Dark Skies of Borrego Springs

Location: Borrego Springs, CA

dark skies

On a new moon, the best place to see the stars is in an area away from city lights. I saw a recent photo from NASA that really helps put light-pollution in perspective here:

Looks like we have it pretty good on the West Coast! East Coast is densely lit up! Just seems more developed than other areas. Here's an animated view of the globe, find your respective area and see how it compares with the rest of the world:

For me, one of the better spots to visit is a place called Borrego Springs, out in the desert on the fringe of San Diego County. I drew an alien face to circle the spot these images (below) were taken. You can find an interactive dark sky map right here if you'd like to do a bit of research yourself.

On a clear night in Borrego Springs, you can see the Milky Way Galaxy with your naked eyes. It looks like a smoky cloud that follows an arc across the sky and is most visible from May to August in the Northern Hemisphere . The Milky Way is normally faint compared to the image at the top of this post, but if you set your camera at F2.8, ISO 6400 for about 15 seconds, you will see some interesting features appear!

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Another remarkable attraction to Borrego Springs is the metal sculptures around Galleta Meadows built by sculpture artist Ricardo Brecceda. For this elephant looking sculpture, I did my best impression of how an extraterrestrial greeting might go.

Here's a hand drawn map to find most of the sculptures in Borrego Springs. Be warned that the map is not to scale, it helps to look at satellite view on your phone for a general reference. Click the image for full scale, and perhaps save it to your phone if you're out and about!

falcon grab

Falcon Grab

For this image (above), I photoshopped out the wires and supports that normally hold this massive structure upright. I could see why they were all there when the wind picked up!

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We'll end this post with a young gomphotherium sculpture I lit using my Night-Writer under a very bright Milky Way. Thanks for reading!

Light-Painting Buyers Guide - May 2016

Today I'm outlining my buyers guide to some of the best and most important items for long exposure and light-painting photography along with a link list. 

gear list

Here are my current best picks for quality & price along with links to buy through Amazon.com below (this is mostly for the US due to Amazon Prime's shipping service), keep in mind that my own photos are done with a Canon 6D, but that is not the number one camera that I recommend due to the photos I've seen from other photographers that I follow and the images that they are producing:

1. Tripod - This is almost more important than the camera itself and will likely outlive the camera in terms of updating technology. A good tripod can last almost forever, a cheap one only lasts about a year if you're lucky, and may destroy your camera if you're not careful with weight distribution.

If I had to choose one for today, I'd go with a carbon fiber model with about 60" of height like this one by Manfrotto that runs around $300.

If I was to go for something around $100, I'd roll with something like this 60" carbon fiber tripod by Dolica w ball-head and aluminum central. Both of these look like great options for long-lasting photo equipment.

2. Camera - You'll probably want a killer sensor on a full frame model. My best picks for 2016 are the new kids on the block - a Sony A7Rii and A7Sii (bundle link) mirrorless cameras because they are killing the dynamic range game.

Runners up are Canon 5D Mk iii, Canon 6D, and the Nikon D500. These are tried and true mechanics that are still great options.

3. Lenses - You'll want a wide lens for the stars if you intend to capture the galaxy above us or just be able to fit everything in a tight space. I recommend the Rokinon 14mm F2.8 (Link to Canon Model), or Samyang 14mm F2.8. One thing I have to add here is that these particular lenses will not auto-focus, you have to focus them manually.

In addition to the wide, it's good to have some range in terms of zooming in on a subject, that's why I find myself using the 24-70mm F2.8 L-series from Canon.

You could also get a 24-70mm F2.8 Sigma lens that does about the same for about $1k less.

3a. Lens Adaptor - If you have a lens kit already with Canon and you're switching to a Sony model, you should probably have this Metabones adaptor so your expensive kit isn't useless on your killer new camera.

4. Camera Remote - Because you'll be shooting in 'bulb mode', you'll want a remote to trigger the camera's shutter (open/close) in the dark. I use this one for my Canon DSLR but there are a host of other options for around the same price for other camera manufacturers.

