed admirably. Although a little darker than the Adobe version, this could have been easily adjusted by using a slider. First appearances also looked good!

I’m ready for my close-up!

For Instagram or Facebook, either sky replacement would look good. But what if we zoomed in? What if we printed this at 100%? For this, I zoomed in to 200% so you could see the masking in detail. 

Looking closely at the details of the leaves and branches in the Photoshop version above, we can see that it’s generally quite good, but that some of the branches and leaves are missing.

Examining Luminar 4’s version above, we can see that the leaves and branches are noticeably more intact. The mask, even zoomed in at 200%, is quite good.

Which one is better?

 I don’t know that there is a clear, definitive winner here. We all love “bottom line” answers, and I would give you one if I had one.

For day photos, Luminar 4 created a better mask. It requires JPGs, although in practice, I doubt this will matter with almost anyone.

However, for night photos, Luminar 4 struggled immensely. Photoshop was able to create a mask even with the very dark night photo of the radio telescope, no easy feat. And with the ability to duplicate layers, one could work on the mask some more to get it to blend better.

I for one am happy to have both. And with LuminarAI and subsequent versions of Photoshop looming on the horizon, I’d say that things are looking good. Whatever your position on sky replacement, we all can agree that if AI can make our repetitive or time-consuming tasks faster, then we all win.

I thought I would share this just for fun. I finished this after I created the examples above, experimenting with both Photoshop and Luminar 4. This is a photo of the radio telescope facing north. This is a version of the first photo combined with “stacked’ photos of the starry night sky to reduce noise reduction. I masked this using a combination of Starry Landscape Stacker and Photoshop CC 2019.

 

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 not to smash your lens and knees: don’t be like me

Think of this as a public service announcement. Today, I’m going to discuss how to avoid smashing your equipment, day or night. I’m not a great example of this, so this is one of those cases where you should do as I say, not as I do!

Above: right after creating this photo, I walked around back. And that’s when I got close and intimate with the dirt in a hurry. And look, we’ll go over something technical just for fun. This was photographed with a Nikon D750 and a dust-free Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. This exposure is 24 minutes total “stacked”. Each photo was 3 minutes at f/2.8 ISO 200, and I illuminated the interior and exterior of the building with a ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light painting device. There. Technical stuff.

Tripping the light fantastic

I walk around in the dark a lot. And I do so in abandoned areas and out on uneven ground in nature.

The chances of tripping, knocking over something, or getting snagged by something grows exponentially great. Perhaps even more so if you get excited and don’t pay as much attention as you should. Like me.

Have a nice trip, see you next fall!

As I was walking around, I stepped over a beam on the ground. It was an eighty-foot beam. It had nothing protruding throughout its entire expanse….except one. And I found it.

I tripped over the nine inch metal part. But it got better. I caught myself, only to find that my shoelace had caught around it. I went down like a felled tree, smashing my left knee and the camera.  And my flashlight too. BOOOOOM!

Now, I’m going to tell you several things that I often do that I did not do here.

Cover up

Your lenses come with lens caps. Use them! Especially if your lens has a bulbous front element that sticks out, like my Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye does. When you move around, put the lens cap back on!

Somehow, miraculously, I didn’t scratch the lens at all. I did spend over 20 minutes carefully brushing the dirt out from the lens, camera, and everywhere else, though. But I could have scratched the lens very easily.

Don’t be like me.

Knee Pads

When you are wandering around dark areas with lots of debris, it’s a good idea to wear knee pads. Not only would this have protected me from bruising my knee, but this would have enabled me to get some support and kneel much easier.

I have a pair of kneepads. They’re quite good. They’re quite comfortable.

And they’re quite useless if I don’t wear them.

Don’t be like me.

Shoelaces

I was wearing big boots. That’s good for abandoned areas.

What’s not so great is having the big giant loops of the laces sticking out. Tuck those things in! I often do. Just not this particular evening.

Don’t be like me.

 

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 I got the photo: Rag doll atop a tricycle in a ghost town

Sometimes, spooky, creepy Halloween-type photos walk up to you with a demonic smile and say, “Hey, I’ve got it half set up for you! Bring it home!” And so it was at this Arizona ghost town. I was walking around at night with one of the volunteers who stays at the ghost town. I came across this scene with this red-headed rag doll sitting atop a tricycle. The universe had smiled upon me. I was meant to take this photo.

