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.

 

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.

Desert Nightlife

Location: Pioneertown, CA

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Here's a slow dance with an equally slow shutter, this image took 156 seconds to illustrate with my red and blue tipped Night-Writer

Astrobandit and I checked this place out last week in Yucca Valley called The Ruin Venue which is mostly used for large parties and weddings. I set up for a few images using it's interesting outdoor features like this geometric lighting arrangement which was powered by a small generator.

For this image, I began the exposure with the lights on, and then walked to the generator and unplugged the lights to illustrate my dancing skeletons. The weather was strange this night, it was relatively calm in this part of the desert, but we could see intense storm clouds forming in the distance. Lighting struck a handful of times, but it was far off in the distance, so we just enjoyed the show.

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Here's a view of the fireplace inside the actual ruins. I thought this would be a good spot for my Stegosaurus Light-Fossil - this particular image is a composite of two shots. The stegosaurus took 198 seconds to produce, then I did an additional shot for the sky so I could capture those stars that were visible for a brief moment between the stormy clouds.

If you'd like to try this sort of image (above) for yourself, you can check out my blog post on compositing High/Low ISO photos together RIGHT HERE.

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Another view of the interior from outside the structure with the lights on. I really enjoyed the inside/outside feel of this place, it blends in well with the environment and makes for unique photo opportunities like this one. 

To learn more about light-painting, check out my EDU page for a full how-to explanation.

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!

Desert Tour in the '78

Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA

We recently rented a '78 VW manual shift Riviera pop-top nicknamed 'Rell Sunn'  from this really cool and unique business that has a fleet of vintage VW buses for rent in Southern California called Vintage Surfari Wagons. Yes, this exists, and yes, you can rent one from their fleet in Costa Mesa, CA on your next road trip - it's an experience for sure! 

This is basically our digital-media guestbook entry:

Day one started out with picking the VW Bus up in Costa Mesa, CA. We went over some of the quirks about driving a 38 year old automobile and how to best utilize all the features like the propane stove, pop-top camper, and mini-refrigerator. One of the more important points was telling fuel level by the mileage, not the gas gauge - which averages around 200 miles per tank with a little cushion just in case. After a few pointers, I was all set and took 'Rell Sunn' up to Los Angeles to pick up my girlfriend Astrobandit and head out to our first destination, Red Rock Canyon State Park off the Hwy 14.

A neat feature of the passenger chair is that it can swing and lock 180 degrees to face backwards toward the sliding-door and kitchenette area. Good for views and good for playing board games also.

We got to the park around sunset and  selected a nice camping spot close to the cliffside and watched the tail end of the sun fade into the hills.

Here we are popping the top once night fell. The bus can sleep 4, two down low and two up top. An important pointer here is to try and park on a fairly level surface, otherwise you will find yourself crawling to the other side of the van when you slip toward the center of gravity in your sleep. Next time I'd bring a few 2x4's for good measure.

mr fixit

While we slept, I had one of my light-skeleton friends do a little check up on the vehicle. All was in order thankfully.

Night one felt like we were out camping on Mars, the rock formations are something else. Rell Sunn looks like a space-pod here. 

Stay tuned for Day 2..

Two Heart Tree

Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park | Settings: (Composite) Light Art at F5.6 / ISO 50 / 246 seconds / Stars at F2.8 / ISO 3200 / 15 seconds

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Here's a Valentine's Day post for all you lovebirds out there. I guess it's a day late at this point, but my internet line was out yesterday, so better late than never!

While on a recent camping trip to the Mojave Desert with some friends we stopped at this place called Red Rock Canyon State Park and I thought I'd try a few heart-themed pieces using my Night-Writer along with some Pink and Red Color-tips. You can see some orange glow from the campfire which was projected onto the cliffs behind the pink tree. 

It was a new moon, so you can see quite a few stars in the mix. We'll have to wait another Month or so for the Milky Way to be in full effect and have the Galaxy's core most visible.

The route to this location is a nice trip to take and a fairly close one to the outskirts of Los Angeles. Go North on the I-5, and about an hour down the 14 East into the Mojave desert. You'll pass the future Space Station of Virgin Galactic in Mojave, CA on your right and a newly constructed Solar effort on the left. Good use of space out there!

I started off this light-painting by doing a 3D-looking heart using my Ceramic technique where I circulate the LED in the air to form different sized light-masses. After a few hearts, I thought it looked a bit too plain, so I decided to spice it up a bit with a light-tree and a few growing hearts on the limbs.

heart

After looking at this image for a while, I begin to start thinking of adding on some leaves, maybe some birds to mix it up. That's the beauty of images - just looking at one gives you ideas for another!

Check out my Misc. Gallery below for more images that do not conform to any Collection at this point.. I'm thinking I may need to add a plant-life section soon: 

Space is the Place

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

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

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

sketch

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

rocket cutout

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

Yurtles

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

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

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

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

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

yurtles sketch

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

On the Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

Constellations at Font's Point

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

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

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

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

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

sunrise at fonts point - iphone pano 1

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

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

Into the Valley of Fire

Location: Valley of Fire, NV / Settings: F7.1, ISO 50, 153 seconds

Recently returned from a road-trip into the heart of the Southwest - I have lots to share over the upcoming weeks! 

Let's start with Elephant Rock in the Valley of Fire, just North of Las Vegas, NV - about an hour by car from the city.

I've wanted to visit this place for a few years but the timing has never been right until this trip - I thought a mouse would compliment this ridiculous natural rock-formation!  

The full moon helped to light the environment from high above so you can get a feel for the rest of the park. I did my best to highlight the shadowed areas with red and blue gelled lights. For the mouse I used my trusty yellow color-tipped Night-Writer.

Here's an overview of this location in relation to the road and last parking lot as you leave the state park - I set up the camera close to my elephant-subject in order to keep the road from view in my main image - even though I really like the way the nearly full moon is lighting it up here.

elephant rock

One thing we did not expect was all the tarantulas crossing the roads on the way there.. I'd heard of friends tell me that there was a time of year this was common in the desert, but have never experienced it myself until this trip! Strange to see large furry spiders crossing the road and then thinking about sleeping in a tent so close to them all. Luckily, we survived.

road

I made sure to pick up and kick my camera bag anytime I left it on the ground for more than a few seconds on account of all the spider-bros. 

Here's a parting shot of my gang of colorful mice bullying the poor elephant rock - all color-tipped Night-Writer creations: I'm experimenting with a new 'pink' color-tip addition.

parting shot

More light-animals and printing options available in the Gallery below:

Allosaurus in the Basin

Location: Rainbow Basin - Barstow, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F7.1, ISO 100, 202 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DManfrotto Tripod24-70mm Lensremote shutter, and Night-Writer with diffused white-tip.

Deep within Rainbow Basin, a ridge-line carves across the edge of the hillside. A new Light Fossil walks beneath.

blue hour in the basin

An interesting place in terms of geology - colorful layers to be seen on all the hillsides.

This spot is difficult to get to if traveling by car - 4wd recommended! Huge rocks toward the last third of the loop, we had to turn back in our sedan for fear of getting stuck.

A closer look at one of the most colorful formations. If you're ever headed from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you might want to stop here if you have a higher clearance vehicle - it's worth a look.

See the full collection of Light Fossil:

Out There

Location: Anza Borrego, CA / Settings: 8 vertical images shot at F.2, 3200 ISO, for 8 seconds

I used a Canon 6D along with Manfrotto 190x Tripod and a Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm F/2 Lens to shoot this super-crisp pano in the desert last fall. You can click on the image to see it larger - I'm pretty amped on the clarity of this image. Can't wait to this lens and my wider angle 18mm Zeiss Distagon T* 3.5 lens the next time visiting dark-skies.

I've edited together this pano of 8 vertical images using photoshop in the past - they have a photo-merge feature that usually works great.

Sometimes I'm not thrilled with the results, so I take it next door to the old App Store - recently I've bought a program (for mac) called Panorama Stitcher that works pretty great, ofter better than photoshop. It seems to have less issues with the blends, see for yourself:

campers pano

If you'll notice the sky, there's three ribbons that appear between the stars where the program had some difficulty.

See my full collection of Nature-related images on the Gallery:




Down to Earth

Location: Red Rock Canyon, CA / Settings: (Composite) Model at F3.5, ISO 1600, 8 seconds. Light art at F8, ISO 100, 23 seconds.

down to earth

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6D, Rokinon 14mm LensManfrotto Tripod, and Remote Shutter-release.

Found a natural pedestal out in Red Rock Canyon - the moon did a nice job of cutting the landscape in half with it's shadow, allowing me to cast color gel'd light in the dark areas while my model was still back-lit.

If you'd like to shoot these kind of images yourself, try using this set of color gels - I tend to like the strongest colors and contrasts - red and blue work best, teal and orange are great too. 

Milk with your Coffee?

Location: Joshua Tree, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 40 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

The desert is a strange and beautiful place. It's harsh with extreme conditions like heat, cold, strong winds and venomous animals.

But there's another side to the desert that is peaceful, magic and spiritual - a place of wonder where you can feel insignificant in the best way possible.

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

Battle Beasts

Location: Borrego Springs, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 463 seconds

Out in the Borrego Springs desert, there are some incredible metal sculptures by artist Ricardo Breceda.

Here's a sketch I did with these specific sculptures in mind, they were a bit larger than I had imagined!

battle sketch

Helter Skelter

Location: El Mirage, CA / Settings: (Composite of 13 images) F7.1 ISO 3200, 4 second exposures

I came to this location in order to try out some fun optical illusion ideas, but my focus switched after I saw the first bolt of lightning.

These images were shot at blue hour (after sunset) that's why the clouds have a purple hue to them.

Bone Dry

Location: Fossil Falls (Off Hwy 395) / Settings: (Composite of 2 images) Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds / Light-painting at F8, ISO 100, 141 second exposure

This is one of those guided-by-intuition kind of spots, the kind that stick out like a sore thumb and curiosity gets the best of me, so I go in for closer inspection.

One of the more interesting aspects to this image besides the cool texture, is the lights glowing in the background.

If you want a good example for how light-pollution effects the landscape just look to Las Vegas (it's the strong background glow pictured here), over Death Valley national park and past some more desert over 140 miles away.

Drunk Boots

Location: Red Rock Canyon, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 231 second exposure

Any man of age or not knows the best way to find their way home without remembering how they got there is to put on their drunk boots. It's like a compass of sorts where inebriated intuition takes hold and with any luck you will end up at home - across town or across the desert onto your neighbor's lawn. It won't be pretty, but drunk boots will get you home every time.