My favorite music for culling and editing photos

What do you listen to when culling or editing photos? I would love to know. I have a shortlist go-to music that I’ll share.

Ambient music

I listen to a lot of instrumental ambient music. And one of my favorite artists in this genre is Brian Eno. His music is sonically rich and complex enough that it pleases my ears while providing a beautiful soundtrack for culling and editing photos.

I also enjoy Andy Othling’s “Morning Care” series, which he performed live during the pandemic. He manipulates electric guitar with various pedals into a deep landscape of sounds. Like Eno, it’s sonically rich while still not being too distracting. 

I play music, and don’t typically listen to what I’ve done. However, there are exceptions. This includes The Mercury Seven. Usually, I listen to “mcmlvii.”

Jazz

Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. He has played with luminaries such as the ever-passionate Billy Higgins and Alice Coltrane. He is musical joy personified in person. This was taken before I began doing night photography. You may be able to see a Herman Leonard influence here.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. He has played with luminaries such as the ever-passionate Billy Higgins and Alice Coltrane. He is musical joy personified in person. This was taken before I began doing night photography. You may be able to see a Herman Leonard influence here.

I sometimes listen to jazz, but I won’t go for the skronky stuff most of the time while editing. My shortlist includes Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, kozmigroov stuff like Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck Take Five.

Below is Alice Coltrane’s “Journey Into Satchidananda.” As an aside, I knew her for many years, going to her ashram and having dinner with her once. To describe her as extraordinary doesn’t even do her justice.

Metal

Curiously, though, every once in a while, I listen to metal. I usually go for classic metal like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest as well as Tool and Testament. Sometimes, I listen to more contemporary metal. I’ll share Judas Priest “Firepower,” a relatively recent album for them, just to show that they’ve still got it.

Random 

From time to time, I also listen to the following as well while culling and editing. 

  • Anna Thorvaldsdottir: “In the Light of Air.” This is an Icelandic artist. There are numerous Icelandic artists that create great music for creating a sense of openness, wind-swept mountains, and more. 
  • Sade: “Lovers Rock.” This beautiful album takes me back to sitting in the beaches of South Thailand. Gorgeous melodies.
  • Harold Budd and Brian Eno: “The Pearl.” Ambient goodness.
  • Brian Eno: “The Shutov Assembly.” Often overlooked by Eno fans.
  • Ethiopiques 11: Alemu Aga — The Harp of King David. This is an unusual deep sound that is mystical and ancient.
  • “Timeless: Ali Akbar Khan & L. Subramaniam,” Universal Music India Pvt., Ltd., 2002, Made in India. Probably difficult to track down now, but worth a listen. This is my favorite Carnatic raga.
  • Brian Eno: “On Land.” Evokes another world, diffused glows, and unusual sounds. Very rich and textured.
  • Henryk Gorecki: “Symphony #3.” An absolute classic, and one of the greatest minimalistic classical pieces ever created. Dawn Upshaw’s vocals are transcendent and heart-wrenching.
  • Hamza El Din: “Eclipse.” Sensual.
  • Rebab and Female Singing of Central Javanese Gamelan (World Music Library). Unusual gamelan music, creating a rich tapestry of rhythms and textures.
  • Cluster live USA 1996. Improvisational electronics done by some of the best, all done live.
  • Future Sound of London: “Lifeforms.” A 1990s ambient classic.
  • Vidna Obmana: “Memories Compiled.” Evocative ambient music.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. I found myself with an enormous smile throughout the entire show. I've seen him perform three times, all at the same place. Once again exhibiting a bit of influence from Herman Leonard.
Pharoah Sanders performing live at Catalina Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, March 2011. I found myself with an enormous smile throughout the entire show. I’ve seen him perform three times, all at the same place. Once again exhibiting a bit of influence from Herman Leonard.

Please share music that you love to listen to while culling and editing your photos! I would love to hear your choices!

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: How to photograph a historic Route 66 Whiting Bros Motel sign

I love old signs, especially if they are located along the Mother Road, Route 66. I had two locations to get to for night photography. I thought I would photograph some historic signs in Yucca, AZ, and then drive west to another Route 66 location an hour away.

I photographed this during Blue Hour, a time when many of the colors of the sky come alive in deep hues.

A brief history 

Like many of the towns along Route 66, Yucca thrived, serving the needs of motorists heading west. And when the Interstate Highway system was put in, motorists bypassed the businesses in Route 66. Many of those businesses eventually evaporated, often abandoned along the route.

Once a large complex complete with a station and a motel with a swimming pool along Route 66, all that’s left today are the signs and a large empty parking lot. June 2021, Yucca, AZ.

