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: 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

 

How to emotionally deal with not being able to photograph

We all love to photograph. However, I’ve spoken to numerous people who now have difficultly photographing. Some of it is due to lack of access or health reasons. Some have immunocompromised people in their family that they don’t wish to endanger.

I am fortunate. Night photography is by its nature considerably more solitary. And I live in an area where I can go to isolated places and back without needing to go on a long trip. I can isolate. I can stay safe and still have fun.

But what is the best way to deal with not being able to do something you love? Here’s some ideas that might help.

 

It’s okay not to be productive

Sometimes, there can be outside pressure telling you that you have more free time and that you should be productive. But is this true? If we are taking care of someone, taking care of our health, traumatized, anxious, or depressed, is that a great time to be productive? If one is laid off, sanitizing groceries, having to learn new technology, or facing uncertainty, is that a great recipe for productivity? I would say take care of yourself first. Pace yourself. There’ll be time to do other things. Or you can do things more slowly. It’s alright.

 

Do things that help other people

For instance, help people who cannot or should not leave their home. These might be neighbors, friends, or family members with serious illnesses or disabilities who should minimize public settings. You can do this directly or indirectly. You can donate to Meals on Wheels or other places. This helps out someone. And it helps you out by connecting, feeling involved, and giving.

 

Connect with nature

Those of you who know me personally probably knew I was going to say this. It’s one of the reasons why I love night photography so much. If it’s safe, get outside, exercise, walk around, go to a nearby park that doesn’t have lots of people, go for a walk in the woods, walk around the block, eat outside, plant a garden.

 

Play cool, soothing music

I love to play ambient music while around the house, working on things, relaxing, or even writing articles like this one. I have odd taste in music, so I listen to Brian Eno or The Mercury Seven. But I’ve turned on many friends to Andy Othling, who frequently does beautiful live ambient guitar improvisations called Morning Care on YouTube.

Okay, sure, suggestions for photography-related stuff

As you feel better, you may wish to begin with some small photography-related projects. Something easy to get you in the flow when you have time. Choose something that is doable and immediately gratifying. I’ve been dabbling in macro photography, for example. It’s easy to do and I don’t need to leave the house. Take photos of family, cats, children, flowers, heirlooms, whatever.

Other ideas include learning some new software. I’ve been experimenting with LuminarAI, for example. It’s easy to use and immediately gratifying while producing quality results.

Perhaps reading books on photography might be calming and inspiring as well. You can never go wrong with reading books on lighting or composition.

You could also cull your catalogue, back up (you DO back up your photographs, don’t you? Don’t you?) your photographs to another hard drive and cloud back-up service.

 

Final thoughts

Find gratitude in what you do have that is positive.Take control of the things you can control. Best wishes in getting through this and achieving balance.

 

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 did I choose my night photography tripod?

I do long exposure photography almost exclusively, so I look for specific qualities in tripods. If I photograph  a series of photos for stacking for Milky Way photos or two-hour long star trails, I really need a tripod to do its job. So what qualities do I look for in a tripod?

Juggling cost, weight and stability

I agonized over my choice of tripod more than any other photography-related gear I’ve purchased, wrestling with these three qualities: cost, weight, and stability.
Want a cheap tripod that doesn’t weigh too much? Of course you do! But is it going to be stable?
Want a cheap tripod that is super sturdy and takes high exposures in high winds? Sure. But it might be really heavy.
Okay, How about something that is really sturdy and lightweight? That sounds great. But now it’s very expensive.
I’ll go over what features I considered. I’ve used my tripods for over six years. During this time, I’ve owned four DSLRs. However, I still own the same tripods and am happy with them, so I may have done something right.
Above: A rock solid tripod helps when taking 20 photos in succession so I could “stack” them to reduce noise. Eastern Sierras, California.

Carbon Fiber

I hike in to locations hauling a lot of gear, often having two cameras in my backpack as well as heavy ultra wide angle lenses and accessories. Because of this, I favor lightweight tripods, so all mine are carbon fiber. If I can even shave a pound off when I am hiking in for several miles, that’s money well spent. Also, they don’t get nearly as cold as their aluminum counterparts, quite a bonus in the winter months.

Quick and easy to set up

This is a matter of preference. In theory, I love flip locks. I know when they are locked down. However, I think maybe I am a little clumsy and have a tendency to pinch my fingers with these sometimes while using this at night. I’ve also had them catch on my clothing before when I am carrying or maneuvering the tripod.
Consequently, I’ve chosen twist locks. These deploy quickly and nicely. However, there are always sacrifices. It increases the chances that you forget to twist them all the way, so you do have to take extra care in making sure they are locked down. Some can also can attract sand and begin grinding, so you may need to occasionally take apart your tripod and give it a thorough cleaning once in a while.

Rock Solid Stability

This might be the most important of all for me. I have photographed in extremely gusty winds all over the Mojave Desert, including the insanely windy Owens Valley in California. And despite the wind, I have been able to take stack 20 consecutive 15-second or 20-second exposures for Milky Ways or do hour long star trails. Consequently, in the wrestling match of cost, weight, and stability, I’ve arguably compromised the most on weight. That said, my tripods still really are not that heavy.
Above: Mobius Arch in the winter. Although this looks serene, I was perched on another rock with strong gusty winds with my tripod clinging to steeply sloping rocks. Despite these hardships, my Feisol CT-3372 held fast, never shaking during the long exposure.

Durable

This should probably almost go without saying, but minimizing flimsy plastic parts such as locks and clamps really helps. My tripods get thrown into cars, banged around on airplanes, and even worse, gets sand ground in it in the desert and the beach.

Other features

Tripods also come with columns and hooks. I don’t use them. In my opinion, telescoping center columns introduce instability and invites additional vibrations, particularly when they are raised. They have their uses, but I really need rock solid stability. Also, I haven’t found much use for center hooks either. I’ve found that the packs sway when there is wind, which makes me rather concerned.

What I use

Six years ago, I made an attempt to purchase tripods that I would use for years. And I attempted to do so without spending tons of money, particularly since I frequently photograph with two cameras simultaneously and would need to purchase two tripods. So what did I choose?
Feisol CT-3342: This is the smaller of my two tripods. This folds up to 23.2 inches, weighs 2.5 pounds, yet has a load capacity of a whopping 55 pounds. This holds any of my camera setups, including a rather hefty Pentax K-1 DSLR with a 15-30mm f/2.8 ultra wide angle lens mounted on it. That’s a heavy setup. I strongly prefer to have the stated load capacity be considerably higher than what I actually put on the tripod. A while back, I attempted to get a really small travel tripod that folded up to 20 inches. It looked and felt flimsy. I guess I’m too spoiled with the stability I have. I sent it back. Sure, it might be a little large for a travel tripod, but then again, I’ve traveled to Iceland, India, and all over the Southwestern United States with it. I bought mine for $375, but I think they may sell for around $400 now.
Above: My six year old Feisol CT-3342 with a Acratech GP-s ballhead. The tripod legs have red and white reflective tape and glow-in-the-dark tape in the event that I cannot find my setup in the dark, something that thankfully hasn’t happened.
Feisol CT-3372: This is a larger tripod than most normal people use. Because I photograph in places that can get sudden strong gusts of wind and I use very heavy cameras, I have this as well. It folds down to 24.8 inches, is 3.9 pounds, and has a load capacity of 66 pounds, although I feel like it could hold even more than that. I’ve used this for gale force winds for photographing the Mobius Arch in the very windy Owens Valley in California.  This is usually about $575, which is a lot of money, but for this quality, it feels like a bargain.

Above: My six year old Feisol CT-3372 with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead. 
Both of these hit the sweet spot for cost, offering high quality without being crazy expensive. But who knows, you may find that something else suits you. There are so many new designs since I purchased this, including Peak Design and such, that might offer up something that satisfies cost, weight, and stability.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

How To Make Killer Light Painting Photos Today!

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

M-Class Planet

Light Painting
First, let’s get this out of the way.  I love light painting.  It’s a creative, active, experimental sort of photography.  And a lot of fun.  The hours melt away.  But what is it?  It’s a long exposure photographic technique in which the photographer moves a light source, – or sometimes the camera itself – to create the exposure. I like to use light painting to illuminate objects at night, lighting from outside the frame, although I also sometimes like to “paint” light into the lens as well.  Since we’re just gonna show you one photo, I’ll select one that shows both!

Stuff We Need
– We need a camera.  But you knew that, didn’t you?  And ideally, one that allows you to determine how long to keep the shutter open, and preferably, one with Bulb Mode, and accepts a remote shutter release.  I use a DSLR, but I’ve had friends use a compact digital camera or film cameras to do this.  What matters is that you can determine the length you wish to keep the shutter open.

– A remote shutter release.  Why?  To avoid any movement of the camera.  Even minuscule movement can ruin your photo.

– A stable surface.   If you’re gonna leave your shutter open for several minutes, you’re need a rock solid surface.  Out in the field, ideally, you’ll want to use a good tripod.  Giotto, Manfrotto, Gitzo, and others make good tripods.  I use a Feisol.  I like lightweight carbon fiber tripods because I do a lot of walking around and hiking.  As always, your mileage may vary, yes it may.  Now, if you’re gonna move the camera around, that’s a ‘nother thing, but today, I’m discussing techniques involving keeping the camera perfectly still.  If it’s windy and your tripod has a center hook, hang your camera bag or some such thing in the middle to further stabilize it so that camera that someone purchased for your previous birthday doesn’t fall on the ground and shatter.  That would suck.

– A light source or three.  Flashlights, headlamps, car headlights, glow sticks, matches, candles, LED lights, stuff like that.

One of my flashlights is an absurdly bright flashlight, a Dorcy spotlight.  I can light paint stuff from 10, 20 meters away. The Dorcy is almost like holding a car headlight in your hand.  Whazaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!  Fun!!  And another thing I like to use is El Wire.  El Wire?  Yeah, El Wire.  This is not Spanish for wire, no it isn’t.  It’s short for electroluminescent wire.  El wire is a copper wire coated in a phosphor, you see, and when you add juice from batteries, voila, it starts to glow!  And in different colors!  If you don’t get one for light painting, you could go to a rave or tie it around as part of a costume!!  Oh, the fun!  And this stuff is easily available online, including Amazon.com.  And it’s cheap. Cheap.  Fun. Artistic.  Whaddaya waitin’ for?

Camera Settings:  
As mentioned, I use a DSLR.  You’ll want to use Manual Mode so you can control the exposure time.  Flip that to whatever you want.  For this particular photo, I used Bulb Mode.  This means that if I lock my remote shutter release, my shutter will stay open until I unlock the remote shutter release.  Cool, eh?  But you can also set your camera to 15, 20, 25, 30 seconds, whatever it has.

 How The Heck Do You Focus In The Dark?
Well, look, if you’re one of those persnickety photographers who actually wishes to have their subject in focus, then read on!!  The easiest way to do this is to use your camera’s auto focus.  I know you’re thinking, “Buh-buh-but it’s dark!  And my camera’s gonna hunt!  It can’t focus when it’s really dark!!!”  And you’d be right!  But no worries.  Since you’re all ready to light paint anyway, take one of those really bright lights you have, shine it at the subject, and let your camera’s AF do its thing.  When it has focused, carefully carefully switch your camera’s auto focus off, switching it instead to Manual Focus, so that it’s pre-focused.  Voila.  Done.  See, wasn’t that easy?

Look how much you’ve learned already!  You know how to set your camera, how to focus, you know how to light up your subject in the dark!!  So next, let’s check out a photo that shows both light painting outside the frame – illuminating the subject – as well as shining not one but two kinds of light into the lens directly.  I used several light sources.  Let’s discuss how I used each one!

1.  Rings Around The Stone:  You can see three red rings around the stone, yes you can.  These are from my Energizer headlamp.  I set it to the red light setting, held it up high, and walked around the stone three times!  Wheeee!!  Why three?  Uh, why not?  For representing past, present, and future?

2.  Illuminating The Stone:  I took that big yellow Dorcy spotlight, ran up to some rocks some 10 meters away and to the left, and pointed it at the rock, waving it around to illuminate it evenly.  I think about how I want the stone and so forth to be illuminated, and in this case, since it was a full moon, I wanted to emulate how the moonlight was falling on the rock so it would look very natural.  This giant flashlight is bright, so it doesn’t take much to light up the rock, even from 10 meters away.

3.  Blue Mist:  That’s where the El Wire comes in.  My El Wire 2.75 meters of glowing blue goodness. I activated it at the battery pack, then waved it around the base of the stone, almost as if I were sweeping the sand, waving it up and down.  If you kept the wire still for a while, the shape of the wire would “imprint” on your image.  I wanted more of an otherworldly mist, so I moved it around.

This whole process took 199 seconds.  If you’re bad at math, that’s three minutes and 19 seconds.  And it went by quickly!!!  I ran and moved around a bit.  Active, creative, fun photography.  And moving around was doubly good because this was taken in the high California desert in winter, and the temperature was at about freezing.  But moving around kept me warm.

I hope this inspires you to try your own light painting and long exposure photos.  Take night sky photos, light paint, do long exposures.  Do all three.  Experiment.  Have fun!

Note:  I originally wrote this for Better Photographs!

Title: M- Class Planet
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod. Exposure time 199 seconds at f/11, ISO 200. Combination of natural lighting from the full moon and light painting with a flashlight, a red headlamp held high, and blue electroluminescent wire.
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA.

This is Ken Lee’s photography website:  http://www.kenleephotography

This is Ken Lee’s Photography Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/kenleephotography

This is Ken Lee’s Photography Blog, featuring long exposure, night sky, star trails, light painting photographs: https://kenleephotography.wordpress.com

This is a link Ken Lee’s Virtual Photo Album, featuring more night sky, long exposure, and light painting photos from his trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California in December 2012: http://www.elevenshadows.com/travels/joshuatree2012december

Note:  I originally wrote this for someone across the pond.  They use this system that we Americans call the metric system.  Instead of odd arbitrary things like “12 inches to a foot” and “three feet in a yard”, their system is logically based on ten.  Ten millimeters in a centimeter.  A hundred centimeters in a meter.  See?  Easy!

But anyway, I used the term “meters” here.  Divide by three and you’ll have the approximate amount of feet for the distances discussed.  See?  Easy.  Now you can show off and impress your American, and who knows, maybe impress that friendly European that sits across from you in in your classroom or cubicle.

 

 

 

Along Came A Spider – Night Photo of Spider in Web

Click on image to see much clearer.  Thanks!
Title: Along Came A Spider
Info: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens. 1/40s, f/3.2, ISO 1250. Lit with porch light and backlit with my Energizer headlamp.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: my backyard

For the past two years, a spider has created a very large circular web from our orange tree to the bird house.  This time, I thought I’d photograph it.  This was no easy feat, of course. It was dark.  And the web kept swaying, making it almost impossible to focus.

 

Photo Tip of the Month: Avoid These Four Mistakes If Your Camera Gets Wet!

My loss is your gain.  Hopefully.  We’re going to discuss keeping your camera dry while photographing around splashing water this month.  I want to be up front here:  I am not an expert at this, as you shall quickly read!  But if I can help people by having them avoid the mistakes that I made, that would be great.

Please click on the photo to see it.  The algorithms for making the photo smaller seem to also make it appear blurry.  Thanks!

Title: Bowling Ball Beach 2
Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod, f/14, ISO 200, 10-second exposure, which makes the movement of the water look mystical. This was possibly the last photo that I took with my D90, although it looks good that a camera technician can resurrect it now.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Bowling Ball Beach, Mendocino County, California, USA

Shortly after I took this photo, I was splashed with water.  These large round rocks in a row create odd, unexpected, and surprisingly high splashes, and even though I had a Ralph’s paper bag around my Nikon D90 camera, it still got wet.

Mistake 1:  A Ralph’s plastic bag is not enough.  Use something more like a Op-Tech rain-sleeve. If you don’t get one of these, you can also use a shower cap in a pinch.  Save those shower caps if you stay at a hotel.  There are more expensive albeit more effective options, but since we’re discussing occasional splashing water from waves, I’ll stay with these suggestions.

I wiped off the camera with a towel.  It didn’t seem like that much water, so I fired up the camera again and kept shooting for another half an hour.

Mistake 2:  You can’t fry your camera’s circuits if there’s no juice. Turning on the camera, in other words, can fry your circuit-board or other parts if the salt water has entered the camera.

After half an hour of shooting, my camera began failing.  The shutter wouldn’t close.  Or wouldn’t shoot.  Then, the LED monitor began failing.  I left the beach and headed back to the hotel room, realizing that I had made a mistake, and opened up the camera, taking the battery and SD card out, took the lens off, and put it in front of a heater while I called a camera store to find out what to do and began scouring the internet for tips on drying a camera.

Mistake 3:  The camera salesman said that I shouldn’t put the camera in front of a heater. I never found out why.  Maybe you know.  I don’t.  But I saw one reference on the internet for getting dirt in the camera.  Now, to be fair, I had placed the camera in front of a fake fireplace, so it wasn’t blowing air.  But the best way to dry a digital camera, according to the salesperson and some articles I’ve found on the internet, is to submerge it in dry (duh!) rice and keep it there for 3-7 days.  Other people recommend placing the camera in a zip-loc bag with silica packets, which will also draw the moisture out.  I store my microphones in containers with these.

I ran to the market and purchased some rice, emptied a bag, and completely submerged the camera, but only after I found that I had made yet another mistake, which were beginning to pile up in a relatively short period of time.

Mistake 4:  Don’t forget to take off the LED cover.  I had forgotten to do this, but right before I put the camera in, realized that there was moisture trapped underneath.  My camera had gotten doused worse than I thought.

Now, what was worse than getting the camera wet was getting it wet with salt water.  Salt water is extremely corrosive.  Some people recommend that you attempt to disassemble the camera, quickly rinse all of the parts, and even more quickly dry that.  Since I’m not even close to an expert, I cannot recommend this, nor have I ever done it.  But the point being that if you can try and get the salt water off, that would be best.

Upon getting home, I took my camera to the local camera store.  They have a reputation for good service and have a good technician.  Their technician said that I had fried a circuit board, which would cost US$71 dollars, and that there would be a labor charge of about US$95.  So for a little under US$170, it appears that my D90 will be resurrected.  And while that’s a lot of money, it’s still cheaper than replacing it.

And for the rest of the trip, I used the Op/Tech 18″ SLR Rainsleeve with another camera while photographing the coastline near Santa Cruz, which worked well, although I had difficulty viewing the LED monitor.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, Sto-Fen Flash Diffuser.