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!

Canyonlands National Park

Location: Canyonlands, Utah

Title: Spectral Brontosaurus Takes a Walk

Here's something new and never been done in the animation department. It's all about pushing that bar a little further in regards to the ever-changing media that is light-art.

I've included my frame by frame photos below - this compositing technique is similar to what I've described before in my blog with combining two images together to create a type of HDR-style light-painting.

I first take a timelapse of the milky way at a very high ISO and open aperture, then do the animating at a very low ISO in 'bulb mode' and a mostly closed aperture. In post-production, I combine the two images together and *PRESTO* you have a galactic light-fossil in motion.

Let's move on to the incredible place that is Canyonlands National Park! Here's an overview from Grand View Point during the day, the same location I chose to shoot my dinosaur animation at night:

My girlfriend Astro Bandit and I had a great time visiting the area, going on a few hikes and seeing the park at night. Check out that Milky Way, it doesn't get much better than that:

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In terms of hikes, you've got a few amazing options, one of which is to 'False Kiva'. A place of unknown origin that is a bit hard to get to if you're not sure where to look, there are no signs for it, and the location is being studied to determine how old it is (could be ancient).

I did a bit of research before hand and was able to make the trek out this iconic Southwestern US location. Doing the hike at dusk was a bit of a relief from the intense heat during the day, but even at night the temperature was around 85 degrees. Not so good for camera sensors as you can see from the quite noisey pano below. I bounced a light off the rock behind me to cast some light on the large kiva structure:

false kiva

Of course we had to do a bit of light-painting in the center of the kiva. I brought out some Light-Painting Brushes to try some angel-wings on Jordan standing in the middle of the kiva. Special thanks to Astro Bandit for managing the difficult hike out here in that dress:

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One last thing worth noting is how close Canyonlands is to Arches National Park, the two are practically neighbors, with Dead Horse Point state park in the middle. All three places are unique and incredible, if you visit Moab Utah, I encourage you to stop by all three for yourself.

Here's a view of Balanced Rock in Arches National Park that I did not post in my last blog on Arches, I figured I could throw it in here for the ender. Thanks for reading and feel free to share!

Arches National Park

Location: Arches National Park, Utah

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Title: Dragonfly at Delicate Arch

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

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

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

ravers

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

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

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.

Dark Skies of Borrego Springs

Location: Borrego Springs, CA

dark skies

On a new moon, the best place to see the stars is in an area away from city lights. I saw a recent photo from NASA that really helps put light-pollution in perspective here:

Looks like we have it pretty good on the West Coast! East Coast is densely lit up! Just seems more developed than other areas. Here's an animated view of the globe, find your respective area and see how it compares with the rest of the world:

For me, one of the better spots to visit is a place called Borrego Springs, out in the desert on the fringe of San Diego County. I drew an alien face to circle the spot these images (below) were taken. You can find an interactive dark sky map right here if you'd like to do a bit of research yourself.

On a clear night in Borrego Springs, you can see the Milky Way Galaxy with your naked eyes. It looks like a smoky cloud that follows an arc across the sky and is most visible from May to August in the Northern Hemisphere . The Milky Way is normally faint compared to the image at the top of this post, but if you set your camera at F2.8, ISO 6400 for about 15 seconds, you will see some interesting features appear!

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Another remarkable attraction to Borrego Springs is the metal sculptures around Galleta Meadows built by sculpture artist Ricardo Brecceda. For this elephant looking sculpture, I did my best impression of how an extraterrestrial greeting might go.

Here's a hand drawn map to find most of the sculptures in Borrego Springs. Be warned that the map is not to scale, it helps to look at satellite view on your phone for a general reference. Click the image for full scale, and perhaps save it to your phone if you're out and about!

falcon grab

Falcon Grab

For this image (above), I photoshopped out the wires and supports that normally hold this massive structure upright. I could see why they were all there when the wind picked up!

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We'll end this post with a young gomphotherium sculpture I lit using my Night-Writer under a very bright Milky Way. Thanks for reading!

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.

So Many Stars

Location: Red Rock Canyon, CA | Settings: F3.5 / ISO 1600 / 327 seconds

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Here's an image I took using a cool star-tracker device that mimics the rotation of the Earth, this makes for clearer and more detailed stars, constellations, and even nebulas to start showing up in the final image. Starting to see beyond what the naked human eye can see at this point. 

Check out my full gallery of Nature images below:

Star-Stinger II

Location: Death Valley, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 50, 278 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds

This is not the first time I've drawn a scorpion, and I'm sure it won't be the last - they are strange creatures and I like drawing them. 

I'd imagine this spectral version is a totally different species than the last one I drew in collaboration with Michael Shainblum back in December 2013 - he used a star-tracker to get an amazingly bright and clear image of the milky way for our collaborative piece.

For a look at more light-animals as well as the option to purchase prints, check out the Spirit Animal collection:


Shoot for the Stars

Location: Rocky Mountain National Park / Settings: (14 vertical images) shot at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds

The first thing to note about this image is that it was taken at an elevation around 12,000 feet. The red you can see projected on that rock in the left third of the frame is due to a passing car on the nearby Trail Ridge Road.

To shoot a similar image, you'll want to be visiting a dark area away from city lights - priority number one in seeing any stars. A high elevation seems to have helped also but that's not 100% necessary. Another few important factors are the season you're shooting in, moon phase and astronomical timing (where and when the Milky Way will be most visible) - each of these can be figured out with the following online tools:

Online Tools:

Dark Site Finder - This is an awesome global map to help figure out where the best dark skies are in your location.

Sky Guide App - Use this to figure out where and when the Milky Way will be visible via GPS on your phone.

Camera Gear:

In terms of camera gear you'll probably want a camera with a great full-frame sensor - that means one of the following is your best bet:

Sony A7R ii - A great camera with a killer low light performing sensor, what a lot of the low-light pros are using nowadays. It'll set you back around $3.5k.

Sony A7S ii - Another great offer from Sony in the low-light department - most of what I've seen and used on the older model A7S carried over here with a greater emphasis on filming - this thing is insane at night, the only drawback is the smaller image sizes (roughly 12-17mb files). This camera (body only) will set you back about $3k.

Canon 6D - This is what I'm using now, full-frame sensor, good battery performance, quick, great low-light performance, awesome lens selection, and decent video capabilities. A bit more heavy compared to most mirrorless cameras, but at 1300 for the body and an accessories bundle, a pretty sweet deal overall.

Canon 5D mkiii - Another great low-light camera from Canon - I won't go into details about what this is a good full-frame camera, or why I'd go with this over the Nikon D800, but I will link a video here telling you all the reasons you might consider buying one over the other.

Super Wide-angle Lens:

In terms of Lenses, I'll just say that wider is better in terms of capturing the sky, and you'll need a very open aperture to capture the low light.

A good option that I've found is the Rokinon 14mm, they have one for almost every camera make, and at around $300, it's a pretty good deal for glass.

Rokinon 14mm F2.8: CanonFuji X-mount, Pentax, NikonSamsung NX, Sony Mount.

Now let's keep in mind that this is 14 vertical images stitched together using Adobe Photoshop CC's 'photo-merge function'. Here are all but 2 of the individual frames as viewed in Adobe Bridge:

process

The first step in actually shooting something as large as our Galaxy is to visualize what the end result should look like. Backtrack from there and figure out how many shots it will take to achieve, leaving a little room for error/aberration at the sides and verticals. 

Last step is make sure the tripod you've brought out is level throughout the pan. Shoot one frame for each slight rotation, moving the camera across the environment to capture it in overlapping frames.

You may want to try live-view focusing on a distant bright star if you can (must be using the zoom 10x feature). Otherwise, a focus set to infinity works pretty good, but it's not optimal all the time.

Onto the Post-Processing:

Here's an illustrated breakdown of how to combine your images into a Pano via Photoshop CC photomerge function, first open Photoshop CC (or equivalent version):

Give the computer time to take care of business:

You may as well make yourself a cup of tea or coffee during this period, because your computer may crash in the process of putting these huge files all together.. Either that or it will turn out awesome!!! Now flatten and crop the massive image - enjoy the view!

To see more beautiful landscapes and purchase prints, check out my Nature Gallery. For more tutorials, visit the EDU page.

Fishbone Beach

Location: Salton Sea, CA / Settings: (21 images merged) F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

After a long drive from Phoenix, Arizona we had one last place to visit before heading home.

The thought that always comes to mind when visiting the Salton Sea is 'disproportionally beautiful' - I say that because visiting this spot in person is pretty disgusting - there are flies everywhere during the day and thousands of dead fish that die off every year around this time of year to create shorelines with their bones, it smells terrible - yet everything looks gorgeous and photogenic.

Where I was standing to shoot a pano of the Milky way (above) is actually about 50 yards out to sea in this photo below of Astro Bandit:

It's interesting to visit the same places at different times of the year and compare dramatic seasonal changes.

Here's another blog post I did at the same location back in June when the water was much higher. 

Sparkling Skies

Location: Big Sur, CA / Settings: (12 vertical images) F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto Tripod.

For this shot I just cranked the ISO about as far as I could take it without totally inundating my images with noise. I'd say about 6400 is as far you can take it with a Canon 6D.. Unless in colder conditions - it's funny that most cameras have a sweet spot with temperature and functionality, I'd imagine around 55 degrees is best for my little mechanical companion.

It took a bit of editing to get it to this point - I brought the highlights out, pushed the clarity quite a bit, and had to do a bit of warping to get all the vertical images lined up with a more realistic horizon.

If you were going to try and shoot an image like this for yourself you'll want a few key things: 

1. Dark skies - check out this site to scope out dark skies in your location. Pay attention to the moon phase: (iphone app, android app).

2. The right camera gear - I've put together a list of recommended product here, it's not all-inclusive, but it'll give you an idea of what features you may want to look for in a camera.

3. A sweet map app of the night-sky - this one does the trick for me: (iphone app, android app).

4. Set your gear to something like F2.8, ISO 3200, for 15 seconds and see what happens (magic).

Smoke on the Water / Fire in the Sky

Location: PCH - Big Sur, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 100, 367 seconds. Stars at F2, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DZeiss F2 28mm lensManfrotto 190x tripodWireless Remote, and Night-Writer kit.

This night was unusual in light of the fires going on in Monterey County (Tassajara Fire), just North of the area we were camping at in Big Sur.

Smoke drifted South once the Sun had set and the smell of fire got stronger as I made my way North on the PCH - I pulled over at a spot I thought would be good for catching the Milky Way over the Pacific and captured this image of my light-skeletons looking out into the abyss.

The smoke gave an orangey-yellow hue to the densest part of the Milky Way - I had to do some tough edits on this file to pull out the detail along with some noise reduction.

A great app I've been using for getting rid of the noise is one called 'Noiseless' (for Mac) - it's not perfect, but it's the best I've come across yet. 

For a quick tutorial on how to do composite shots like this - see my EDU section - Q5 - it's at the bottom of the page.

While there are photographers focusing on 'SOOC' - straight out of camera - a practice of light-art in which the image in the camera is untouched (shown as it was captured - not edited in any way). In regards to light art, I am not one of these people - I think technology should be taken advantage of in every aspect it can to give the viewer a better vision of what we as night-photographers are out trying to capture - our nocturnal perspectives.

If it means editing the file to pull out important details in RAW processing, so be it. That's what capturing in RAW format is for - more information contained within your images.

That said, I do not believe in adding things that are not there to begin with. My composites are always taken on location, using two images - taken at two different camera settings - I do this for the purpose of capturing the dynamic range between what's best for capturing the light art, and what's best for capturing the environment.

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.

Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Location: Route 66 - Ludlow, CA / Settings: (Pano) 5 shots at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

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

Model: Astrobandit

Shooting in the middle of the road is normally something I wouldn't recommend; but in the middle of nowhere on historic route 66 - it's pretty much a given. 

This was a 5-shot vertical pano, and during this shoot, the same dude on a scooter drove past us not once, or twice, but three damn times! 

The first time we got out of the road quickly because you never know how fast people are going on these desolate roads.

The second time I was beginning to get a bit annoyed.. But the third time I just had to put my hands up and was ready to just give up on the shot. He honked as he drove by and we tried the shot again - finally got one just as another car was coming towards us in the distance.

For this type of shot, it required the road to be vacant for about 3 minutes - a tall order, apparently.

T. Rex in Bagdad

Location: Bagdad, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F11, ISO 100, 172 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

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

Astrobandit and I took Route 66 on a whim to see what we could find along the way to Needles, CA - some of that road didn't look like it has been maintained since the 1930's - it was like driving on a never-ending cheese-grater!

Late at night we passed a small ghost-town by the name of Bagdad, it had some interesting junk-cars and even junkier buildings, but there was a large yellow light coming from a construction company that blew-out the spot - not good for night-shooting.

Halfway between Siberia and Bagdad I stopped at this place because there was so little light-pollution and drew this T. Rex second take using my new color-tips for Night-Writer (which are available for purchase starting today)!

 

 

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!

Stargazing Spirits

Location: San Simeon, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light Art at F8, ISO 100, 552 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 Prototype Night-Writer

For me, this type of photo could not have been created merely a year ago.

I say this because in the last year I've started getting into compositing very high ISO star-shots along with my very low ISO light-art shots (always shot on location - it's a method I've outlined in this recent blog post).

Combine that with the development of a new light-pen (It's like turning B&W to color TV!) and you have the true holy-grail of technology and art - PROGRESSION.

Watermelon on the Pier

Location: San Simeon, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 30 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

Info on how this shot was created:

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

How does that saying go.. 'You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.'

Let's apply that premise to light-art and say that you can choose your subject, but you can't choose the weather. That was the theme of our last trip up the California Coast - 2 days of partly clear skies and the rest, a cloudy mess. Happy to snap a few good ones during those clear hours, one of which you see here - the newest edition to the Light-Morsels gallery.

For more info on how to create your own light-art composites featuring the stars in your background - check out my cherries on top blog post!

 

Campvibes at Giant Rock

Location: Giant Rock - Joshua Tree, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light-art at F8, ISO 100, 538 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds.

Enjoy the outdoors this weekend! 

For this image, I used the 'illuminated tent trick' during a long-exposure. Here I can light the tent from within or just behind with a powerful light source to make the inner space glow a bit. Definitely a nice trick in photos to try the next time you go out camping! 

I used an LED light-pen prototype I've been working on for all the colors here ;)

Arch Rock, or Dead Duck?

Location: Joshua Tree, CA / Settings: F4.5, ISO 1600, 106 seconds

This is one of those night-photographers spots - I feel sorry for the casual camper that unsuspectingly chooses the place right by the entrance to arch rock trail, as there's always late-night hikers making the sound of footsteps passing by in the middle of the night.

I didn't have much of a concept for light-art when I first got here, but after looking at the rock - It began to look like a dead-duck from the classic nintendo game duck hunt.. The more I looked at it, the clearer it became.

A little orange light there, an X for the eye, a little green, some blue, and finally a bit of yellow for the feet. Ah yes - a dead duck indeed!

That's what light-art is all about - making beautiful landscapes into dead ducks.