How I Pack For Night Photography

How you pack and organize your belongings directly impacts your experience. This is true of all forms of photography, but perhaps especially night photography. After all, you will need to access your belongings repeatedly in the dark. I am going to describe how I am currently packing for my night photography trips. And probably like you, this will change over time. Even if you don’t do night photography, you might find much of this useful as general organizing and packing tips.

 

We’ll start with the bag. There’s no such thing as a perfect camera bag, of course. But so far, so good with this Tenba Solstice 20L bag. It’s comfortable even despite the weight, has sufficient padding to protect the gear well, and is logically laid out.

It also has deep side pockets for drinks or other gear. Most of the places that I photograph are in the desert, so it’s good to have lots of drinks. I can easily fit two 32-ounce drink bottles on my backpack, one in each side pocket. I usually keep drinks in the side pouches because if there’s a leak, it won’t leak into my gear. If I only need one bottle, I will sometimes keep a roll of orange gaffer’s tape in one of the side pockets.

To the right in the photo above, you can see an attached tan-colored side pouch. That is for the ProtoMachines LED2.

 

I prefer to have a camera backpack that opens from the rear. This is so if it is muddy, I can access all my gear without taking off the backpack. If my waist strap is on, I simply take off the shoulder straps and turn the backpack around so it is facing me and then access everything from the back without having to take the backpack off and put it on muddy ground.

 

With the back open, you can see that I have two cameras. On the left is the rather large and heavy Pentax K-1 with an attached Pentax 15-30mm f/2.8 lens. On the right is a Nikon D750 with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 lens. Above the cameras is a large microfiber cloth, and to the right of that, two Vello Shutterboss II intervalometers. One of them is for the Pentax since its connector differs from Nikon connectors. To differentiate, I have this labeled with orange tape that says “Kentax” (see what I did there?). Above the cloth and intervalometers is a thin yellow bag. That is a small emergency first aid kit. And above that is a Think Tank pouch with chargers and random things.

 

This is a view of the bag looking down. I have removed the gray Think Tank bag for this photo. The idea of the Think Tank bag is that I keep all my belongings that I ordinarily don’t need out in the field, such as battery chargers, cables and various other accessories. I leave these in the car or in the motel room.

Inside the zipped pouch you can see a yellow Allen wrench, a spare remote shutter cable release, and a small microfiber cloth. You can never have too many microfiber cloths. I keep these here because I may need to access this in the field, but it’s not something I really need unless something on the tripod loosens or some other emergency.

After I remove the gray Think Tank bag from the camera backpack, I have lots of room. Right now, I have the yellow first aid kit, a Nikon body cap, and an extra LensPen. This hardly takes up any space. What I usually place in here when I am about to photograph are things like snacks and an extra shirt or jacket and a beanie. Sometimes I put a roll of orange gaffer’s tape inside as well.

 

Speaking of those side pockets – or at least what’s right next to them – is am Army holster that is used to carry pistols. I use mine to carry a somewhat pistol-shaped piece of gear, the ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, seen here in all its beautifully taped glory. The white tape is glow-in-the-dark tape, while the orange tape is just some crappy looking gaffer’s tape that I should remove but have not. This is the light painting device of a working night photographer. It ain’t pretty, but it’s functional and harder to lose in the dark.

I keep pepper spray inside the Army holster as well. I like stuff like this to be within quick reach. I sometimes remove the holster from the backpack and wear it on my belt if I am not going to have the entire backpack with me. I’ve never had to use the pepper spray, and I hope I never will.

 

Finally, a view of the front pouch of the Tenba bag. Here, I keep a plastic cover for the camera if it begins sprinkling or if I am doing photos near a waterfall or the ocean. Salt water and electronics do not mix. You can see the white string of this bag peaking out on top. Below that, you can just barely see some orange battery holders. I use these for storing extra batteries for the ProtoMachines and the intervalometers. Easy access. And in the innermost pocket at the bottom of the photo, you can see several battery organizers, one for the Pentax K-1, the other for the Nikon D750. I like having lots of extra batteries because you never know how many batteries you are going to plow through on a cold night. Better safe than sorry. I prefer these battery organizers because it keeps everything neat and accessible, but also because the contacts of the batteries never meet. Also inside is an SD card holder, which you can barely see…you can see the thin yellow stripe.

When I am doing night photography, I usually simply carry the tripod. If I wanted to, I could attach my smaller tripod to the side pocket and strap it in or use straps and strap it to the front of the backpack. However, in practice, I rarely do this. If there is one weakness of the Tenba Solstice 20L, it’s that it is not the best backpack I’ve had for attaching tripods. Yes, you can do it, but it’s better if the tripod is small. Anything more, and it’s really not ideal. But the upside of this is that I can carry all the equipment you see here, but still be able to slide it underneath the seat of an airplane. I’ll live with the trade-off.

Everything here is organized and easily accessible even in the dark. If I don’t want to blow out my vision because it is dark and I am trying to photograph Milky Ways, I can still access my belongings without turning on my headlamp.

I hope this gives you some ideas. How do you pack for night photography? What would you do? Feel free to start a conversation below in the comments section. Thanks for reading.

-Ken

 

I AM INTERVIEWED ON A PODCAST ABOUT THE COVER PHOTO FOR MY NEW BOOK:
Please join me on the latest episode of the Behind the Shot podcast (@BehindtheShotTV), as I sit down with @SteveBrazill to take a look at how I created the image that graces the cover of my new book “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time”. There is a video podcast, but you can also download an audio podcast as well. Either way, it promises to be good fun. Watch, listen, and subscribe here: https://behindtheshot.tv/2020/02/13/capturing-the-slowing-of-time/LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE RAN A SHORT STORY ABOUT MY NEW BOOK:
https://www.lamag.com/article/abandoned-southern-california/

BOOK AUTHOR EVENT MARCH 22 2020:
And hopefully I will see you March 22nd 2020 at 5 pm Valley Relics Museum for a brief slide show and presentation for my new book “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time”.  Get there early to check out the museum.
Address: 7900 Balboa Blvd. C3 & C4 Entrance on, Stagg St, Van Nuys, CA 91406

WEBSITE:
http://www.kenleephotography.com

 

 

How I Find Interesting Foregrounds and Abandoned Locations

Especially since my first book, “Abandoned Southern California: The Slowing of Time” was released, I have been asked how I find interesting foregrounds and abandoned locations a couple of times lately, and thought I would answer in my blog, which I’ve resuscitated to go along with my shiny new Ken Lee Photography website.
My philosophy is that regardless of whether it you are photographing the night sky or not, it’s all about the composition, where the subject matter still counts. And rarely for me is the night sky the subject matter. I’m particularly fascinated by the marriage of sky and earth. Astrophotography and deep sky photography hold less interest for me personally.
Ideally, I hike around the area during the day and return at night, although that doesn’t always happen due to time constraints or life throwing one challenges.
I photograph a lot of abandoned items that I found interesting, but really, anything that’s interesting is something that I love to photograph, including fantastic natural landscapes or unique features. Often, the weirder, the better. When I’m in the area during the day, I usually try to make notes about where the moon might come out, how the foreground subject will be illuminated, or where the Milky Way might be, things like that. I use apps such as PhotoPills to help determine things such as this. I also look to see whether there might be streetlights in the area or there might be some danger in walking (sharp cactus, floorboards that are about to give way, possibility for animals or people, homeless encampments, whatever). And of course, I am always thinking about how I might “light paint” the foreground so that I can create visually strong and creative images. “Light painting” is illuminating the foreground while the camera shutter is open, acting almost like the director of a movie, determining what to illuminate, and what to keep in shadow. This helps the image to tell a story about the place.
I devote quite a bit of time to finding interesting areas. When researching new locations and determining how to approach photographing them, I use a combination of Google Maps, the history of a region, looking at old photographs, driving around the area, other photographer friends, blogs, old maps, and Facebook groups about a particular subject matter. If I think there are some ghost towns or abandoned houses in a particular region, I’ll also try to see if I can find abandoned places on Google Earth.
I try not to copy other people’s photographs. Also, I don’t actively seek to photograph some locations there despite it having great subjects if 1.) I feel like I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said before, and 2.) they are too crowded, which isn’t the sort of photographic experience I’m after. Locations like this would include Mesa Arch at sunrise, Kanarra Creek Canyon, the sun shining on Horsetail Fall in Yosemite in February, Horseshoe Bend, and Antelope Canyon. This is not a condemnation of anyone photographing these locations. They are stunning locations for photography. Because of #1 and #2, they simply hold less interest for me.
Finally, I am working on two more night photography books on abandoned sites, both of which have themes. Themes are fantastic because they drive me to seek out these things more, and make it a lot of fun! I also record music this way by having this sort of theme, and it serves as a guidepost for what one seeks out or does. I often find myself thinking about the approach in novel ways, and that can create additional creativity.
What foregrounds interest you? What methods do you use to find fascinating foregrounds and cool abandoned sites? Let us know in the comments section!

Sunset, Morro Rock (Sun Flare)

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

0904_kenlee_2016-12-28_1613_morrobay__morrorock-almostbw

Sunset, Morro Rock, CA, from our trip to Morro Bay.

Nikon D7000 and Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, handheld. 0904.#‎nightphotography #‎night #‎lightpainting #‎abandoned #‎california #kenlee #fotografianocturna #pinturadeluz #abandonado #MyRRS #feisol #noche #luna #moon #ruins #urbex #urbanexploration #desert #awesomeearth #awesomeglobe #beautifuldestinations #WeOwnTheNight_CA #shutterbugpix #nikon #mojavedesert #mining #television

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

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

Breezy Cottage By The Sea (Long Exposure Light Painted Night Photo)

5011_kenlee_2016-10-16_0011_saltonsea_138sf8iso200_airconditionedbuilding-1000px

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

Breezy Cottage By The Sea (5011)

Bombay Beach, Salton Sea, California, U.S. This is a real photo taken at night. This evening, everything was illuminated by a big bright moon, almost bright enough to read a book. And setting my tripod-mounted camera to a long exposure made the camera much more sensitive to light than our eyes on this already bright evening. This is why this photo seems brighter than what we might see at night. It is not due to post-processing. The moon, which reflects light from the sun, also makes the sky bluer, and when the photo is a long exposure photo, the sky will appear brighter, making the blue more apparent. I also illuminated parts of this scene with a handheld LED flashlight while the camera shutter was open. This is not a post-processing creation. No pixels were harmed during the creation of this photo. 😀

The streaks in the sky are stars, showing the movement across the sky while the camera shutter was open and capturing the photo. The movement of the stars are created by the rotation of the earth, and the long exposure photo shows these movements over time. I am fascinated with how a single long exposure photo can show movements and the cumulative effects of light in a single image. Thank you for reading this and looking at the image. -Ken

Ken Lee Photography
Nikon D610/14-24mm f/2.8, 138 seconds f/8 ISO 200 Oct 2016

#‎nightphotography #‎night #‎lightpainting #‎saltonsea #‎abandoned #‎california #kenlee #mineralspa #fotografianocturna #pinturadeluz #abandonado #MyRRS #feisol #noche #luna #moon #ruins #urbex #urbanexploration #desert #awesomeearth #awesomeglobe #beautifuldestinations #WeOwnTheNight_CA #shutterbugpix #nikon #saltonsea #bombaybeach

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

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

One Eyed Dodge – Light Painted Night Photo

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

4820_kenlee_2016-10-15_0040_pearsonville-174sf8iso200-dodge-front-cloudswhoosing-1000px

One Eyed Dodge (4820)
Pearsonville Auto Salvage Yard, Mojave Desert, California. We had these amazing clouds most of the evening, creating fantastic shapes with or without long exposures.

This is a real photo taken at night. Everything was illuminated by a big bright moon, an almost full moon, almost bright enough to read a book. And setting my tripod-mounted camera to a long exposure made the camera much more sensitive to light than our eyes on this already bright evening. This is why this photo seems brighter than what we might see at night. It is not due to post-processing. The moon, which reflects light from the sun, also makes the sky bluer, and when the photo is a long exposure photo, the sky will appear brighter, making the blue more apparent. I used a handheld LED flashlight to illuminate the automobile, and then used it with a homemade snoot to hit the front headlights to make them glow a bit more while the camera shutter was open for a long time. This is not a post-processing creation. No pixels were harmed during the creation of this photo. 😀

I am fascinated with how a single long exposure photo can show movements and the cumulative effects of light in a single image. Thank you for reading this and looking at the image. -Ken

Nikon D610/14-24mm f/2.8, 174 seconds total @ f/8 ISO 200. Oct 2016. I photographed this with Tim Little, Steve McIntyre, and Troy Paiva near a full moon. Troy is an enormous pioneer in light painting night photography.

#kenlee #fotografianocturna #pinturadeluz #abandonado #MyRRS #feisol #noche #luna #moon #ruins #urbex #urbanexploration #desert #awesomeearth #awesomeglobe #beautifuldestinations #WeOwnTheNight_CA #shutterbugpix #edsel #nikon #mojavedesert #pearsonville #‎nightphotography #‎night #‎lightpainting #‎abandoned #‎california

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

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

The Electric Truck – Light Painted Night Photo

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

4767_kenlee_2016-10-14_2020_pearsonville-184sf8iso200-brownelectricaltruck-closeup-blueinterior-1000px

The Electric Truck (4767)
Pearsonville Auto Salvage Yard, Mojave Desert, California. We had these amazing clouds most of the evening, creating fantastic shapes with or without long exposures.

This is a real photo taken at night. Everything was illuminated by a big bright moon, an almost full moon, almost bright enough to read a book. And setting my tripod-mounted camera to a long exposure made the camera much more sensitive to light than our eyes on this already bright evening. This is why this photo seems brighter than what we might see at night. It is not due to post-processing. The moon, which reflects light from the sun, also makes the sky bluer, and when the photo is a long exposure photo, the sky will appear brighter, making the blue more apparent. I used a handheld LED flashlight to illuminate the automobile, and then used it with a homemade snoot to hit the front headlights to make them glow a bit more while the camera shutter was open for a long time. This is not a post-processing creation. No pixels were harmed during the creation of this photo. 😀

I am fascinated with how a single long exposure photo can show movements and the cumulative effects of light in a single image. Thank you for reading this and looking at the image. -Ken

Nikon D610/14-24mm f/2.8, 184 seconds total @ f/8 ISO 200. Oct 2016.

#kenlee #fotografianocturna #pinturadeluz #abandonado #MyRRS #feisol #noche #luna #moon #ruins #urbex #urbanexploration #desert #awesomeearth #awesomeglobe #beautifuldestinations #WeOwnTheNight_CA #shutterbugpix #edsel #nikon #mojavedesert #pearsonville #‎nightphotography #‎night #‎lightpainting #‎abandoned #‎california

Photographed with Tim Little, Steve McIntyre, and Troy Paiva.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

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

Chicken Shack – Night Photo

Click on the photo to see it larger and more clearly, thanks!

4762_kenlee_2016-10-14_0203_barstow-143sf8iso200-halloransprings-shack-1000pxChicken Shack (4762)
Shack in the Mojave Desert near Halloran Springs. Illuminated by a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 flashlight and a full moon.

This is a real photo taken at night. This evening, everything was illuminated by a big bright moon, an almost full moon, almost bright enough to read a book. And setting my tripod-mounted camera to a long exposure made the camera much more sensitive to light than our eyes on this already bright evening. This is why this photo seems brighter than what we might see at night. It is not due to post-processing. The moon, which reflects light from the sun, also makes the sky bluer, and when the photo is a long exposure photo, the sky will appear brighter, making the blue more apparent. I also illuminated the structure with a handheld LED flashlight while the camera shutter was open. This is not a post-processing creation. No pixels were harmed during the creation of this photo. 😀

I am fascinated with how a single long exposure photo can show movements and the cumulative effects of light in a single image. Thank you for reading this and looking at the image. -Ken

Nikon D610/14-24mm f/2.8, 143 seconds @ f/8 ISO 200 Oct 2016.

#‎nightphotography #‎night #‎lightpainting #‎abandoned #‎california #kenlee #fotografianocturna #pinturadeluz #abandonado #MyRRS #feisol #noche #luna #moon #ruins #urbex #urbanexploration #desert #awesomeearth #awesomeglobe #beautifuldestinations #WeOwnTheNight_CA #shutterbugpix #nikon #halloransprings #mojavedesert

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like), on 500px, or my Ken Lee Google+ Page. We discuss long exposure, night sky, star trails, and coastal long exposure photography, as well as lots of other things, so I hope you can join us!

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