5. Camera Bag - If you're looking for a good 'carry all the things I need' kind of bag you can take on hiking trips, this bag by Lowepro will do the trick, at $119 it's moderately priced and will probably last for a good 5 years or more. 

On the budget-packs side, this AmazonBasics Backpack for SLR/DSLR Cameras looks decent, and for $30 you could buy 4 of them for the price of one Lowepro bag.

6. Light-Painting LEDs - If you want to seriously draw with lights, I recommend using Night-Writer because I personally designed it for doing just this! It's a precision LED illustration tool that's great for detailed work like skeletal creatures, built with solid ergonomics that just 'feel right'. 

If you're just starting out with light-painting and seeing if you like it, I recommend starting out with a few cheap LED keychains like these ones. The momentary push-button switch is the most important feature to look for.

If you've already been light-painting and you're into large color-filtered brushes and interesting effects and adaptors for current LED lights you already own, Light-Painting Brushes is a great resource for novice to pro light-painters.

7. Headlamp - If you're going to shoot anything good, you usually have to get to it in the dark first. Here's a decent headlamp (165 lumens) at $15 with a lifetime warranty, you really can't go wrong.

8. High-powered directional LED - Here's a small cheap one for $10. If you want a better build quality and rechargeability, I'd go with this one for $65, it comes with a lifetime warranty.

9. Color Filters - This is a must for anyone that wants to use that high-powered directional light I just mentioned to light-paint with. This Roscolux Swatchbook comes with just about every color filter you could imagine. For $6, it's definitely worth having in your bag.

For more info on the details and methods of light-painting photography, please see the dariustwin.com/edu page.

Desert Nightlife

Location: Pioneertown, CA

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Here's a slow dance with an equally slow shutter, this image took 156 seconds to illustrate with my red and blue tipped Night-Writer

Astrobandit and I checked this place out last week in Yucca Valley called The Ruin Venue which is mostly used for large parties and weddings. I set up for a few images using it's interesting outdoor features like this geometric lighting arrangement which was powered by a small generator.

For this image, I began the exposure with the lights on, and then walked to the generator and unplugged the lights to illustrate my dancing skeletons. The weather was strange this night, it was relatively calm in this part of the desert, but we could see intense storm clouds forming in the distance. Lighting struck a handful of times, but it was far off in the distance, so we just enjoyed the show.

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Here's a view of the fireplace inside the actual ruins. I thought this would be a good spot for my Stegosaurus Light-Fossil - this particular image is a composite of two shots. The stegosaurus took 198 seconds to produce, then I did an additional shot for the sky so I could capture those stars that were visible for a brief moment between the stormy clouds.

If you'd like to try this sort of image (above) for yourself, you can check out my blog post on compositing High/Low ISO photos together RIGHT HERE.

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Another view of the interior from outside the structure with the lights on. I really enjoyed the inside/outside feel of this place, it blends in well with the environment and makes for unique photo opportunities like this one. 

To learn more about light-painting, check out my EDU page for a full how-to explanation.

Old Westerns

Location: Joshua Tree, CA

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This car looks as if it had been in the desert for about a century. Judging from the Model-T appearance of the car, it probably has.

The old ranch was originally bought in the 1930's for gold and silver mining by Bill Keys (left). He had a land dispute with his neighbor Worth Bagley (right) over control to an access road for gold and silver ore processing and shot him dead. The actual spot of the gunfight is marked by a tombstone further down the trail.

Here's a good view of the car, if you know the specific model of the car, let me know and I'll update this post!

old car

Next we're at wonderland wash, where there's an abandoned brick house that looks out to the desert from a large base of rocks.

For the image below, I used part of the wall on right side of the house to illustrate the dinosaur's head and then moved slowly down the neck and across a floor littered with bricks to the other side of the house, ending with the Brachiosaurus tail. One more addition to my Light Fossils collection.

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Shortly after illustrating the dinosaur above, a warm glow began to cast from the east. When the moon rose just above the hills, another unique lighting opportunity presented itself. Here is my view through the window of the old brick house:

moonrise

With the moon now highlighting the front of the house and leaving joshua tree shadows on the old ruins, I started another long exposure. For this image I drew in twenty nine eyes looking through the doorway and window.

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We end the night with a song by the fireplace. Thanks for viewing!

Here's a link to the hike if you'd like to check this place out for yourself!

Big Sur Session II

Location: Big Sur, CA

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Here's a super-fly butterfly idea I've had in mind for a while, but all of the water I was visiting wasn't still enough to make the reflection work until now. In the middle of the creek at Pfeiffer Beach, the conditions were just right - still wind, still water, and relatively mild temperatures. In this case, a decent pair of water shoes is a 100% necessary thing to have if you're stepping around on slippery rocks in the dark.

We faced some gloomy clouds for most of our time in Big Sur along with some rain, but we saw a bit of color in the clouds as the sun set on an evening hike. I've been wanting to add some new food items to my Light Morsels series. I got a chance to add this banana I made w a white and yellow tipped Night-Writer along the coast.

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Back at Pfeiffer Beach, and leading into the dawn, this was the last image I was able to take before it got too light to light-paint. Another color-tip challenge here, using all the tips in the jar. I call this one 'slippery when wet':

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Along the same lines as the butterfly image at the beginning of this blog post, for this light-skeleton, I wanted a very colorful look. I love the intricate details in all of the light reflections. Light-painting over water is like adding a mother nature filter to your work:

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Check out Big Sur Session I right here.

Big Sur Session

Location: Big Sur, CA

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If you've read this blog for a while now, you'll already know my love of exploring Big Sur, CA. It's a small coastal pocket of California made accessible by the PCH highway that is literally carved into the cliffs on the West Coast high above the Pacific Ocean. 

The mountains meet the sea in this area, resulting in awe-inspiring 180 degree views of the ocean as well as redwood trees, rivers, creeks and incredible beaches. Here, the weather changes quickly and you'll often see dense fog, rain, and sun, sometimes on the same day.

On this trip, I brought up a pair of water-shoes with me because I wanted to use the reflections of the creek that feeds into Pfeiffer Beach, I was hoping to see some stars out but the cloud coverage was too thick for that!

Here's a link for a dirt-cheap pair of black water shoes if you're interested in this sort of light-painting. At $3.99 you can't really go wrong!

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Here's a piece of sushi I made with my Night-Writer light-pen using the white, red and blue color-tips. This particular photo was illustrated in the Pacific Valley of Big Sur. If you visit this area in the Spring, you might see a hillside full of purple and orange flowers. The trail to the the coast is just opposite of this landmark.

flowers

Now let's get back to the creek at Peiffer Beach where I put those water shoes to work.

I've been on an Animal kick recently because I think it's an important thing to draw attention toward - Animals can't talk selfies and snapchats like we can, so we have to take sweet pictures of them and make sure everyone in the world knows just how awesome and inspiring they are and how we should try to protect them - it's in our best interest as a human race to do so.

Each species could be a 'canary in a coal mine' (advanced warning) when it comes to large scale environmental changes, let's pay special attention and try our best not to disrupt or cause harm to their fragile ecosystems.

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Camera Settings for my Sea Dragon (above): F8, ISO 50, 284 second exposure.

Speaking of the environment, what do you think caused this anomaly? A doorway through solid rock at Pfeiffer Beach:

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After a steep climb at dawn, I gazed on an aerial perspective that may shed some light on how the arch (image above) was formed.

I'm no geologist, but I know that most of the solid rock is actually sandstone, and that water can bore a hole through sandstone if enough time goes by and it has a relatively single point of pressure.

I think this perspective of the beach gives a pretty clear idea of what might have happened. My hypothesis is that the creek bored a hole through the large rock during strong rainfalls. This would have happened over tens of thousands of years:

keyhole creek

Just look at that constant flow here and imagine it going right into the middle of the rock face instead of left into the cove, and yes that sand really is purple:

pieffer flow

Let's end this post with a killer sunset, I hope you've enjoyed it - stay bright!

Check out Big Sur Session II right here.

