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:

Window Shoppers

Location: Porter Ranch, CA | Settings: F8 / ISO 400 / 361 seconds

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Here's a collaboration I did with another Los Angeles based night-photographer, he goes by @xrissvlad on instagram and you can thank him for the perfect orb in the middle of this image. Peep his insta for another shot we collabed on that I'll write about later this week. I used Night-Writer along with a pink color-tip to illustrate the skeletons looking in from busted windows.

The main thing that stuck out about this night was the intense wind at this location, there was a high-wind advisory on some of the highway signs. It was strange because less than 20 minutes away towards downtown, the winds were quite calm. It goes to show what a varied landscape Los Angeles is, and how all sorts of micro climates can exist on the same day in nearby places.

The high winds were probably a good thing for this area in particular, as weird as that sounds. Porter Ranch is the area of Los Angeles that is the site of a massive methane leak from a failed well at Southern California Gas Co. Check out this aerial video of the leak. 

Now that I've vented (no pun intended) let's get back to the night at hand. This busted building was our best shot at a clear image, we needed a guard from the wind. It was so intense that our tripods would buckle with the passing gusts. I took a handheld long exposure on my phone using NightCap Pro app that turned out not that great, but will give you an idea of what this place looked like on the outside:

busted building

I almost tripped over the spine of a deer or coyote walking around the interior, spooky stuff. Looks like a spine.

spine

To see more light skeletons, check out my full gallery below:

Ground is Lava

Location: Mojave, CA | Settings: F5.6 / ISO 50 / 215 second exposure

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For this shot I wanted to stay away from the spectral look that has seemed to dominate the end of my 2015 light-fossils. For the new year I'd like to focus more on specific color choices as well as adding in multi-layered light-elements.

For this shot of a Lambeosaurus Light-Fossil, I used an orange-tipped Night-Writer along with a flash of red from off-screen left and frame-right, held low to emphasize the cracked earth texture. Looks like lava to me :) 

One of the parts to this image that isn't very noticeable is the moon in top-center of the composition, just underneath the dinosaur. If I were to print this large, it would be more of a focal point.

The most distinctive feature to the Lambeosaurus dinosaur is it's cranial crest, which is mostly hollow. Educated guessers think that the cranial crest could have functioned as part snorkeling device,  for communication purposes, and for distinctions between species and sexes. 

Here's a cool link I posted before about how a Parasaurolophus might have sounded like (based off a 3d printed skull with air blown through the nasal cavity, I'd imagine the Lambeosaurus to sound a bit like this.

Check out my full collection of Light-Fossils in the Gallery below:

Space is the Place

Location: Mojave Desert, CA | Settings: F2.8 / ISO 3200 / 24 seconds

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For a shot like this, it helps to have a really good idea of what your location will look like. 

I scouted this spot a while back and knew it was very flat, and that I could get some interesting perspectives if I shot it low to the ground, using a white tipped Night-Writer for Astro Bandit's head. After doing some sketches on paper, I decided that I needed a cardboard cutout of a rocket ship for this to work the way I imagined:

sketch

A few minutes of cutting and some glow in the dark tape later, my spaceship (to be back lit):

rocket cutout

These type of photos are usually one-offs that may or may not be incorporated into a full set down the line, for now they go into my Misc. Collection. Thanks for reading!

Back at the Ranch

Location: Mojave Desert, CA | Settings: F5.6 / ISO 50 / 703 seconds

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Here we are in the Mojave Desert around 10pm last night, it was 30 degrees outside, quite chilly for Southern California! This shot took almost 12 minutes to create using Night-Writer and color tips. 

In light of this location being so close to a main road, passing headlights were a constant concern. So I did what any long exposure photographer would do in this situation, I capped the lens every time a car drove by with it's high beams. You can see how many time I capped the lens by taking a closer look at the star trails:

lenscapping_DT.jpg

This technique is popular amongst advanced light-art photographers. If used creatively, it can result in some mind-bending imagery. Check out my friend Dana Maltby's work for an idea of what can be achieved by lens-capping and having another tripod handy. Here's another great creative set of len-swaps by James de Luna.

For more light-skeletons, check out the full collection below:

Mystery Moss

Location: Redwoods, CA | F2.8, ISO 3200, 1/250 second

Let's take a little break from light-painting stuff, it's time to focus on something equally awesome - Moss.

Did you know that certain types of moss (Sphagnum genus) were used in World War I as bandages for wounds? Aside from being readily available, it's because they are super absorbent - moss can carry more than 3 times the amount of liquid that cotton does. Another type of peat moss is used for smoking malt used for the production of Scotch Whiskey, I'll drink to that.

Let's take a closer look:

moss1

Moss can't carry water like most other plants, it depends on water vapor from cool damp environments like the redwood forest. Here it is doing what it does best, soaking up moisture.

Moss has around 12,000 different species, you can find many different varieties in the redwoods - infinitely fascinating!

I'm not sure if this one below is actually moss, it could be a hornwort or perhaps a liverwort. These plants reproduce via spores.

Here's another thing about moss that you may not know (and a little unsettling, considering that people used it as a bandage). It's one of the easiest locations to find tardigrades (or water-bears) - take a piece of moss and dry it out, then add water and search for creatures with an electron microscope (easier said than done). Tardigrades are very strange organisms that can be found just about anywhere, from the arctic, to deep sea, forests, deserts, etc. they are also the first known animal to survive the vacuum of space, we have a lot to learn from these alien-like creatures:

tardigrade

Check out more interesting environments in my Nature Gallery:

Allosaurus Crossing

Location: Hales Grove, CA | Settings: F5.6 / ISO 50 / 281 seconds

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I'm happy to add a new Allosaurus to my Light-fossils collection, one of my favorite dinosaurs. This theropod lived about 150 million years ago (before the T.rex at ~ 67 million years ago), was around 30 feet in length, had serrated teeth, and was a carnivorous predator at the top of the foodchain.

This bridge was a pretty sketchy place in the dark. There were leaves and debris that had built up in gaps between each of the wooden planks, any of which could have broken an ankle if you weren't careful. You can't see it, but there is a creek about 9 ft below the bridge, I thought a troll would emerge any second.

The rain had lightened up for a little bit and I got this one shot before it started to pour again. It poured for the next two days straight.

For more light-fossils, check the gallery below:


How to Light-paint with an iPhone

Here's a how-to post for anyone that's not sure about buying an expensive DSLR camera, but still wants to experiment with light-painting and night-photography.

Don't believe you can shoot a decent light-painting image with a cellphone? Check out this gallery of images I've collected over the past few months - I'm pretty happy with them! Shot using an iPhone 6 and 6s Plus along with the Night-Writer & various Color-tips as the light-source:

To shoot these type of images you have to be totally dialed in! It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it - it's a great option to have on hand when you don't happen to have a DSLR handy!

Step One: Download the Right App

I used Night Cap Pro to shoot these images, but there are other good options like Slow-Shutter app.

Step Two: Dial it In

The right app settings are crucial to pulling this off! 

Here is a cheat-sheet for Light-painting with NightCap Pro:

1. Start off with selecting 'light trails' - tap the star icon on the right to toggle this option.

2. Just above the star is a lock button for once you get your settings down - don't do it yet, but just know it's there and that the green light should be on for at least 'FOC (focus)' and 'EXP (exposure)' options before you start your shot. 'WB (white balance)' is not something I used very often - I think it's set to 'auto' if you do nothing, which looks fine.

3. Adjust the exposure setting by sliding your thumb up on the right side of the viewer - I go with 1/2 - do this unless you want your light-lines to be dotted (no thanks!).

4. Set your ISO - I went with 50, but I've tried higher - 400 is ok, but it starts to get pretty noisy after 800.

5. Set your focus using the bottom slide-toggle - '0' is for super-macro stuff while I'd assume '100' would be for far away star-trails. I usually go with something from 69-75 - this is good for that 35mm look that most of us are familiar shooting with.

Step Three: Steady as She Goes

Please know that the camera has to be totally still while the long-exposure is happening! So use a tripod. If you don't have one handy - a coffee mug on a table will suffice (the dude abides): 

coffee mug tripod

Now that you've got your settings locked (Exp + Foc have green dots) you are ready to start your light-painting! Tap the large button to start (it turns red when on) and tap it again once you are finished with your light-art.

Step Four: iPhone Presets

Turn your Auto-Lock off. You don't want your camera shutting down during the middle of your light-painting, right?

Here's how you do it: Go to 'Settings', select 'General', select 'Auto-Lock' - switch to 'Never'.

Bonus Tip: Dim that light-source for best results!

My first results light-painting with the iphone were pretty dismal - I found out quickly that the bare Night-Writer light was too bright for the lens. I tried diffusing the LED with a crumpled-up receipt which resulted in more balanced exposures. Color-Tips worked great for diffusing the light also.  

The reason you need a fairly dim light-source is because your phone has a tiny lens, with a tiny sensor, and mostly automatic features - like what aperture to use when shooting in dark environments.

You're best option to get a well-balanced exposure is to control the brightness of your light-source. Bright light is great for casting toward environments, but not for using toward the lens (light-writing).

A good rule of thumb: If you can glance at the light without hurting your eyes, so can the camera.

Check out the video tutorial below:

More tips and tricks for light-art photography can be found in the EDU section.

If you are located in Los Angeles, I'm conducting a light-painting workshop at the Apple Store in Santa Monica, CA on Third Street Promenade, February 3rd around 7pm.

 

Rainbow Reindeer

Location: Redwoods National Park, CA | Settings: (composite) Light art at F5.6 / ISO 50 / 330 seconds. Environment at F3.5 / ISO 1600 / 46 seconds.

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Here's a luminous Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer in the Redwoods of Northern California - lighting the way.. Or is he lost again? Time will tell! 

Happy Holidays!

For the full collection of Light-Animals, check out the Gallery below:


Fun with Sculptures

Location: Borrego Springs, CA | Settings: F5.6, ISO 1600, 97 seconds

I've had this idea since last Spring, but never got a chance to carry out the series until last week.

Here are all three of my ideas on paper - it's good to sketch ideas out as soon as you have them, otherwise they disappear.

sketchbook

It's funny how the sketch is often the idealist version, then in reality things change a bit.

For instance, my skeleton looks like he doesn't know what the hell he is doing with a pink sword in his hand. More concerned with the surprising color of his weapon than the imminent threat in front of him.

For the next image, Battle Beasts (which I've posted before last May) - there are subtle nuances that make it different than the sketch.

For instance, the horse sculptures being much larger than I was expecting. I brought a step-ladder to the location, but it didn't do me much good as the soft sand swallowed about 10 inches off it's height. 

The moral of this post is that life can and will throw you curveballs - so think on your feet and as Tim Gunn would say, 'Make it Work'.

To see the full collection of Light-Skeletons and wall-art options, check the print shop below:

Strange Balance

Location: Rainbow Basin, CA | Settings: F5.6 / ISO 50 / 308 seconds

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I'll throw it back today, because it's Thursday, and I feel like I disregarded this image from a few months ago. It was competing against a rare blood moon event, and it was easy to overlook back then.

On second glance, I like it very much. There's a strange balance to all the subjects. The blue tree has a gravity that the green and purple pull from but are rooted towards. The motion of earth, sky, and stars is interesting too - you can see the motion of clouds and stars crisscross.

This was one of the most martian looking landscapes I've seen yet, here's a 270˙ view of the spot at blue hour. That tiny reddish spect on the left is the moon peaking over the horizon:

Check out the September post on the super blood moon HERE.



Yurtles

Location: Borrego Springs, CA / Settings: (composite) Light art at F7.1 / ISO 50 / 375 seconds. Stars at F2.8 / ISO 6400 / 15 seconds.

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I try to stay away from vertical images, but sometimes there is no other way to shoot it properly.

For this image I used a new prototype of the Night-Writer (this is the 3rd version - R & D is not easy!). The chameleon version of the tool is performing really well and this version does not get hot like the last did. The main problem is the form factor, which I'm working on, I hope to have something ready at some point during 2016.. May need to crowd-fund a project.

The idea behind this image stems from my childhood, my parents had all these awesome Dr. Seuss books with the most wild and creative art - this is an ode to that. I found the metal tortoise sculpture in Borrego Springs by artist Ricardo Breceda a perfect fit for the idea. Please check out his website for more examples of his incredible artwork.

For this image, I sketched out the idea before-hand and shot a photo on my phone so I could reference it later:

yurtles sketch

Check out the full collection of Animals in the gallery link below:

On the Rocks

Location: Joshua Tree, CA / Settings: F7.1, ISO 50, 841 second exposure

Here we are in Joshua Tree, CA - land of strange trees, and large boulders.

Before taking this long exposure, I stood a boulder that was a little too round, it rocked to the side and I jumped off - with scenes from that James Franco / Danny Boyle film '72 Hours' flashing through my mind!

This was a solid opportunity to use all the new Color-Tips of the Night-Writer during the course of the long exposure. It helped to hold all the colors I wanted to use in my left hand and put them in my shirt pocket after using.

Check out the Gallery to view the entire collection of Light-Skeletons and for the option to purchase prints.

Constellations at Font's Point

Location: Font's Point - Anza Borrego, CA / Settings: 9 shots at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

Here's a place I've wanted to see in person for some time - it's only accessible by 4WD vehicles (soft sand), so I give thanks to my friend TJ who drove us up to this spot in his Jeep! For a larger view of this gorgeous starry night, click this link.

We camped here for the night and did a bit of whiskey drinking, which culminated in singing what we could of 'bohemian rhapsody'.

Sunrise began with a slight hangover and me trying to wake up TJ so I could get my camera bag out of the Jeep.. No luck there!

I used the 2% left of my iphone's battery to take a few panos of first light on Font's Point, which you can see is a stretch of VAST badlands.

sunrise at fonts point - iphone pano 1

Here's Astro Bandit at the same spot later that morning with a bit of haze seeping into the valley. Over the mountains in the distance is Mexico.

For more interesting landscapes and wall-art options, check out my Nature Gallery:

Mid-Century Modernists

Location: Palm Springs, CA / Settings: F6.3, ISO 50, 202 seconds

Let's take a little trip to Palm Springs - this is a building designed by Albert Frey built in 1965 - It was first a gas-station, then it was turned into an art gallery, and now it's a visitor center. I illustrated some yellow skeletons to go with the red light on the side with the help of my Night-Writer and a yellow color-tip.

It looks like some sort of jetsons-style spaceship. Stand underneath for the full warp-speed effect:

It used to have a really cool entrance, but now there's a curved wall that contains the building, making it a bit more difficult for photography. Here's a link to see it back then with some fountains in the front and an overall more angular feel.

In addition to the triangle shape, there's a few stone boulders off to the side, they must weigh a ton each - I opted for some smiley faces using the Night-Writer with some pink/purple color-tips:

If you take the road up towards the mountains you can take a tram-ride up from the Palm Desert into the San Jacinto Mountains where the temperature can drop 40+ degrees - don't forget to bring a jacket! 

Once up top you'll see sweeping views of the desert and Palm Springs below. I took this opportunity to draw in a light-skeleton skating one of the handrails up there (I used the Night-Writer with white/orange color-tips):

I call this photo 'desert iguana' because after looking at the skateboard, I decided it looks a little bit like one of these creatures. The tail is far longer than your standard skateboard.

You can check out more light-skeletons along with print options in the gallery below:

Star-Stinger II

Location: Death Valley, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 50, 278 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds

This is not the first time I've drawn a scorpion, and I'm sure it won't be the last - they are strange creatures and I like drawing them. 

I'd imagine this spectral version is a totally different species than the last one I drew in collaboration with Michael Shainblum back in December 2013 - he used a star-tracker to get an amazingly bright and clear image of the milky way for our collaborative piece.

For a look at more light-animals as well as the option to purchase prints, check out the Spirit Animal collection:


Light-Walker

Location: Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 50, 110 seconds per frame

Here we are at Badwater Basin in Death Valley, CA - night just fell, and you can see how windy it is by the amount of dust blowing in the distance behind our spectral light-skeleton above.

My goal was to make the skeleton walk - and have the light reflected on the puddles below. To do this, it requires a bit of pre-planning. I had my friend Craig shoot a few reference images at our campsite earlier that day - I glanced at these for every new frame to get the motion correct:

It's a bit jerky, but I think the overall goal was met - I was happy to get the hell out of those 40mph winds!

Here's a view of what Badwater Basin looked like just the day before - the winds blew nearly all that water away in less than 24 hours:

For a look at some more finished animation work, check out the Video section.

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:

process

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.

P22

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: