Low-light Photography Roundup Winter 2018

Location: Los Padres National Forest

It's been a while since my last blog post, so I figured I'd make up for it with this Winter roundup of my best low light photography and light paintings since then!

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Here's Astrobandit and I kicking it off. We've been doing more collaborative projects lately. 

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What's New?

I've been testing out a new LED device I'm developing called a 'Color-Caster'. The tool is used for lighting a subject or the environment, you can draw with it too of course. Think of it as a bigger and more powerful version of the Night-Writer - a related but different type of tool.

Here it is in use. I colored in the tree with some purple and highlighted the background red-orange (below). The skeletons were drawn in with a Night-Writer + color tips.

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This is what the tool looks like if you draw with it pointed towards the camera. It doesn't work for detailed precision on/off stuff because this tool has a either on or off switch but it's great for one line continuous drawing. The colors are changed through use of a color-slider that you control with your hand: super-manual!

Here is a color test with 4 different color-sliders I've made. I'm working on developing a bunch of 6-color combo bars to maximize creative potential with the tool.

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The light without the color slider is very bright! Here is what it looks like directed at the camera - quite dense and quick to flare! This was shot around f.16 (below).

Color-Caster works well for psychedelic studio or portrait lighting. Quickly change colors and flick on/off for some wild visual effects.

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Here's a rough version of what the Color-Caster looks like in its current state, it uses a 9v battery and a large LED along with color-slider which can be stored below the tool (and give it some sweet color accents). Of course it still needs some work, but it works well and I'm excited about further testing!

If you have any suggestions for me or color schemes you'd like to see tested out, give me a shout at contact@dariustwin.com or leave a comment below!

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New Light-Fossils

I've created a few keepers in the 'Light-Fossils' department, so far my favorites are this 'Sabre-toothed Tiger' captured during blue hour (below).

The timing has to be just right for these type of images. You can easily go over or under on an exposure when working in these type of dynamic lighting conditions. My guess paid off here!

Speaking of dynamic lighting, fog presents it's own unique challenges! Carry a lens tissue because you may need to wipe off your lense after every capture. I was happy to create a nice brontosaurus skeleton in front of an abandoned camp during this dense fog. I love the way you can see the colored light dissipate into the moisture!

Super Blue Blood Moon

We woke up around 4am and did a few once in a lifetime shots like these below. I'll kick it off with this one, it has become a personal favorite(below). 

Of course I had to try a light-fossil. here is a Woolly Mammoth with the 'Super Blue Blood Moon' on its back.

Light-Painting in the Snow

Since we've moved out to the mountains we've gotten a lot more weather than we did in Los Angeles. When it's cold and raining in LA, it is often snowing an hour North on the mountain! here are some light-paintings I did in ~11 degree weather. Layering up is an absolute must along with a facemask for the wind! I especially liked this one of the polar bears. On my way back I noticed footsteps in the snow of a bobcat that had been following my tracks.

Here I trekked out a bit and illustrated a snowfox above the mountain village.

Had to light paint a 'frosty the snowman' ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

More things to come, I will be blogging a bit more during the Spring once we get to do some road trips again! Until then, stay bright and I hope you have enjoyed this light update!

Night-Writer Lineage

Location: Los Angeles & Pine Mountain, CA

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With the release of the 7th iteration of 'Night-Writer', I thought I'd give a bit of context as to where the design came from and where it's going.

It all started back in 2011, when my friend Dana Maltby (a.k.a. TCB) gave me a light-pen he made of duct-tape, 2 AA batteries, a push-button, and an LED light. You can take a look at some of the historical photos below to get an idea of what the first prototypes were like, and which images were made with what early versions of the LED tool:

A custom LED light may seem like a fairly mundane concept to most, but for someone with illustration chops it's like the difference between a surgeon using a steak-knife or a scalpel when operating. There are certain nuances to the design that make it better for drawing with than your average LED light. Think of it as an instrument!

Now let's take a closer look at each of these design iterations and I'll tell you some of the pros and cons of working with each tool, as well as how each version informed the next. You can click on each image and hover-over to read the story about each model, 

Here's a link to the current model of the Night-Writer (V.7), it can be purchased right here for a limited time.

I have hand-made every version of the LED tool (V.1 - V.7) and each is signed and dated on the interior. Here's to the next evolution, stay bright!

Joshua Tree at Night

Location: Joshua Tree National Park - Joshua Tree, CA

During this time of year in Joshua Tree the temperatures can drop dramatically at night, the higher elevation (around 2700 ft) certainly adds to this effect. It can be 60 degrees during the day and 30 degrees once the sun goes down, make sure you pack a good jacket and layer-up if you plan to visit. 

For the photograph above 'Stand Tall', I used a new light tool I made especially for taller creations. For scale, the left skeleton is about 6 feet tall and the right one is about nine to ten feet tall. I used an old antenna, an LED and single wire to create an extendable light source I could draw with. Later I wrapped it in clear fishing line for a more diffused look:

Sunrise and sunsets create vibrant transitional colors in the sky, and at night the backdrop of space itself appears bright and unobstructed by city lights in the distance. 

The occasional passing car lights define narrow paths cut through the park, highlighting mounds of giant boulders.

setting up the shootout

Here I am setting up the next shot, I wanted a western shootout look with one character in the foreground and another far off in the background eating lead.

I was hoping to get a bit of that fading sunset color in the shot.

You can get a feel for about how much time went by taking a look at the length of the star trails. The 'Midnight Showdown' scene (below) took 370 seconds:

Later that night we headed to a really cool place called Cactus Moon Retreat, and I drew a cactus and moon in one of my favorite rooms in the property using my newly designed jumbo Night-Writer tips.

cactus moon

Here's a sneak peak at what some new modular (and larger) color-tips look like up close, I plan on making these available soon but need to fix a few minor things about the way they clasp together first.

Here's a short GoPro video I captured while trying to create the images in this post, hopefully it gives you a good idea of what making light-drawings is all about.

We'll finish this post with the 'Devil you Know', made with a red modular tip and a really bright white LED to create some flares over the eyes.

Click Here for more articles on Joshua Tree, CA.

 

China

Location: Longhushan, China

'Tiger & Dragon' (above) is the result of a large collaboration with a team of international artists at one of many ancient temples in Longhushan - Jiangxi Province, China. 

Before getting into our story, let's introduce the cast: Sergey (Head of LPWA from Moscow, Russia), Lichtfactor (German LP collective), Alfredo (Children of Darklight - Spain), Mass (LP art from France), Sfhir (Multi-media artist from Madrid, Spain), Roy Wang (LP Artist from Beijing, China), Diliz (France), Ivan (Spain), Nacho (Spain), Edu (Spain), Ramon (Spain), and of course my Fiance Astrobandit (USA).

Many sleepless nights in the rain to accomplish this special long exposure photograph (above). A 10 meter tall platform was built just to get this angle.

Our story starts in Shanghai where we all flew in from our home countries of Russia, Germany, USA, France, Spain and China. All of us took a bullet train 3 hours South to Longhushan only to be greeted with a large Typhoon for the next four days.

We were hoping to take some photos at night but sometimes the environment does not cooperate!

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Here is our light-painting group scouting the location with umbrellas and rain boots on. We're all here for a massive LPWA collaboration (Light Painting World Alliance) to be done in a few nights, if the weather allows it!

Of course I took my trusty Night-Writer along for the journey, I rarely leave home without it these days. It got wet quite a bit during my time in China, but functioned well in most trying of circumstances.

It wasn't like the rain in the West that I was used to, the humidity was high all the time, as was the temperature - I wore tank tops and shorts most of the time in China.

Here is Sergey (below), the main man behind LPWA (Light Painting World Alliance) - standing in about a half inch of water inside the ancient temple walls.

The purpose of our trip was a 2 part operation, the first was a large light painting photo exhibition and presentation in the city of Longhushan (see gallery below), and the second was to create an animation and large scale photo collaboration that would represent the location.

Longhushan literally translates to 'Dragon (&) Tiger Mountain', it's the birthplace of Taoism in China and you can feel this location has a rich history by walking around in it.

Below you can see the animation our international team made over the course of two nights:

For me, it was the similarities and differences in both geology and culture that made this place interesting, the ancient temples and pathways gave a feel of the past that was also connected to the present.

Yin and Yang was the most powerful and prolific symbol we encountered during our trip, the group would see it everywhere as a constant reminder of balance, mostly between chaos and order for us.

Somehow everything came together at the last possible moment every step of the way during our journey, it was intense and inspiring.

I like this image of Astrobandit that I shot in the ancient city inside the middle of the national park, it candidly captures what it was like to be there at that moment.

I think most of the natives were shocked to see a blonde-haired person, it was as if they had seen a unicorn.

Now let's zoom in to those Fu Dogs outside that temple (above). These were made of stone and inside the mouths of these statues were orbs of stone that you could not remove. Imagine the craftsmanship! 

Here my friend (and killer artist) Mass tries to remove one of the stones, not possible.

Here are some of my favorite phone images (shot by myself and others from the trip) in a massive gallery below. 

It was a shared experience I won't forget and I made some great friends along the way. It's hard to explain what this kind of traveling means to me - it speaks to an understanding of life itself.

During most of the trip the underlying theme was simple - NO SLEEP. Here we are after dinner, most of us had not slept in 48 hours, the bags under our eyes doubled and tripled:

Even though I barely managed to sleep, there were some great images I was able to capture in China, here are my favorites below:

Title: Temple of Light / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Temple of T Rex / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Chinese Nessie / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Shanghai / Location: Shanghai, China / View large + print options

Along with the images, I got some animations along one of the hikes in the national park of Longhushan.

'Coffin Rider' (below) tells a story about the historical and precarious cultural practice of wrapping the dead in bamboo coffins and placing them inside the small naturally occurring caves within the mountain.

For my story I wanted to show one of the mountain inhabitants breaking out for a midnight joyride on a piece of the coffin and riding it like a skateboard down the handrail and along the hiking path. I thought this would be a good demonstration of balance, it made sense to me with all the Yin & Yang symbols we had seen around this location:

Some say Shiny Bones is still sliding that rail to this day.. Stay bright light-friends!

35mm Light-paintings

Location: Southwestern US

Title: Reflecting on a Sad Memory // Location: Joshua Tree, CA

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I've recently developed a roll of 35mm which I brought with me on a trip through the Southwestern US and some areas of the California Coast. 

I often keep a camera loaded with a roll of Portra 400 ISO in my bag and take it out on just the right occasions. It costs a few dollars per image just to get this thing developed and scanned, so I'm a bit conservative when it comes to shooting.

Usually, I take the 36 images per roll over a few months and by the time I actually fill it with long exposures, I've forgotten most of what I had captured to begin with. I like the surprise of it all, and you truly have no idea what you've captured for months. It's a very un-attached way of capturing images, and as I've mentioned before, the negatives for film do not lie in the way that digital photographs can (ie: photoshopping).

For this roll, it worked out very well. I'll tally this up to beginner's luck due to my first time shooting with the late 70's era Canon A-1 and it's 50mm lens, which produced some interesting reflections with the LED light entering and bouncing out of the camera. Overall, I really like the aesthetic and it brings a more organic feel to the media. The colors seem to seep into other tones and it gives the content another layer of character.

Title: Amethyst Dinosaur // Location: Dead Horse Point, UT

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For the shot above I mixed it up a bit and used a small Amethyst crystal that we bought at a rock shop in Moab, Utah in place of a color-tip for my Night-Writer. It had some strange and unintended color-effects on the landscape, taking blue hour straight into purple hour! The view at Dead Horse Point close to the entrance to Canyonlands National Park was an incredible backdrop to see in person, inspiring for sure!

Title: Endless Grind // Location: Monument Valley, UT

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I saw that handrail leading into the valley and couldn't get this image of a skateboarding skeleton grinding it out of my head.

The last rays of light were hitting the rail in an interesting way, highlighting the metal edge all the way into the distance through twists, turns, and kinks. Toward the end of the rail it looks like the material turns into a car's light and continues toward infinity. I felt like it was a good metaphor for riding out life's twists, turns, and kinks. 

Title: Best Buds // Location: Joshua Tree, CA

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Title: Goblin Slayer // Location: Goblin Valley, UT

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Title: False Kiva Hot Tub // Location: Canyonlands, UT

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Title: Rainbow Tree // Location: Angeles Crest, CA

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Title: Raven Rooster Mockingbird // Location: Santa Barbara, CA

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Title: Sharing a View // Location: Bryce Canyon, UT

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Title: Tree of Light (35mm) // Location: Santa Barbara, CA

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Title: Goombasaurus // Location: Valley of Fire, NV

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Thanks for viewing! If you'd like to check out more film light-paintings, you can see my entire film collection right here.

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.

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

Great light shark

Location: Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F16, ISO 100, 53 seconds

Gear: Canon 6D,  24-70mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and blue-tipped Night-Writer.

For a shot like this, it's as easy as turning out all the lights in your room and bumping the Fstop up to 16 at ISO 100 - use the 'bulb-mode' camera setting for a leisurely illustration pace.

I've been testing out some of my new Night-Writer color-tips this week and I like the way the colors are working out - I may release them as soon as next week.

An added bonus is the texture that it adds to higher F-stop images like my light-shark above! Looking forward to making more texture-focused tips for the light-pen in the near-future.

Here's a looks at all of the different colors together - they will come in packs of 6 - ROYGBV.

Light-paint a skeleton (step by step tutorial vid)

Location: Mt. Pinos - Frazier Park, CA

Here it is, a little how-to video on the subject of light-skeletons - I've been asked, and the idea of other people illustrating their very own skeletons with light makes me pretty damn amped!

Good luck out there with your creations! Please share them with me if you think you've got a good one - If you're on instagram, you can tag me @dariustwin - otherwise, email works ok too.

To learn more about light-art photography, you can visit my new EDU page devoted toward the education of light-art photography.

Shocktopus

Location: Pfeiffer Beach - Big Sur, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 564 seconds

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6D,  24-70mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and prototype Night-Writer.

After the 6 hour drive, camp set-up, dinner and drinks, and campfire session til midnight, it was hard to find the motivation to go out on a cloudy night in the hopes of seeing stars on a new moon.

During the short hike to this pond in pitch dark, I surrendered to the now familiar tired and delirious state - the shot I had in mind was not possible, it depended on the weather, and the weather was crap!

I took one shot as a consolation attempt, I was in the right place, just not the right time. With all the effort it took to get there, why not finish strong before calling it a night? Sometimes, magic can be made in the most delirious state of mind. 

This is what all light-art photographers are out there shooting for - that one shot where you just know it all came together somehow, and now it's in the back of your camera in vivid detail. 

I shoot a lot of photos, and it's very rare to hit the KO punches - here's one :D  

 

Pineapple Express

Location: Downtown Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F22, ISO 100, 27 seconds

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6D, CP2 50mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer.

Last night I met up with fellow photographer Jake Ramirez (Sumerian Lights) for a bit of shooting downtown, I didn't know it would be a battle for the pineapple image you see above. 

contact sheet

20 photos later, the pineapple looked decent - It wasn't the easiest Light Morsel to draw.