Three steps to light painting the sign

1. Adjusting the light for light painting during blue hour

I was photographing approximately during blue hour, about 25 minutes after the sun had set behind the mountains. Therefore, I needed a much stronger light than I typically need for light painting near a full moon. I also wanted a warm white light. I set the ProtoMachines LED2 for its strongest setting. I mixed in some yellow color for good measure.

2. Determining the best angle for light painting the sign

It’s important to consider the directionality of the already existing light when light painting if one wants the photo to look slightly more natural. Here, the light was coming from the horizon, already illuminating the sign from that direction. I wanted more of that.

I stood closer to the road. Shielding my handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I illuminated the sign at approximately the same angle. This would create additional contrast while looking natural.

3. Waiting for the right moment to open the shutter

I set my Pentax K-1 camera for a 20-second exposure at f/14. This was in part because I wanted to illuminate the sign for a decent amount of time. But it was also so that I could begin the long exposure with enough time to make sure that I got red streaks of light from a passing truck. I wanted the red taillights in particular because I felt they would match really nicely with the sign. That simply meant waiting until a truck was driving north, then beginning the long exposure.

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

 

 

Exploring the history of Route 66 through photography: Goffs Cultural Center

I woke to horrible news. Before I had gotten out of bed, I saw a photo of the historic Goffs General Store along Route 66 engulfed in flames. An abandoned home in Goffs had burned the same day, as had an abandoned building in nearby Essex. Officials suspected foul play.

I had been working on my third book, a history and night photography book about Route 66, and had photographed Goffs before. I knew Goffs had played an important part of that history.

And I was to have photographed that structure a week later.

Saving history through photography

I had photographed Goffs General Store before. I now felt fortunate that I had done so.

The photo that saved the Goffs General Store and Saloon sign.

Also, I had photographed the store sign at night. It had fallen and was leaning against one of the exterior walls. Someone had seen the sign. That person brought it to the attention of the nearby Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in Goffs. They took the sign over to the cultural center for preservation.

Now, that sign was all that was left of Goffs General Store.

Route 66 and Goffs

Goffs is an almost-ghost town. There are few residents left. Located hours from Los Angeles or Las Vegas, it sits on an old alignment of Route 66 approximately half an hour west of Needles, CA. The town prospered until 1931, when Route 66 was realigned and bypassed Goffs by six miles.

The restored Goffs Schoolhouse, photographed at night with a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic, which produces a side-to-side, slice of focus effect.

The cultural center includes the restored historic mission-style Goffs Schoolhouse, built in 1914. The school served students until 1937. After that, things changed. The U.S. Army stationed troops in Goffs during World War II, with the school serving as a cafe for soldiers. It eventually fell into disrepair before Dennis and Jo Ann Casebier purchased it. They and MDHCA eventually raised money and restored the historic structure.

The cultural center also has an impressive outdoor display of items from the Mojave Desert and Route 66, occupying some of the 70-acre property. This land was donated to the Association by the Casebiers.

I was going to stay there for three nights.

The perfect place to stay

Night photo of an old vintage gas pump at Goffs Cultural Center.

The last time I had photographed the cultural center, one of the volunteers asked if I wanted to stay there the next time I visited. It’s a fantastic place for history as well as for night photography. Everyone there is extremely friendly. I was excited.

Goffs is spitting distance from the fascinating Mojave National Preserve. It’s also reasonably close to many historic areas that I would want to photograph or visit along Route 66, including Amboy, Essex, Oatman, Yucca and, of course, Goffs itself. Other places to stay are at least half an hour away or more. Therefore, it would also drastically reduce the amount of late-night driving.

A beautiful surprise

I was greeted warmly by Mo and Judy on June 21, 2021. They showed me where I was staying. It was a comfortable single-wide trailer with air conditioning, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a sitting area with a microwave. Luxurious!

To stay here, I became a member of the association. I also left a donation. There’s no way I couldn’t.

My trailer sat among numerous travel trailers or RVs. The cultural center holds various events. Members and guests gather for a still-operating historic 10-stamp mill in April, the Mojave Road Rendezvous in October and even a camel trek along 90 miles of the Mojave Trail. They can stay in one of the trailers.

The first night of photography

Night photo, Goffs Cultural Center, showing the movement of the stars over long periods of time.

I wandered the grounds of the cultural center, photographing with a Pentax K-1 and 15-30mm f/2.8 lens, creating three to 15-minute long exposures while light painting with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device. It was a hot night. At 12:30 a.m., it was still close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. But it didn’t matter. I was out in the quiet of the desert, with only the nearby trains to break the silence.

Here today, gone tomorrow. Almost nothing left of the historic Goffs General Store. The light on the horizon is the light pollution from Las Vegas, NV, about 100 miles away.

I did briefly drive over to the Goffs General Store. To my surprise, there was nothing left. Workers had cleared the remains. I photographed the area from three different angles anyway. I included a similar angle to an earlier photo for the sake of comparison. I then returned to the cultural center to photograph more.

Finishing, I simply walked over to the trailer to go to sleep. This felt luxurious. Usually, I would have to drive back to a motel, one that was not always near.

The second night of photography

Upon waking up, I opened the outside door. An oven-blast of air greeted me. I had slept blissfully late, but now it was over 100° F outside. I retreated back inside.

I had brought lots of food. With the closest restaurant at least half an hour away, this was especially great. The trailer had a refrigerator. Actually, two. Fantastic.

Night photo of the old Whiting Brothers Motel sign in Yucca, AZ.

After consulting the Clear Outside app to determine weather conditions, I decided to drive to Yucca, AZ, a little more than an hour away. Yucca is also along Route 66. It has a number of historic signs, including a motel sign and Whiting Brothers service station sign as well as an old cafe and a truck on a pole.

I arrived during blue hour, after the sun had set. I photographed there with the same setup as the previous night.

Photographing Essex

The Wayside Cafe as well as the station and market were built in the 1930s, selling much-needed water, among other things. Illuminated by a full moon and warm white and teal light from a handheld ProtoMachines LED2.

After an hour, I drove to the almost-ghost town of Essex. It feels like there are more abandoned structures than occupied ones there. I had heard about the aforementioned structure fire from the week before. I was concerned about what would be left. Would the cafe still be standing? The old wooden homes?

I quickly saw that the building that had burned was 1.6 miles outside of the town center.

A fisheye night photo of an abandoned house along Route 66 in Essex, CA, located in the Mojave Desert. Once considered the “Mother Road,” much of Route 66 dried up when the Interstate Highway System was built.

I photographed the old Wayside Cafe, the rustic Western-style wooden homes, and an old house with the roof beams still showing, the rest of the roof stripped away. Then I grabbed the Nikon D750 and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye to create different looks.

This was a beautifully quiet night with almost no traffic. I returned to my trailer in Goffs around 3 a.m.

The third night of photography

I woke up late. This time, upon opening the door, the air was noticeably cooler. A cloud cover had helped with that.

I visited with Laura, the Executive Director of MDHCA. I wandered the outside area around the exhibits for two hours, enjoying the cooler weather. 

Photographing at an abandoned home in Goffs

Nighttime with an abandoned camper on the property of a house recently destroyed by a fire. I lit the scene with warm white and red light from a handheld ProtoMachines during the exposure.

Laura suggested that I photograph the nearby abandoned Harris House, the house that had burned under suspicious circumstances. I ordinarily don’t photograph structures after fires, but she had mentioned that there were some interesting vehicles and trailers there. I would be photographing history.

All that was left of the house were several charred posts, lots of ash, a surprising amount of appliances and several vehicles and trailers. The area still had that sickening smell of a house fire, a smell I knew all too well since my house had caught on fire years ago. It’s a smell that you never forget.

I primarily photographed the trailers and vehicles. After a while, the smell got to me. I returned to the cultural center, just a minute away.

Atlas Engine Works boiler, photographed at night with the Lesbaby Edge 35 Optic.

This time, I used The Nikon D750 and fisheye lens as well as the Pentax with a Lensbaby Edge 35 Optic, experimenting with some different looks. I went to sleep around 3 a.m.

I will return

I woke up very late and said my goodbyes. This had been an amazing experience. And I was now a proud member of the MDHCA. As I was leaving, I was already plotting my return.

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

 

 

Photographing autumn traditions: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) 

Photographers in the United States love fall. Whether it’s football, autumn chill, leaves turning color, family gatherings, or Halloween, it’s a very photogenic time of year. However, for many of us living in the Southwest, The vibrant Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is also a huge holiday. For photographers, it’s a dream come true, an intoxicating blend of culture, amazing aesthetics, family, friends, color, tradition, history, gathering, and love

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

The rise of Dia de los Muertos

In recent years, this holiday has gone mainstream here in this country. Years ago, I had to explain this holiday to my friends in the Midwest or the East Coast. Not so much any more. Indeed, with the 2017 Disney and Pixar film “Coco”, the Mexican tradition has largely been embraced throughout the United States. While “Coco” may not be the most authentic amalgamation of the Mexican holiday, it does indicate how meaningful the holiday is throughout the country.

There are events in most major cities, typically festivals, art walks, concerts, altar exhibitions, food, and more. While customs may vary, traditionally family and friends focus on the memories of deceased loved ones. 

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

The biggest event in Los Angeles is at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Here, face painting and costumes show up in a big way, perhaps a more recent phenomenon for this holiday. And there are many booths that will paint your face so that it resembles a sugar skull.

Sugar skulls (calavera de azugar) figure prominently. People create these skulls for children or as offerings to be placed on altars (ofrendas). They are made of sugar paste and often decorated with colorful icing.

What is Dia de los Muertos?

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

Dia de los Muertos is about gathering families and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Traditions include building private altars honoring the deceased, using sugar skulls and the favorite foods, beverages, and objects of the departed. Historians trace the origins to indigenous observances 2500-3000 years ago as well as to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl.

What I find appealing is that when I view altars, I often feel like I sort of know the person. Altars can be sad, sure, but they also can be beautiful, funny, inspirational, and more. Throughout, a genuine sweetness permeates the occasion. I find that utterly appealing. 

I love the aesthetics and sentiment of the holiday. The candles, rituals, altars, face painting, sugar skulls, vibrancy, and love – all of it.

What can I photograph?

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

Really, everything. You may have enough time to photograph everything!

I personally love photographing people. People are happy to pose for photos. Even if you are shy about approaching people, this is one event where you can cast that aside. But certainly, the altars, marigolds, sugar skulls, flags, skeletons, dancing, musical performances, art, graphics, and more will appeal to all but the most jaded photographer. Give your children some cameras and watch them have fun for hours.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.
Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

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: Three steps to creating long shadows at an abandoned waterpark entrance

I recently explored an abandoned waterpark in the Mojave Desert at night. The park has been abandoned since 2004. I was drawn to the entrance, and I thought I could create some great shadows with this. 

I’ll break down the process behind creating this image using a handheld light. Although I used a ProtoMachines LED2, you can use any decent LED flashlight to create this image.

Three steps to creating the image

1. Illuminate the entrance sign

Using a warm white light, I stood to the left of the structure to illuminate the entrance sign. Although I illuminated the entire structure, I focused on illuminating the sign a little more.

2. Light the columns

I then stood behind each of the back columns, taking a few steps back. I then shined my light on each of the two columns, keeping the angle the same while moving the light so that it would create well-defined shadows on the ground. I took care not to shine the light directly into the camera lens.

3. Shine on the turnstiles

Squatting down behind each of the turnstiles, I shined the light behind them, once again blocking them from shining directly into the camera lens. This time, I used a shorter duration than I did for the columns since I was closer to the ground and didn’t want to blow out the details by overexposing.

At one time, this waterpark featured waterslides where you could achieve speeds of up to 50 mph and slide down on your feet. Now, it's more popular with taggers, skateboarders and urban explorers.
At one time, this waterpark featured waterslides where you could achieve speeds of up to 50 mph and slide down on your feet. Now, it’s more popular with taggers, skateboarders and urban explorers.

Fisheye

I used a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. The distortion from the fisheye can create a surreal effect and look different from most other people’s images. However, you do need to be careful that you do not shine the light in the image. After all, the lens has a 180° diagonal angle of view on a full-frame camera, so it’s very easy to think you are out of the frame!

Advantage of a handheld light

It would be challenging to create this sort of lighting with lights on stands. Part of the reason for this is because you would need to mimic the movements that I do while holding the light, gently “painting” the objects with light through movement.

It would also be time-consuming. You would need to use at least five lights to recreate this, all on stands. You would need at least four to backlight the structure, and another off to the side to illuminate the sign. And for the last light, it would be difficult to aim it for longer periods of time at the sign than the structure.

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

Solving night photography problems: Three ways to keep dew off a lens

Dew on your lens can ruin an evening of night photography. No one wants to get home to find that their photos are completely fogged up.

I photograph in mostly arid regions, so condensation on lens is typically not a consideration. Because of this, I can be caught off guard if I photograph near the coast or on the East Coast, as you can see below. Dew can set in quickly — these photos were only taken 10 minutes apart. Below, I’ll discuss three ways to keep dew off your lens.

When does lens fog occur?

Your lens can build up condensation if the glass is colder than the air around it and there’s some humidity in the air. There’s more to it than that, of course. These factors are tied to dew point and air movement, all of which also affect condensation. 

Three ways to avoid dew on your lens

Keeping the lens hood on your lens is the easiest way to keep dew off your lens. Covering the front element helps protect it from the outside colder air for just a little longer. However, this only works up to a point, so we’re not going to count this as one of the three ways. I’ll begin with the cheaper, lower-tech methods and work my way forward.

1. Hand warmers

HotHands hand warmers. They’re not just for warming your hands.

Hand warmers work well at, well, keeping the lens warm. Wrap a couple of hand warmers around the lens or lens hood. A lot of people use some cloth to try and insulate them.

A West Virginia Mountaineers beer cozy around a lens to hold hand warmers in place. For many lens, you might need to cut this and either apply Velcro strips to close it back up, tape it with gaffer's tape, or tie rubber bands around it.
A West Virginia Mountaineers beer cozy wrapped around a lens to hold hand warmers in place. For many lens, you might need to enlarge the cozy by slicing it and applying Velcro strips to close it back up, taping it with gaffer’s tape, or tying rubber bands around it.

An alternative to only using rubber bands is to use a beer cozy. Now, this won’t fit all lenses, so you may have to modify the cozy or even cut it open. But this, coupled with a couple of hand warmers, works rather well due to the cozy’s insulation properties. Plus, as a bonus, it looks really fun.

LensMuff on a 28-105mm Pentax lens. Perhaps a more elegant if less beer-friendly solution to keeping dew off a lens compared to a beer cozy.

Even better is a LensMuff. This is specifically designed to wrap hand warmers around the lens and can accommodate very large lenses and is easy to put on quickly in the dark. It has pockets for up to three hand warmers, so there’s less likelihood of them slipping around. And you can use more than one Lensmuff and attach them together for larger lenses or telescopes.

The upside: This is cheap, lightweight, requires no power and is easy to do.

The downside: They are not always quite so reliable in very cold conditions. They also create waste.

Because I rarely photograph in environments where there will be dew on my lens, this is the method I use. However, I’ll discuss a couple of other methods I’ve seen people use.

2. Dew heating strips

These look somewhat like the LensMuff. However, the difference is that instead of stuffing hand warmers into the wrap, the wrap creates heat via a power source, typically USB. 

These used to be rather expensive. However, as of late, they have dropped to a very reasonable price. This example here, a USB lens warmer, is rather inexpensive. If dew heating strips such as this were this inexpensive years ago, I may have opted for this route instead of the LensMuff.

If I were to use a dew heating strip, I would most likely power it with a reasonably powerful USB power bank. I believe most USB lens warmers, certainly the one I linked to, are 5V, and so are most USB power banks. Velcro the power bank to the leg of your tripod, and you should be good for the evening. 

The upside: You may regulate the heat, and they are a continuous source of reliable heat. You may also use it to warm up other things such as baby bottles, making it multi-functional.

The downside: There’s more to set up, it’s more expensive and it requires power to work.

3. Fans

I suppose you could continually wave a fan in your hand. That would show serious dedication. But here, I’m going to propose using an electric fan. 

I’ve never actually seen anyone use a fan. However, if you look around on photography and telescope forums, you can always find an enterprising DIYer who uses something such as a small computer fan, clamping it to an arm so it blows air on the front element of the lens. 

This, however, would likely require a heavier-duty power source and require effective positioning during every setup. You might also need to be careful of vibration. However, if you connect the arm to one of the tripod legs, I doubt there would be any issue.

Of course, the issue I would probably have is banging into the arm or the fan in the dark. Because of this, perhaps attaching it to the camera’s hot shoe might work.

Perhaps if you didn’t mind carrying extra equipment, you could purchase a rechargeable portable fan, such as this 8-inch clip-on USB fan. I say “extra equipment” because a fan this large would almost necessitate mounting it on another stand due to vibrations, it seems. 

How do I check for the likelihood of dew?

If the night-time ambient temperature starts creeping close to the dew point, you are more likely to get moisture on the lens. Check a meteorological site for dew point. Or if you have been reading some of my articles, you might remember that one of my favorite apps and websites, Clear Outside, provides the low temperature and dew point for specific locations along with other very useful information.

This information is good to know in advance. After all, using heat (or the fan) would be considerably more effective when begun before dew sets in. You want to stop the lens from dropping to that evening’s dew point, after all.

What I dew (pardon the pun)

I’ve used hand warmers in all combinations. I found that the LensMuff and hand warmer combination has worked remarkably well so far during summer and fall evenings. 

If I photographed in colder environments, I would look into one of the dew heaters and have a couple of USB power banks ready to go.

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

 

 

Patriot Day: remembering 9/11 on the 20th anniversary through photography

Since 2008, and started by students, Pepperdine University in Malibu, California stages the Waves of Flags display for Patriot Day. Each flag represents one of the lives lost in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The sight of nearly 3,000 flags perched on their lawn is at turns inspiring yet heart wrenching.

Nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of those who lost their lives during 9/11.

Where were you during 9/11?

As with most, I vividly remember how I found out about 9/11 and the shock I felt as it unfolded. While driving in to work, I listened intently to what was ordinarily a goofy early morning comedy show on a rock station. They weren’t very goofy this morning. It was a whirlwind of panic, confusion, shock, and more as they reported on things that they heard, some true, some rumor.

Nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of those who lost their lives during 9/11 in this surreal sort of photo using a Lensbaby Sweet 35.

When I heard that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center, I initially assumed it was something like a small Cessna, and that it had been an accident. But of course, as it unfolded, I realized this was not what had happened.

My friends and family in New York were gobsmacked. Panic, confusion, shock, defiance, fear. Their emotions swung wildly in the weeks that followed. Many of us also felt patriotism, anger, sadness, and/or xenophobia as well.

The attacks have left an indelible mark on our nation’s psyche. As with most Americans, I subconsciously divide our country’s timeline into before and after 9/11.

Photographing the flags

Nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of those who lost their lives during 9/11 in this surreal sort of photo using a Lensbaby Sweet 35.

I had this idea. I would wake up early, drive to Pepperdine University in Malibu, and photograph the flags in the glorious morning light.

The fog had other ideas.

One of the trees in Pepperdine’s Alumni Park, where nearly 3000 flags fly in honor of lives lost during 9/11. Patriot Day in 2021 will be the the 20th anniversary.

Still, I figured I would try to make lemonade out of lemons. I needed to be flexible. I decided to photograph using some of my more unusual lenses, including the Lensbaby Sweet 35 and my Rokinon 12mm fisheye. And given the fog, I decided that it might look better in black and white.

A particularly moody, surreal look at some of the many flags flying in remembrance of Patriot Day, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California.

The end result is a considerably moodier, more surreal sort of feel.

A fisheye view of the flags at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
Waves of Flags Commemoration – video from Pepperdine University in Malibu. Patriot Day in 2021 will be the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack.

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: five steps to light painting an Old West gas station

This is a night photo of an old garage and vintage 1940s Cadillac Fleetwood (with an old Buick front end) on a beautiful Mojave evening, underneath the light of a full moon. The camera shutter was open for 396 seconds. During this time, I “light painted” the scene, illuminating it from numerous angles with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device. Here’s how I did it!
Night photo of an old Western service station lit up with a handheld light during the exposure. Read up on how the lighting was done!

Five steps to light painting the gas station

1.) Creating detail in front

I wanted a bit of texture in the ground in the front. Holding the ProtoMachines low to the ground I swept the ground from side to side on each side of the camera, standing about ten feet further back and ten feet to the side in each of the two locations.

2.) Light painting the exterior

The moon was shining from camera right. You can tell by the way the long shadows fall. I wanted to pick up more detail and illumination on the wooden front of the gas station. To do this, I stood to the right, as close to 90 degrees as possible to the front of the building. I moved the flashlight slowly up and down, “painting” the front with light. I kept the light moving to try to make sure all the illumination was nice and even.

3.) Light painting the interior of the garage

I walked around the right side of the garage. There was a large opening on that side. Again, standing as close to 90 degrees as possible to the back wall of the interior, I illuminated the back in the same manner as the front of the structure. This time, I used the color green for good measure. Night photographer Mike Cooper loves illuminating his interiors in green. He was there this evening as well, so clearly I was inspired by him.

4.) Making the car glow from within

Just for fun, I thought I would make the Cadillac glow eerily from within. Why not? I stuck my hand inside and managed to capture the shadow of the steering wheel in the front windshield for good measure.

5.) More strange glowing

Before exiting the interior of the garage, I created some odd glowing by holding the light down low and reflecting it off some objects. You can see this interesting glow on the side of the car, below the car, on the panes of the front window, and elsewhere around the room. I bounced some of the light off the ceiling as well. Reflected light is an often overlooked aspect of “light painting”. I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to read them.

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

 

Off the eaten path: finding food for photographers in Owens Valley, California

Part of the fun in night photography is in the eatin’.

“Off the eaten path” will good eats in out of the way places. Landscape and night photographers often go to remote places off the beaten path. Although we bring our own food, sometimes, it feels really great to enjoy a well-cooked meal in a restaurant.

Admittedly, it’s not that challenging to find a decent place to eat in the Owens Valley. Even outside Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, there are plenty of great places. I’ll cover a few that I enjoy. 

These are good stops when going to photograph landscapes or dark sky places along the Eastern Sierra, Ancient Bristlecone PIne Forest, Alabama Hills, Mono Lake, Tioga Pass, Bodie Ghost Town or Yosemite. I will go from south to north.

Seasons, Lone Pine

This is located right near Dow Villa along the highway. Good sandwiches, very friendly service. 

Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery, Lone Pine

Most of my night photography friends seem to like Alabama Hills Cafe and Bakery, so I’ll mention them here. However, I always seem to get meals that are okay, not amazing. But this is one of those places that serve big, hearty, gloppy American breakfasts, burgers, and baked goods, and they almost always have a line out the door. 

Merry Go Round, Lone Pine

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say I like this place. Alright, it’s not amazing food. But it does taste good. It’s probably closer to Chinese-American food. You are not going to confuse it with really delicious restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles. However, it’s quite welcome, and I find myself going there often when in Lone Pine. However, my other night photography friends seem reluctant to eat here.

Merry Go Round is a Chinese restaurant inside what looks like a cool old historic round building, and doesn’t appear like a stereotypical Chinese restaurant from the exterior. Very friendly staff and a good selection of food.The mapo tofu is good, although I was surprised that crunchy little strips of water chestnuts and Chinese black beans are included in the dish, something I don’t think I’ve seen before (and I’m Chinese, so I’ve eaten my share of Chinese food). Giant portion as well. I mean huge.

Also, one can order steaks and a few American items. After all, this used to be a steakhouse. And it offers a few items in their South of the Border section as well, including cheese enchiladas, as the cook from the steakhouse, who is of Mexican descent, apparently works in the kitchen as well as the Asian chef.

Still Life Cafe, Independence

Blink and you’ll miss it. Behind a charming if unassuming storefront is an amazing bistro run by super friendly chef Malika Adjaoud Patron. The locals say that him and his wife do this just for the love of cooking. Great ambience, festooned with photos and paintings too. This place gets pegged as a French bistro, but really, they just serve good food. That’s all you have to know. Whether it’s Merguez (North African sausage), spaghetti bolognese, boeuf bourguignon, flank steak, and delicious salads, this place is a total gem. Check their hours before going, as they can be a bit erratic.

Copper Top BBQ, Big Pine

Close to the Copper Top even though it feels like a million miles away…

I’m going to mention this place even though I wasn’t blown away by what I had simply because everyone else seems to love it. I had a tri-tip sandwich. Although the taste was good, it was strangely dry. If I ever eat here again, I will probably try a pulled pork sandwich instead. Regardless, this place boasts quite a reputation. After all, according to the LA Times and Yelp, it received the title of “America’s Best Restaurant.”

Erick Schat’s Bakery

I wasn’t going to mention a restaurant in Bishop only because it’s a decent-sized town. Here and in Mammoth Lakes, it’s not that hard to find a decent meal. But this place bears mentioning because their bread is insanely good. And they also make great sandwiches. Whether you stop off here to get their Original Sheepherder Bread fresh from their stone ovens to make sandwiches or whatever, any number of astounding baked goods, or to order a sandwich from the back, you will not be disappointed. I personally love their cheese bread. Many of us make a special point to stop here. There’s another Schat’s Bakery in Mammoth which is run by a former sister-in-law.

Ohanas395, June Lake

Now we’re on to the tacos. This is a truck that is located right by June Lake Brewery along the June Lake Loop, another gorgeous area along Eastern Sierra that is known for their lakes and trees. It’s particularly popular with photographers in autumn when the trees turn vivid colors. 

I love their ahi tuna tacos. These are delicious by any standard. Excellent. The rest of their food looks and smells fantastic too. Super friendly people as well.

As a bonus, you can have a brew at the June Lake Brewing Company, and these guys will bring your food over. Just don’t ask June Lake Brewing Company what any of their beers are. I said hello and about their milk stout, and the guy replied, “You don’t know much about craft beer, do you?”

Tioga Gas Mart & Whoa Nellie Deli, Lee Vining

Fish tacos! At a Mobil gas station! And one of them even had mango salsa! 

This is a good place to stop and enjoy some tacos and beers after  photographing Bodie ghost town, Mono Lake, Yosemite, Saddlebag Lake, or other nearby areas.

Whoa Nellie Deli is a very popular stop for people going up or returning from Yosemite. Consequently, you’ll see lots of hikers, rock climbers, nature enthusiasts, and tourists hanging out and drinking beer in the very large outdoor area and relaxing. I do like the tacos at Ohanas395 more, but still, it’s good to know that you can grab a decent taco when heading up Tioga Pass or returning from a long photography expedition in Tuolumne Meadows. This place is just off Tioga Pass Road just outside Lee Vining.

Mmmmm…..tacos….

Night adventure among the mysterious sliding stones in remote Death Valley National Park

 

Scattered about Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park are mysterious sliding or sailing stones, leaving snakelike trails behind them on the cracked dry lake bed, often for longer than 250 meters.

How these stones — some weighing hundreds of kilograms — slid was a mystery for many decades. Was it from hurricane-like winds? Magnetic forces? Pranks? UFOs? Geologists had been studying the sailing stones since the 1940s, with the first theory suggesting that they were moved by “dust devils.” And one of the many reasons the mystery endured was that the stones often did not move for decades until a specific set of natural circumstances occurrent this remote region.

This was the remote area that I had wanted to photograph for years.

 

Venturing to a remote part of Death Valley

Death Valley National Park is an enormous, sprawling park with deserts, playas, mountains, ghost towns, sand dunes and more. It can take hours to drive to its main attractions. The Racetrack Playa is about two hours from the centrally-located Stovepipe Wells. However, the last hour or so is on a bumpy, rough road with sharp rocks. Many motorists have had flat tires as a result of these rocks.

I had joined up with a group of photographers, one of whom teaches for National Parks at Night. We decided to take two cars and also tell the rangers where we were heading. We arrived after dark, with the winter temperatures approaching freezing.

Brrrrrrrr!

One member in our party of five people forgot his pants and only had long underwear. Wearing a winter coat and gloves but short pants and long underwear … this was a comical look. Although very cold, he persevered, photographing much of the time until he got too cold to continue. He retreated to the warmth of his rental car.

Bathed in Moonlight

The way the full moon illuminated the parched white dry flat lake bed was magical, with the dark mountains looming in the distance, the dark blue night sky hanging overhead, and the ground below almost glowing. We walked out onto the dry lake bed for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and then spread apart to begin photographing.

Lighting for texture

I wanted to accentuate the surface cracks and the tracks that the sailing stones had left. To do that, I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, which is designed for light painting, holding it very low to the ground to pick up the texture off the ground and create shadows and depth.

The ProtoMachines flashlight also can produce vivid colors. You can control the saturation, brightness and color quickly, and it is designed to provide hours of illumination on a single battery charge. It is very expensive, but it replaces a bag full of batteries and gels. This is important when hiking in the dark for long periods of time. It also enables you to create the light you want much more efficiently.

 

There’s always technical difficulties, aren’t there?

I had two technical difficulties, but nothing serious. For some reason, my full-frame sensor camera, the Nikon D610, reverted to crop sensor format. Consequently, my first several photos had the edges cropped off. At first, I thought I was doing a lousy job framing the photos.

Later, the Vello Shutterboss II wired intervalometer would not shut off despite repeated attempts. The camera kept firing automatically every time I turned it back on. I finally had to remove the battery to make it stop.

After that, it operated beautifully.

After that, I concentrated on my light painting. I wanted to pick up as much texture as possible, and look as magical as possible. I used a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 ultra wide-angle lens to capture the magic.

“Wait for me!”

After a while, the other photographers signaled that they going back to the car to leave soon. So many times, I will keep photographing and photographing and photographing. Time stands still, and it’s just me and the stars moving and my camera clicking.

With lots of water and snacks and warm clothes, I could keep going. But it was time to go. I will forever remember this magical evening at Racetrack Playa, and hope to return someday.

 

Oh, and about that sliding stone mystery …

In 2011, cousins Richard Norris, a paleontologist, and James Norris, a research engineer, began attempting to solve the mystery, placing GPS devices on some of the stones. Later, they finally were rewarded, witnessing the stones moving.

The cousins determined that to create the sailing stones, first, it must rain create a shallow water layer on the parched dry lake bed. This needed to be followed quickly by the temperature falling low enough to freeze the water overnight before it evaporates.

Then the sun has to come out and thaw the ice so that it breaks into thin sheets. And finally, the wind has to blow strongly enough to break the ice into floes, the wind pushing the floating ice against the bloopers so that the ice acts as a sail and making the rocks slowly slide across the wet, muddy earth.

Getting there

Racetrack Playa is remote. It takes over an hour on a very rough dirt road to get from Ubehebe Crater (we always called it Heebie Jeebies Crater) to Racetrack Playa. The road generally doesn’t require a high-clearance vehicle, although I sure wouldn’t try this in a Prius. Most standard crossover vehicles and SUVs have enough clearance. After all, we did it in a Toyota Rav 4 — hardly an off-road beast.

The larger issue is sharp rocks. I know one person who got two flat tires on the way back. Therefore, ideally, you should have a Jeep or truck or other vehicle with large all-terrain tires. These tires are less likely to be punctured.

And you should be equipped for emergencies. I would recommend having at least one spare tire, tons of water, a radio to contact the outside world, a can of fix-a-flat or tire plug kit, a 12-volt air-compressor, a lug wrench and obviously a car jack. You can probably think of more essential items, depending on the weather.

If you decide to go, you should know that if you require a tow truck, it will cost you. The rangers said that tow trucks have to come from far away. They will charge you $1000 or more.

You may also rent a 4×4 vehicle. It’s expensive, but it may be well worth saving yourself some grief.

Keep it pristine for others

Stay on the road. Off-roading is prohibited. And whatever you do, do not drive on the playa. Ever. Enjoy the magic and the mystery and keep it beautiful for others. Do not move or remove any of the rocks. When the playa is wet, avoid walking in muddy areas and leaving ugly footprints.

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