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

10-minute DIY: an easy-to-make snoot for light painting

This is admittedly a rather specific DIY project, but hopefully it fills a niche, however small that might be. And the twenty-three people who want to do this might be really happy.

I cannot take credit for this fine design. Night photographer Tyler Heibeck told me how to do this, showing this to me when we were traveling in Iceland. But it’s easy to do. It’s simply sanding and gluing. If I can do it, you can do it. And probably better.

The specific design I’ll describe is for a ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light painting device. It has threads so you can screw them on. And so do a lot of lights. But even if they don’t, as long as you have a piece that attaches to your light source and you can glue modifiers on to that, you can run with this idea.

 

What’s a snoot and how do you use one?

In photography, it’s a tube or something similar that allows you to direct light. You can fit one over a studio light or a portable flash or a flashlight. Here, it’s most similar to a flashlight. This allows you to control the direction and radius of the light beam. I’ve done that with the above photo of the bus.

I use this for various reasons. The most common for me is to light paint a headlight so it looks like it’s on. This is great fun.

Above: A finished snoot attached to a ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device.

 

What you need:

Aluminum Step Up Filter Ring. These are usually used for things like UV filters on camera lens. This one is a 58-77MM thread.

Bushing for connecting two pipes with different diameters I used a 2″ x 1-1/2″ bushing here. 

Coupling for connecting two pipes with the same diameter in a straight run. This is for connecting the long tube to the bushing. This particular one is a 2″ coupling on the exterior, but it fits a 1-1/2″ pipe.

ABS pipe or something similar. The particular one I purchased before is not sold any more, but any ABS or PVC pipe should work. 

J-B Weld 8265S Original Cold-Weld Steel Reinforced Epoxy – 2 oz. This is a two-part epoxy system that is designed as an alternative to torch welding. It’s bizarrely strong. One bottle has a sort of liquid steel, and the other bottle has a fluid that chemically hardens the steel so that it creates a bond that is stronger than steel. I can attest to it lasting through for years of abuse.

3M Garnet Sandpaper, Very Fine Grit, 9-Inch by 11-Inch, 5-Sheet

 

Sanding and gluing

Step 1 – Sanding. First, sand all the surfaces that you will be gluing. Roughen them up and then wipe off the dust.

You really only need to glue the aluminum step-up ring to the bushing (shown above after it was sanded). That’s what I did for my first snoot, and that lasted without incident for four years before I left it in an airplane hangar. However, if you wish to glue everything else as I’ve done this time, sand all the surfaces first.

Step 2: Gluing: Take the J-B Weld and add the steel to one side and the hardener to the other side. Apply this with Q-tips or something similar. You can also mix them together on one surface, but I found it was easier and less messy to apply them separately. Above is the step-up ring and the bushing just before I glued them together.

Step 3 – More gluing (optional): Remember, you don’t have to glue the other pieces if you don’t want to. Here, from the bottom up, you can see the step-up ring glued to the bushing, and then the coupling has been inserted into the bushing. I really didn’t need to glue the coupling into the bushing. It is a tight fit and doesn’t come apart. But when you have extra glue, why not?

Above: I’ve now glued the ABS (similar to PVC) pipe into the coupling. This will make for a good, solid fit. Again, you do not need to glue this. In fact, if you wish to swap up different lengths of ABS pipe, it’s a good idea not to glue it! Your choice.

 

Does it have to be black?

No, absolutely not. But people who light paint frequently walk through the frame. We like to use dark things to minimize the chance of it showing in the photo or reflecting something. We wear dark clothes and use dark things. So it is with this snoot. But if you wanted, you could get most of these parts in white. That would certainly make getting the pipe easier, as you could use PVC pipe, which is generally found in white. ABS pipe is black. It also tends to be a little more solid and can withstand more shock, which probably isn’t that crucial unless you slam the car door on it or something. Well, okay, that sounds like something I might do, so maybe that is more crucial!

 

An even easier, cheaper snoot

Although this takes only about ten minutes to do, you can certainly use a cruder, simpler snoot. For instance, you can use a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube, available just about anywhere. The advantage is that it is cheap.

Two disadvantages of a heavy-duty cardboard packing tube

One disadvantage is that it “leaks” light slightly between the tube and the flashlight and can show up if you walk across the frame or otherwise need to get close to the headlight. This was the case in the photo of the bus above.

The other disadvantage is that you have to use both hands. In reality, this second point isn’t really that big of a deal, but it bears mentioning.

 

Conclusion

I hope this helps! Again, I want to emphasize that if you can find one piece that attaches to your light, you can simply, uh, modify this light modifier to suit your needs! I hope this helps! If you can, please leave a link to any similar DIY light modifier project that you’ve done in the comments!

 

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: Ojo Oro Arch

I was instant messaging with a night photographer I had known mostly online for a few years when he extended the invitation: “It’s a secret area that only a few of us know. There’s no trails, and we have to hike out really far to some rocky arch formations and very dark skies. We are going to explore out there, take Milky Way photos of Ojo Oro Arch, and sleep overnight under the stars. Would you like to join my friend and I?”
What would you do? Right. Me too. No night photographer would say no.
We met in the middle of the Mojave Desert on a hot but gorgeous late afternoon, parked our cars, grabbed our gear, and began walking straight into the heart of nowhere. Bizarre otherworldly rock formations lay in front of us, drawing close as we walked approximately two miles to the hidden arch. We circled several times before finding it since they were trying to locate it by sight rather than GPS, coming across mysterious alcoves and still unnamed small arches. After a couple of minutes of this, I saw Ojo Oro Arch from the back, seeing the blue sky through the arch.

The desert as philosopher

We set down our gear, sleeping bags, and gallons of water and roamed about, exploring as the sun melted into the mountains. We ate, talked about night photography, gear, life, teaching, the coronavirus, sheltering in place, women, constellations, our place in the universe, philosophy, religion, and more. Night photography in the quiet evening desert has a way of drawing out discussions that are increasingly esoteric, after all.
We drank copious amounts of water. I had brought over a gallon and a half for this overnight outing, and I was going to make sure I didn’t carry very much of it on the long walk back to the car.

The mysterious hum of the magic desert

As we rested, the silence of the desert overwhelmed me. Two miles from the closest road, we heard nothing human-made. No cars, no airplanes, nothing. And often, there was no breeze, either. Silence. Or not quite. There’s a certain sort of hum that one can hear when there’s absolute silence, and at times, when there were no whispering of the breeze through the cactus, there was that hum. It was majestic. I found myself smiling.

Setting up the camera

We had already set up our cameras and taken “blue hour” photos of the arch in case we wished to blend them with the Milky Way photos later in post-processing. After 11 pm, we knew that the Milky Way would begin rising out of the Southeast. We knew this from experience, although we used apps such as PhotoPills or SkyView Lite to look anyway.
I often will do a low-ISO photo of the foreground so I have less noise. For this evening, I determined that I would be photographing with a 15 second exposure at f/2.5 using a relatively high ISO of 4000. Because of this, I could determine the settings that would give me the equivalent exposure but at a much lower, less noisy ISO. I chose ISO 400. This is ten times less sensitive than ISO 4000.  Therefore, I would need to increase the exposure by ten times to compensate. I like simple math. I would keep the aperture constant, so that didn’t need to be adjusted. So therefore, my low-noise foreground setting would be 150 second exposure at f/2.5 at ISO 400. Not only would this reduce the noise, but it would also give me 150 seconds to do the “light painting”!

Illuminating the arch for the photo

I began “light painting” the arch, walking around with a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, illuminating the arch as I went. I prefer to use a handheld device instead of stationary light panels to illuminate foregrounds because I can “light paint” from many angles quickly, and if I wish, also change colors quickly.

Photographing the Milky Way

After creating the low-noise foreground photo, I adjusted my camera settings to 15 seconds at f/2.5 ISO 4000, and keeping my camera in the same place, began clicking off successive 15 second photos, one right after the other. Although I most certainly could use one of these, having numerous photos gives me options, including the ability to “stack” them together using Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce the noise and bring out more of the stars.

Wash, rinse, repeat

I mostly did several similar setups with my camera, photographing the same arch from different angles. First the low-noise foreground photo, then the higher-ISO photos for the sky. I did do some star trails photos as well.
I stopped photographing at 3:30 in the morning. I made one last check for scorpions by shining a bIack light around me, looking to see any glowing scorpions. Thankfully, none. I lay in my sleeping bag looking up at the sky. The Milky Way arched directly overhead. Again, that magical hum of complete desert silence. I found myself smiling.

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

 

 

Five Tips All Night Photographers Would Love To Know

Night photography has its own quirks and needs. After all, you’re photographing in the dark, maybe not the most normal thing to do. I decided I would avoid the more obvious sort of tips, such as “know how to operate your camera in the dark” or “understand how to shoot in manual” and get to physical sorts of tips that can help immensely. Let’s dive in.
1.) Gaffer’s Tape
Let’s start off with one that every night photographer could use. Gaffer’s tape. Yeah. This all-purpose tape is used by gaffers in film and TV production. The gaffer is the chief lighting technician, and is typically the head electrician. They need to use tape that is strong but doesn’t leave a residue. This is where we come in. We can use this for all sorts of purposes, so it’s always great to have gaffer’s tape in your bag. Break something? Tape it together. If you break part of your tripod, such as the ballhead, you can tape your camera to the tripod. Need to keep something in place, such as a prop or piece of equipment? Gaffer’s tape to the rescue. With some old cameras that don’t have a self-timer and you are missing your external intervalometer, you can even tape a pebble to the shutter button to hold it down. Need to tape down your focus ring on your lens so you can keep the same focus while moving around? Yes, gaffer’s tape. Too much light coming in to your room when you need to sleep late? Tape a blanket over the window. Want to use some tape to find things easier? I use orange gaffer’s tape (among other things…see below). All this and more, gaffer’s tape is indispensable.
2.) Velcro Your Intervalometer
Do you have an external intervalometer? If so, use hook and loop fasteners to “Velcro” your intervalometer to the leg of your tripod. This allows you to keep it up high without either dangling and swaying from your camera or dragging in the dirt when you are operating down low.
Above: My ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device is not something I want to go missing. There’s gaffer’s tape and glow-in-the-dark tape to help me locate it easier, and that’s a beautiful thing.
3.) Working In Pitch-Black Indoors
I photograph a lot of abandoned places. Many of these places are indoors, so even if there’s a full moon overhead, it’s likely very dark. I’ve photographed abandoned mining houses, penitentiaries, tunnels, factories, and more indoors. They’re completely pitch black, quite often. A great tip is to take dim electric tea lights or even a headlamp, or really, anything that creates a dim light that illuminates the room. Place this anywhere, and then get to work. You can see what you are doing and see the room, but the light is dim enough that it doesn’t adversely affect your light painting of the room. This is also nice because I don’t blow out my eyes, but it’s just bright enough that I can see what I am doing. I also use a red LED headlamp so I don’t blow out my vision as well.
Above: The room here isn’t completely pitch dark, but it was dark enough that I couldn’t really see things very well, and tripped over some huge floorboards upon arrival. I busted out a dim light so I could see the floor, and that really helped prevent further tripping.
4.) Find Your Belongings
I use both reflective tape and glow-in-the-dark tape for finding my equipment. I have both kinds of tape wrapped around my tripod legs and my ProtoMachines LED2 flashlight. Why do I use both? Glow-in-the-dark tape works almost all the time, and 99% of the time, this is enough to find the equipment. But in those cases where it is too dim or it didn’t get enough light to activate it, I also have reflective tape that alternates red and white so if I need to, I can shine a flashlight around and have this reflect back. I prefer not to do this because I like to work in the dark, but also because I might ruin my exposure if I inadvertently shine my flashlight into the camera lens. For other things that are dark, I sometimes use orange gaffer’s tape so that it is a little more visible.
5.) Kneepads
I kneel on a lot of surfaces that are sort of rough, whether it is rocks, sand with sharp little rocks, or abandoned locations. I also climb around sometimes. In those instances, it’s really nice to have kneepads to go a little easier on the knees.  I have knee braces that have pads in the front so they provide a little bit of support for going down hills or bending a lot. This is really nice when I am photographing for 6-8 hours, especially during a cold evening.

Above: I had to climb into this airplane cockpit and squat and kneel around some rather hard and sharp metal. Kneepads would have helped immensely here. I used a blanket, but still managed to scratch up my leg.

 

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

 

 

Ideas For Night Photographers While Staying At Home

Night photographers, just because we are staying at home doesn’t mean that we can’t continue creating photos. Here’s a few ideas we can do while not leaving the house while during the coronavirus.
This first photo of R2D2 above was done in my backyard. I used electroluminescent wire and a little penlight laser to create the lighting as well as a regular LED flashlight. While I did this outside, there’s no reason why you can’t create images like this indoors as well.
“There is no try, only do!”

Sports fans can get in on the action as well.

These sorts of images do not need to cost a lot of money or require a lot of setup to do. YOu may have a lot of the materials in your home already, or at least be able to purchase them inexpensively. Electroluminescent wire, for instance, can be purchased easily on Amazon or elsewhere, and often only costs around US$13, not including the battery. Although I use a ProtoMachines LED2 for a lot of “light painting”, a light painting device that is fantastic but rather expensive, many of these were photographed before I purchased that. These were done with a relatively inexpensive LED flashlight. 

Now I am rather lucky in that I have a lot of trees on the periphery of my backyard. Still, I live in the city, and there are a lot of stray lights from the neighbor’s houses that occasionally manage to sneak their way through the trees and into the camera lens. I try to photograph from a lower perspective so it eliminates most of these lights. Still, though, despite my best efforts, some lights still get through. To eliminate these, I sometimes take some dark blankets or paper and hang them from the trees or with some extra stands I have lying around. I do usually have to go into Photoshop later and darken this a little bit more just to make the background even, but it typically does not take very much effort since I am pulling these back farther from the subject and not shining the light on the blankets. I also prefer to underexpose the background and keep it black as well, which helps immensely.

And finally, you can “light write” important messages indoors!

This photo was created in New Year’s Eve with Lisa helping out, not knowing that this was going to be a marriage proposal. I set up the camera, had her help out by lighting me with a flash, and used “light drawing” to write this message while the camera’s shutter was open for this long exposure photo. I did this only once.

Then I had her look at the LED screen on the back of the camera. She was very surprised! She said yes. I joked and said she had to “light draw” her answer.

I had intended to propose in Joshua Tree National Park at night, with the stars in the sky and next to a Joshua Tree, but when we were there, it was 40 degrees and windy, so New Year’s Eve it was, inside the warmth of our house!

I liked that I was able to propose while doing so in a way that was fundamentally me. After all, I am a night photographer, so it’s fun to imbue this with my personality and what I love to do. Being able to create a photo that actually captured the very moment that I proposed as well as creating a fun surprise really illustrates the way that we can create lasting memories – and images – even while inside the home. In fact, it may be that very familiarity that works in your favor. Here, we have an image that makes for a great story and will last a lifetime.

#stayathome #coronavirus  #coronapocalypse  #covid19 #nightphotography

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

 

 

Learn in the Time of COVID-19: Photographers, What Will You Do With This Time?

Hello everyone. I hope that you are doing well, and that you are staying safe and healthy.

It is a strange time. Most of us have probably been asked to “shelter in place”, not going out except for essential things.

If you are passionate about photography like I am, what will you do with this time? Will you continue processing your backlog of photos? Try to create new content (blogs, etc.)? Learn new post-processing techniques? Take on new challenges to photograph the things around you that you usually don’t do?

Related to that last question is an awesome exercise where you try to photograph as many cool things around your apartment, back yard, house, or whatever and make it really compelling, practicing new compositions, new techniques, different genres of photography, utilizing new lenses that are ordinarily not used for that purpose, and approaching everything with a fresh perspective. I would heartily encourage you to do this if you don’t already.

If you never do portrait photography, perhaps this would be a good time to experiment with this. Or if you’ve never tried your hand at “light painting”, give it a go. Macro? Why not? Panos, sure, even if it’s in a tiny apartment!

What post-processing can make your images better? Perhaps it might be time to figure out how to dodge and burn. This is a technique going back many decades, one. utilized, as the name “dodge and burn” implies, in the darkroom. Luminosity masks is a great thing to learn, and can help target specific areas. For instance, I use luminosity masks to target the night sky specifically so that I may apply some noise reduction to the sky but not to the foreground or the stars. Layer masks is a beautiful thing. We could learn how to do a better job organizing our photos in Lightroom or whatever program we use that has some sort of file management system.

We can go to lynda.com, YouTube, Phlearn, National Parks At Night, or other places to learn new techniques.

Although we may not be able to run out and photograph, this is a time when we can still step up our creativity, knowledge, and techniques.

Let me know how you are doing in the comments, and what part of your photography or art you might work on during this strange time.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Why Should You Do Night Photography When It’s Cloudy?

It’s the weekend. You’re finally have some time away from your job. You’re ready to hop in the car with your camera gear, ready to drive a few hours at night listening to weird music and get good and dusty. You’re ready for night photography.
But it’s cloudy.
Should you pack it in and fire up Netflix?
Maybe not.
Clouds can add immense drama and interest to your photo, and can sometimes make a night photo better. They can frame your subject or add interest to the night sky or glow from the moon or even light pollution. They can add a beautiful mysterious glow to the stars. Moon or no, clouds can look magnificent. Just as with day photography, they can add interest, so it is with night photography as well.
For long exposures, it’s usually best when they are moving a bit and not completely covering the sky, although even then, it’s possible to get some good photos.
Let’s look at a few photos.
The photo above has quite a few clouds. I checked my app, Clear Outside, and it stated that that the sky could be as much as 100% total cloud cover. The app does describe whether the clouds are high clouds, medium clouds, or low clouds as well as giving total cloud cover, so you can tell the character of the clouds, which is rather useful. Additionally, the app gives other information, such as when the International Space Station is visible, visibility, fog, rain, and wind. On this particular night, I saw that there was some wind and that there was between 80-100% high clouds. This sounded grim. And it was a long drive to this location. But we had received permission, so we perservered. We were rewarded with beautiful dramatic skies that glowed profusely from light pollution, streaked wispily across the sky, yet revealed the glorious Milky Way over head. In this photo, I quietly observed which way the wind was blowing so I could pre-visualize how the clouds would look. I knew that they were sort of coming toward the camera and would dramatically bracket the airplane in the foreground. And here, because these clouds are higher, wispier clouds and because they are moving from wind, they don’t completely occlude the stars, but add a gorgeous, diffuse glow.
The next photo, shown above, is absurdly cloudy. It was initially somewhat clear, but as the sun melted into the horizon, more and more clouds appeared until finally, almost the entire sky was covered. Initially disappointed, I began to realize that the clouds might add a certain eeriness to some of the photos of houses buried in sand. Here’s a photo in which I actually desaturated the photo slightly to go with the cloudy feel and exaggerate the already eerie feel.
Partially cloudy skies work as well, even when the clouds are low, as with this photo above, taken in Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert. The blurring of the moving clouds adds drama and movement to the composition, and bracket the rocky foreground, adding to the already surreal landscape. Although this would be more romantic if we knew the glow were from a setting sun, the reality is that this is light pollution from Coachella Valley.
The above photo, also taken in Joshua Tree National Park, shows quickly moving low clouds, and again, the long exposure adds a sense of drama and movement. Here, an almost full moon backlights the Joshua Tree and adds a beautiful glow to the clouds.
This last example of night photography with clouds is admittedly more obvious since it’s accompanied by the additional drama of a lightning storm. This is of course the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I was doubly lucky because to the back of me was a full moon that was beautifully illuminating the canyon below, with the Colorado snaking through the rocky terrain. Here, the clouds are also in movement, coming almost right toward the camera and adding, once again, drama and movement to the photo.
When you see clouds before going out to photograph, remember that this doesn’t mean you are automatically hosed. Sure, maybe it may block your Milky Way. But maybe it won’t. And maybe, it will add drama to the night sky that you never even imagined possible. I hope this was helpful or inspiring. Please share if you like it, and please leave a comment below.

 

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 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.

 

The camera backpack I use for hiking and traveling when photographing at night

 

There’s no such thing as a perfect camera bag, of course. But so far, I’m loving 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 stands up easily on its own, as the bag, like many Tenba bags, holds its own shape due to the padding. It’s also water-resistant and even has a waterproof bag inside the top compartment, should you need to use it. As a bonus, it doesn’t scream “I am a camera bag” to others, although it does look like an extra nice backpack, something the average person might not use for muddy socks and underwear.

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.

 

Back access to the camera bag

 

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.

 

What goes on the top compartment?

 

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, USB cables and various other accessories. I leave these in the car or in the motel room.

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. Gaffer’s tape makes everything right. You can tape down the focus ring of your lens, tape cables to keep them out of the way, keep a broken battery door from flapping open, or a thousand other uses. It’s the secret weapon in your night photography bag, the tool that makes everything alright.
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.

Exterior pouch to keep things easily accessible

I like to keep my light painting equipment easily accessible. This is a pouch that I purchased at an Army/Navy surplus store. Inside I store the ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device that I use for almost every night photography outing. The ProtoMachines is a high-end handheld light painting device that is capable of producing all colors of the RGB spectrum, also giving you full control over saturation and brightness. It also allows you to store eight presets and has a timer. I use the timer sometimes, although I do still count to myself when doing light painting. But most importantly, it has the most beautiful light for light painting I have ever seen.

I also have pepper spray inside this pouch, which I keep for protection. I’ve never had to use the pepper spray, and hope I never will. 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 for evening easier access.

 

What is all the tape for?

The white tape is glow-in-the-dark tape, while the orange tape is just some horrible 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.

 

Storing small things conveniently in the front compartments

Finally, a view of the front compartment 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.

 

Lots of batteries

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.

 

Where does the tripod go?

When I am doing night photography, I usually carry a 26″ Feisol carbon fiber tripod. If I wanted to, I could attach this 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 don’t do this unless I am hiking relatively far. If there is one weakness of the Tenba Solstice 20L, it’s that it is not the best backpack I’ve had for attaching large tripods. Then again, many people don’t have a tripod larger than 26″. Regardless, I can carry all the equipment you see here and still be able to slide it underneath the seat of an airplane. I’ll live with the trade-off.

 

Finding your way in the dark

I keep everything in a specific place, and can find everything even when it is completely dark outside. 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

 

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

 

 

Surrealistic Art in the Nevada Night Sky

Saluting The Night Sky (6871)


The Car Forest is an art installation outside Goldfield, Nevada. I drove up from Beatty to photograph here on a gorgeous evening, surrounded by braying and sometimes galloping burros. Many of these cars were repainted since my last visit, some for the better, and some by idiots.
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This is a real night photo. I illuminated the exterior and interior with a hand-held ProtoMachines LED2 flashlight while the shutter was open on my tripod-mounted camera. This is not a post-processing creation. No pixels were harmed during the creation of this photo. 😀
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Nikon D610/14-24mm f/2.8 lens. The long exposure photo is 21 minutes total “stacking” three photos, each 7 minutes f/8 ISO 200 on 2017-06-11 00:03.
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#kenlee #kenleephotography #slowshutter #amazing_longexpo #longexphunter #longexpoelite #longexposure_shots #nightscaper #supreme_nightshots #ig_astrophotography #super_photolongexpo #long_exposure #nightscaper #nightphotography #longexposure #startrails #lightpainting #nevada #carforest

Long Exposure Night Photo with Light Painting

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

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 Caoifornia’s Desert Ruins – Los Angeles Magazine article by Chris Nichols

 

Reflection of a Convict – Lake Reflections At Night

Reflection Of A Convict (8011)


During the day, we ran into talented night photographer and all-around great guy Ron Pinkerton and Deanna while about to rent a kayak. It was quite a surprise to run into friends hours away from home. We paddled around Lake Convict, CA and later, met for a delicious dinner at the Restaurant At Convict Lake. I returned in the evening and met up with Ron. The scene we wanted to photograph was blotted out by the moon, but I found this beautiful reflection of one of the mountains in the water, and decided to do a simple star trails photograph instead. I also photographed a version of this with the stars as pinpoints.
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Nikon D610/Nikon 28-300mm lens. 1 hour total from “stacked” images, each one 3 minutes f/8 ISO 800. 2017-08-01 22:35.
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IG – @kenleephotography
fb – kenleephotography
500px – kenleephotography
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#kenlee #kenleephotography #slowshutter #amazing_longexpo #longexphunter #longexpoelite #longexposure_shots #nightscaper #supreme_nightshots #ig_astrophotography #super_photolongexpo #long_exposure #nightscaper #nightphotography #longexposure #convictlake #sierras

Long Exposure Night Photo with Light Painting

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!