How to Light-paint with a GoPro

Here's a neat little trick I've been using to capture light-paintings using a GoPro Hero 4 Silver along with a clever stacking technique in Photoshop.

In this article, I'll go over how to set your GoPro for Night-Lapses at 15 secs each, and then show you how to combine 10 selected images in post-production using Photoshop to make one long exposure equivalent of 150 seconds.

LP with a GP

In the gallery below you'll find an easy  7-step guide that you can follow along with to set your camera for light-painting, click an image below to see it larger:

Now that you're all set for the light-painting part, I'll shift gears into what happens after you take a bunch of 15 sec images. For this part we will probably need to hop on the computer.

You'll want to use a program like Adobe Bridge so that you can see all your files visually in one place - you're looking for the puzzle-pieces that will make up a good light-painting. We'll be using Photoshop to open one layer and then stacking other pics on top of it, building out our light-painting 15 seconds at a time.

Click an image to see it larger:

After we've followed these steps, we should have a stacked image that would be the equivalent result of a 150 second exposure - not bad! 

For more tips and tricks, check out my EDU section.

Carrizo Plain

Location: Carrizo Plain National Monument - Maricopa, CA

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The image above was taken at Carrizo Plain around Maricopa, CA - as you can see it was in full bloom. I've never seen so many flowers in one place, it looked like a massive yellow uneven carpet that stretched for miles toward the base of the hills.

This location in the Central Valley of California is a large grassland home to elks, antelopes, kit foxes, squirrels, owls, rattlesnakes, birds, and lizards.

In addition to the animals, it has some interesting geological features, like the San Andreas Fault:

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Our group hiked onto an island split and walked to the end of it for this view between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. This would be a great spot to fly a drone for an aerial view.

Here's Astro Bandit making the most of a sunset.

campfire

Later that night we camped out and had a little guitar session. I had no idea my friend Evan was a human jukebox - we brought a great bluetooth speaker but never used it bc he was always killing it on the guitar!

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That night we drank some whiskey and then I thought of drawing a space-martini with my Night-Writer to add to my Food series - this photo had an added bonus directly above the martini when I was looking at a zoomed-in version of it on the computer screen.

It looks like I captured a small meteor or something:

enhance

Here's a 130 sec exposure of the brightest star in the sky that night, taken with my Vixen Polarie Star-tracker. Click the image for a large view, it's worth seeing on a big screen.

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On our way back to Los Angeles, we saw a 'sundog', a rainbow reflecting through the clouds.

Mono Lake Session

Location: Mono Lake, CA

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I'm happy with how my Light Animals collection is coming along, the goal is to make up the entire alphabet with all of them, from Aarvark to Zebra

I had this idea to do two flamingos reflected on water for a few weeks now, but I never imagined how cold it would be while I was creating them - I had this idealistic vision of illustrating these animals somewhere tropical, like the caribbean. But here I am, stepping around a frigid lake when it's 27 degrees out. I used a pink-tipped special water-proofed Night-Writer for this image.

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This is the entrance to the South Tufas of Mono Lake (above). Don't make a mistake and visit the North entrance, it doesn't have the tall formations like the South entrance does.

At this elevation (6378 ft) it gets really cold after the sun goes down. It was 68 degrees earlier in the day but at this moment the temperature had dropped some 40 degrees. It was 27 degrees when I left the Lake.

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Once you get to the Tufas, about a quarter to a half mile walk from the parking area, it feels like you're on another planet. Say hello to the tufa alien.

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One of the more fragile and unique areas of Mono Lake is the sand tufa formations, these are a little harder to find than most of the South Tufas you'll see close to the lake but they are equally strange. One of the interesting parts to this place is that you can never tell how large or small these are in photographs, it's something about the perspective of it all.

The only way to tell scale here is to look at the footprints on the lower right.  These pedestals are about waist high, I put a little power-up on the center tufa just in case you're feeling small. This mushroom is the latest addition to my Light Morsels series.

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I let the full moon do most of the work for this image, that's the beauty of having a bounced light 230,000 miles above the Earth, casting down on the Eastern Sierras and part of these strange sand tufa formations. I thought these pedestal people would be a good otherworldly addition to my Aliens collection.

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Here's a photo of my over/under-water light-painting attempt at Mono Lake. I didn't stay in the water very long because it was so cold out (27 degrees!). 

Animation

Location: Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA

Let's talk about animating long exposures. It's a bit like time travel due in part to when you're finished, you really have stayed in one place but traveled in time a few hours or more.  

Take for instance, this sequence I shot at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 ft (86 m) below sea level in Death Valley, CA. For this short 3 second looping GIF, it took 44 frames as you can see below. Every image in this sequence took about 65 seconds to produce using my Night-Writer light, plus the time it took to move around the roller skates and check the motion and framing.

This process will look similar to anyone who has ever tried claymation; but with light-painting you don't have anything to mold forward, you have to remember where it was (roller skates were important here) and move the action forward just a little bit (re-drawing the same skeleton over and over). 

Now that you know how this works, I'll unveil a new page I've been working on called 'Licensing' because that's what smart artists do with their work. It will also function as an animation gallery that I will continue to add to over the year, please take a look

If you would like to send me any suggestions for what to animate next, you can do so by sending me an email

Superbloom

Location: Death Valley, CA

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Death Valley recently had a rare event called a 'super bloom', it happens about once every ten years and Astro Bandit and I decided to check it out over the weekend - it was mobbed, but it was beautiful. There weren't as many flowers as I was hoping for, but there were still quite a few along the highway to badwater basin and around furnace creek. We trekked it out to a few spots you might want to visit if you do plan on checking this out while it's still happening.

Here's a quick view from inside our car on the way there. High winds had kicked up a lot of sand from the dunes off highway 190, the motorcyclists had it the worst! The winds were averaging around 35 mph with gusts up to 50 mph - terrible conditions for camping.

windy

Luckily, we checked out forecasts along the way there and it looked pretty favorable that the winds would die down by the evening, which they did for the most part. Here is Astro Bandit saying farewell to the storm.

You can see a sparse blanket of desert gold flowers along the base of the image above. Funny that it's called the 'desert gold flower', because the rainbow we saw on the way into the park definitely led us to believe we might find the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

We found our pot of gold :)

That night the winds kicked back up so we opted to sleep in the car rather than try to set up a tent in 25 mph winds (no thanks). Throughout the night, we listened to other campers shouting and yelling as their tents whipped and blew over from the strong wind gusts. I felt pretty good about our decision to not set up a tent.

At 3:30am, we woke up so that I could snap this image of the Milky Way over the mesquite dunes using my star-tracker tool that allows for much longer and clearer exposures of stars. The hike out there took about an hour and it was tough to navigate in near pitch black conditions. I'm glad we got to a decent spot before just the sun came up! You can see the sunrise start to fade in on the lower left of this image below:

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My camera settings for this exposure above were F2.8, ISO 1600, with a 78 second exposure time. I lit the dunes from frame left and right with a red/blue tipped Night-Writer.

While we were there, I added a rattlesnake to my Spirit Animals series just before dawn broke on the horizon. 

Good Morning Death Valley! Now it's time for some coffee.

Day 2

We did some exploring around badwater basin and found a weird hole in the ground that lead to what looks like part of an aquifer under all that salt! Crazy stuff (tap an image to see it large):

That night we went to the Artist's Palette, a colorful mountain in Death Valley formed by volcanic activity. If you visited this place in person, you'd say 'it looks photoshopped'.

Here it is at blue hour, just after sunset:

It's tough to compete against a background as colorful as this with a light-painting, but I was feeling this one because I've had this creature on my mind for a few weeks now.

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Don't let Looney Tunes and the Wile E. Coyote fool you, the greater roadrunner is also a vicious predator. Just look at the poor lizard in it's beak, or imagine it eating a rattlesnake (they do). These guys will eat almost anything smaller than them including snakes, lizards, tarantulas, black widows, scorpions and mice. It's easy to imagine them as evolutionary descendants of a dinosaur like the velociraptor.