Setting up for snickering

Using a Feisol CT-3372 tripod, I positioned a Nikon D610 at “eye level”, using a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens to make the scene look even weirder.  I did admittedly position the rag doll so she would be peering straight into the camera. While I did so, the volunteer started half-chuckling, half-snickering, saying, “You are one sick person. I love it!”

I wanted the room dark. There’s a fine line between a dark image and underexposure. I was going to try and walk that tightrope while still giving the shadows some detail.

Lighting it up

Then I took my ProtoMachines LED2 and used a white light from the right side to illuminate part of the rag doll, keeping the left side in shadow. I did this from a low vantage point so I would also create texture on the wooden floor. I handheld the ProtoMachines, as I almost always do, so I could light quickly and efficiently while the camera shutter was open.

I switched the ProtoMachines to a red light and briefly illuminated the circular Polly Gas sign in the back. With photos like this, any time I can make something look weirder, I’m all for it!

I chose to do a 61 second exposure, as I wanted to keep everything relatively dark while keeping detail in the shadows instead of being completely black.

When the volunteer peered into the LED monitor to view this photo, he cocked his head back and laughed. We had answered the smile of the universe, and all was good.

 

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 I created the mask: blending blue hour and Milky Way photos in Photoshop

If you’re a night photographer like me, you’d rather be out photographing than fiddling with Photoshop. But if we are going to create our best work, some time in the digital darkroom is needed. One of the more time-consuming aspects of post-processing for me has been creating Layer Masks to blend night photos of the sky and earth.
However, I believe I’ve found two methods that are quick and easy. But let’s explain what sort of photos we are blending first…and why.

Photographing Milky Way photos with low noise

The enemy of high-ISO Milky Way photos is noise. However, we can borrow a method from astronomers called stacking to reduce noise. Stacking is a process in which the photographer numerous photos in succession and then utilizes a program to easily track stars on multiple images, align stars and stack them.

How do we create low-noise foregrounds in Milky Way images?

The issue: while star stacking programs are great at reducing noise in the sky, we want low-noise foregrounds too.
Two common methods of creating low-noise foregrounds are photographing the scene during “blue hour” (half an hour or so after the sun has set) and light painting (illuminating the scene with your own light).
Both techniques use low ISOs, and both can be quite effective. Which one you choose depends on circumstances and aesthetics. And both methods involve keeping the camera and tripod setup exactly the same for every shot. In the case of the “blue hour” set up, that involves keeping the setup in the same place for possibly several hours.
For this article, we will use a “blue hour” example to demonstrate how to blend a Milky Way with our low-noise foreground easily.

Blending the Milky Way with the low-noise foreground: method one

Above is the stacked, unprocessed photo of the Milky Way sky in Mammoth Lakes, CA. I began with this as my background layer in Photoshop.

Above is a photo of my low-ISO “blue hour” photo. I brought this in as a layer over the top of the background layer. Then I made two copies of this above for a total of four layers, three of them identical.

Creating a stark black and white image

Above: On the very top copied layer, I boosted the contrast and brightened the “blue hour” image substantially. I wanted to create a black and white Layer Mask, after all.

Going black and white

Above: I then turned the image black and white (“Image” > “Adjustments” > “Black & White”). You can see my settings in the image above. I was trying to get the sky as white as possible and the foreground as dark as possible while still keeping the fine details in the trees.
Above: I boosted the contrast and brightness again to make the scene look even more like a Layer Mask. I may not have needed to do this if I had taken a photo while the sun was out.

Paint it black

Above: I took a black paint brush and began painting the area around the trees, including the lighter colored tree trunks and the structure, leaving the details of the leaves alone.

Above: the mountains had snow on them, so they did not turn dark. However, they are part of the foreground. Black paint brush to the rescue. I painted the mountains black as well.

 

Above: I continued the process of painting everything black. Here, the brush is larger because I have already painted the detail-oriented parts by the trees and mountains.

Above: almost done!

 

Creating a mask

Above: As you can see from the Layer Section inserted here, I began creating the mask. Here’s how I did it.

