Seven reasons why you may love fisheye lens!

 A fisheye lens may be exactly what you need in your photography bag. Here’s seven reasons why.

1. Instant creativity

abandoned airplane night photo
The fisheye here, along with the light painting makes the scene look even more otherworldly. Instant creativity. Abandoned airplane underneath the Milky Way.

Instant creativity is my number one reason why I love fisheye lenses. There have been times in which I have been doing night photography and was stuck or distracted. I’ve gotten calls before that distracted my creative process. However, if I attach a fisheye lens, I feel like it turbo-charges my creativity. A fisheye lens seems to create a lot of ideas.

2. New perspectives

abandoned fisheye night photo mining camp
Abandoned mining camp with fisheye lens.

Even if I have been to a location numerous times before, I can always count on fisheye lens to give me a new glimpse into the world. After all, who looks at the world from a fisheye perspective regularly – besides, well, fish? Fisheye lens allows us to pull back and get a beautiful, distorted 180-degree view of the world. Or we can jam it in close to something to get an almost macro view, going for detail. Or add a surreal or psychedelic look to some portraits or album covers!

fisheye night portrait
A surreal night portrait photo of two musicians in the Mojave Desert.

3. See the whole sky

Milky Way fisheye photo
Made from 20 light frames (captured with a NIKON CORPORATION camera) by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.6.1. Algorithm: Median

That’s right. That 180-degree view (or so) works wonders for capturing the whole sky. Stick your lens straight up. There you go. A lot of times, what is on the ground will surround the periphery, cradling the photo. This is great for night photography, astrophotography, and so forth. And as a bonus, a lot of fisheye lens have wide apertures. They can let in a lot more light. This means that you can shoot faster and capture the stars as pinpoints, if that’s what you want to do.

4. Context

Get a lot of what is going on around you. And do so easily! Context is key for a lot of photos. I should add here that if you wish, you can use a fisheye lens and fix the distortion later if you choose not to have it. And you do have choices. Photoshop and other programs can address this. You may also use PTLens, which gives a lot of control over lens correction. Or you can photograph panoramas by combining several photos and fixing the distortion in post-processing.

5. Objects in your lens may appear larger than they are

abandoned bathtub fisheye night photo
Bathtub al fresco at night at an abandoned farmhouse, photographed by a fisheye lens up close.

I love this sort of distortion. The elements in the distance fall away and look small, while anything up close looks larger than life. How fun!

6. Don’t worry about straight lines

fisheye abandoned room
Don’t worry about straight lines. If you were a real estate photographer, this might not work. But for creative purposes? I say yes! As you may suspect, this is a night photo of an abandoned mining camp deep in the Mojave Desert.

A lot of times, we need to address keystoning, straight lines on buildings or other things, and maintain proper perspective. Not here! Let it fly! Have fun!

7. It’s weird

Weird is great. Embrace your inner weirdness.

landscape night photo fisheye
Landscapes can get in on the weird act too! Night photo in Utah with a fisheye lens.

What I use

I have been using a Rokinon 12mm 2.8 fisheye lens since 2017. It’s good and sharp. Although it’s manual focus, it’s rather easy and forgiving to focus. Of course, there are many different types of fisheye lens. Explore a little and see what each one offers.

abandoned waterpark night photo fisheye
An abandoned waterpark becomes a surreal display of light and shadow with a fisheye lens.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

5 inspirational quotes about photography for 2022

We can always use several short inspirational quotes about photography, can’t we? As a bonus, these quotes can inform our lives in positive ways. You’ll be able to see why as someone who does night photography and long exposure, I might gravitate toward some of these. However, all of us can be inspired by them. They can make our holidays more joyful. Perhaps if we embrace them, they can make our lives more joyful and meaningful. Thanks, and enjoy!

My spiritual home for night photography, Joshua Tree National Park in California.
My spiritual home for night photography, Joshua Tree National Park in California.

“Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.” – David Alan Harvey

Scene inside an abandoned truck at an old abandoned WWII airfield.
Scene inside an abandoned truck at an old abandoned WWII airfield.

On average, 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook each day. Almost all of these illustrate what a thing, person, place, or cat looks like. We have a glut of these. What we might find beautiful is if a more of us photographed how we feel. Whether it’s a mood or passage of time or interpretation, inspiration, insight or emotion, this is what so often connects us to one another.

“Nothing is ever the same twice because everything is always gone forever, and yet each moment has infinite photographic possibilities.” – Michael Kenna

As a night photographer, thing rings so true, as we so often show a distinct passage of time and a light painting performance that will never occur again. But regardless, whether we are capturing a birthday, a wedding, a celebration, a football game, a street scene, or anything else, we have a moment frozen in time. But within that moment, there are so many ways to view things. And to interpret them and impart how it felt.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” – Dorothea Lange

The old Whiting Brothers Motel sign, Route 66, Arizona.
The old Whiting Brothers Motel sign, Route 66, Arizona.

I have said so often to people that I appreciate everything around me because of photography. This is its gift to me.

As many of you who read this regularly know, I often create night photos of abandoned cars, buildings and more, that which society has discarded. But because of photography, I find the beauty in these cast-offs. I also value the looks of trees, stones, skies and more like I never did before.

“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.” – Susan Sontag

The magical parched floor, Death Valley National Park, California.
The magical parched floor, Death Valley National Park, California.

This beautiful quote from Susan Sontag is cut from the same cloth as the first quote from David Alan Harvey. As humans, we so often are inundated with photos that show how something appears. What we often crave is interpretation, feeling, and emotion. We wish to connect.

“When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.” – Alfred Eisenstaedt

A decaying piano in a large auditorium of an abandoned state mental hospital, Pennsylvania.
A decaying piano in a large auditorium of an abandoned state mental hospital, Pennsylvania.

I have a feeling that a few street, event, and travel photographers may be slowly nodding their heads.

More than a few of us photographers may be introverts. But for many of us, hand us a camera. We are empowered. This camera gives us a license to approach, interact, and connect.

But even for those of us who photograph in nature, the camera becomes a reason to interact with the environment. We lose the hours to our creativity, wandering, exploring, admiring, thinking, feeling, and creating.

The glorious Milky Way in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, always an inspiration.
The glorious Milky Way in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, always an inspiration.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

2021-02 Magical moments in night photography: the loudness of silence

Sometimes we have these moments in nature. They may seem magical. Spiritual. Transcendent. Inspiring. Humbling. But whatever it is, we are left with an indelible memory.

The hike to nowhere

We began our May hike to nowhere. This was the middle of the desert. Almost no cars. No trails. no footprints. We parked our cars off the side of the nearest road. Then we walked. We walked for two miles. The terrain became increasingly strange. Odd-shaped rocks seemingly from an episode of “Star Trek”. Weird alcoves. Shallow caves. Lumpy misshapen rocks.

 

Setting up camp

We had brought in gallons of water, emergency supplies, food, and sleeping bags. No tents, though. Too much weight, too much hassle, and no need. It was a warm night. We set out our tarps and sleeping bags. Each of us chose some flat rocks to attempt to avoid scorpions.

 

Photographing at night

The Milky Way core began to show up in all its heavenly glory late at night. We set about photographing, taking turns or simply photographing different areas. We mostly worked in silence, occasionally talking about cameras or how magnificent the stars were. I illuminated Ojo Oro Arch, one of the secret hidden arches in the area, with light to accentuate its shape and features.

I sat in silence. The glorious silence. I could at one point actually perceive the direction the stars were flowing in. I was completely locked in to the stars, the desert, and the experience. This is what people experienced for most of the time humans have been around. But our cities blot out the skies, and most people have not seen the Milky Way in person.

 

Cocooned by a canopy of stars

I finished photographing. I settled down to sleep under the stars around 3:30 am, cocooned by a canopy of stars and the Milky Way arching directly overhead. Every several minutes, I saw shooting stars streaking through the night sky.  It was so unbelievably vivid. And for so much of dusk or night, I was so aware of the silence. This was a special place where silence is louder and the stars shine brighter. I will always treasure the experience.

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 got the photo: the Car Forest night photo

I wanted a vivid, bold composition of a subject that had been photographed a fair amount by other night photographers. This was photographed at a desert art installation known as the International Car Forest of the Last Church outside Goldfield, NV, a field of old cars that are wildly painted and jammed into the ground at unlikely angles. This was created by Michael “Mark” Rippie and painted by Chad Sorg. Chad had encouraged me to create night photos here.

Bang! Bang!

Out in the Mojave Desert, strange things happen. The still, quiet evening was suddenly shattered by a sudden loud slamming sound, followed by some sort of braying. I whirled around to find several burros circling each other in a cloud of dust, slamming into each other periodically.

Batman tilt

To set the composition apart, I thought a Dutch Angle was in order. When I employ this technique, I want it to be really crooked so there can be no doubt. Full-on 1960s Batman crooked. And I want it to add drama. Lots of drama. I placed the camera so that the bus would block the nearly full moon, using it to backlight the bus and illuminate the clouds that would serve to frame the bus.

Color choice

I decided that a deep blue, which would match really well with the rich blue sky, would match beautifully. I used an Nikon SB-600 speedlight, firing it manually quite a few times. To get the blue color, I used a blue colored theatrical gel secured over the light.

I decided to “light paint” the exterior a lighter blue, which would make it appear to glow a bit rather than accentuating how old and weathered it was. I did this with an LED flashlight covered by a light blue plastic bag to soften the light.

How meeting a night photographer cost me $500

During this photo shoot, I ran into another night photographer named Ron Pinkerton. He showed me a ProtoMachines LED2, a device specifically designed to for light painting and night photography. I was intrigued, and watched as he demonstrated it and methodically went about light painting.

I told Ron, “Thanks! You just cost me $500!” I purchased one six months later and have never stopped using it since. However, I do still keep the LED flashlights and speedlight in the back of the car. You never know what may happen.

What did I use?

Info: Nikon D610 DSLR camera and  a AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens at 14mm. The exposure was 146 seconds, the aperture was f/8, and the ISO was 400.

 

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: Owens Valley Radio Telescope Milky Way

Luck sometimes favors the prepared. I had put all my ducks in a row. I had contacted Cal Tech to obtain permission to photograph Owens Valley Radio Telescope near Bishop, CA. They had contacted security to let them know it was okay. But I couldn’t control the weather.

Fires and lightning storms

But it was about to be scuttled. To the south, the Sierras near Whitney Portal were on fire, creating tons of smoke and haze in the sky. To the east and the north, there was an enormous lightning storm over the White Mountains that were clouding the skies.
I set up my camera and tested it for exposure. I wanted my composition to look different from every other photo of these large dish telescopes. I wanted to create a fisheye photo of two telescopes, one in each corner. And I wanted the Milky Way to cut through the middle. Very specific, sure, but very possible. If the skies would cooperate.

Hungry gnats

And would I manage to survive? Hungry gnats buzzed aggressively at me. Although a hot summer day, I was already wearing boots, thick pants, a hoodie, and a cap to protect myself from the gnats, putting my hands under sleeves. But still they hungrily attacked.

Patience is a virtue

For long periods of time, nothing. Then I saw a clearing in the clouds ahead. It looked like it was coming my way. I triggered my intervalometer, setting it to take 20 photos in succession. I raced around and illuminated the two radio telescopes from an angle, being careful not to blow out the details and create some shadow for depth. Click! Click! Click! For between five and ten minutes, there was enough of an opening in the sky to make the Milky Way visible. And just as quickly, the skies closed

Details, details

To create this photo, I used a Nikon D750 with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. I took 20 photos and “stacked” them later in Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce camera noise. Each of the 20 photos had an exposure of 15 seconds at f/2.8 with an ISO of 6400. July 2018.

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: Comet NEOWISE

Although I do night photography, I usually don’t photograph specific celestial events. But I had never photographed a comet before, and I couldn’t stay away.

Above: Nikon D750 and 50mm f/1.4 lens. Eight seconds at f/2.5 at ISO 2500. I love that both tails of the comet are easily seen in these images.

Planning the location

Finding where the comet would be visible was simple since it would be located just under the Big Dipper. It would be visible from approximately 9:30 PM to 12:30 AM in California.

I guessed that certain places such as Alabama Hills, Joshua Tree National Park, or Mono Lake would be filled with people photographing Comet NEOWISE, so I decided to photograph at Owens Valley Radio Telescope. There was less chance of it being overrun since one needed to have permission to photograph there, which I had. Thank you, Caltech!

 

Planning the gear

I had never photographed a comet before. What should I bring?

I brought most of my lenses. Better safe than sorry. But I would need a strategy.

Most of the time, I photograph at night using ultra wide angle lenses such as the Pentax 15-30mm f/2.8 or the Irix 15mm f/2.4. However, I was concerned that the comet might look really small with ultra wide angle lenses. I attached my 50mm f/1.4 prime lens, thinking that this might give me some reach. I did have a Nikon 28-300 f/3.5-5.6 lens, but I felt that I might need a faster lens. Also, I thought that a f/1.4 prime lens might be sharper.

This thankfully seemed to work well.

 

Determining how to photograph the comet

Sure enough, the comet was visible to the naked eye around 9:30 pm. It looked beautiful. I decided to set up most of my photos so that only part of the radio telescope would be visible in the frame. The viewer would be able to fill in the rest. This would also set my photos apart a little from most people’s photos, as most people tend to photograph the entire apparatus.

Although the 50mm f/1.4 has a hard stop at infinity, it doesn’t always mean that this is “true infinity”. I manually focused, adjusting the lens several times before photographing, and adjusting again between shots, as there seemed to be some variance with this lens for whatever reason. After it seemed to “settle down”, I applied gaffer’s tape to the focus ring so it would stay in place.

Above: Nikon D750 and 50mm f/1.4 lens. Eight seconds at f/2.5 at ISO 2500. This particular photo was created at 9:32 PM, just when Comet NEOWISE was becoming visible, still with a sliver of the moon in the sky. Later, the comet would become obscured by the light pollution from Bishop to the north. This was the first photo of the evening. I must admit that I let loose with an audible “Yessss!” when I saw the comet so clearly on the LED screen.

 

Camera settings

My settings with a Nikon D750 and 50mm lens was eight seconds at f/2.5 at ISO 2500.

Why?

I photographed at eight seconds because much longer than that and the stars would begin to to register as trails rather than pinpoints due to the rotation of the earth. With a 50mm, the lens is zoomed in noticeably more than with an ultra wide angle lens such as a 15mm. With 15mm lens, I often photograph at 15 or 20 seconds, not eight seconds.

I chose f/2.5 after experimenting with photographing at wider apertures such as f/1.8 or f/2.0. With those, I was experiencing lens aberration called coma at the wider apertures, making most of the stars appear as if they had sprouted wings! It’s a balancing act. We need a wider aperture to let in as much light from the stars as possible. But we also don’t want lots of distortion. Stopping down a little helped reduce the aberrations.

And finally, I decided on ISO 2500 because the Nikon has something called ISO invariance. This means that I could boost the exposure without penalty of noise in post-production rather than increasing the ISO in the field.

 

Going wide

I usually show up with two cameras. My other camera is a Pentax K-1 and 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. I decided to photograph at 30mm to still enlarge the comet somewhat and photograph a bit more of the radio telescopes.

Pentax K-1 and 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. 20 seconds at f/2.8 with an ISO of 3200 seemed to work quite well.

Light painting

I wanted to illuminate the radio telescopes. They would have almost been silhouettes otherwise. I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device while the camera shutter was open.

 

Until we meet again, Comet NEOWISE!

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being in a quiet desert environment and photographing these magnificent radio telescopes and a comet that won’t come around again for about 6800 years. Just think what fantastic camera equipment we’ll have next time around!

 

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: abandoned airplane cockpit

“I know this is late notice, but I was wondering if I could please drive up tomorrow and photograph there?” I had texted the owner of a WWII decommissioned airfield, a place where I had photographed at night previously.

Ten minutes later, I had my answer. “Sure, Ken! Come on up!”

Preparing for the photograph

Near a full moon on a cold February evening, I arrived, my mind already churning, pre-visualizing some of the photographs I wanted to create. I wanted to take a photo inside the cockpit of a dismantled P2V-3W Neptune aircraft, staring out into the night sky.

To do that, I needed to jump up and swing my leg over to crawl inside the airplane. I keep some sparring kneepads in the car for occasions like these so I have less chance of scratching or bruising my knees.

The challenges of illuminating tiny interiors with sharp metal

I squatted down. It was small inside. Despite my kneepads, I still managed to scratch my leg while trying cramming myself inside because some of the metal was sharp. I wondered how the pilots could squeeze themselves in here when flying. I hope they weren’t 6′ 1″.

Due to the small quarters, I set My Nikon D750 for a one minute exposure. This would give me ample time to not only illuminate the cockpit but also crawl around to the back to aim my flashlight outside the windows to light them up a bit. I thought a red light would be striking against the deep blue night sky. I used my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device while the camera shutter was open. However, I had to be mindful because red makes it easy to overdo red lights and blow out the details and highlights. I bounced the light off my hand and some of the metal surfaces in the back.

Camera settings

One minute exposure at f/8 ISO 200. I wanted everything to be in focus, so I set my aperture to f/8. ISO 200 would keep the image nice and clean. My regular ultra wide lens would not be able to capture the entire cockpit, so I chose a fisheye lens.

Equipment used

Nikon D750 using Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens. Feisol CT-3342 carbon fiber tripod with an Acratech GP-s ballhead.

 

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