Superbloom 2017

Location: Borrego Springs / Lake Elsinore, CA

I feel like I've been hibernating for a bit.. But all that's about to change with Spring in the air! Here's a quick animated loop I made with the most recent version of my Night-Writer prototype at Walker Canyon nearby Lake Elsinore.

You can see these flowers off the side of the 15 freeway and they make the hills look like they were covered with Cheetos from a distance. Closer up, they are actually vast fields of wild California Poppies and a very popular place to visit for photographers.

The beauty of this bloom is a sight to behold, supposedly the best in over a decade.

All these flower fields in bloom gave me an idea for a light-drawing, so I did this quick sketch and have been thinking of it for a little bit. It seemed appropriate.

It took a few tries to get right, there was a whole process of set lighting for the actual creation, I'll go over the whole process below the image:

First, I used a remote triggered pod-light to cast red up from the base of the flowers around my soon to be light-drawing for about 10 seconds. Then, I highlighted the area in front of the flowers and up the hill from the left and right side (off frame) w a high-powered white light. After this, I began drawing in my fire-flower with an un-filtered Night-Writer for the starry eyes and color-filtered Night-Writer for the flower itself switching colors from yellow to red and then green. Lastly, I used red EL Wire for the fireball.

Out in the desert of Borrego Springs, we visited Coyote Canyon and Henderson Canyon. So many varieties of bright colorful flowers in the normally reddish brown areas.

For the next light-drawing, I decided to focus some energy on my 'Insects' series. Here's a popular (or un-popular) and spring-appropriate character, the Mighty Grasshopper.

The last image I will leave you with was made with a weird color-wheel device I created over the weekend with some color-filters and a skateboard bearing.

The tool was kind of difficult to work with, but it functioned well enough to draw this 'High Flower' waving goodnight.

Winter Redwoods

Location: Humboldt County, CA - Prairie Creek Redwoods and Avenue of the Giants

Here we are in the freezing Redwoods of the Northernmost coastal areas of California. A place that looks like time was forgotten and Giants remain. Indeed, these trees have been on Earth for around 240 million years.

My personal (probably incorrect) theory is that this was once a part of Pangea hundreds of millions of years ago and most of it broke apart and collapsed into the ocean on part of the Juan De Fuca Plate leaving a tiny portion that remains on the coast of the North American tectonic plate. 

It's fun to think of Dinosaurs once roaming between these trees, but it's another thing to draw them doing it frame by frame in 34 degree weather with a Night-Writer (+ yellow-tip) in the dark.

I sketched this animation frame by frame (below) to make sure the movement was accurate, a triceratops light-fossil is a complicated character, here it is simplified:

sketchy at best

The first thing you have to know about this area is that it's fairly remote and a bit difficult to get to (especially if coming from Los Angeles like us!), be prepared for many hours of windy roads on the 101 past San Francisco, CA.

During this time of year it typically gets cold at night and can be rainy, watch out for black ice on the curvy roads deep in the forest, we tried not to drive on these roads too late into the night.

Our stops along the way up were: Santa Rosa, Willits, Trinidad, Klamath, then we came down the coast visiting Fort Bragg, Tomales Bay, and lastly Big Sur.

 Most light-painting sessions occurred just after sunset and until 9pm, after that it got a bit frosty.

ice cold

Welcome to Winter!

I drew a 'Lost Rudolph' with his nose so bright on an old bridge off the 101 in an area called 'Lost Man Creek'. I like how he looks a little confused here.. This area was pitch black at night, a bit spooky also.

Looks like we've got a hairy situation on our hands here, 'Bigfoot'!

For this image (above) I experimented with a new homemade Night-Writer tip made of cut, sanded, and glued plastic pieces.

I like the texture it added to my bigfoot:

I can't stress the importance enough of scouting a location first before it becomes too dark in the forest.

At night it's difficult to see anything more than 20 feet ahead of you. For the image below I was reaching around in the dark a bit.

Here are some of my 'light-skeletons' hanging around this fallen giant in the night, we'll call them the 'Forest Spirits'.

Looking further into the forest, I had an idea to topographically map the depth of the trees with a high-powered laser, the result is almost exactly as I envisioned, pretty wild!

Here is what 'Laser Vision' looks like.

That will sum up our adventure for now, here's a smiley face for you - Happy Holidays! 

Click Here for more articles about The Redwoods.

smiley

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.

Eastern Sierras

Location: Mono County, CA

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Here we are at June Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas, the elevation here is around 7600 ft and it gets a bit cold at night. I had this place in mind for a few months, the last time we visited it was too cold to get in the water, but on this night the conditions were just right!

Upon arriving at the camping spot, our neighbor alerted us to the fact that there was a large black bear mere feet away and that we should immediately put all our food in the bear box, so we did right away!

We heard the snapping of large branches on the ground and bush-shaking noises for a bit. After speaking with the rangers we learned that they have a local bear that weighs about 700 lbs and likes to investigate any smell of food. They told us not to have food in our tents because the bear was not shy about poking his head in to grab a bite!

deer

Here's a deer on the outskirts of the lake, it pulled the 'deer in headlights' look long enough for me to snap this long exposure with some stars.

The next day we took an off road trip to Lake Crowley and checked out these strange formations I really wanted to see in person. There was a 2015 LA Times article about how they were formed that you can read HERE. Something to do with hot volcanic steam & ash mixing with cold waters above. Be advised that if you try to see this for yourself, you will need a 4x4 vehicle to get there.

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Here's another view from inside the Crowley Columns. 

crowleyspires_DT.jpg

It was blazing hot out there so we took a few umbrellas with us to block some of the sun. It was nice to cool off a bit on the walk back by stepping into the lake. Look at those sun rays!

lake walker

One of the more disgusting aspects of this location was all the fossilized maggots in the rock.

After an adventurous ride back, we made our way to Mono Lake for sunset. The yellow road out there looked really nice at golden hour.

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I brought my trusty Night-Writer with me to take a few glamour shots. Here I am levitating it with THE FORCE!

Look at that sunset!

sunset at mono lake

One more glamour shot for good measure, the pink light was too nice. 

Back at the camping spot we made a small fire and I did a short circle around the fire pit to create this looping gif. It might make you dizzy..

campfire

I pulled a late night mission to do a few other images in Owens Valley area and came away with this group of Quails walking across the road.

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Around this time, it was about 3am and I was starting to get a bit delirious from lack of sleep.. Which is when the best stuff happens!

I really let this last shot rip.. It's actually 33 images in one! 32 for the Panorama of the environment and 1 for the light-painted skeletons. Very happy with the way this crazy image came together, I mirrored it bc I thought it looked great as a circle.

Title: Bigger Than Us

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That's all for now, if you liked these images, do check out my light-art archive for the full collection and print purchasing options. Thanks for reading, and stay bright!

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!

Make Way for Mcway

Location: Mcway Falls - Big Sur,CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F.5.6, ISO 100, 205 seconds. Environment at F.2, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6D, Zeiss F2 28mm lens, Manfrotto 190x tripod, Wireless Remote, and Night-Writer kit.

To get this place properly lit at night you really have to do your homework in terms of where the moon will be - it's nestled away in a cove.

I'm not saying it's properly lit here - it's about halfway there (as you can see from the halfway lit waterfall just below the heart - will have to try again under different conditions. Live and learn!

If you'd like to draw your own light-skeletons - check out my video for a guided how-to lesson - just don't add a face for it to appear turned around.

Becoming a big fan of Big Sur, CA yet? Check out another blog post on Big Sur, CA from our last visit in June.

Click the image below for the full gallery of light-skeletons with art-printing options:


Final Frontier

Location: Vasquez Rocks - Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 400, 20 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm Lens, and Manfrotto Tripod.

Another idea I've wanted to try for a minute - triple exposure at Vasquez Rocks using the lens-cap trick.

Point the lens in one direction, expose for 7 seconds - put the lens cap over. Point the lens in another direction, count to 7 and cap it again, continue until desired results are achieved.

Dig this image? Check out some other interesting landscapes here!

Rainbones

Location: Mono Lake, CA / Settings: F5.6-22, ISO 100, 498 seconds

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release, TCB RGB light-pen, and Proto Night-Writer.

Light art is a strange medium. You don't see other artists creating exclusively in pitch-black conditions. Graff writers, maybe - but even they have street lamps for some visibility.

I was listening to the radio the other day and there was a story about a steel guitar player that liked to play in complete darkness because he thought it heightened his senses - let him play better.

I feel the same is true with light art - I think that your mind becomes sharp and receptive because it doesn't have to focus on visual stimuli - it changes focus.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Location: Alabama Hills, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F16-F4, ISO 400 571 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer with Red and Blue Color-tips.

This image was captured as the clouds rolled in - the skies are incredible out here, especially under a new moon. Too bad this was my only glimpse of them!

As you can see from the exposure time of 571 seconds, climbing rocks in the dark is not easy task - It's an easy way to break your neck, ankle, or anything else you can think of.

Slow and steady may not win the race here, but you can still manage to try again tomorrow with this technique - a sure foot beats a hasty one.

I found the Alabama Hills to be a perfect spot for my between a rock and a hard place light-illustration - I often feel this way when trying to tackle too many projects at once and having all my financial burdens come to a head at the end of the month :P

Parasaurolophus Crossing

Location: Route 66 near Bagdad, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F16, ISO 100, 266 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer with Yellow Color-tip.

A train speeds by as the ancient being lumbers over asphalt, the stars above remain seemingly unchanged, a sole connection to the past present and future.

Check out this interesting video of what these actual dinosaurs may have sounded like.

View more dinosaurs made of light in the Light Fossils Gallery.

Nessie Vacays at Mono Lake

Location: Mono Lake, CA / Settings: (Composite) Nessie at F13, ISO 100, 21 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer with Green Color-tip.

I had this idea in mind since the last time I visited Mono Lake, it just seemed like the type of area Nessie might like.

While I was getting set up for this shot there were a few bats chasing large moths. I was able to catch some bat-trails - they are quick little devils!

bat-trails

This whole trip was generally cursed, but enjoyable - torrential downpours followed us everywhere we went! 

After narrowly missing a road closure on the 14 for flash floods, we hit the majority of the Eastern-Sierra areas including Fossil Falls, Alabama Hills, Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest, Hot Springs, Mono Lake, and Yosemite.

It was an exciting trip filled with lightning, hail, extreme downpours and some sketchy moments where we nearly got stuck in high-waters, the trail we drove in on turned into a full-flowing river within a matter of minutes!

In other news, I've updated the green color-tip for the Night-Writer - I thought it was a little too yellow, so I changed it to be more of an emerald hue - like Nessie.

High Tide

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 second exposure.

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto Tripod.

For more natural beauty, check out my Nature Gallery.

The trick to shooting the stars is all about dark skies - you can use the link to figure out where the best star-viewing area is in your location. If you're in a major city, it's likely that you'll have to travel a few hours to see stars like these - but it's totally worth it!

Another thing you might want is an app on your phone that will tell you using GPS where the constellations are or will be at a given time: this is the one I've been using lately.

You can check out my recommended gear for shooting night-related imagery here. In general, you'll want a camera that kicks ass at night - I use a Canon 6D, but more recently Sony has been producing the best gear in the night-shooters biz - Specifically, their A7S Mirror-less Camera is great for shooting video at night - you can literally see the stars twinkle - here's what video from that device looks like.

That said, in terms of photography, the A7S lacks the larger file size that you'd expect from something like the 6D. All this could change soon though, Sony is due to release the A7Rii next month (which I've had my eye on for a minute). This could be just the right balance of larger file sizes, high dynamic range and low light performance that vampire-photographers like me have been waiting for.

Although a kick-ass camera is a large part of capturing stars, it's not all of it - for an image like this one where the majority of the milky way is captured in frame, you'll want a super-wide lens for a super-wide sky. I used the Rokinon 14mm for this one, if I had to sum up my feelings for this lens - it's killer for the price.

We've covered the camera, and the lens, but we haven't touched on the tripod - and you'll definitely need one for any sort of quality long exposure photos, but in a pinch - a chair, a rock, the ground will work fine.

I've been using the Manfrotto 190x lately and it's just about given out on me after 5 years of extensive use - next up for me is a Carbon-fiber tripod - a bit more expensive, but would probably last longer than my current model, and with the abuse I put it through, it could be worth the money.

Now that we have the trifecta - Camera, Lens, and Tripod - let's get focused on some stars! The first step is to open up the aperture all the way - 2.8 is good. Starting at ISO 3200 is also good. 

I like to use the live-view mode on my Canon 6D and try zooming in 10x using the little magnifying glass button to hone-in on a bright star, then adjust my focus manually to get that distant star in focus. Once you have a focus, test your composition at F2.8, ISO 3200, for 15 seconds.

Check your shot, then recompose and adjust the ISO up or down depending on the result you're looking for. If you shoot longer than 20 seconds or so you'll notice the stars will begin to streak - unfortunately, the Earth will not stop rotating for your photo.

Happy shooting!

Heard it through the grapevine

Location: Lompoc, CA / Settings: F7.1, ISO 100, 62 seconds

Info on how this shot was created:

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

This is a Light-Morsel shot I've had in mind for a while. As some of these images are location-specific pieces, they require appropriate backgrounds.

I saw an opportunity when visiting my sister in Santa Barbara this weekend, about an hour North of where she lives, there are many great vineyards.

The nearly full moon was bright enough to act as stage lighting for this particular shot - it cast a steady glow from far above, just left of my light-grapes.

For good measure, here's a link to the title track by Marvin Gaye

Dust Bowl Vision

Location: Anza Borrego Desert, CA

I don't know about you, but this image speaks to me about the current state of Southern California and what is already a serious situation about the lack of drinking water, and lack of decent solutions. 

It also makes me think of the dust bowl era in American 1930's.. Are we destined for another?

dust bowl

Tuojiangosaurus

Location: Salt Point State Park, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 200, 271 second exposure

This location was interesting because of the combination of sandstone and tafoni formations that scattered the coastline. After scouting around during the day (photos below) I tried to go back and shoot it at night. Unfortunately, it started to rain and most of the spots I wanted to hit were miles away. 

I took a chance and ran out to the first formations I could find and did the quickest light fossil I've ever done just as it began to really pour down. Happy to get this one in! Will have to look for a good all-weather solution to my photography.. A little rain is a crappy reason to put away gear.

trail

Here is the beautiful hiking trail.

alien coast

The rocky coast formations go on for a few miles. Apparently this sandstone was used to create the streets and buildings in San Francisco during the 1800's.

tafoni

Close-up of tafoni. Here's a link to the park's website in case you'd like to check it out for yourself.

Happy Trails

Location: Pacific Coast Valley - Big Sur, CA

happy trails

I can't do a place like this justice in photographs. 

a nice sunset

For these kind of moments you just have to experience it first-hand. 

pacific coast valley

Blue-hour at the Pacific Valley Bluff trail in Big Sur, CA.

coast valley at night

I hope some of these images will encourage you to take a long drive to somewhere you are curious about

Here's a link to the trail I took this images at.

Pizza Reaper

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F7.1, ISO 100, 339 second exposure

The pizza-reaper was an idea my friend Jeff Morris said I should try out a few years ago. He's got a great drone video he just released called 'Above San Diego' that has some really unique shots - you should watch it.

Anyways, I liked his idea and tried a few photos years ago but they never came out quite the way I wanted - they were rough and un-practiced back then. 

Fast-forward a few years of practice and take that same idea to Big Sur, CA and now you have something worth looking at! Here's the fellow offering a slice, any takers?

You can download the wallpaper-size version of this image (iphone 6 size) in case you might want a pizza-reaper phone:

pizza-reaper wallpaper


Two-tone Styracosaurus

Location: Bodega Bay, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 250 second exposure. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

After illustrating so many different dinosaurs, I'm happy to have found a new way to do the same thing. The two-tone colors and the myriad combinations they present make me stoked on creating a new style of light-fossils.. Upping the ante a bit I hope! 

Initially, I came to this spot in Bodega Bay because of it's unique geographic features and sweet views down the coast:

bodega bay location

You've got the beach on one side, bay on the other and walking distance between both. 

It's good to have options, and I wasn't as impressed with this view of the beach as I was with the back-lit sand and grass in the direction I had just walked in from. The ambient light from a nearby campground's street-lights were casting a yellowish light on the beach, which you can see here:

bodega beach

To sum up my feelings of Bodega Bay - it was a quiet historic town on the water, and a great place for seafood. More to come from this location.

Two-tone Parasaurolophus

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F7.1, ISO 100, 270 second exposure

I've recently turned 32 and wanted to commemorate the passing of time (as I've done for every birthday since 30), so I took a trip up the coast of California with my girlfriend Astrobandit - 540 miles from Los Angeles to Fort Bragg. I will be sharing images from my trip over the next few weeks, and here is the first at the Riverside campground in Big Sur, CA. That water was cold!

Something to Bragg about

Location: Glass Beach - Fort Bragg, CA / Settings: F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 second exposure

Here's Astrobandit and I at the end of a long road-trip we took up the California Coast to Glass Beach at Fort Bragg, CA. It was cold and windy that night, so we were glad to have our Poler Napsacks - we went straight from our car to the beach wearing these warm and funky numbers.