1.  I copied the entire black and white layer that you have just created. I am on a Mac, so I use “Command A” to select everything, creating the “marching ants” on the periphery, and then “Command C” fo copying the selection.

2. Then I clicked on the layer just below the black and white layer. I created a Layer Mask (“Layer” > “Layer Mask” > “Reveal All”), and then clicked on the new Layer Mask to select it.

3. I hit “Alt-Click” to bring the Layer Mask up on the main screen. Then I selected everything (“Command A”) so that the “marching ants” were again surrounding the image. Then I pasted (“Command V”). This made the mask look identical to the layer above. But wait…I had one more tiny step!

4. I inverted the mask by hitting “Command I”. The black and white parts traded places. All was good.

I no longer needed that top layer. I could delete it since I had my Layer Mask.

 

Bringing it together

Above: this image shows what my high-ISO sky looked like with my “blue hour” foreground.

Now, obviously, you can tell they were taken at different times. From here, I would need to process both the foreground and the sky to make them look more cohesive and natural. How you do that is up to you. I find that this can differ dramatically from photo to photo.

I processed the sky separately initially, creating more of a blue sky and bringing out the detail of the stars. I also decided to have more of a blue with the foreground as well. Then I began processing them together to have them “gel” more together, eventually ending up with the final photo.

 

The importance of increasing contrast and brightness

I began greatly increasing the contrast and brightness to create masks after I had begun attempting to use Luminar 4’s AI Sky Replacement Algorithm and seeing that it worked better if I did so while also experimenting on creating Layer Masks in Photoshop. However, after watching a very useful YouTube tutorial by Michigan Milkyway entitled “Tree masking for tracked night sky images in Photoshop”, I realized that I had to boost the contrast and brightness far more than what I was doing for either method.

 

Blending the Milky Way with the low-noise foreground: method two

I promised that I would show you two methods. This other method simply uses Luminar 4’s AI Sky Replacement. This works magically well with day photos and reasonably bright blue hour photos. However, its algorithms struggle with night sky photos unless you treat them beforehand by greatly boosting the contrast and brightness or exposing greatly to the right in the first place.

Above: in Luminar 4, I opened up the photo of the “blue hour” foreground and opened “AI Sky Replacement”.

 

Above: in AI Sky Replacement, I loaded a custom sky, which of course was my own high-ISO sky. After that, I adjusted the “Horizon Position” slider so I could actually see the Milky Way sky, and then made several other adjustments to create a good, seamless mask and create various aesthetic adjustments. This process took less than a minute.

 

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

 

 

Why I love Google Maps

I use Google Maps to find interesting landscape and abandoned areas that I want to photograph. Here’s just a few of the ways that I use the mobile app.

Finding locations

Although you most certainly could find locations and examine them on your phone, I find it’s more efficient on a desktop or laptop. I mark areas of interest, “star” them, and they sync with the app after a short while.
Above: an example of the starred areas of interest that sync on Google Maps.

Offline maps

One of the bonuses of Google Maps is that I can download a map. This not only saves on cellular data usage, it also allows me to navigate when there is no cell signal. You heard that right. I should say right here that while it works almost all the time, it does occasionally glitch. I like to have a back-up, whether that’s a paper map or another app such as ViewRanger that also has the coordinates and a downloaded map.

Above: you can access the offline map area by tapping your icon on the upper right, then tapping on “Offline Maps”.

After downloading your map, you can access this whether you have cellular data or cellphone coverage at all because of your phone’s built-in GPS.

Satellite View

Both the website and the Google Maps app have satellite view. This enables you to zoom in close and see the lay of the land. This can be particularly handy for getting to see where everything is or where the sun is going to hit it. I’ve sometimes almost felt like I had already visited a place when I showed up because I could imagine it clearly.

 

Google Maps lists

On both the website and the app, I can create saved places and assign them to lists. Then I can access the list any time I want. I have lists for specific regions as well as for trips, as you can see above. And as you can also see, the lists and sites that I mark don’t have to be public. Mine are private.

Contained in this lists, as shown above, is additional information. Some of it, such as with more well-known tourist places such as the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns in Death Valley above, already have information. Or you can write your own information and put in photos yourself.

 

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