Fun, Friendly Night Photography Workshop in a Nevada ghost town!

Interested in three nights in an amazing, weird and fun location filled with old cars, trucks, buses and buildings?  Join host Tim Little and I as we explore this small Nevada town under moonlight!

We are teaching a night photography workshop in the amazing Nelson ghost town near Las Vegas, Nevada. The workshop will cover the basics of night photography, composition, creativity, tips, techniques, star trails and more.

This is THE workshop for anyone who wants limitless photography opportunities with the safety of a group environment while learning a lot along the way!

What is Nelson Ghost Town?

Nelson is easily one of my favorite places to photograph. Whether it’s vintage cars, gas pumps, old Western buildings, soda machines, creepy dolls, a spectacular airplane “wreck” or phone booths, enormous post-apocalyptic “Mad Max”-style vehicles, vintage signs and more, you will have no shortage of fascinating subjects to photograph. This is, in short, a night photographer’s paradise.

Given its proximity to Las Vegas, it’s also quite accessible. The area is frequently used for movies, TV shows, music videos, commercials, wedding ceremonies and much more. However, we’ll have it all to ourselves.

What will you learn?

Quite a bit if you wish. You may learn various light painting techniques, night photography, composition, creative and practical techniques, star trails, light painting techniques and more, presented in a very accessible manner in a fascinating space.

You’ll also be among numerous creative photographers, giving you the opportunity to make friends, work together on photos, and share in the experience in a safe environment.

Furthermore, this isn’t one of those workshops where the instructors are inaccessible in the field. Both of us will be available throughout the evening to help if you need to. We will issue small 2-way radios for ease of communication, whether asking for help or coordinating with others.

Timothy Little

Timothy Little is a gifted nighttime landscape artist based on Cape Cod. Since 2006, he has used his moonlit and starlit photographic art to connect the natural beauty of “the Cape” with the inherent solitude of night. His portfolio is exclusive to night photography making him the only area artist specializing in this genre. He also specializes in photographing abandoned scenes in the southwest United States.

His work has been featured on Space.com, the Cape Cod Times, Cape Cod Life, Visit Massachusetts and several other New England based publications.

In addition to creating art, he shares his knowledge through group workshops and guided night tours.

Ken Lee

I am devoted to teaching night photography, light painting, star trails, and Milky Way photography. Whether that has been through the Night Photo Summit, my own workshops, or writing here at Photofocus, I hope to help you on your journey through night photography.

My photos have been featured in National Geographic Books, Omni Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Westways Magazine, and numerous other publications.

When is the night photography workshop?

The Nelson night photography workshop will be three nights: May 4-6 2023 under the beautiful Nevada desert moonlight. We will be staying in nearby Boulder City.

Find out more about our Nelson Ghost Town workshop here.

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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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

 

Advertisement

Our many challenges photographing a bus graveyard at night

We attempted to photograph a bus graveyard. The night photography gods threw up some hurdles. Some were dangerous. These are some of the challenges thrown our way that night.

Nighttime at a mysterious bus graveyard in the middle of the desert.

“It’s like a parking lot here!”

I met up with night photographer Tony Donofrio at the lively Lemon Festival in Upland, CA. Later that evening, we drove to a mysterious bus graveyard hidden away in the desert. The freeways were clogged. The last of them involved killing our engines for 20 minutes and sitting on a freeway as emergency vehicles kept trying to inch past everyone.

An hour commute became two. Tony and I felt that if we had known about this traffic, we might have hung out the remainder of the evening at the Lemon Festival instead.

Gas station sandwiches

We realized that we would not be able to eat at the restaurant as planned. It was already dark, and we had planned on getting there while there was still light. We grabbed some pre-packaged gas station sandwiches and ate them en route.

“Where’s Tony?”

I arrived at the bus graveyard. I quickly changed my pants before Tony’s headlights would reveal my indecent exposure. However, he didn’t show up. I called. He had stopped about a quarter mile away. He was concerned that his car would get stuck on the rough dirt road. I went back to get him.

Night photo of an abandoned school bus with the emergency door missing.

“My camera’s dead!”

I had just put a battery in my Nikon D750 camera. To my surprise, the screen suddenly showed a message that I had to reset the clock. That was surprising. I had never seen that happen before. Furthermore, none of the buttons worked. The camera was completely unresponsive.

I changed batteries and lenses, all with the same result. After 20 minutes, I gave up and began using my other camera, the Pentax K-1 with the 28-105mm lens. I would not be able to photograph with the fisheye, which was my intent. I was, however, quite disturbed by this because I had to do event photography in a few days.

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Stepping on a nail

The photography gods weren’t quite done with me yet. Right after putting away my non-functioning camera, I walked around a shadowy area. Suddenly, I stepped on a nail. This went through my shoe. I could feel the nail on the bottom of my right foot! I immediately felt that something was wrong, so I stopped. A wooden board was stuck to my shoe! I carefully pried it off with my other foot.

However, because I had not put my weight down, the nail never punctured my skin. I immediately went back to the car and put on boots with steel-shank soles. 

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Meanwhile, on the other side …

While I was having my challenges, Tony’s photoshoot was going well. Mostly. However, he had a near scrape himself. He was lighting the interior of a bus while walking slowly backward down the center aisle. After about 10 feet, he turned around with his light. With a jolt, he realized that the center floor access panel was no longer there! One more step and he would have fallen through!

Night photo of abandoned passenger bus.

Now, the good news

After the nail, I managed to get in a creative flow. Thankfully, that seems to occur quickly and naturally. I was happy with the process and the results.

Furthermore, I was able to resuscitate the unresponsive camera, the Nikon D750. After leaving the battery in for a while, the camera became responsive again. The camera clock is powered by an independent, rechargeable power source. This is charged when the main battery is installed. When I got home, I left the battery in. After this, it seemed to work fine. The camera worked without issue for the event

The continuing mysteries are this. I had only left the main battery out for three days. However, my camera repairman says that this is long enough to create this problem. Strange. And also what I don’t know is why the camera seized up and was completely non-responsive.

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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Light Painting 101: How to light a historic abandoned wooden hangar

After gazing upon this enormous historic abandoned wooden hangar, here’s how I decided to light all these fantastic geometric shapes to create depth and interest. It took a lot of running around!

Historic World War II hangar

Upon driving up to the abandoned wooden hangar, we were in awe. The structure inspired awe despite its decay. The hangar housed B-24 Liberator bombers, two of which crashed within an hour of each other, among other accidents. This led some to believe the airfield to be cursed.

The interior of a World War II hangar

However, this evening was definitely not cursed. We were able to get many photos. This particular photo, however, is a hidden photo I discovered while cleaning out the “digital attic,” so I thought I’d share it with you.

Four steps to light painting the wooden hangar

I felt that the geometric shapes, enormous overhead beams, and windows could create some interesting symmetry. I wanted my light painting to support that and define some of the edges to create interest. Here’s how I did it.

Step one: Creating contrast on the walls

I ran over to camera left. I stood close to the wall and skimmed a warm white light across the wall. 

Step two: Balancing that contrast on the other side

After that, I ran over to the right side of the wall. I basically did the same thing but to the right. I don’t always do this. However, what I was trying to create were shadows converging toward the middle. I also wanted relatively even illumination. This accomplished that.

Step three: Rimming the windows

I thought it would be interesting to rim the upper part of the windows. I ran outside. I used the same warm white light to illuminate everything from far away so that it would create a glow around the top of the windows. This would create more interest and depth.

Step four: Illuminating the large beams

I wanted to create an interesting pattern with the shadows of the immense beams holding the ceiling up. I stepped as far back as I could while still being inside and swept the upper part of the ceiling. This also defined the wooden roof more, as this otherwise would have been completely in shadow as well.

Other approaches to photographing the hangar

Abandoned World War II wooden hangar at night. I used a fisheye and light painted this with a vivid red light. Note the beautiful shadow play on the floor, created by the rising moon.

I photographed this hangar using various other approaches. It was easily one of my favorite structures I’ve photographed, offering inspiration and many interesting lines.

Here are a few more photos from the same evening. You can see how illuminating them with light painting can create many different moods.

The hangar is still abandoned. However, it is no longer accessible to the public in an effort to preserve it from vandals. I feel blessed to have been able to photograph it when I did.

Abandoned World War II wooden hangar at night with the incredible Milky Way overhead, shortly before the moon rose.

I used the above photo to try to describe what the Milky Way really looks like in person.

The back of an abandoned World War II wooden hangar at night.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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

 

Can I light paint in our National Parks at night?

Can you light paint, or illuminate, a foreground in our National Park system for your night photo? If so, which ones?

Light painting

Light painting is illuminating a subject at night with light. This can be disruptive to others. Or to wildlife. And it’s compounded if it is with a crowd of people, such as what was happening at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

Mojave National Preserve, CA, part of the National Park System.
Mojave National Preserve, CA, part of the National Park System.

While I have joked about this while discussing photographs of people pointing their flashlights up at the Milky Way, this is actually a real issue borne out of some people’s frustration. 

Where can I use artificial lighting in the National Park system?

The National Park Service manages 423 individual units. These 423 also include Monuments, Preserves, Reserves, Lakeshores, Rivers, Parkways, Historical Parks, Battlefields, Forests, and other designations. In 417 of these places, you may use artificial lighting, including light painting.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA.
Joshua Tree National Park, CA.

Where is artificial lighting banned?

This has changed in the past couple of years. However, to the best of my knowledge, the use of artificial light sources to illuminate landscapes, rock formations, or other park features is banned in Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Capitol Reef and Grand Teton National Parks. This of course includes “light painting”. 

However, it also includes ultra-dim static lighting as well. This ultra-dim lighting is typically as bright as the stars and is virtually imperceptible to people. 

Controversy

Arches National Park, Utah.
Arches National Park, Utah.

The ruling from these six units has been controversial among night photographers. Some feel that using very dim lighting from static panels does not disturb anyone, to the point where they are often not discernible except to the very sensitive sensors of a camera set to photograph long exposures at high ISOs.

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

Some photographers point out that it is OK to have cars racing through the parks at night. And in the case of Grand Teton, there’s also a highway, international airport, and private properties within its boundaries, all of which create more light than photographers ever would. 

There are multiple sides to this issue. And people from these various sides often make strong points. 

Regardless, most night photographers acknowledge that light painting can be disruptive to wildlife and people. Consequently, we choose to respect park regulations and share the space with others.

Inyo National Forest
Inyo National Forest

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!

NIGHTAXIANS VIDEO YOUTUBE PODCAST:

Night photographers Tim Little, Mike Cooper and I all use Pentax gear. We discuss this, gear, adventures, light painting, lenses, night photography, creativity, and more in this ongoing YouTube podcast. Subscribe and watch to the Nightaxians today!

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

Light Painting 101: How to light the interior of a smokestack building

How do you go about light painting a building so it looks like the lights are on? How do you create texture in a reasonably natural way through the way you light paint? I’ll describe how to do this and more.

A night photo of a dual-smokestack cattle barn building, illuminated during the exposure.

Three steps to light painting

Step one: Illuminating the exterior naturally

I wanted to create some texture on the outside of the building so it wouldn’t be so dark. After all, some of it was in shadow. I thought I would brighten that a little while still making it look reasonably natural. 

Since the nearly full moon was illuminating the scene from the camera right, I used the same angle. Using a shallow 90-degree angle to create texture, I illuminated it for several seconds. I used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device with warm white light.

Step two: Light painting the interior

I thought that a bright interior giving the appearance of someone turning the lights on the inside would look good. It would give the building some more pop and make it stand out as well. 

I walked inside and aimed the light up at the ceiling. By reflecting it off the ceiling, it gives the appearance of an overhead light. I did this in both rooms. I also aimed the light out the windows to give a little bit of edge lighting for added drama.

Step three: adding some light to the edges of the two smokestacks

The smokestacks on top of the building were intriguing. I wanted them to stand out while still looking natural. Again, because the moon was shining from the right side, I illuminated the right side of the two smokestacks while behind the building, almost backlighting them, but from an extreme angle. You can see the light painting on their right sides. This gives the smokestacks more definition while still looking natural.

Additional details

The road had occasional trucks zooming past. I made sure to begin the exposure when I saw that a truck was going to pass. I really liked how the red taillights looked, so I waited for a vehicle to be driving away to get those streaks. They seem to represent time passing the abandoned building by.

What is this building?

This building is the front part of a cattle barn. The back structure, where the cattle were housed, has mostly collapsed. This is located in the Mojave Desert between Big Bear Lake and Barstow in California.

Night photo of the collapsed cattle barn building in the back. Light painted during the exposure. This has it all: a Dutch angle 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

 

How I got the photo: A weird teleportation device?

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

night photo of abandoned smelter
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

behind the scenes smelter
Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

night photo of abandoned smelter
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

behind the scenes smelter
Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

night photo of abandoned smelter
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

behind the scenes smelter
Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

We encountered this unusual structure in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert. Here’s how I got this unusual night photo.

Abandoned smelter night photo
Is it an abandoned smelter? Or an ancient teleportation device? You decide!

Imagination run amok

During the waning light of the sun, my friend Mike Cooper and I came across this unusual structure. This was a 100-year old smelter. But to me, who watches a lot of “Star Trek”, I instead thought of it as some sort of weird transporter. This is what would inform the way I went about photographing it.

I find that when photographing at night, looking at things as if they were something else often makes for more creative photographs. For example, instead of a wrecked car, I might look at it like a strange space monster. Instead of a tree, it might be a giant human-shaped inflatable wind puppet. This smelter would be an eerily glowing teleportation device.

Setting up the photo

Behind the scenes, photographing an abandoned giant smelter in a ghost town in the Sonoran Desert.

When it grew dark, I placed my Pentax K-1 camera directly in front of the smelter, using a Feisol CT-3342 tripod for stability. I took great care to make sure it was centered. I thought it might look more odd and “sci-fi” with a straight centered photo. I focused on the building itself by shining some light and using auto-focus. I use this technique quite a bit for night photography. 

Checking out the smelter

The smelter is a very large structure. Someone had placed a wooden pallet in front, presumably to climb in. I climbed up the pallet, considering everything carefully. It was dark. But more than that, my vision was not great, as I was experiencing flashes and floaters as well as increasingly hazy vision. Soon after this trip, I had surgery for a detached retina.

Mike had successfully climbed in and out to illuminate this from the interior. I battled my impulse to also climb inside, deciding not to do it, given my wonky vision.

Lighting the interior

I had to devise another way to make it look like the interior was glowing with an eerie energy, ready to “beam” someone to a distant land or spaceship. I decided that I would remove the pallet, hop up on one of the stones hidden behind the creosote plant, and wave my ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device back and forth to pick up the texture inside, blocking the light with my body. Then, still blocking the light, I would wave it up and down around the sides of the opening to make it look like the light was emanating from within.

I ended up doing this with numerous colors so I could picture how it looked. I did red, blue, green, and warm white. I ultimately decided on a color known among a few of us as Gas Station Teal (™), developed by night photographer Tim Little.

Lighting the exterior 

I used a warm white light. Using a 90-degree angle from the structure, I skimmed the light gently on the front to pick up some of the texture. This also made the smelter “pop” a little more compared to the rest of the photo.

Streaks of light

I let the star trails streak across the sky. I did this by taking two minute exposures and letting the camera run for twelve minutes straight. The star trails would be reasonably long since I was using a Pentax 28-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at a focal length of 34mm. After all, the longer the focal length, the more I am zoomed in on everything – including the stars. When I would share the photo later, I would propose that the streaks of light may have been created during the dematerialization process. I did have two people “correct” me, saying that they thought it were star trails. There’s no fooling some people.

Stacking the six photos

I took the six photos and “stacked” them in Adobe Photoshop, changing the blending mode to “lighten”. This allows the lighter parts, including the light painting and star trails, to shine through all together as if it had been a single photo with a twelve-minute exposure. You can also “stack” photos in this manner using StarStax, a free program for Mac, PC, and Linux.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

VIDEO PRESENTATION:

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

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

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

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

 

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

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

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

Aware of destruction, aware of art

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

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

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

Three steps to photographing the walkway

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

1.) Illuminating the interior of the walkway

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

2.) Bringing out the details

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

3.) Collaborating

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

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

Why don’t I show up in the photo?

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

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

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!

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

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

PODCAST:
Behind the Shot video podcast – interview February 2020

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

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