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

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

 

 

Photo Tip of the Month: Seriously Cheap Studio Lighting Kit…and Happy New Year!

Stephanie and the Emergency Kits 4 All brochure

Stephanie the Chihuahua of Emergency Kits 4 All wants you to know 1.) that it is possible to buy good studio lighting on a shoestring budget, 2.) these lights don’t make me pant because they don’t give off much heat,  3) that you should have an emergency kit for you, your family, and your beloved pets, and 4.) HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!  This is a raw photo before I color-corrected or did much of anything else, just so I could show you how it comes out.

Seriously Cheap Studio Lighting Kit For Photographers On The Go
Professional photographers who do a lot of work in studios need a professional setup. This can cost a truckload of money. But what about the rest of us who might only occasionally require studio lighting? Was it possible for the photographer on the go to get cheap studio lighting that was light, portable, and durable…something that didn’t suck?

What Was I Looking For?
I’m a WYSIWYG person and don’t need to freeze fast action, so I was looking for continuous lights, not speedlights (although I do have a Nikon SB-600, a good quality speedlight).

I initially considered hot lights, but dismissed them because photofloods were not terribly energy-efficient and require replacing more often, while halogens look great but also aren’t as energy-efficient.  And they both give off a lot of heat, something that wasn’t too fun to think about during the summer when I was considering these.

That left cool lights.  Fluorescents, to be exact.  These gave off less heat, were far more energy efficient, the bulbs lasted a long time and were cheap to replace.  Nice.

Now to find the exact kit. After searching the photography forums, looking at reviews, and other sources, I came across a kit that fit the bill:  theFlashpoint 3 Fluorescent Light Kit from Adorama.  They mimic daylight at 5500 degrees Kelvin. Each 85 watt bulb was the equivalent of 425 watts of light output.  Not bad. They had three lights with seven foot stands that were reported to be solid, one 33″ shoot-through umbrella and one 33″ reflective white umbrella with a black back, and a carrying case.

I assembled everything while watching TV in 30 minutes. I undoubtedly could have done it in less time if I were actively focusing. Assembly is easy, in other words.

The lights were plenty bright. The stands, including the base and the latches for allowing you to extend the stands, seem surprisingly sturdy for a $149 budget kit (note:  the kit now sells for $169 as of this writing, still a great bargain). You can adjust the stands for wider stability if needed. The kit breaks down and packs away in the included bag in a matter of minutes. I put a bit of bubble wrap around the bulbs to make sure they’re well padded. The black bag fit everything with room to spare.

The lights are fluorescent and did not flicker during the 20 minutes I was using them, giving off noticeably less heat than their incandescent counterparts.  I used the lights in the evening, and turned off my regular house lights so I could control the color temperature better. This worked very well, and I was able to get some test shots quickly and effectively without much maneuvering of the lights.

I have since shot three commercial product shoots, and it’s worked really well every time, setting up in minutes, perfect for the photographer on the go, shooting on location.

My friend has a hot light lighting kit that she purchased for about $200.  I used her kit when I was shooting her wedding last year. Her kit came with two lights/stands, two shoot-through umbrellas, and no carrying case.  The lighting kit I purchased had three lights/stands instead of two, gave off more light, ran cooler and “greener”, and had noticeably sturdier stands.  I’d say I got a great bargain.

What I Added To My Portable Photo On The Go Studio Lighting Kit
It was $149 (okay, now $169), so I was beyond happy.  Still, I felt it needed a little bit more.  The cords are rather short.  This was easily remedied.  I threw in a couple of power strips and a few extension cords.

Also, I wanted a black backdrop.  Now, I happen to be a recording engineer, so I have numerous microphone boom stands laying around, so I didn’t need to buy stands.  I never priced them out, but boom stands cost anywhere from $50-100 each. I also went to Home Depot and bought a few clamps for several dollars.  I wanted a black black black backdrop.  Construction paper is awful for this.  It reflects too much of the light back.  I don’t like things that wrinkle, so I dismissed curtains.  Black bedsheets aren’t black enough and are too sheer.  I decided on a large $40 black velour cloth, which soaks up the light quite well, almost as well as velvet.  With not too much hassle, I had my backdrop. If you look at the photo, you can see that it is a good dark black…black black.

I already mentioned that I also threw in some bubble wrap and a couple of towels to protect the kit.  With this and a couple of spare fluorescent bulbs, all is good.  I have a kit that gives provides good flicker-free lighting, sets up easily, and is durable and cheap.

This worked out very well for me.  What are your needs?  What are you looking for in a budget studio lighting kit?

Disclaimer
I do not work for or own stock on Adorama, nor am I sleeping with anyone from the company. I just like this product.

The above photo was shot with a Nikon D90 and a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens.

Featured Photo – How I Reposition Dogs In A Photo (sort of a bonus Photo Tip of the Month!)

You never know where you are going to get a really fun photo of a dog.  This one was at a photo shoot for commercial products.  Christal Smith, owner of Emergency Kits 4 All (www.ek4a.com), wanted her chihuahua next to some of the emergency kits.  Between placing the product  on the black backdrop, I took a photo of her dog.  I liked this, but wanted to reposition this sweet but hyperactive chihuahua to create the photo that you see directly below:

Stephanie the Chihuahua - alternate photo

Final version of this overhead photo of Stephanie the chihuahua after moving Stephanie’s position in Photoshop CS4.

The above photo, however, wasn’t the original.  She’s a very quick moving chihuahua, and was just about to wander out of frame in the original shot, shown below:

Stephanie the chihuahua-original photo

The original photo of Stephanie the chihuahua before I moved her positioning using Photoshop CS4.

You can see she was bunched in the lower left corner.  I liked this because the placement is unusual.

But after a while, I decided to experiment with her placement within the photo.  I opened up this original photo in Photoshop CS4 and reoriented Stephanie’s position with the Ruler Tool (right-click the Eyedropper Tool to select the Ruler Tool).  You then simply draw your line from one position to another on your photo. Not to worry, dear reader, the line is not permanent.  Then, go up and select Image > Image Rotation > Arbitrary and hit “OK”.   Boom.  This repositions your photo.  Looks funny with you photo askew, doesn’t it?  But I wouldn’t leave you hangin’.  We ain’t done yet.

I went to Color Picker (again, on the left Tool Bar, which are the two squares.  I selected black for both the foreground and background color so I would match the black background of my photo.

After this, I created a new workspace (File > New), making sure to select Blackground Color in the pulldown menu entitled “Background Contents”.  I made this MUCH larger than the original Stephanie photo.  I then simply moved the photo around using the Move Tool (the thing at the top of the Tool Menu that looks like a cross made up of arrows at the top), cropped, and voila…a new version of the photo in just a couple of minutes!!!

This is sort of a bonus Tip of the Month.  I started writing and kept going.

This was shot with a Nikon D90 and a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens, 1/80 second at f/1.6 with a black velour cloth, lightweight travel tripod, and portable studio lighting.  I am going to discuss portable studio lighting and the tripod in upcoming Photo Tip of the Month articles.