How I Find Interesting Foregrounds and Abandoned Locations

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

Red Blood Cells – Abandoned Penitentiary in West Virginia!

Red Blood Cells (7513)


Photographing the abandoned and apparently haunted penitentiary at night was creepy, interesting, exciting, and sometimes challenging. The penitentiary has imposing Gothic stone architecture adorned with turrets and like a castle, and has an extremely violent history, with almost a thousand deaths within these stone walls. Shown here is Cell Block J & K.
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Photos were created with only a handheld flashlight in total or near total darkness. Tim Little and Mike Cooper also photographed here the same evening. The former West Virginia State Penitentiary, a National Historic Places Registered facility, operated by the Moundsville Economic Development Council in Moundsville, West Virginia, was built in 1866, just three years after West Virginia seceded from Virginia, and closed in 1995.
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Nikon D610/14-24mm f/2.8 lens, 255 second exposure f/8 ISO 200. July 2017. I illuminated the cell block during the exposure.
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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!

 

This Blood Red Room – Abandoned Penitentiary in West Virginia

This Blood Red Room (7517)


Photographing the abandoned and apparently haunted penitentiary at night was creepy, interesting, exciting, and sometimes challenging. The penitentiary has imposing Gothic stone architecture adorned with turrets and like a castle, and has an extremely violent history, with almost a thousand deaths within these stone walls.
~~~
Photos were created with only a handheld flashlight in total or near total darkness. Tim Little and Mike Cooper also photographed here the same evening. The former West Virginia State Penitentiary, a National Historic Places Registered facility, operated by the Moundsville Economic Development Council in Moundsville, West Virginia, was built in 1866, just three years after West Virginia seceded from Virginia, and closed in 1995.
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Nikon D610/14-24mm f/2.8 lens, 194 second exposure f/8 ISO 200. July 2017. I illuminated the rooms during the exposure.
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IG – @kenleephotography
fb – kenleephotography
500px – kenleephotography
~~~
#kenlee #kenleephotography #slowshutter #amazing_longexpo #longexphunter #longexpoelite #longexposure_shots #nightscaper #supreme_nightshots #ig_astrophotography #super_photolongexpo #long_exposure‬ #nightscaper #nightphotography #longexposure #startrails #westvirginia #urbex #abandoned #moundsvillepenitentiary #abandonedplaces #abandonedwv

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!

 

Featured Photo: Abandoned Buildings – The Lunatic Is In the Hall

The Lunatic Is In the Hall
The Lunatic Is In the Hall. I was originally considering shooting the asylum in black and white to try and heighten the creep factor. But after seeing the vivid colors of the asylum, I knew I had to display the photos in color. Many of the rooms were different colors – green, blue, yellow, red, pink – and the light shining through the windows and out into the hallway was often quite beautiful.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, Weston, West Virginia.
I love wandering and photographing abandoned buildings and cities.  So many questions.  Why did people leave?  What makes hundreds or thousands of people leave a place?  What are the stories behind these places?

And the places themselves.  The decay of an abandoned building can be alluring, fascinating, even beautiful.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum had this going for it.  And more.  It was allegedly haunted, the ghosts of tormented inmates still roaming the halls.

Gaining admission to the lunatic asylum nowadays was decidedly easier than yesteryear.  Pay a ticket, take a tour.  But yesteryear’s admittance was far more interesting.  Back then, we e could have been admitted for imaginary female trouble.  Or superstition.  Or masturbation for 30 years.  Or perhaps doubt about mother’s ancestors.  Or even bad whiskey.

We took the tour.  I took photos since I couldn’t wander most of the 242,000 square feet of the asylum independently.  But I did lag.  The tour guide was quite relaxed about letting me lag, trusting that I would catch up.  And I always did.

A decaying doctor's residence on the premise of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia

A decaying doctor’s residence on the premise of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia, with some amazing textures from the peeling paint. Some of the doctors had special wings, where their wife and children would stay.  Can you imagine being a kid, living and growing up at an insane asylum?

Now, this is a photography blog, after all, so we can get to a little bit of the equipment used.  I would love to have wandered with a lightweight tripod, but we were on the go, and as it was, I was frequently running to catch up with the group.  So this is all used with a Nikon D90 and my trusty Nikkor 18-200mm VR all-purpose lens, what I call my “walkabout” lens.  It may not be the greatest lens, certainly not the fastest, but for sheer versatility, it’s hard to beat.  This was before I purchased my 50mm f/1.4 prime, a wonderful lens, although not as versatile, forcing you to move your feet much more.  I was so enamored with the natural lighting that I rarely if ever used my SB-600 speedlight (which was purchased with money that I received to photograph a wedding later on this same trip to West Virginia!).

You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page.  You may purchase this photo at my photo store.  And…you can view photos of my trip to West Virginia, including many photos of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum as well as an Appalachian wedding.  Thank you so much for looking!

The haunted lunatic asylum operated from 1864 until 1994, and was abandoned for years until Joe Jordan purchased it in 2007 for $3 million, opening it up for tours to raise money for restoration. The rooms smelled, as decaying rooms left to neglect always do. While I wouldn’t want to conduct tours here, spending a couple of hours here was so fascinating that it didn’t matter. Still, I appreciated the fresh air after the tour was over.

Thanks!  -Ken