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.

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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.

China

Location: Longhushan, China

'Tiger & Dragon' (above) is the result of a large collaboration with a team of international artists at one of many ancient temples in Longhushan - Jiangxi Province, China. 

Before getting into our story, let's introduce the cast: Sergey (Head of LPWA from Moscow, Russia), Lichtfactor (German LP collective), Alfredo (Children of Darklight - Spain), Mass (LP art from France), Sfhir (Multi-media artist from Madrid, Spain), Roy Wang (LP Artist from Beijing, China), Diliz (France), Ivan (Spain), Nacho (Spain), Edu (Spain), Ramon (Spain), and of course my Fiance Astrobandit (USA).

Many sleepless nights in the rain to accomplish this special long exposure photograph (above). A 10 meter tall platform was built just to get this angle.

Our story starts in Shanghai where we all flew in from our home countries of Russia, Germany, USA, France, Spain and China. All of us took a bullet train 3 hours South to Longhushan only to be greeted with a large Typhoon for the next four days.

We were hoping to take some photos at night but sometimes the environment does not cooperate!

typhoon

Here is our light-painting group scouting the location with umbrellas and rain boots on. We're all here for a massive LPWA collaboration (Light Painting World Alliance) to be done in a few nights, if the weather allows it!

Of course I took my trusty Night-Writer along for the journey, I rarely leave home without it these days. It got wet quite a bit during my time in China, but functioned well in most trying of circumstances.

It wasn't like the rain in the West that I was used to, the humidity was high all the time, as was the temperature - I wore tank tops and shorts most of the time in China.

Here is Sergey (below), the main man behind LPWA (Light Painting World Alliance) - standing in about a half inch of water inside the ancient temple walls.

The purpose of our trip was a 2 part operation, the first was a large light painting photo exhibition and presentation in the city of Longhushan (see gallery below), and the second was to create an animation and large scale photo collaboration that would represent the location.

Longhushan literally translates to 'Dragon (&) Tiger Mountain', it's the birthplace of Taoism in China and you can feel this location has a rich history by walking around in it.

Below you can see the animation our international team made over the course of two nights:

For me, it was the similarities and differences in both geology and culture that made this place interesting, the ancient temples and pathways gave a feel of the past that was also connected to the present.

Yin and Yang was the most powerful and prolific symbol we encountered during our trip, the group would see it everywhere as a constant reminder of balance, mostly between chaos and order for us.

Somehow everything came together at the last possible moment every step of the way during our journey, it was intense and inspiring.

I like this image of Astrobandit that I shot in the ancient city inside the middle of the national park, it candidly captures what it was like to be there at that moment.

I think most of the natives were shocked to see a blonde-haired person, it was as if they had seen a unicorn.

Now let's zoom in to those Fu Dogs outside that temple (above). These were made of stone and inside the mouths of these statues were orbs of stone that you could not remove. Imagine the craftsmanship! 

Here my friend (and killer artist) Mass tries to remove one of the stones, not possible.

Here are some of my favorite phone images (shot by myself and others from the trip) in a massive gallery below. 

It was a shared experience I won't forget and I made some great friends along the way. It's hard to explain what this kind of traveling means to me - it speaks to an understanding of life itself.

During most of the trip the underlying theme was simple - NO SLEEP. Here we are after dinner, most of us had not slept in 48 hours, the bags under our eyes doubled and tripled:

Even though I barely managed to sleep, there were some great images I was able to capture in China, here are my favorites below:

Title: Temple of Light / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Temple of T Rex / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Chinese Nessie / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Shanghai / Location: Shanghai, China / View large + print options

Along with the images, I got some animations along one of the hikes in the national park of Longhushan.

'Coffin Rider' (below) tells a story about the historical and precarious cultural practice of wrapping the dead in bamboo coffins and placing them inside the small naturally occurring caves within the mountain.

For my story I wanted to show one of the mountain inhabitants breaking out for a midnight joyride on a piece of the coffin and riding it like a skateboard down the handrail and along the hiking path. I thought this would be a good demonstration of balance, it made sense to me with all the Yin & Yang symbols we had seen around this location:

Some say Shiny Bones is still sliding that rail to this day.. Stay bright light-friends!

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.