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:


Spectral Brontosaurus

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 100, 230 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6D24-70mm LensManfrotto 190x Tripod, Proto Night-Writer, and Remote shutter.

I had been to this location a few times before and knew about the interesting doorway at Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur, CA. After checking to see where the Milky Way's position would be around 10pm - I decided to try my luck for clear skies and another spectral dinosaur for my Light-Fossils series.

Luckily, the skies were very clear this night, and the Milky Way looked amazing behind the rock portal.

There were a few other photographers at the same spot, so I was able to make a few new friends and they were nice enough to let me take a few shots between their exposures. They gave me a few insightful pointers as I tried to create the rainbow dinosaur you see above. Longer tail here, more of a spine there, etc.

As fate would have it, one of the photographers - David, runs a Central Coast photography workshop called www.rainbowspirit.com - he was very knowledgeable about the Central Coast area and gave me a few tips on locations I visited the next day. Thank you David!

Here's a shot at Bixby Bridge - a California landmark seen in just about every car commercial.. This image makes me think of this familiar scene.

I'll end this post with a strange image I shot along the PCH heading North towards Bixby Bridge. The Moon is setting into the Pacific Ocean, illuminating a smokey orange horizon caused by the Tassajara Fire - a 1200 acre blaze near Monterey, CA.

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!

Treading Light

Location: Glass Beach - Fort Bragg, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 156 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Info on how this shot was created:

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

When I was here last several months ago, there was a staircase being constructed. I'd imagine by now that staircase is operational.

At the time, we scaled the cliffs to this spot on a new moon, which makes for a great view of the stars, but difficult for hiking. I hope the sea-glass shore stays the way it is - but I know it won't.

Check out the full set of light-fossil images.

Shots of Color

Location: Torrey Pines Beach - San Diego, CA / Settings: F6.3, ISO 100, 204 seconds

shots of color

I'm hoping that the light-pen tool I've been designing for the past few years is going to make light-art a bit more interesting.

For many years I've been using different LEDs for different colors - stopping the illustration to switch tools for every color in the dark - it's really annoying and does a good job at breaking my concentration.

So I've come up with a solution - a light-pen that can change through many colors with a click of your thumb. This (image above) was the first I created using the prototype - which is still very slowly being worked on - meeting by meeting, phase by phase. Not done yet, not even close.

I like to think of it like a rough gem - it looks like any old rock now, but with a little refining and polishing, it could be great! 

Innovation is a trying process, but in my mind's eye, it is a crystal clear vision. 

torrey pines coastline

A foggy coast looking south to La Jolla Shores in San Diego, CA.

United Skeletons

Ice cream

Location: Rincon Point - Ventura, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 100, 55 second exposure

I've been on a food kick lately.. But it's ok, these unhealthy foods are all very light on calories ;)

orange flame

Here's the view of the same location on the South side - If you've ever driven on the 101 from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara at night you're sure to see this giant orange flame on the side of the freeway coming from the oil refinery. 

Psychedelic Coast

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 100, 215 seconds

This is by far the coolest tent I've ever slept the night in. I felt like I had to do the psychedelic vibe of it justice with a colorful prism style light-painting.  

The Devil's Brick

This image is based on a dream I had where I was walking on a beach and there was a sudden Tsunami, everyone starts running from the crashing waves and as I start running, a girl with a worried look shoves a bag to my chest. I look inside the bag for an instant to see a glowing red brick - hot like coals. I quickly bury the bag in sand and look up to see a charred man with cracks of glowing red on his skin in a suit looking down at me - he says 'I believe you have something of mine'.. I reply ' I believe you are mistaken' and then wake up. 

Distant Lights

Shiny-bone jones under starry skies at glass beach.

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.