Bayou Country

Location: Caddo Lake, TX

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Here we are at Caddo Lake in Uncertain Texas. It's an uncertain kind of a place and you can see that on my light-skeleton faces, being on the border of Texas and Louisiana, it's easy to get confused. You can hear strange bird calls in the distance, frogs croaking, and the occasional catfish swishing about. There might be alligators depending on when you visit, and there are a few venomous snakes to look out for, namely copperheads and water moccasins.

Water moccasins are excellent swimmers, and yes, I was a bit nervous about those while taking this picture, those along with the alligators.

Earlier that day, Astro Bandit and I did a few walks around the lake to check out the whole area for possible locations. I thought this opening in the cypress grove was a great spot to get an overview of the bayou. The next day we hopped in a canoe you can rent at the ranger station and took a tour of the wetlands. Here's a short video for ya:

There are a few interesting things about this area in terms of cryptozoology, and it's easy to imagine how a large animal might live in this bizarre area. Some say there is a swamp-bigfoot, or you might say a North American Wood Ape that lives around the area. Here is one such report from a hunter who was on private property around the area of Caddo Lake when the sighting occurred.

All I could think of was the old horror posters for Swamp Thing, so naturally I took to the docks that night and did what I usually do in these inspiring situations.

To finish off the night, I put a pair of recently acquired waders on and got into the swamp to test out a water-proofed prototype of my Night-Writer. I've been trying to add on different animals to my Spirit Animals series, and I haven't caught an Alligator until now, I'm very happy with the way it's eye aligned:

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It was a strange and eerie feeling being in the swamp, the stench of the still water combined with the fear or water-moccasins and an occasional fish brushing up against your leg was unnerving to say the least.

Wild West

Location: Pioneertown, CA

Out in the desert sits a dusty old film set from the 1940's called Pioneer town near Joshua Tree, CA. Here is where Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, and some of the old west film stars made television shows and films.

It's a fun place to visit and there's a great honky tonk bar and BBQ down the street called Pappy and Harriet's

I used a blue and pink tipped Night-Writer for the skeleton and a gelled red high-power LED light for the outhouse interior.

Watch out for Joshua Trees around the town, I nailed my head on one of those branches while light-painting this minecart. Luckily, I was wearing a Bronson Beanie and it wasn't as bad as it would have been otherwise - those trees are prickly!

For more light-skeleton madness, check out the Gallery below:

Desert Tour in the '78 part III

Locations: Red Rock Canyon + Palm Springs, CA

Let's start off Day 3 in our rented '78 VW Camper Bus from Vintage Surfari Wagons with a proper sunrise reflected on the polished bright orange exterior. As one early passerby noted while I took photos of this VW, 'I see you're making art with art!', he was not wrong!

You can check my Day I and Day II posts for a road trip recap.

That colorful sunrise sky deserved a picture of it's own. Click the image above for a full-screen take (worth it). This is a composite of two images - one for the sky and one for the landscape. If you look close you'll notice a few scattered Joshua Trees around the Red Rock Canyon State park.

Here's our VW Camper Bus 'Rell Sunn' looking ready to rock for our next part of the journey to Palm Springs, CA. This was about the time I started thinking about how we had used all of the propane last night on the best dinner I've ever had out camping, and that there was none left to heat up the water for this morning's coffee, bummer!

After a pit stop for coffee and breakfast in Mojave, CA at the Old Desert Cafe, we stopped for gas and I snapped a pic of the odometer again. We took the fairly scenic pear blossom highway out to our next desert destination.

We stopped briefly at the hipster haven that is Ace Hotel. But opted for another hotel down the street with very similar amenities for about a third of the price. Welcome to the colorful Saguaro:

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They probably spent more on colored paint than any other feature of this hotel.

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Here's Astro Bandit striking a pose amongst the colored curtains in our bright orange room with purple carpet, to match with our bright orange VW Camper perhaps?

We relaxed for most of the afternoon poolside then had an evening beer and saw the sunset from our balcony overlooking the pool and courtyard.

That night we went to the Blue Coyote Grill in downtown Palm Springs and had some potent Cadillac Margaritas - we opted for an Lfyt there and back (good call). It was a good way to spend the last night of our desert tour.

Overall, it was an incredible trip exploring a few deserts of California in a Vintage VW classic.

You won't win any speed races in this old Bus, but it's a wonderful way to experience the winding roads and natural landscapes California offers. I'd recommend looking at this rental company if you're doing a California road trip with a small group - it's an experience you'll never forget. Thank you Vintage Surfari Wagons for having this amazing fleet of absolutely beautiful VW buses along with all the amenities that made our trip so wonderful. 

You can see Day I and Day II of our Desert Tour in the '78 here.

Desert Tour in the '78 part II

Locations: Red Rock Canyon State Park and Fossil Falls

Day 2 of our road trip in our rented classic VW Bus 'Rell Sunn' started off with me in my sleeping bag trying to snap a glimpse of this sunrise like a true lazy photographer. That small rainbow in the bottom left is probably one of my favorite features of this photo, I used it for the title composite to the first post about this 3 day desert trip. Dat Zeiss 18mm lens is smooth like butter.

First order of business was to check the odometer, we got a hundred or so miles on the bus:

Let's make some breakfast, because you can do that in a '78 VW Riviera equipped with a propane powered stove. Isabella cracks an egg while Jordan frantically looks for the coffee.

We boiled some water and made some coffee with the french press that comes with the van (thank you).

After breakfast and coffee we hopped into my friend TJ's Jeep and took a ride out to Fossil Falls, the patterns were really interesting and the convergence of earth here made for a striking contrast.

convergence

Here's TJ on the roof for some scale of what this spot looks like. We're a the base of a cinder cone volcano in a dry lake bed. 

Group shot of us goofing around in the middle of a donut.

Astrobandit applies sunblock above the Eastern Sierras:

After our tour of the dry lake bed we took a rocky road out to the little lake viewpoint where you can see the cinder cone volcano we just visited.

We made it back to our campsite in Red Rock Canyon State Park just in time to see the sunset, a nice sorbet colored skyline.

At night we lit a campfire and I shot some images of it giving the landscape a bright orange look, we've got Andromeda with a little cameo just above cliffside.

Around midnight these light-skeletons took our VW Bus for a little joyride. They were friendly, so we just took a nap in the back while they drove us around.

After a long and awesome night, the light skeletons and their friends wave good bye.

Stay tuned for Day 3..

Desert Tour in the '78

Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA

We recently rented a '78 VW manual shift Riviera pop-top nicknamed 'Rell Sunn'  from this really cool and unique business that has a fleet of vintage VW buses for rent in Southern California called Vintage Surfari Wagons. Yes, this exists, and yes, you can rent one from their fleet in Costa Mesa, CA on your next road trip - it's an experience for sure! 

This is basically our digital-media guestbook entry:

Day one started out with picking the VW Bus up in Costa Mesa, CA. We went over some of the quirks about driving a 38 year old automobile and how to best utilize all the features like the propane stove, pop-top camper, and mini-refrigerator. One of the more important points was telling fuel level by the mileage, not the gas gauge - which averages around 200 miles per tank with a little cushion just in case. After a few pointers, I was all set and took 'Rell Sunn' up to Los Angeles to pick up my girlfriend Astrobandit and head out to our first destination, Red Rock Canyon State Park off the Hwy 14.

A neat feature of the passenger chair is that it can swing and lock 180 degrees to face backwards toward the sliding-door and kitchenette area. Good for views and good for playing board games also.

We got to the park around sunset and  selected a nice camping spot close to the cliffside and watched the tail end of the sun fade into the hills.

Here we are popping the top once night fell. The bus can sleep 4, two down low and two up top. An important pointer here is to try and park on a fairly level surface, otherwise you will find yourself crawling to the other side of the van when you slip toward the center of gravity in your sleep. Next time I'd bring a few 2x4's for good measure.

mr fixit

While we slept, I had one of my light-skeleton friends do a little check up on the vehicle. All was in order thankfully.

Night one felt like we were out camping on Mars, the rock formations are something else. Rell Sunn looks like a space-pod here. 

Stay tuned for Day 2..

Drag On

Location: Valley of Fire, NV | Settings: F7.1 / ISO 50 / 188 seconds

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Here's a photo that took a few attempts to wrangle a decent image out of. To draw a dragon is more difficult than I first imagined, having illustrated so many dinosaurs in the past! The toughest feature is of course the wings - which have to be large enough for a beast of this scale take flight.

I used a bare Night-Writer to draw out of the skeleton free-hand and a red gelled spotlight to cast a nice red glow on the landscape from just behind the camera. 

On the images below I used a combination of a white color-tipped NW and a green color-tip for some contrast the later it got past Blue Hour. 

I'm not 100% sure that the image above is my favorite, so I'll include some other takes below and you can decide for yourself which one works best:

dragons

About 12 hours after taking the images above, I tried to capture 5 planets aligning with the Moon in between Mars and Jupiter from our camping spot in Valley of Fire. I hiked to the top of a rock formation and set up a panorama of 9 vertical shots. 

Unfortunately, I missed Mercury and got 4 out of 5 due to cloud coverage or perhaps the awesome hills underneath Planet Venus. Either way, I think it looks pretty amazing with the sunrise just beginning to hit frame left. These planets give us a pretty clear idea of our place within the solar system. We can hope to see these planets align again in 10 years:

Two Heart Tree

Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park | Settings: (Composite) Light Art at F5.6 / ISO 50 / 246 seconds / Stars at F2.8 / ISO 3200 / 15 seconds

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Here's a Valentine's Day post for all you lovebirds out there. I guess it's a day late at this point, but my internet line was out yesterday, so better late than never!

While on a recent camping trip to the Mojave Desert with some friends we stopped at this place called Red Rock Canyon State Park and I thought I'd try a few heart-themed pieces using my Night-Writer along with some Pink and Red Color-tips. You can see some orange glow from the campfire which was projected onto the cliffs behind the pink tree. 

It was a new moon, so you can see quite a few stars in the mix. We'll have to wait another Month or so for the Milky Way to be in full effect and have the Galaxy's core most visible.

The route to this location is a nice trip to take and a fairly close one to the outskirts of Los Angeles. Go North on the I-5, and about an hour down the 14 East into the Mojave desert. You'll pass the future Space Station of Virgin Galactic in Mojave, CA on your right and a newly constructed Solar effort on the left. Good use of space out there!

I started off this light-painting by doing a 3D-looking heart using my Ceramic technique where I circulate the LED in the air to form different sized light-masses. After a few hearts, I thought it looked a bit too plain, so I decided to spice it up a bit with a light-tree and a few growing hearts on the limbs.

heart

After looking at this image for a while, I begin to start thinking of adding on some leaves, maybe some birds to mix it up. That's the beauty of images - just looking at one gives you ideas for another!

Check out my Misc. Gallery below for more images that do not conform to any Collection at this point.. I'm thinking I may need to add a plant-life section soon: 

So Many Stars

Location: Red Rock Canyon, CA | Settings: F3.5 / ISO 1600 / 327 seconds

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Here's an image I took using a cool star-tracker device that mimics the rotation of the Earth, this makes for clearer and more detailed stars, constellations, and even nebulas to start showing up in the final image. Starting to see beyond what the naked human eye can see at this point. 

Check out my full gallery of Nature images below:

Welcome, You Are

Location: Valley of Fire, NV | Settings: F7.1 / ISO 50 / 114 seconds

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On a recent road trip, Astro Bandit and I stopped at this strange and magical place called Valley of Fire in Nevada twice. I was looking for this particular location when we first arrived at night, but had no luck finding it the first time in the dark!

It was only after a crazy storm that pelted us with hail and nearly left us stuck in the park after flash-flooding on our visit back to LA that I was able to capture this image of the alien we all know and love, Yoda in his element, in the doorway of this desert cave-dwelling.

I used my Night-Writer with Green and White tips for the figure of Yoda along with a handheld more powerful flashlight for the red and blue color-castings.

Check out my full collection of Aliens in this gallery below: