Best Photo Gear for Light-Painting Photography

Location: Earth

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Here's a similar buyer's guide list I did in Spring of last year. These are quick Amazon.com links and prices to the products I use already, or would buy if I was looking to upgrade. This list is intended for people looking for great products used in low-light photography.

1. Cameras:

Sony a7riii - $3,198 (body only) - Top dog among consumer mirrorless options, it has all the important features that pro/consumer photographers and video creators wanted - 4k video, great in low light, super dynamic range, and much better battery life than it's predecessor.

Nikon D850 - $3,296 (body only) - Top dog of the tried and true camera brands, top ratings also.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV - $3,200 (body only).

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II - $800 (body only).

Sony A6000 - $500 (with 16-50mm lens).

2. Lenses:

Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 - $1,696 - Big and heavy, but beautiful.

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 - $1,700 - Good versatility.

Rokinon 14mm f2.8 (for Canon) - $189 - Cheap and good, what a combo!

3. Tripod:

Neewer 66in Carbon Fiber Tripod - $95 - Carries up to 26lbs.

4. LED Lights:

Night-Writer Kit - $65 - I use this for drawing detailed light-lines during a long exposure.

SOLARAY PRO ZX-1 - $50 - High power / rechargeable LED for casting light and getting a focus.

LED Filters & Adaptors - lightpaintingbrushes.com

 

Light Painting Animation Tips

Location: Cerro Noroeste - Kern County, CA

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Let's talk about light painting animations, I can give you some insight here as I have done a few short films featuring detailed light-art creations moving over the past few years. Here they are below if you have not seen them yet:

'Light Goes On' - 2013

& 'Lightspeed' - 2015

Let's get into the basics first - this is no easy task and if you think animating on paper is tough, this is a bit more physically demanding than that, it's hiking, balancing, squatting, wild hand gestures, intense focus, and most importantly, a grand vision!

My first recommendation is trying it on paper, if it works there, it will work with light! Here is an example of the kind of sketches I like to do before light-drawing the animation: 

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Sometimes, I will reference videos on youtube (pressing the spacebar like a spaz to play/pause the frame). Other times I will reference images and videos I capture myself, it all depends on your vision. 

After you can ace the flipbook test, it's time to move toward the light-art animating. For starters you need a dark location - somewhere that has a unique view, or perhaps build it yourself? Up to you! 

You'll need a DSLR, remote, tripod and light - I use Night-Writer because I made it for drawing with. First part is setting the scene - I like to scout locations in the day so I know exactly what I'm getting into at night. Often I will take phone pics to get a general idea of what angles I'd like to use later that night. 

Once on location you'll get to the spot, set up your camera on a tripod, take the lens cap off and start to compose a scene using a high-powered light. Manually set your focus on the area you would like to animate around and set your camera to 'Bulb'. You may need to adjust your camera settings so that you can use the remote. After you think all the settings are correct, it's time to test it out - do something basic to start with and then adjust camera settings to get the right look you're going for. 

Common settings for different lighting conditions:

City Lights: F.16-22 | ISO 50-200 | 100-150 sec

Full Moon: F.7.1-9 | ISO 200-400 | 150-250 sec

New Moon: F.16 | ISO 1600 | 50-100sec

Using your remote - trigger the beginning of the shot, then hop in front of the lens and draw each frame (I like to use a rock or something to mark where my character needs to be for each frame), slowly move your character and motions with each consecutive long-exposure (just like with a flip-book). Trigger your remote for the beginning and the end of each frame in the animation, I like to animate at 24 frames per second because I think it looks best. 24 frames is equal to one second of footage!

Once I have all of my frames, I will edit them using lightroom or photoshop so that they all look like similar exposures. After this, I open all the edited images in Adobe Bridge so that I can see the first frame to last frame files in one place visually.

I open the first frame in photoshop and then stack the next frame on top of the first into separate consecutive layers. Once I've compiled all of my 24 layers on top of each other, I open the 'Timeline' tab from the 'Window' top selection. There's a button that says 'Create Frame Animation' - click it. 

You should see one frame in the timeline, but you will need to select the upper right drop-down menu, there is a selection called 'Make Frames from Layers'. Use that to have all of your layers import to the timeline. 

Now it's time to select the frame rate, adjust the delay as needed to make for the smoothest animation. I like to use a .06 sec delay on each frame.

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After you're happy with your animated sequence, you can export it to video or save it as a .gif, you may need to resize the file along the way.

Man On Fire

Location: Pine Mountain, CA

See more in the  Animation / Licensing  collection.

See more in the Animation / Licensing collection.

The other night I checked out a nearby spot that has a burned down section of the forest. A stark reminder of what can happen over the Summer when the weather is hot, dry, and windy.

This must have happened a handful of years back, you can see smaller growth making a comeback but it could be many more years until we see trees here again.

burned forest

Here's a blend I did of all the frames in the animation above so you can see the frame by frames. The steps are a little wonky, but hey - he's on fire! Fire effect produced with red El Tape.

stack

The next light-art challenge is a different type of photo-merge. This one is done in-camera during a long-exposure. It's essentially a double exposure using the lens-cap and two tripods. 

Light-painters call it the 'Lens-cap Trick'.

The best way to accomplish this 'Lens-cap Trick' yourself is to have two tripods with the same quick-release plate, that way you can quickly set up different positions and remove the camera and set it up easily on another, just remember to cap your lens while you move the camera from one location to the next and re-adjust your focus each time.

If you're in the market for a killer tripod that won't break the bank, check out this lightweight and ridiculously strong Pro-series 'Dolica' Carbon Fiber Tripod for about $100. I've been using the same model for the past year or so and I am thinking of getting another soon - for this price it can't really be beat! Other carbon fiber tripods can cost 5x the price!

Back to the 'Lens-cap Trick', first set up the tripods in two different locations, I chose one up close to a fireplace (close focus) and another further away from the camera to draw the heart (long focus).

The idea is to line up the two separate compositions so that they are relatively seamless and look like one surreal photograph. It requires getting the exposure accurate and in focus for both composites - this takes a bit of trial and error to get just right - you have to remember the focal length for each exposure.

I recommend getting a good shot of the plate first, then trying the light-art until it's lined-up correctly separately, after these are both dialed in, then go for the make of both. Here are my practice shots, I try expose a little darker so that the blend works out:

stove

Sometimes it's the simple things that are most difficult! This heart took quite a few tries to get just right, but now I have a sweet burning heart .gif:

heart on fire

Here is my end result:

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After the make, I wanted to try another more ambitious shot where I set the tripod up outside in my backyard by an interesting V-shaped tree.

For the image below it was more like 3 exposures - First I exposed the stove (lit w bare Night-Writer), then I capped the lens and started a small fire in the stove. Next, I took the lens cap off to expose the flames (2nd exposure) and capped it after the fire had burned a bit. Lastly, I moved the camera to the outside where I refocused and exposed for the 3rd time toward the 'V-shaped' tree in my backyard and drew in the light-skeleton with a clear-tipped Night-Writer

Give it a try the next time you're in the right place for it!

The 'Lens-cap Trick' is one of the more advanced techniques for light-art and takes a bit longer to master than almost any other kind of shot, so please be patient and give yourself plenty of time to try and fail... If you don't give up, you will eventually succeed. Stay Bright!

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:

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.

 

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.

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Pablo App

Locations: Los Angeles, CA | Berlin, Germany | Death Valley, CA

Here's an image I shot in Death Valley, CA at the Mesquite Dunes with a new long exposure video App called PABLO available for iPhone OS now via this LINK (Shot on iPhone 6 using a tripod).

The main point of this App is the process, it records the movement of your light live in-camera - pretty neat!

PABLO App is simple and user friendly - it works best w a tripod - tap the camera icon to get started and tap the red button to start recording. Tap the red button again and the video is over. Make sure to save & title your work, or delete if it's no good and share at your convenience!

I wasn't very good at the first few exposures with the App, one thing to note is you're definitely going to want a nice diffused light because it's easy to blow out such a tiny sensor with brighter torches (see below for example of blown out light). I did this skeleton in an abandoned hospital in Berlin - yes, it was creepy!

You can see how the App records casted light and directed light (video is sped up a bit).

Here's a quick one of the President Elect.. I used a Night-Writer w purple tip for this one but I think it was a bit too close for comfort so the light was a little bright in spots.

The last video I'll share is a quick one - a simple phrase that is all the rage right now. Now give this App a try tonight and see what you can come up with. 

Try some light-painting with your family over the holidays :)

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!

 

 

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. 

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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!

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.

Bryce is Nice

Location: Bryce Canyon, Utah

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Bryce Canyon National Park under a new moon is a one-of-a-kind sight. At this elevation and proximity to the nearest city, it's a great place to capture the Milky Way Galaxy. For the image above, I wanted a colorful and updated version of my last unicorn I did years ago. This time I decided to mix it up a bit and brought a Vixen Polarie Star-Tracker to get the stars looking incredibly bright.

The way this device functions is that you first align it by attaching it to a tripod and then pointing it towards (Polaris) the North Star. After it's aligned, you mount a camera to the device and it will rotate slightly to match the movement of stars. You'll notice some slight light trails in the lower left of my 'Space Unicorn' image above, those are lights in the distance (on Earth) that the star tracker has rotated to compensate for the stars.

The same location during the day makes for a layered amphitheater of giant hoodoos and other interesting geological formations carved out of the sandstone, great colors.

bryce canyon amphitheater

Along the road we stopped at a recovering burned forest, the light looked great during golden hour, so Astro Bandit and I could not resist a bit of exploration.

burned forest

One important thing to mention about Bryce Canyon is the effect of elevation on the weather. At most of the places on our Southwestern road trip we encountered very warm weather. Bryce was the exception - the temperature was warm during the day but dropped to around 34 degrees at night. If you do choose to visit, pack something warm enough to sleep comfortably if you are camping.

We slept in a tipi this night, but some jerk outside would not shut up with his obnoxious flute!

No but seriously, this kitsch tipi was interesting to sleep in for the night, but I would not recommend staying in it due to how close it is to the main road entering Bryce Canyon, cars would go by and wake us up easily. It would be fun for kids and it's easy access to park, but not great for sleep.

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Inside the tipi was a different story, I managed to capture a large honey bee with a very wide angle lens and some Night-Writer + yellow, purple, and white color-tips: 

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Outside, the Milky Way was putting on a show over the hoodoo amphitheater, naturally I went on a little night-hike.

I was surprised by how many other night-photographers were out hiking in these pitch-black conditions and light-painting from different locations within the canyon! It was difficult to photograph long exposures in this location due to how many other people were attempting similar style images with different photo settings. Next time I'll bring a Bullhorn and tell them "You down right, yes you, go easy on that light buddy!", the modern equivalent of this classic scene from Midnight Cowboy. I'm photographing here!

At the top of the canyon there's a great little classroom-style sitting area, so I took advantage of it with my teacher and students drawing. May I present, 'Schooled on Space':

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If you want to get schooled on light-painting, check out the EDU section where you will find all sorts of information from long exposure camera settings, to long exposure iphone settings, to general tips and editing tricks.

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.

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.

Big Sur Session

Location: Big Sur, CA

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If you've read this blog for a while now, you'll already know my love of exploring Big Sur, CA. It's a small coastal pocket of California made accessible by the PCH highway that is literally carved into the cliffs on the West Coast high above the Pacific Ocean. 

The mountains meet the sea in this area, resulting in awe-inspiring 180 degree views of the ocean as well as redwood trees, rivers, creeks and incredible beaches. Here, the weather changes quickly and you'll often see dense fog, rain, and sun, sometimes on the same day.

On this trip, I brought up a pair of water-shoes with me because I wanted to use the reflections of the creek that feeds into Pfeiffer Beach, I was hoping to see some stars out but the cloud coverage was too thick for that!

Here's a link for a dirt-cheap pair of black water shoes if you're interested in this sort of light-painting. At $3.99 you can't really go wrong!

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Here's a piece of sushi I made with my Night-Writer light-pen using the white, red and blue color-tips. This particular photo was illustrated in the Pacific Valley of Big Sur. If you visit this area in the Spring, you might see a hillside full of purple and orange flowers. The trail to the the coast is just opposite of this landmark.

flowers

Now let's get back to the creek at Peiffer Beach where I put those water shoes to work.

I've been on an Animal kick recently because I think it's an important thing to draw attention toward - Animals can't talk selfies and snapchats like we can, so we have to take sweet pictures of them and make sure everyone in the world knows just how awesome and inspiring they are and how we should try to protect them - it's in our best interest as a human race to do so.

Each species could be a 'canary in a coal mine' (advanced warning) when it comes to large scale environmental changes, let's pay special attention and try our best not to disrupt or cause harm to their fragile ecosystems.

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Camera Settings for my Sea Dragon (above): F8, ISO 50, 284 second exposure.

Speaking of the environment, what do you think caused this anomaly? A doorway through solid rock at Pfeiffer Beach:

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After a steep climb at dawn, I gazed on an aerial perspective that may shed some light on how the arch (image above) was formed.

I'm no geologist, but I know that most of the solid rock is actually sandstone, and that water can bore a hole through sandstone if enough time goes by and it has a relatively single point of pressure.

I think this perspective of the beach gives a pretty clear idea of what might have happened. My hypothesis is that the creek bored a hole through the large rock during strong rainfalls. This would have happened over tens of thousands of years:

keyhole creek

Just look at that constant flow here and imagine it going right into the middle of the rock face instead of left into the cove, and yes that sand really is purple:

pieffer flow

Let's end this post with a killer sunset, I hope you've enjoyed it - stay bright!

Check out Big Sur Session II right here.

How to Light-paint with a GoPro

Here's a neat little trick I've been using to capture light-paintings using a GoPro Hero 4 Silver along with a clever stacking technique in Photoshop.

In this article, I'll go over how to set your GoPro for Night-Lapses at 15 secs each, and then show you how to combine 10 selected images in post-production using Photoshop to make one long exposure equivalent of 150 seconds.

LP with a GP

In the gallery below you'll find an easy  7-step guide that you can follow along with to set your camera for light-painting, click an image below to see it larger:

Now that you're all set for the light-painting part, I'll shift gears into what happens after you take a bunch of 15 sec images. For this part we will probably need to hop on the computer.

You'll want to use a program like Adobe Bridge so that you can see all your files visually in one place - you're looking for the puzzle-pieces that will make up a good light-painting. We'll be using Photoshop to open one layer and then stacking other pics on top of it, building out our light-painting 15 seconds at a time.

Click an image to see it larger:

After we've followed these steps, we should have a stacked image that would be the equivalent result of a 150 second exposure - not bad! 

For more tips and tricks, check out my EDU section.

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!). 

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.

Bayou Country

Location: Caddo Lake, TX

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Here we are at Caddo Lake in Uncertain Texas. It's an uncertain kind of a place and you can see that on my light-skeleton faces, being on the border of Texas and Louisiana, it's easy to get confused. You can hear strange bird calls in the distance, frogs croaking, and the occasional catfish swishing about. There might be alligators depending on when you visit, and there are a few venomous snakes to look out for, namely copperheads and water moccasins.

Water moccasins are excellent swimmers, and yes, I was a bit nervous about those while taking this picture, those along with the alligators.

Earlier that day, Astro Bandit and I did a few walks around the lake to check out the whole area for possible locations. I thought this opening in the cypress grove was a great spot to get an overview of the bayou. The next day we hopped in a canoe you can rent at the ranger station and took a tour of the wetlands. Here's a short video for ya:

There are a few interesting things about this area in terms of cryptozoology, and it's easy to imagine how a large animal might live in this bizarre area. Some say there is a swamp-bigfoot, or you might say a North American Wood Ape that lives around the area. Here is one such report from a hunter who was on private property around the area of Caddo Lake when the sighting occurred.

All I could think of was the old horror posters for Swamp Thing, so naturally I took to the docks that night and did what I usually do in these inspiring situations.

To finish off the night, I put a pair of recently acquired waders on and got into the swamp to test out a water-proofed prototype of my Night-Writer. I've been trying to add on different animals to my Spirit Animals series, and I haven't caught an Alligator until now, I'm very happy with the way it's eye aligned:

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It was a strange and eerie feeling being in the swamp, the stench of the still water combined with the fear or water-moccasins and an occasional fish brushing up against your leg was unnerving to say the least.

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: 

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: