Mountain of the Gorn – Vasquez Rocks Night Sky Photography

Recognize this?  This is the rock that Captain Kirk ran up when battling the Gorn!  I believe this is where he found this perfectly round rock, just sitting on the ledge, and rolled it down on the lizard man, only to find that he was not killed. Now, two weeks ago, I shared the star trails version of this image.  These pinpoints of light, beautiful stars hanging in the sky, were too much to resist, so I thought I’d share this with you as well.


Please click on the photo to view it larger and more clearly!  Thanks!

The interesting thing – at least to me, a night sky photographer – is that although I’m using a 50mm lens, which is considerably more zoomed in than the 11-16mm that I usually use AND the exposure is 30 seconds, which often shows trails, the stars don’t show very much trailing at all, appearing more or less as pinpoints.

This is a little different from most of my star trails because I didn’t use a wide angle lens, choosing instead to go with a 50mm prime lens, the Nikkor f/1.4 50mm.

When I focus, I often shine a very bright light on the foreground and then use the camera’s autofocus to do the rest, then simply switch to manual.  Not here.  The lens kept hunting.  After a few minutes of this, I reluctantly abandoned this idea, and focused using Manual, continually tweaking until I felt the photo looked as sharp as possible.  Looks like I nailed it in the photo, but it took a while.

Title: Mountain of The Gorn
Info: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, 30 second exposure,
ISO 320 f/4. Light painted with Dorcy spotlight. 11:46 pm on 19 April 2013.
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Vasquez Rocks, California, USA

Equipment:  Nikon D7000, Tokina AT-X 116, Feisol tripod.

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like). We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!



Featured Photo – Tibetan Uprising Day, 10 March 2012

Tibetan Uprising Day

Tibetan Uprising Day:  a candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles for human rights in Tibet.  This photo was taken in 10 March 2012 with a Nikon D90, 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 at ISO 1600 at 1/160.

Tibetan Uprising Day March in Los Angeles, CA, 10 March 2012. Tibetan Uprising Day, observed on March 10, commemorates the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the presence of the People’s Republic of China in Tibet. The failure of the armed rebellion ultimately resulted in a violent crackdown on Tibetan independence movements, causing the Dalai Lama and his cohorts to bail in the middle of the night, fleeing across the Himalayas to India where he still lives today.

I was here as a member of three groups: Tibet Connection (I edit the English radio show about Tibetan culture, news, and events), Los Angeles Friends of Tibet, and the L.A. Street Photography Meetup group (I invited members of this group to show up!). The Tibetan Association of Southern California was also there, of course.

Self-immolations In the past year, about 25 Tibetans have set themselves ablaze to protest the lack of freedom and human rights that exists in their country at the hands of the Chinese. China invaded Tibet in the 1950s and has brutally repressed the Himalayan country. The military occupation and brutality was cranked up in light of the 2008 Beijing protests and has not abated. No outside press has been allowed inside Tibet since then. Thankfully, no one set themselves ablaze during our Los Angeles march.

During our march, many of us held signs asking, “Why are Tibetans setting themselves on Fire? The self-immolations were on everyone’s mind. During the candlelight vigil, Tibetan children read the names of those who had set fire to themselves in the name of freedom. The people ranged from nuns and monks to laypeople of all walks of life, and was an emotionally moving vigil.

Photographing the march Photographing the march presents interesting challenges.  The light was very bright by the Staples Center, with lots of contrasting shade, but the sun disappeared quickly by the time we got to the Chinese Consulate, resulting in very dark light. For these two featured photos, I kicked up the ISO so I could capture the natural light without resorting to an off-camera (wireless) flash.  While I did take a few flash photos, I ended up preferring the natural light. By the time I took the photo below, it was almost completely dark.

For most of the march, until we got to the Chinese Consulate, I had been using the 18-200mm lens, which is quite flexible.  However, at f/3.5-5.6, it ain’t the fastest lens.  I switched to the 50mm f/1.4 and then kept moving.  This is the same lens I use for concert photography as well.

Candlelight Vigil for Tibetan Uprising Day

Candlelight Vigil for Tibetan Uprising Day in front of the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.  This photo was very dark, so I used an ISO of 2000 (the other photo is 1600), 1/160s shutter speed, and an aperture of f/1.4.  The same equipment was used.  I wanted natural light because I thought it was beautiful, so I didn’t use my wireless off-camera flash here despite the very dark light.

Equipment:  Nikon D90 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only, Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

Featured Photo – Beautiful Bokeh: Best Lens Bargain for a Nikon!

Camera equipment can be quite expensive.  But not always.  There are some fantastic 50mm lens out there for not so much money.  Nikon, for instance, makes a 50mm f/1.8 for somewhere around US$100, and a 50mm f/1.4 for under US$300, lens with large apertures (openings) to let in more light (see links at bottom).

And remember last week when I was showing you photo examples taken with really small apertures (the long exposure shots at Goat Rock Beach)?  You may remember that I mentioned that small apertures keep more elements of the photo in focus, or, in other words, has a large depth of field.

I’m going to show you the opposite of that this week.  If you shoot with the aperture wide open, using large apertures of f/1.4 or f/1.8, *less* elements appear in focus, or, in other words, a shallow depth of field.

Why would you want to do that, you ask?  To accentuate features and have backgrounds (or foregrounds) blur out.  This would be effective for portraits, focusing our attention on the subject and not the background or foreground.

Portraits can be people.  Or reptiles.  We may have friends or family members who qualify as both.

Reptile near 49 Palms

Reptile near 49 Palms.  Since I was using a 50mm lens and not a zoom, I was surprised at how close this guy let me get to him.  This was taken at f/1.8.  You can see how in this photo, our happy prehistoric looking subject is in focus while the foreground and background have this lovely bokeh, or blurred areas due to the shallow depth of field.

Or maybe another use might be taking photos of bottle trees in the desert…you know, the usual things one might use a 50mm prime lens for…

Bottles at Joshua Tree

Bottle tree in Joshua Tree, taken with a 50mm f1/4 prime Nikkor lens, illustrating the shallow depth of field for the lovely readers of this photography blog.

Dengue Fever

Dengue Fever. For those who don’t know this Los Angeles-based band, who combine Cambodian pop-rock with psychedelic rock. They were formed in 2001 by Ethan Holtzman after he visited Cambodia and was inspired to start a band. This was taken with – you guessed it – the 50mm prime, illustrating another fine use…it’s a fast lens. Meaning it lets in lots of light through its large opening.  Meaning it does well in low light situations such as at this concert.

There’s a few other bonuses of a 50mm:

– As I mentioned, they can be quite cheap.  You can get Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 for a hair over US$100.  Not bad.

-They’re prime lens, or, in other words, fixed.  Good and sharp.  Of course, you can’t stand around and use your zoom lens.  You’ll hafta move your feet.

– As mentioned in the Dengue Fever photo caption, the lens is a fast lens.  It lets in lots of light through a larger, wider opening.  Which means that it’s also better in low light situations, where you might need to use a faster shutter speed to capture the action without blurring.  Cool, eh?

– And 50mm primes are small and light, perfect for the photographer on the go.

Flute player

Flute player for the band Dengue Fever, shot wide open at f/1.4. 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens. For this photo, I also shot at 1/100 at ISO 2500, focusing on his eye. I really like the bokeh on his hat and flute, a beautiful sense of depth that this lens is capable of doing.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 50mm f/1.4 prime Nikkor lens

Featured Photo: My Eyes Have Seen You, Let Them Photograph Your Soul

"Jim Morrison" with Break On Through, 17 December 2011

“Jim Morrison” with Break On Through, an amazing Doors tribute band, 17 December 2011. Nikon D90 with a 50mm Nikkor f1.8 lens, 1/100, f/2, 1250 ISO.

Break On Through to the Faster Side
There’s nothing like a nice fast lens.  I like shooting concert photos with natural light most of the time, and a fast lens always helps.  I’m using the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4, which at $300, is a pretty good bargain.  There’s another 50mm lens, the f/1.8, for scarcely more than $100, which is a steal.  Dark light?  With a big aperture, I can still shoot at 1/100 and “freeze” the action without getting too much noise (grain).

I like to wander.  I took the above photo of “Jim Morrison”, singer of the Doors tribute band Break On Through”, while standing next to the drummer on stage.  I really like the look of someone who is backlit.

The Legendary Pharoah Sanders

Who is the Pharoah Of Them All? The legendary Pharoah Sanders at the Catalina, this one taken with the same Nikon D90, but with a much slower lens, an 18-200mm VR, shot with a rather “low tech” method of minimizing camera shake! 😀

Take It As It Comes
Sometimes, you don’t always have what you need.  Here at this gig with the legendary Pharoah Sanders at the Catalina, I didn’t own the faster lens, and had considerably slower 18-200mm VR Nikkor zoom lens.  I got away with less movement by using the VR (Vibration Reduction) technology AND by squeezing the camera tight against one of the posts to minimize camera shake while shooting.  I still picked up a bunch of noise from having to bump my ISO quite high, so I had to spend a little time in Photoshop cleaning that up.  But my philosophy is that I’d rather get the shot with a little noise than not get the shot at all.  And this photo has been one of my most popular concert photos, and something I personally treasure.

Equipment:  Nikon D90,  50mm f1/4 (first photo); 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens (2nd photo)