Travel advice for night-photographers in Maui, Hawaii

Location: Maui, HI

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It's times like these that I wish I had a little drone to send up into the atmosphere and take a picture of this insane double rainbow from the sky's perspective with a very small and fast wide-angle lens to get the perfect full-circle rainbow.

I'll hang loose until then.. Welcome to Maui, you're on island time now! 

This is a land of comfortable temperatures for the most part, it was about 80-87 degrees whenever I looked at weather forecasts. It rained often and high winds affected the North side of the island more than the South. We traveled around the island extensively, taking the Hana highway, visiting the volcano atop Haleakala for sunrise, and hiking to countless waterfalls, and of course visiting lots of beaches with sands of white, red, and black.

Comfortable temperatures can change if you plan on visiting the top of Haleakala, the volcano that sits around 10,000 ft elevation and was about freezing temperature when we visited. It wasn't the low temperatures that got us there, it was the intense and biting wind chill!

That said, the views up there are basically perfect for astrophotography, on an island in the middle of the pacific ocean, above the clouds, and about as close as you can get to the stars without too much trouble breathing. Here I was able to capture the best meteor I've caught yet:

On the top of this volcano I felt as if I was on an island in space rather than just the Pacific. People come up here to see the sunrise, but the other stars are the best part for me!

If you plan on visiting Haleakala, definitely pack for the freezing temperatures and be sure to reserve a parking space at the top! This is a relatively new thing as of February 2017, and it helps with mitigating extreme crowds - they will turn you away at the entrance if you do not reserve a spot!

Ok, now let's talk animals.. At many of the beaches on Maui you might see sea turtles!

These are well documented in petroglyphs scratched into lava rock and on t-shirts and stickers all over the island. So I got a bit of inspiration from that and did my own light version at Ho'okipa beach, where we saw some turtles earlier that day. Cops kicked us out shortly after this image, the park closes after sunset.

Another small and interesting reptile that inhabits the island is the Gecko! This little friend will eat those pesky mosquitos and just about any other insect it can catch. They are fast little critters and can crawl almost anywhere because of the setae under their feet that allows them to hold onto most surfaces, unless the surface is wet! 

One of the more interesting geological structures we visited was a trail called 'Dragon's teeth' (Makaluapuna Point) - this was at the edge of a golf course in Lahaina. I thought a Spinosaurus light-fossil would be a good addition to this scene.

There's a few myths that are widely known around Hawaii, one of which is the 'Night-Marchers' - the story goes that if you are out hiking at night, and hear a conch shell sound in the distance followed by mysterious night-marchers holding torches, you should immediately lie on ground and not look at them. For if you look, they will kill you unless one of the spirits confirms that you are a native ancestor of their people. 

While I did not see any night-marchers on this trip, I was cursed by mosquitos trying to get this image above shot in Hana Bay.

I hope you've enjoyed island time, and some of the images I've illustrated with my Night-Writer light! Until next time, stay bright!

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!

Lighthouse in the Pines

Location: Pine Mountain, CA

Since my last blog post, Astrobandit and I have become new homeowners. It's been a wild process but I will be happy to be doing my work in the mountains about an hour and half drive from my previous residence in Los Angeles, CA.

At around 5000ft elevation and hardly any light-pollution, this place is ideal for night-photography. I hope to host fellow light-artists if they wish to visit in the future - perhaps do some workshops.. I see many collaborations happening in and around this house!

pano

Let's take a quick trip inside for a moment, here is the loft-space where my cat likes to tempt fate.

Yes, that is a disco ball hanging from the ceiling.. I've only pointed a laser at it once.

A special feature of the house sometimes happens around 7:30am, if there are no clouds and the sun is out during the right time of year, the disco ball lights up for a few minutes after sunrise, it only happens when the light hits just right! 

disco sucks

This area of California sits on an intersection of sorts between two mountain ranges - the Coast Ranges (West) and the Sierra Nevadas (East), North is the Central Valley of CA and South, down several thousand feet, is the city of Los Angeles.

One of my favorite things to do recently is explore the surrounding areas, most of which are accessible by ridge routes that connect winding mountain roads through places like Ojai, Carrizo Plains, and around Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Here (below) are some crows flying high above Carrizo Plains National Monument a few days ago.

crows

Here (below) is a hillside full of small yellow wildflowers, I added in some other light-flowers with my commentary on heredity. 

Of course I take my trusty Night-Writer along on each of these road-trips..

Night-Writer

So I can draw philosophical things, like 'Why did the chicken cross the road?'.

Since the heavy rains in March I wanted to try and venture into and shoot the usually dry lake in Carrizo Plains - Soda Lake. This was not a good idea because the crusty surface of the lake quickly gave way to a muck the consistency of baby food.. Basically quicksand, as you can see in this video:

I was content with a sidelines view of the sunset instead.

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After changing my initial goal of reflecting light-art on the water, I began writing a phrase I've found truth in over the years. My interpretation of this phrase is somewhat similar to Karma, sow light! 

You Reap What You Sow

You Reap What You Sow

Keep the Beat

Location: J.A. Studio - Los Angeles, CA

Here is an idea that took a little while to coordinate and a long while to actually accomplish. The idea is always the easy part! Special thanks to Joey for helping set this up and borrowing his camera to get a second angle (below).

These are the sorts of projects where it helps to have a light designed for drawing! Animation is one of the main reasons I started making my Night-Writer product. After the 20th frame, no matter how much experience you have in animating, the mind and body begin to get fatigued. Muscles begin to cramp and it makes finishing the project more difficult to achieve. Luckily a hand cramp is not something I have at this point, thanks to the ergonomic design of my Night-Writer tool.

 So, how does one animate this sort of thing?

Step one for me is usually sketching out some expressive stick-figures for each frame in the animation. It doesn't have to look pretty, but the movements have to appear natural:

Doing this type of work is almost identical to drawing a flip-book. I will say it's a little tougher with light because you can't see what you've illustrated and it has to be life-sized in order to interact with life-sized props. 

For stationary animations it's easier in the sense that we're not moving around the camera each frame or moving around the character. To do more dynamic animations like on my 'licensing page', I often use markers to move each piece of the scene one step at a time, sometimes its just the character that moves, other times it's both the character and the camera moving for every frame.

What song do you think this skeleton is drumming to? 

Here's a full time-lapse of the drawing process:

Night-photography in the Valley of Fire

Location: Valley of Fire State Park - Moapa Valley, NV

In one door and out the other.

These 'cabins' (above) were built for travelers in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program made in response to the Great Depression under Franklin D Roosevelt as part of the New Deal.

Here we are at Valley of Fire (VOF) State Park in Moapa Valley, NV. It's blue hour (above) and I'm thinking of where to light-paint for the night.

I took this photo (above) during a Supermoon, just as the park rangers stopped by and told us to leave this section of the park because it closes at sunset.. I hate it when parks close at sunset.

toast people

During the day, you can walk through some of the hiking paths inside the park and see many signs of pre-history chiseled into the rock like these petroglyphs above. 

I'm not sure what this one means (above) but here's my interpretation - the toast-people are allies.

round rocks

You'll see some unusual rock formations throughout the park, everything is made of sandstone and can be easily eroded with wind, water, and other forces of nature.

This results in psychedelic swirling colors of red, yellow, orange, black, pink, and white rock. The circular stones (above) were about the size of walnuts, you could see they've been formed over a very long time. 

This looked like a fitting circle for a vanity shot of my Night-Writer. Those colors rock (*ba-dum-tss).

Light-skeletons 'In the House' - 243 second exposure / F 7.1 / ISO 160

Under a bright full moon I used the darkest shadows in and around the house to create some color contrasts with my skeletons in the Cabins.

'Capturing a Light-Fossil' - 547 second exposure / F9 / ISO 160

This is at a spot called 'The Beehives', it's toward an entrance of the park and was being well lit by the Supermoon above. Climbing around on those rocks was fun.

'Bee Yourself' - 547 second exposure / F8 / ISO 160

Of course I couldn't resist putting a Bee on guard of one of the hive-looking rock formations. Interestingly, the exposure time is exactly the same as the previous image.

'Dinosaur Island' - 328 second exposure / F9 / ISO 160

This lonesome rock looked like a good place for my lonesome Light-Fossil.

Same place as the prior two images, the Beehive rocks were my favorite night-spot on this particular trip.

Night-photography during Winter in Death Valley, CA

Location: Death Valley, CA

The animation above was shot under a recent Supermoon on Racetrack Playa inside Death Valley National Park, you can make out my shadow rotating throughout the frames as the camera pans right under the brighter-than-usual full moon's light.

Make no mistake, getting out to this spot is a mission - 26 miles of narrow jaw-chattering washboard roads, a few stray boulders, and sharp volcanic rocks will definitely give you a run for your money if you don't have the right tires on your vehicle. 

The last time I was out here was for another Supermoon in 2012.

Winter in Death Valley is great for night-photographers due to it getting dark so early and the relatively mild temperatures. It's nice during the day and it gets a bit cold at night, if you're prepared for it, it can be a lot of fun.

The national park is vast (covering over 5200 sq miles!) and offers a variety of desert landscapes. It has a bit of a micro-climate effect going on in certain parts of the park - for instance, the racetrack playa was 37 degrees at night while the area around stovepipe wells was 65 degrees. Big difference!

Let's talk locations, this image above 'Light Widow II' was shot around Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at around 280 feet below Sea Level.

When it gets windy here, you get salt in your hair, you get salt everywhere!

Badwater Basin at night lights up with stars, here I used a Vixen Polarie Star-tracker to capture the Galaxy and composite my light-painting 'Lemur Demeanor' (above). If you look at the image larger by clicking on it, you can see the meteor I caught in the middle of the Milky Way toward the top - Lucky!

Another killer spot in the park is the Mesquite Dunes, there are a few good dunes around the park but this one looks great during sunrise if you manage to wake up for it. Bring a jacket bc this place is freezing cold before the sun rises. This 'Smile' (above) sums up my feeling of being out there at that moment.

I got to add a yellow 'Triceratops on the Dunes' to my Light-Fossils series before the sun rose, casting red and blue light from the sides during the 213 second exposure made the dunes look extra wild.

Flash forward to the night and I got some 'Buzzards' to rest on a dried out Mesquite tree around a bloody carcass using my Night-Writer LED tool. 

Almost anywhere within the park is interesting if you're willing to walk out to get to it. Be advised that distance in the park is more than meets the eye - areas that look just 100 yards away can actually be a few miles or more in some cases, bring water, a hat, and maybe a compass if you decide to trek way out there!

Here a 'Green Galimimus' walks along cracked earth under the backlight of our Galaxy, drawn with Night-Writer plus some blue and green color-tips.

Here I am goofing around during the day (thanks Astrobandit for the snap) it was around 80 degrees in the picture (below). You can see what I mean about vast distances in the park.

why did the light-painter cross the road

This road was like many others in the park, when you're here it's good to know where the few gas stations are - Stovepipe Wells or Furnace Creek, your nearest fuel could be a hundred miles away at any given moment in your travels here.

Next location on the list is Zabriskie Point - a strange viewpoint where the land transforms into a psychedelic vision, especially at sunset!

I wrote my twin-brother Ross's name here during blue hour.

From here out I'm offering light-writing services to anyone willing to pay me $100 for a high-res digital download of a custom-made (10 characters or less) light-painting at an interesting location along my travels. Need a unique gift with a personal touch? Say it with light!

Another spot along the road yields an interesting view of a small rock formation juxtaposed with the Milky Way. Here is where I created 'Ibex' for my 'Animals' series.

The panorama above is 'Ubehebe Crater' it's a volcanic crater that's about a half mile across and 500 feet deep, this is under a supermoon and the light is coming from almost directly above. If you look closely you can make out some stars.

The last image I'll leave you with is 'Star Stinger III' in my growing 'Insects' series.

Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California is one of the most Zen places I've visited, it feels like a blank canvas - perfect for light-painting!

For more info on Death Valley, CA check out the park's website.

Welcome to Berlin

Location: Berlin, Germany

Here we are at Teufelsberg in Berlin, Germany on top of the only hill around for miles (or km if you're in Germany) it's not a natural hill, it's man-made from the the rubble and bombed buildings of WWII. There are a handful of old NSA spy towers that were abandoned after the cold war and that's where my teleporting skeleton zaps itself to the next destination.

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Up here in the towers you'll find a great spot to watch the sunset, perhaps drink a beer, see some interesting graffiti, and whistle a tune in the old towers that look like giant golf balls.

NSA Towers

If you want a killer sound system to listen to music while you're up there, a small bluetooth speaker like the one we brought will suffice - these massive interior spaces project sound like crazy when you go inside them. 

One of the coolest parts to Berlin, in my opinion, were all the abandoned buildings to explore - radio towers, water parks, hospitals, etc. I wish I had more time, I left feeling like I had only scratched the surface.

Some of the places were generally intact - the brick held up especially, but a few were burned down and mostly unusable, like this once-waterpark with broken glass and burned wood:

The art on the walls of this building were too cool not to give each light-skeleton their own room, I took this 441 second exposure I call "Full House" around blue hour.

Created using the whole jar of color-tips for my Night-Writer LED marker.

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The stairs in some of these buildings do not have any supports and look like they could fall at any moment. In certain buildings, the roofs and stairwell areas were already collapsed.

Walking around in the dark here was especially treacherous. 

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Now let's go up to the attic inside this partially burned down building and I'll share a new stegosaurus Light-Fossil that took me 180 seconds to draw. It's my last image I'll be sharing for a little while until next week's post.

Title: A Noise in the Attic

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Thanks for reading, and stay bright!

 

 

Nocturnal Netherlands

Location: Netherlands - The Hague & Amsterdam

Hello again, this is the first post I've made in over a month, it feels good to be back in the states after a long travel abroad! Let's start with my trip to the Netherlands where I met up with fellow light-art photographer Hugo Baptista

He welcomed myself and Astrobandit to his home and showed us a local park that he thought we might like to take some photos at, so we stayed up late this night and came up with the following animation (above) along w a few other gems.

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This (above) was the first image of the night, we were walking down this tree-lined path when suddenly a park employee truck cast some light from behind the trees and gave me an idea for a photo! Without delay I unpacked my camera gear and set up for this shot - my 'October Skeletons' with some nice orange light from behind - thanks Hugo for the backlighting here!  

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As you can see, the fog began to grow thick late into the night, this presents some interesting lighting opportunities to silhouette figures or trees and give a mysterious feel to the environment. 

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Before we hop over to Amsterdam, I wanted to share this 'Tree Rex' image that took a bit of coordination between myself and Hugo. He did the orange backlighting combined with the front 45 degree blue lighting on each side the trees for added depth. Then I added in my pink T. Rex for a pop of dinosaur in the center using a Night-Writer w pink color-tip.

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I can tell you it wasn't easy to get this shot of Amsterdam at night, not only because of the light-pollution, but because of all the bicycles and foot traffic! I was dodging selfie-sticks and bikes throughout this image, it's not my best light-writing but it definitely captures the vibrant life of the city! Old and new together in a hodgepodge of tourism combined with a long history of trade, war, art, and culture. 

Amsterdam II

Here (above) on a more quiet street I was able to capture a better light-font with the backdrop of one of Amsterdam's famous canals that permeate the city, but I think I like the last one better overall due to the character of the city in it. Tell me if you agree, and stay tuned for more because the next city we visit is Berlin in Germany. Until then, stay bright my light friends!

The Rocky Mountains (Night)

Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

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Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park offered calm and reflective waters on this night. It made me a bit nervous being called 'Bear Lake', here I was hiking around by myself in the dark hoping I would not run into a bear.

I was on high alert and of course all I could think of was bears, so I decided it would be a good place to light-paint one for my Animals Series.

Title: Green Bear (please don't eat me)

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Let's move up in elevation from this spot and visit the Alpine Tundra. As you can see, you never know what to expect from the weather up there. For the image below it was pouring rain toward the end of the exposure and lightning was going off in the background! I only had one chance to try this photo below.

Title: There's a Storm Coming

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The title for the image above is a reference to the common saying in cinema 'There's a Storm Coming' as foreshadowing for something big about to happen. I really like this supercut of all the times people say it in films, it's comical how many times it is used - but I felt that saying here.

I did a short timelapse of an electrical storm (above) viewed from Estes Park, CO. The storm was directly over Loveland about 30 miles away, what a wild light show!

Moving down in elevation, let's visit Sprague Lake on a calm night. Unreal reflections on the lake, this cloud hung in the air as it passed the core of the Milky Way, nice to see it twice!

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Now let's get our feet wet with some light-painting. I wanted to try a Hadrosaur reflected on the water with the galaxy behind, so I took off my socks, rolled up my jeans and hopped into the cold water. Happy to get this blue Light-Fossil (below). 

Title: Blue Hadrosaur

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Since this was such a beautiful location, I had to try something suggested on instagram (@DTnightwriter account) - it was supposed to be Nessie vs. Giant Squid, but I thought it looked like were hugging, so I just went with it. I was really cold after this, so I decided to call it quits for the night.

Title: Starcrossed Lovers

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We'll end this post with a backyard light-painting session at our friends Bob & Tara's place. They had a great hammock that we used as a prop, fun times using the Night-Writer and hanging out with friends in Colorado!

Here's Bob's first light-painting. A solid smiley! I lit the hammock with a bit of red and blue from the sides. 

Astrobandit draws a pink dancing figure. Great form!

chillmode

Meanwhile, I drew a skeleton holding a martini, cheers to you, and goodnight. If you haven't seen it already, check out my post about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the day RIGHT HERE.

San Francisco

Location: San Francisco, CA

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Before we get started on this set of images, let's drop the digital needle on this track:

Here we are in San Francisco, on a dock looking out toward the Bay Bridge with it's sparkly animated LED light-installation in full effect. 

I made my own light-show to go along with it on the rail of the popular tourist destination, and answered some camera gear questions from a few curious people passing by. My light-pelican is a more colorful variety of what you might find on just about any pier in California. This location was a tough place to take long exposures due to all the foot traffic, but how can you go wrong with that view!

After a failed attempt at another scenic viewpoint, this option was a great plan B to capture sunset into blue hour without too much fog rolling in. Thanks to Michael Shainblum for the spotcheck.

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Larry Lumen waves a bright 'hello' to Pokemon Go players as he walks a narrow line down the handrail of the pier.

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From the pier you can see the historic ferry building across from the embarcadero, it contrasts from the newer skyscrapers behind it. I did a little camera-trickery for this long exposure with a slow zoom and hold. 

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Did I mention how many Pokemon Go players were out and about? I couldn't help but be influenced by the cultural phenomenon I was caught up in. Here's a Pikachu in the middle of the Embarcadero.

I was told to be on guard due to the amount of theft that happens in the city at night, camera gear is an easy target so I don't recommend hanging around the same location for too long. Crime in the city is a big problem, if you leave stuff in your car, don't be surprised when you come back to it with a broken window and your personal belongings missing. This has actually happened to entire blocks of cars parked on the street, it gets pretty crazy!

The crime problem is not something that you'd know if you were to visit, so let this be your warning! 

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Here we are at Baker Beach, buried alive but with a killer view of the Golden Gate bridge. This view is just south of the bridge so you don't have to pay the toll to cross unless you miss the exit (make sure you don't). 

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I'll end this post with another classic view of San Francisco I took years ago from the North side of the Golden Gate bridge. I will say that this night was unusually clear! It's almost always fogged in and you have to pay the toll to cross, so try and time it just right. This image was taken at Battery Spencer - a short hike from parking at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point. Stay Bright!

Arches National Park

Location: Arches National Park, Utah

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Title: Dragonfly at Delicate Arch

After a grueling two and a half mile ascent, the last thing we expected to find was crowds after dark at delicate arch. It became immediately apparent that we were not the only ones with the great idea to photograph the Milky Way Galaxy as it rose behind Utah's current license-plate art in real life.

For the image above there was some heavy post-processing to remove other photographers from the final image. I'm very happy with the way it turned out and did not think it would even be possible to shoot this idea at the place in person - thanks technology!

What we saw that night on location resembled a rave, with murmurs of photographers quietly talking amongst themselves about how the person 50 yards away was messing up their high ISO shot with their spotlights on the arch. Just as one person would stop with their high-powered lights, another would begin 20 yards away. I set up my camera too, mainly just to let other night-photographers know what it might look like during a typical summer weekend, a bit mobbed:

ravers

It was comical to eavesdrop on photographer's conversations and would have made a funny South Park episode about the burgeoning night-photographer trend we are seeing across the National Parks during these summer months. Lots of passive-aggressive comments from the peanut gallery, times like these I just kind of toss my hands in the air and tell myself 'what can you do?'.

It was a nice night, but if I had to do again, I'd go in the off-season.

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.

Goblin Valley

Location: Goblin Valley, Utah

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There's a place in Utah that looks like a Goblin kingdom due to its unique concentration of strange geological features called 'Hoodoos'.

Astrobandit and I took a road trip there recently (and other incredible locations that you will see soon). Here's a short vid I shot on my phone of us seeing it on arrival. This will give you a sense of space and how easy you could get lost in this weird and awesome place:

My LED tool of choice for the evening - the eldest current model of my Night-Writer, practically polished from use, basking in the last rays of light. Later I would lose this Night-Writer for the rest of the trip only to discover it in a bag weeks later. Thankfully, I always pack a few when I travel!

Here are some of the images I got the chance to light-paint during our night at Goblin Valley.

Let's start with introductions, say hello to Harry, Larry and Jerry:

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Delving deeper into the Goblin Kingdom, I brought out my old (Canon A-1) 35mm film camera for another light-painting featuring some Goblins. I call this one 'Goblin Slayer'. It would make a cool video game I think:

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I love the dynamic range of film! Look at that glow around the light-lines, and the way that light hits the rocks around our characters. 

I feel like the SOOC movement (straight out of camera photographers) should only shoot film if they are concerned with the purity of an image, for film by nature does not lie and cannot be manipulated in the way that digital can. It has a negative for record so you can see for a fact that it was unedited. Otherwise it's just one photographer's word against anothers.

After a bit of exploring in the dark, Astrobandit and I definitely got lost. With a new moon on a cloudy night, it was hard not to get lost in this goblin-riddled labyrinth! Luckily, after a few long exposures at high ISO in different directions, I made out the shape of a shade structure overlooking the valley. This gave me some insight as to where the hell we were in this massive Hoodoo labyrinth.

The next image I wanted to create was one with a caterpillar in it. I thought the hoodoos looked like mushrooms anyways, so it was a clear choice:

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The clouds parted briefly so I could get some stars in my image! Really happy with the way this one turned out :D

I lit the mushroom hoodoo by using a red LED light and my hand to block the lower portion of the light so that it only hit the top part of the rock. It took a few tries to get it just right!

Next up is a little NSFW but I thought it was funny, I'll end this post with a light-painted dick pic using a particularly phallic part of the environment:

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That's all for now, check back in a few days for a Southwestern light-tour update! Shine bright friends.

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.

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, do 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.

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: