Shoot for the Stars

Location: Rocky Mountain National Park / Settings: (14 vertical images) shot at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds

The first thing to note about this image is that it was taken at an elevation around 12,000 feet. The red you can see projected on that rock in the left third of the frame is due to a passing car on the nearby Trail Ridge Road.

To shoot a similar image, you'll want to be visiting a dark area away from city lights - priority number one in seeing any stars. A high elevation seems to have helped also but that's not 100% necessary. Another few important factors are the season you're shooting in, moon phase and astronomical timing (where and when the Milky Way will be most visible) - each of these can be figured out with the following online tools:

Online Tools:

Dark Site Finder - This is an awesome global map to help figure out where the best dark skies are in your location.

Sky Guide App - Use this to figure out where and when the Milky Way will be visible via GPS on your phone.

Camera Gear:

In terms of camera gear you'll probably want a camera with a great full-frame sensor - that means one of the following is your best bet:

Sony A7R ii - A great camera with a killer low light performing sensor, what a lot of the low-light pros are using nowadays. It'll set you back around $3.5k.

Sony A7S ii - Another great offer from Sony in the low-light department - most of what I've seen and used on the older model A7S carried over here with a greater emphasis on filming - this thing is insane at night, the only drawback is the smaller image sizes (roughly 12-17mb files). This camera (body only) will set you back about $3k.

Canon 6D - This is what I'm using now, full-frame sensor, good battery performance, quick, great low-light performance, awesome lens selection, and decent video capabilities. A bit more heavy compared to most mirrorless cameras, but at 1300 for the body and an accessories bundle, a pretty sweet deal overall.

Canon 5D mkiii - Another great low-light camera from Canon - I won't go into details about what this is a good full-frame camera, or why I'd go with this over the Nikon D800, but I will link a video here telling you all the reasons you might consider buying one over the other.

Super Wide-angle Lens:

In terms of Lenses, I'll just say that wider is better in terms of capturing the sky, and you'll need a very open aperture to capture the low light.

A good option that I've found is the Rokinon 14mm, they have one for almost every camera make, and at around $300, it's a pretty good deal for glass.

Rokinon 14mm F2.8: CanonFuji X-mount, Pentax, NikonSamsung NX, Sony Mount.

Now let's keep in mind that this is 14 vertical images stitched together using Adobe Photoshop CC's 'photo-merge function'. Here are all but 2 of the individual frames as viewed in Adobe Bridge:


The first step in actually shooting something as large as our Galaxy is to visualize what the end result should look like. Backtrack from there and figure out how many shots it will take to achieve, leaving a little room for error/aberration at the sides and verticals. 

Last step is make sure the tripod you've brought out is level throughout the pan. Shoot one frame for each slight rotation, moving the camera across the environment to capture it in overlapping frames.

You may want to try live-view focusing on a distant bright star if you can (must be using the zoom 10x feature). Otherwise, a focus set to infinity works pretty good, but it's not optimal all the time.

Onto the Post-Processing:

Here's an illustrated breakdown of how to combine your images into a Pano via Photoshop CC photomerge function, first open Photoshop CC (or equivalent version):

Give the computer time to take care of business:

You may as well make yourself a cup of tea or coffee during this period, because your computer may crash in the process of putting these huge files all together.. Either that or it will turn out awesome!!! Now flatten and crop the massive image - enjoy the view!

To see more beautiful landscapes and purchase prints, check out my Nature Gallery. For more tutorials, visit the EDU page.


Location: Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F6.3, ISO 50, 171 seconds

In Los Angeles, we have a semi-famous mountain lion named P22 that roams the Griffith Park area - here's a New Yorker article that will tell you about it's sad situation.

I was out here shooting with a Russian film crew for a program called the 'Wonders of Technology' - hoping to share the edit once it is produced sometime in early 2016.

For this image, I was already very familiar with Steve Winter's incredible shot published in National Geographic.

I wanted to draw a more colorful version of that with light, kind of an ode to P32, the Mountain Lion struck and killed by a car last August. 

Here's my process below:

catch a cougar

The key to illustrating something like this is a combination of different skills.

Step One: Start with a sketch. Get it looking the way you'd like it to appear, keep in mind it will be much harder to do with light!

Step Two: Draw a super-basic version to get the composition correct - this can take a few tries (you might want to just use a simple circle or rectangle). Make sure to mark your spot with a rock or a few sticks so you know where to place your animal once you like the composition.

Step Three: Go for it! Nailing it first try is a wonderful feeling, but most likely, you'll be trying this over and over until you get something you're amped on.

Good Luck Light Comrades!

For more Light-Animals and print options, check out my full collection below:

Sands of Time

Location: White Sands, NM / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F7.1, ISO 50, 547 seconds. Sky at F3.5, ISO 1600, 13 seconds.

White Sands New Mexico is a wonderful place to visit in person, it's not like most dunes on Earth. At around 275 square miles, White Sands is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

White sand reflects light and can be seen as slightly peach, blue, or purple depending on what time of day you visit. 

Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Utah is a dune of a different color. Made of wind-swept Navajo Red Sandstone, grains of iron-tinted quartz give it the reddish color. Here's the meager contents of my wallet for color comparison:

coral sand dunes

One of the most interesting features to sand dunes is the patterns they can develop during strong winds.

Here are some unadulterated dunes on my last visit to Death Valley at the Mesquite Dunes:

For more incredible landscapes, check out my Nature Collection.

Spectral Corythosaurus

Location: Salton Sea, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 50, 142 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

This image is a bit deceiving to me - it looks like the dinosaur is about 12 feet from the camera, in reality, it's more like 4 feet.

That's what a 14mm lens does - it crams everything into the camera. For the light-painter, this is both a blessing and a curse. It's great for tight spaces, but can be a bit confusing for us to imagine where the frame begins and ends! 

Check out the full collection of Light-Fossils below:

Neon Chameleon

Location: White Sands, NM / Settings: F9, ISO 50, 299 seconds

Blue hour is an incredible time for taking photos - the way the light transitions can yield interesting and unexpected results. It's the very tail end of a sunset - just before darkness.

I've composed a secret gallery with all my blue hour photos in one place so that you can see what those unexpected results might look like. Partially cloudy skies work best for a more dramatic sunset look.

So, what does it take to shoot something like this for yourself you ask? 

It takes being in the right location and waiting it out after the sun has set (bring a jacket!). After that, you have about a half hour to shoot while the light source is changing constantly, it's a tricky balance with a short window of opportunity. 

I recommend shooting at a high F-stop with low ISO for the beginning of blue hour, followed by incremental changes to your F-stop as the light transitions - a balance that you adjust as you go along.

Fishbone Beach

Location: Salton Sea, CA / Settings: (21 images merged) F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

After a long drive from Phoenix, Arizona we had one last place to visit before heading home.

The thought that always comes to mind when visiting the Salton Sea is 'disproportionally beautiful' - I say that because visiting this spot in person is pretty disgusting - there are flies everywhere during the day and thousands of dead fish that die off every year around this time of year to create shorelines with their bones, it smells terrible - yet everything looks gorgeous and photogenic.

Where I was standing to shoot a pano of the Milky way (above) is actually about 50 yards out to sea in this photo below of Astro Bandit:

It's interesting to visit the same places at different times of the year and compare dramatic seasonal changes.

Here's another blog post I did at the same location back in June when the water was much higher. 


Location: Horseshoe Bend, AZ / Settings: F11-2.8, ISO 200, 229 seconds

Another idea that had some time to develop - Spectral Stallion over Horseshoe Bend. 

I feel like I've been brainwashed by instagram into visiting this location - I see it in photos almost everyday. The hike out there before sunset felt like a modern pilgrimage.

This location was packed when we visited around sunset. You can't blame anyone for wanting to see this in person, Nature can put on quite a show. Be prepared for crowds.

horseshoe bend pano

Astrobandit and I brought a bottle of wine to share over sunset. We got these cool cups from a gem and rock store in Utah - Cheers from the edge.

For more light-fossils like my Spectral Stallion along with printing options, check the gallery:

Asteroid Spaceship

Here's a quick post - a wallpaper sized image you can download at 1920x1267 (click the image, or this link).

Full disclosure: this image is a composite of 2 panos shot at totally different times of the day. It would be great to tour lower antelope canyon during the night, but I don't think they allow that. It would be cool to try a shot like this for real.

For more strange shots, check out my Misc. Gallery - this is where I put the images that don't really fit into any particular category.

Zion Zebra

Location: Zion National Park, UT / Settings: (Composite of 2 images) Light art at F5.6, ISO 50, 319 seconds. Landscape at F2.8, ISO 1600, 15 seconds.

This image was an idea I've been thinking about for some time. I keep trying to think of animals that I haven't done already - Zebra was a big one on that list, and how perfect - Zion.

I thought it would have to be in black and white, but after visiting the location, I decided to do the Zebra in color instead. The natural lines were too great not to have contrasted in black and white! Happy with how this came together using the Night-Writer V.2 prototype. 

I blended two images together to create this image - a black and white of the landscape (high ISO, low F stop setting) along with the colorful Zebra light-painting (low ISO, high F stop setting). I feel like this creates a more visible 'balance of detail' contained within the image. For more info on this technique, visit the EDU page - it's addressed in Question number 5 at the bottom of the page.


Astro Bandit and I went on a little hike during the day, scope out this incredible layers of earth:

Saw some autumn color in the wash. A nice change from the usual foliage in Los Angeles.

Check out other Light-Animals along with Printing options in the Gallery below: 

Ride the Fire Wave

Location: Valley of Fire, NV / Settings: F6.3, ISO 50, 206 seconds

Had this idea for a little while, so here we are at the Fire Wave - a very similar phenomenon to it's more famous cousin the Wave in AZ - but with snazzy white stripes.

Here we have Shiny-bones casually shredding the gnar with a frontside ride on his pink swallow tail board.

The biggest challenge with shooting this location was the perspective - I really wanted a physically surfable wave. Fire Wave is a 35ft basin with a kidney-shape and a deep end. It took some near light-art along with far-away perspective from a wide angle lens to capture the effect correctly. I felt like I was drawing at a wonky angle and had a lot of trouble getting things to line-up - some brain trickery going on there!

Here is a visual of my vertical camera's perspective from the side:


I found this little scorpion when we were out at night - he was hiding among the many crevices in and around the layered sandstone. Valley of Fire has a lot of little critters to be careful for - Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Bats, and Tarantulas to name a few. A good check around where you leave your bag will give you piece of mind (don't leave any pockets open either) - just be sure to do a quick light-up around the area whenever you reach for somewhere you can't see.


Here's Astrobandit and I checking out the view after checking out for critters.

fire wave at night

More light-skeletons and printing options can be found in the Gallery below:

Into the Valley of Fire

Location: Valley of Fire, NV / Settings: F7.1, ISO 50, 153 seconds

Recently returned from a road-trip into the heart of the Southwest - I have lots to share over the upcoming weeks! 

Let's start with Elephant Rock in the Valley of Fire, just North of Las Vegas, NV - about an hour by car from the city.

I've wanted to visit this place for a few years but the timing has never been right until this trip - I thought a mouse would compliment this ridiculous natural rock-formation!  

The full moon helped to light the environment from high above so you can get a feel for the rest of the park. I did my best to highlight the shadowed areas with red and blue gelled lights. For the mouse I used my trusty yellow color-tipped Night-Writer.

Here's an overview of this location in relation to the road and last parking lot as you leave the state park - I set up the camera close to my elephant-subject in order to keep the road from view in my main image - even though I really like the way the nearly full moon is lighting it up here.

elephant rock

One thing we did not expect was all the tarantulas crossing the roads on the way there.. I'd heard of friends tell me that there was a time of year this was common in the desert, but have never experienced it myself until this trip! Strange to see large furry spiders crossing the road and then thinking about sleeping in a tent so close to them all. Luckily, we survived.


I made sure to pick up and kick my camera bag anytime I left it on the ground for more than a few seconds on account of all the spider-bros. 

Here's a parting shot of my gang of colorful mice bullying the poor elephant rock - all color-tipped Night-Writer creations: I'm experimenting with a new 'pink' color-tip addition.

parting shot

More light-animals and printing options available in the Gallery below:

River Dance

Location: Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F6.3, ISO 100, 471 second exposure.

Gear used: Canon 6D, 24-70mm Lens, Manfrotto Tripod, Remote Shutter, and prototype Night-Writer.

The most important advice I have to give about water and light-painting is that you have to get in it to get the shot.. Do what you need to do, but realize you will be getting wet.

For this kind of photo, being in Los Angeles, and all the reasons that our river water is not as clean as say Denver's right next to the Rocky Mountains, I would recommend a pair of these black rubber boots if you plan a similar shot.

For less polluted waters, you can probably go with a black pair of water-shoes instead.

Check out my ever-growing collection of Light-Skeletons on the image link below:

Atmos Spheres

Location: Malibu, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light beings at F5.6, ISO 100, 143 seconds. Spheres at F5.6, ISO 1600, 4 seconds. Environment at F2.8, ISO 3200, 17 seconds.

Gear used: Canon 6D24-70mm LensManfrotto TripodWireless Remote, and Night-Writer prototype. Eric used a clear plastic tube with flashlights clipped to the end for his spheres.

Not content with only one meet-up, Astro Bandit and I decided to hang out with Eric and Kim for another night before our friends caught a flight back to their home town of Montreal the next morning.

For this image, we took to the cliffs of Malibu at Leo Carrillo State Beach once high tide came in. You can see orange lights on the beach in the distance - there was a film crew capturing underwater footage. 

For this shot, I wanted to add another alien image to my growing collection, I thought Eric's circles would be a great futuristic addition for my colorful characters - how else would they breathe?

Primary Goals

Location: Leo Carrillo Beach - Malibu, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light skeletons at F5.6, ISO 250, 165 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear used: Canon 6D, 24-70mm Lens, Manfrotto Tripod, Wireless Remote, and Night-Writer light-pen w Red Yellow and Blue Color-tips.

For this image, I wanted to take advantage of a sunset that just happened - blue hour was giving way to night and the milky way was in the perfect spot.

It was an unusually hot night for the middle of October in Malibu, CA - 85 degrees at 9:30pm when we left the beach!

Check out the full light-skeleton collection by clicking the image below:

Embryonic - (Collaboration with Eric Pare)

Location: Los Angeles, CA / Settings: (Composite) Circle at F4.5, ISO 1600 3 seconds. Skeleton at F5.6, ISO 100, 59 seconds.

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting up with fellow light-artist Eric Pare along with professional dancer Kim Henry - I've been familiar with Eric's work for some time now and it was great to collaborate on some images together.

There will be more to come next week, but I couldn't resist putting together this photo before the weekend - two very different light-styles you don't often see together in the same image.


Location: Rainbow Basin


Today's post is short and sweet - it's all about FLOW when using the Night-Writer light-pen (or any LED light for that matter).

I captured a quick time-lapse of myself drawing an Allosaurus Light Fossil the last time I was out to illustrate this quick pointer - making complicated figures (like a dinosaur skeleton) is a process of building out simple shapes to form a larger figure - following the flow from start to finish and never back-tracking.

I always start with the skull and make my way down the dinosaur's body, branching off in fragments for the arms and legs, then ending at the tail (as you can see in the animated .gif above).

By side-stepping and drawing one piece at a time, I'm able to think about what comes next rather than stopping in the middle and going back to where I was - thus throwing off concentration and making it nearly impossible to find the same spot again.



Full Moon Hiking

Location: Rainbow Basin, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 100, 317 seconds

For this shot I used my trusty Canon 6D - (here's a pretty awesome bundle deal) coupled with my 24-70mm lens (another pretty sweet bundle deal). This was the last shot on my camera for the night - the battery died immediately after the shutter closed.

I used TCB's RGB light-pen for this illustration taken in the middle of the desert under a full moon shortly after the lunar eclipse. Here's a killer DIY tutorial on how to make an RGB light-pen for yourself.

To see the full collection of Light Skeletons, click the Gallery link below:

Sparkling Skies

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: (12 vertical images) F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto Tripod.

For this shot I just cranked the ISO about as far as I could take it without totally inundating my images with noise. I'd say about 6400 is as far you can take it with a Canon 6D.. Unless in colder conditions - it's funny that most cameras have a sweet spot with temperature and functionality, I'd imagine around 55 degrees is best for my little mechanical companion.

It took a bit of editing to get it to this point - I brought the highlights out, pushed the clarity quite a bit, and had to do a bit of warping to get all the vertical images lined up with a more realistic horizon.

If you were going to try and shoot an image like this for yourself you'll want a few key things: 

1. Dark skies - check out this site to scope out dark skies in your location. Pay attention to the moon phase: (iphone app, android app).

2. The right camera gear - I've put together a list of recommended product here, it's not all-inclusive, but it'll give you an idea of what features you may want to look for in a camera.

3. A sweet map app of the night-sky - this one does the trick for me: (iphone app, android app).

4. Set your gear to something like F2.8, ISO 3200, for 15 seconds and see what happens (magic).

Allosaurus in the Basin

Location: Rainbow Basin - Barstow, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F7.1, ISO 100, 202 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DManfrotto Tripod24-70mm Lensremote shutter, and Night-Writer with diffused white-tip.

Deep within Rainbow Basin, a ridge-line carves across the edge of the hillside. A new Light Fossil walks beneath.

blue hour in the basin

An interesting place in terms of geology - colorful layers to be seen on all the hillsides.

This spot is difficult to get to if traveling by car - 4wd recommended! Huge rocks toward the last third of the loop, we had to turn back in our sedan for fear of getting stuck.

A closer look at one of the most colorful formations. If you're ever headed from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you might want to stop here if you have a higher clearance vehicle - it's worth a look.

See the full collection of Light Fossil: