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!

Desert Tour in the '78 part II

Locations: Red Rock Canyon State Park and Fossil Falls

Day 2 of our road trip in our rented classic VW Bus 'Rell Sunn' started off with me in my sleeping bag trying to snap a glimpse of this sunrise like a true lazy photographer. That small rainbow in the bottom left is probably one of my favorite features of this photo, I used it for the title composite to the first post about this 3 day desert trip. Dat Zeiss 18mm lens is smooth like butter.

First order of business was to check the odometer, we got a hundred or so miles on the bus:

Let's make some breakfast, because you can do that in a '78 VW Riviera equipped with a propane powered stove. Isabella cracks an egg while Jordan frantically looks for the coffee.

We boiled some water and made some coffee with the french press that comes with the van (thank you).

After breakfast and coffee we hopped into my friend TJ's Jeep and took a ride out to Fossil Falls, the patterns were really interesting and the convergence of earth here made for a striking contrast.

convergence

Here's TJ on the roof for some scale of what this spot looks like. We're a the base of a cinder cone volcano in a dry lake bed. 

Group shot of us goofing around in the middle of a donut.

Astrobandit applies sunblock above the Eastern Sierras:

After our tour of the dry lake bed we took a rocky road out to the little lake viewpoint where you can see the cinder cone volcano we just visited.

We made it back to our campsite in Red Rock Canyon State Park just in time to see the sunset, a nice sorbet colored skyline.

At night we lit a campfire and I shot some images of it giving the landscape a bright orange look, we've got Andromeda with a little cameo just above cliffside.

Around midnight these light-skeletons took our VW Bus for a little joyride. They were friendly, so we just took a nap in the back while they drove us around.

After a long and awesome night, the light skeletons and their friends wave good bye.

Stay tuned for Day 3..

Desert Tour in the '78

Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park, CA

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

This is basically our digital-media guestbook entry:

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

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

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

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

mr fixit

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

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

Stay tuned for Day 2..

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:

Strange Balance

Location: Rainbow Basin, CA | Settings: F5.6 / ISO 50 / 308 seconds

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I'll throw it back today, because it's Thursday, and I feel like I disregarded this image from a few months ago. It was competing against a rare blood moon event, and it was easy to overlook back then.

On second glance, I like it very much. There's a strange balance to all the subjects. The blue tree has a gravity that the green and purple pull from but are rooted towards. The motion of earth, sky, and stars is interesting too - you can see the motion of clouds and stars crisscross.

This was one of the most martian looking landscapes I've seen yet, here's a 270˙ view of the spot at blue hour. That tiny reddish spect on the left is the moon peaking over the horizon:

Check out the September post on the super blood moon HERE.



Constellations at Font's Point

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

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

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

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

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

sunrise at fonts point - iphone pano 1

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

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

Mid-Century Modernists

Location: Palm Springs, CA / Settings: F6.3, ISO 50, 202 seconds

Let's take a little trip to Palm Springs - this is a building designed by Albert Frey built in 1965 - It was first a gas-station, then it was turned into an art gallery, and now it's a visitor center. I illustrated some yellow skeletons to go with the red light on the side with the help of my Night-Writer and a yellow color-tip.

It looks like some sort of jetsons-style spaceship. Stand underneath for the full warp-speed effect:

It used to have a really cool entrance, but now there's a curved wall that contains the building, making it a bit more difficult for photography. Here's a link to see it back then with some fountains in the front and an overall more angular feel.

In addition to the triangle shape, there's a few stone boulders off to the side, they must weigh a ton each - I opted for some smiley faces using the Night-Writer with some pink/purple color-tips:

If you take the road up towards the mountains you can take a tram-ride up from the Palm Desert into the San Jacinto Mountains where the temperature can drop 40+ degrees - don't forget to bring a jacket! 

Once up top you'll see sweeping views of the desert and Palm Springs below. I took this opportunity to draw in a light-skeleton skating one of the handrails up there (I used the Night-Writer with white/orange color-tips):

I call this photo 'desert iguana' because after looking at the skateboard, I decided it looks a little bit like one of these creatures. The tail is far longer than your standard skateboard.

You can check out more light-skeletons along with print options in the gallery 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.

Ride the Fire Wave

Location: Valley of Fire, NV / Settings: F6.3, ISO 50, 206 seconds

Had this idea for a little while, so here we are at the Fire Wave - a very similar phenomenon to it's more famous cousin the Wave in AZ - but with snazzy white stripes.

Here we have Shiny-bones casually shredding the gnar with a frontside ride on his pink swallow tail board.

The biggest challenge with shooting this location was the perspective - I really wanted a physically surfable wave. Fire Wave is a 35ft basin with a kidney-shape and a deep end. It took some near light-art along with far-away perspective from a wide angle lens to capture the effect correctly. I felt like I was drawing at a wonky angle and had a lot of trouble getting things to line-up - some brain trickery going on there!

Here is a visual of my vertical camera's perspective from the side:

perspective

I found this little scorpion when we were out at night - he was hiding among the many crevices in and around the layered sandstone. Valley of Fire has a lot of little critters to be careful for - Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Bats, and Tarantulas to name a few. A good check around where you leave your bag will give you piece of mind (don't leave any pockets open either) - just be sure to do a quick light-up around the area whenever you reach for somewhere you can't see.

scorpion

Here's Astrobandit and I checking out the view after checking out for critters.

fire wave at night

More light-skeletons and printing options can be found in the Gallery below:

Out for Blood

Location: Rainbow Basin - Barstow, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F6.3, ISO 100, 163 seconds. Super Blood Moon at F6.3, ISO 3200, 6 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DManfrotto Tripod24-70mm Lensremote shutter, and proto Night-Writer.

Last one from the Super Blood Moon - promise.

I just had to get in a light-skeleton on this momentous occasion. The next time a super blood moon comes around, I will be 50 years old.

If you do plan on shooting an event like this, here are a few tips I've learned from my own efforts:

1) Plan ahead - I wanted an interesting location, so I used Google's satellite-view map to find a cool layered geological locale a few hours out from Los Angeles.

2) Pack your bags - Make sure you have all the gear you need to make the shot happen - telephoto lens, remote shutter, tripod, LED lights, all that and a bag of chips or apples (if you get hungry). Water also - that's an important one in the desert!

3) Show up early - Getting there while it's still light out is crucial - Scout around the location and take pics on your phone for reference later when it's pitch-black out and you are scrambling to get the right angle.

Check out the full collection of Light-Skeletons below:

Make Way for Mcway

Location: Mcway Falls - Big Sur,CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F.5.6, ISO 100, 205 seconds. Environment at F.2, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6D, Zeiss F2 28mm lens, Manfrotto 190x tripod, Wireless Remote, and Night-Writer kit.

To get this place properly lit at night you really have to do your homework in terms of where the moon will be - it's nestled away in a cove.

I'm not saying it's properly lit here - it's about halfway there (as you can see from the halfway lit waterfall just below the heart - will have to try again under different conditions. Live and learn!

If you'd like to draw your own light-skeletons - check out my video for a guided how-to lesson - just don't add a face for it to appear turned around.

Becoming a big fan of Big Sur, CA yet? Check out another blog post on Big Sur, CA from our last visit in June.

Click the image below for the full gallery of light-skeletons with art-printing options:


Spectral Triceratops Passes Time

Location: Sedona, AZ / Settings: F.16, ISO 1600, 217 seconds

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

For this shot, I was trying to capture part of the landscape in Sedona from Schnebly Hill, but was having difficulty because of the clouds blocking the moonlight. 

I opted for a high ISO and high Fstop to achieve this look, I like the way a long-exposure can capture slow movements - you can start to see some patterns emerge in the way the clouds flow, like an upside-down river.

Similar posts:

Ain't Life Grand?

Location: Grand Canyon, AZ / Settings: F.4, ISO 100, 102 seconds

Gear: Canon 6D,  24-70mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer.

Stepping up to this sheer cliff is a unique experience. If I could fly, it would be a lot less nerve-racking! 

Either way, the Grand Canyon in Arizona definitely helps to put our lives in perspective. 6 million years helped to carve out this unique wonder of the world.

For this shot I didn't need much light, there was a nearly full moon that helped to light the depths of the Grand Canyon. I opted for a minimalist approach with the non-tipped bright-white Night-Writer.

See the full collection of light skeletons in the Gallery:

Thunderstruck

Location: Albright-Knox Art Gallery - Buffalo, NY / Settings: F13, ISO 800, 13 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6D,  24-70mm LensManfrotto Tripod.

Haven't posted in a little over a week due to travels - made a trip to Colorado and just got back to Los Angeles from Buffalo, NY from a celebration of life to honor my Grandfather Joe Pearson who passed recently.

During my time in Buffalo, one of the resonating themes I found myself thinking of was his words of encouragement each time we spoke of how things were, how things were going in each other's lives. "Keep Givin' Her Hell" he used to say - the more I thought about those words, the more I found meaning in them - the world will give it right back either way, so you better make the most of it!

Power Out

Here I was trying to pick up my twin brother Ross from the airport, but they would not let passengers off the plane due the intensity of lightning strikes.

As you can see here, there was good reason for it - the power went out right after this bolt struck the building!

Striker

Another shot from a park in the suburbs.

lightning rod

One more from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery - I wish I could have gotten a more detailed shot of this incredible statue 'Karma' by Do-ho Suh with some lightning in the frame.. But I thought it made a pretty good lightning rod, so I decided not to push my luck.

Rainbow Rex

Location: White Mountains, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F16, ISO 100, 272 seconds. Cloudy surroundings at F2.8, ISO 1600, 15 seconds.

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

These type of multi-colored Light Fossils are probably the most difficult. I think the best one I have to date is this plesiosaur. I have tried many - but only these two are worth showing.

This dino was supposed to be blue and gold. Somewhere along the way it switched to a variety of other colors and I just went with it.

Part of light-art and photography in general is just getting out and exploring the world - to see and capture things that take a journey to be in the presence of. This was one of those places.

We stopped by this location earlier in the evening to scope out the landscape and to snap a picture of this horse that was feeding on some grass.

horse

When we got close it started to pose in an aggressive manner, so we took our cue and left it in peace. Later horse!

horsey

Wizard Tree

Location: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, CA / Settings: F22, ISO 100, 500 seconds

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

This place is something else. The journey there is an adventure in itself, and just as we arrived, the rain rolled in - on cue!

I mean, what can you do?! It starts pouring rain in the middle of this shot (above), I'd say right after the green character. Those rain-bones on the right: teal, blue, purple and pink were the quickest skeletons I've ever drawn.  Camera was not happy, wiped it off best I could and let it soak in the silica packets that I collect anytime I get new shoes - I throw those in my camera bag whenever I get the chance - You should too!

walk w ancients

Here's Astrobandit walking with an ancient tree we found along the way.

One more of just the tree - I thought that branch toward the end looked like a demon's claw. 

Next Level

Location: Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F5.6-22, ISO 400, 549 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer with Red, Blue and Green Color-tips.

People use the term 'next level' to describe upping their game on a personal level - to take what they've learned, and apply it to something that far surpassed what they've already done. 

I'm not sure I would say this image is truly next level for me, but I wanted to comment on the phenomenon and thought this might be a good way to do it.

The main idea is that in life, work, art etc, our greatest challenge is ourselves - every time you knock that ball out of the park, you are setting your personal bar higher.. Conversely, you make it tougher on yourself to achieve that next level.

For this shot I've incorporated a few tricks I've learned over the years - some surface painting for the piranha plant - turning a fallen chimney into a warp pipe. Casting Red on the ground around our hero, and a bit of Blue around the pipe for contrast. This was all done at F5.6 at ISO 400.

Next, I adjusted the Fstop to F22 (you can do that manually on a 14mm Rokinon lens) and started with the characters. Green tip on the Night-Writer for our Piranha Plant, changing to red and white for the face, then off to paint Mario - happy to have nailed the eyes!

Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Location: Alabama Hills, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F16-F4, ISO 400 571 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Night-Writer with Red and Blue Color-tips.

This image was captured as the clouds rolled in - the skies are incredible out here, especially under a new moon. Too bad this was my only glimpse of them!

As you can see from the exposure time of 571 seconds, climbing rocks in the dark is not easy task - It's an easy way to break your neck, ankle, or anything else you can think of.

Slow and steady may not win the race here, but you can still manage to try again tomorrow with this technique - a sure foot beats a hasty one.

I found the Alabama Hills to be a perfect spot for my between a rock and a hard place light-illustration - I often feel this way when trying to tackle too many projects at once and having all my financial burdens come to a head at the end of the month :P