Neon Chameleon

Location: White Sands, NM / Settings: F9, ISO 50, 299 seconds

Blue hour is an incredible time for taking photos - the way the light transitions can yield interesting and unexpected results. It's the very tail end of a sunset - just before darkness.

I've composed a secret gallery with all my blue hour photos in one place so that you can see what those unexpected results might look like. Partially cloudy skies work best for a more dramatic sunset look.

So, what does it take to shoot something like this for yourself you ask? 

It takes being in the right location and waiting it out after the sun has set (bring a jacket!). After that, you have about a half hour to shoot while the light source is changing constantly, it's a tricky balance with a short window of opportunity. 

I recommend shooting at a high F-stop with low ISO for the beginning of blue hour, followed by incremental changes to your F-stop as the light transitions - a balance that you adjust as you go along.

Flow

Location: Rainbow Basin

flow

Today's post is short and sweet - it's all about FLOW when using the Night-Writer light-pen (or any LED light for that matter).

I captured a quick time-lapse of myself drawing an Allosaurus Light Fossil the last time I was out to illustrate this quick pointer - making complicated figures (like a dinosaur skeleton) is a process of building out simple shapes to form a larger figure - following the flow from start to finish and never back-tracking.

I always start with the skull and make my way down the dinosaur's body, branching off in fragments for the arms and legs, then ending at the tail (as you can see in the animated .gif above).

By side-stepping and drawing one piece at a time, I'm able to think about what comes next rather than stopping in the middle and going back to where I was - thus throwing off concentration and making it nearly impossible to find the same spot again.

 

 

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).

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:

Great light shark

Location: Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F16, ISO 100, 53 seconds

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

For a shot like this, it's as easy as turning out all the lights in your room and bumping the Fstop up to 16 at ISO 100 - use the 'bulb-mode' camera setting for a leisurely illustration pace.

I've been testing out some of my new Night-Writer color-tips this week and I like the way the colors are working out - I may release them as soon as next week.

An added bonus is the texture that it adds to higher F-stop images like my light-shark above! Looking forward to making more texture-focused tips for the light-pen in the near-future.

Here's a looks at all of the different colors together - they will come in packs of 6 - ROYGBV.

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!

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!

 

Fire-buds

Location: Giant Rock - Landers, CA / Settings: 11 shots at F2.8, ISO 3200, 13 seconds

firebuds

Info on how this shot was created:

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

For this quick gif I set up the camera in a half-circle space around the fire and shot 11 images - moving the camera and tripod a foot or two each shot and combined the shots using the animation window in photoshop.

animation tip

Just a couple of friends telling stories around a campfire with the universe above twinkling on to oblivion. Have fun out there!

Skelebuddies in the Fog

Location: Encinal Canyon - Malibu, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 581 second exposure

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6D24-70mm LensManfrotto TripodRemote Shutter-release and Proto Light-pen.

This photo was all about taking advantage of the weather - I was driving through Encinal Canyon on a road that connects the Valley of Los Angeles to the Beaches of Malibu, when a dense fog appeared. Noting the opportunity, I pulled over to shoot one long exposure - a shot I had in mind for some time - rainbow light skeletons in a row.

For placement issues, I know I needed a lot of space - so I shot wide and hoped to capture some car trails - that's what the white streaking lights are (frame left). I started with the white skeleton and side-stepped about 3 feet for each other skeleton.. But soon realized I may have started a bit too far over once I got to the blue character. 

I did my best to place the last two purple and pink skeletons left of where I began with the white and I'm happy they didn't overlap - this was nearly a ten minute exposure.

If you'd like to see the full collection of light skeletons, check out the Shiny Bones Gallery.

PSA: Don't Play with Fire

Location: Salton Sea, CA / Settings: F9, ISO 100, 214 seconds

Info on how this shot was created:

Gear: Canon 6D, 24-70mm Lens, Manfrotto Tripod, and Remote Shutter-release.

I wanted to create a smoking effect along with a bit of fire coming from a skeleton holding a match - so I used white el wire for the smoke, a red sparkler for the fire, and whitered, and orange LEDs for my character and match. 

Some insight on the image:

This is a more serious topic than usual - it's June now and the fire season in Southern California is about to kick off shortly. In light of the 2007 fires in San Diego and 2009 fires in Los Angeles, please try and be extra careful out there with cigarettes, campfires, and fireworks. Here's some images if you need a reason:

harris fire over mount miguel

Harris Fire in San Diego, CA - October 2007 (not shot by me - found on wikipedia)

station fire 2009

Station Fire in Los Angeles, CA - August 2009 - I shot this image from a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles of a mushroom cloud rising North East over the San Gabriel mountains. Note the 747 airplane to the bottom left of the cloud for scale! 

Disaster

Location: Salton Sea, CA / Settings: F8, ISO 100, 481 seconds

Info on how this shot was created: 

Gear: Canon 6D24-70mm LensManfrotto Tripod, and Remote Shutter-release.

I used a light-pen to create the skeletons and a red LED for the blood-effect here with a little gelled orange flash from behind the wreckage and a gelled teal flash in front during the 8 minute long exposure.  

For this image, I wanted to emphasize the derelict structures that remain of what was once a popular 1950's Los Angeles getaway but is now a rusting, dust-swept, pesticide filtered, fish-graveyard.

Some insight on the location itself:

I don't recommend visiting in the Summer - it's hot and the stench of rotting fish has been known to travel as far as Orange County.

Bottom line is - it's gross, but looks great in photos.

If you stop around certain areas of the beach, you can expect a barrage of flies swarming constantly.. One of the most accurate inscriptions on junk I found was this one: 

bodies


Down to Earth

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

down to earth

Info on how this shot was created:

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

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

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

Cherries on top

Location: Anza Borrego, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F8, ISO 100, 91 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

As many of you may have noticed, I've been doing a lot of composite shots lately - the reasoning is simple - I want you to see the stars! Screw the trails, who cares about that? I want bright stars in the background! Galaxies, nebulas, constellations, meteors, I want them all crisp and clear! I didn't travel 3 hours by car to see dim skies!

A simple explanation of the technique I'm using is that I take 2 photos for every composite image you see, one for the light art, and another for the background. I don't move my camera from the tripod - I just take 2 for every one, making sure to re-focus from rather close to near infinity, it's basically a type of HDR for light-painting.. Which I think camera manufacturers are going to implement eventually, but for now it's a bit of camera-hack.

My method is to first find the most picturesque location, bearing in mind where the stars look best. To do this, I use my eyes first, then I confirm where the constellations are with an app I've recently acquired called 'Sky Guide' (iphone app) which uses your GPS to identify constellations.

After I've found my spot, and taken a high-ISO shot (around F2.8, ISO 3200 for 15 sec) - stars and environment should be pretty bright. Then I begin the light-art process - for this, my settings are around F8, ISO 100, for as many seconds as needed (use bulb mode!). If you've done this right, you should see decent light art and everything else should be rather dark. After you've got a decent take, re-focus for the stars, and reset your ISO to around 3200 (like before - during your initial test-shot). Get a bright and sharp star-shot then combine the two images in post.

With photoshop, start with the base light art, then put the star-shot on top and select 'lighten' on the top image to sandwich your two shots into one - presto! From Darius Twin to Starius Twin.  

starius twin