Keep the Beat

Location: J.A. Studio - Los Angeles, CA

Here is an idea that took a little while to coordinate and a long while to actually accomplish. The idea is always the easy part! Special thanks to Joey for helping set this up and borrowing his camera to get a second angle (below).

These are the sorts of projects where it helps to have a light designed for drawing! Animation is one of the main reasons I started making my Night-Writer product. After the 20th frame, no matter how much experience you have in animating, the mind and body begin to get fatigued. Muscles begin to cramp and it makes finishing the project more difficult to achieve. Luckily a hand cramp is not something I have at this point, thanks to the ergonomic design of my Night-Writer tool.

 So, how does one animate this sort of thing?

Step one for me is usually sketching out some expressive stick-figures for each frame in the animation. It doesn't have to look pretty, but the movements have to appear natural:

Doing this type of work is almost identical to drawing a flip-book. I will say it's a little tougher with light because you can't see what you've illustrated and it has to be life-sized in order to interact with life-sized props. 

For stationary animations it's easier in the sense that we're not moving around the camera each frame or moving around the character. To do more dynamic animations like on my 'licensing page', I often use markers to move each piece of the scene one step at a time, sometimes its just the character that moves, other times it's both the character and the camera moving for every frame.

What song do you think this skeleton is drumming to? 

Here's a full time-lapse of the drawing process:

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!

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.

Animation

Location: Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA

Let's talk about animating long exposures. It's a bit like time travel due in part to when you're finished, you really have stayed in one place but traveled in time a few hours or more.  

Take for instance, this sequence I shot at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 ft (86 m) below sea level in Death Valley, CA. For this short 3 second looping GIF, it took 44 frames as you can see below. Every image in this sequence took about 65 seconds to produce using my Night-Writer light, plus the time it took to move around the roller skates and check the motion and framing.

This process will look similar to anyone who has ever tried claymation; but with light-painting you don't have anything to mold forward, you have to remember where it was (roller skates were important here) and move the action forward just a little bit (re-drawing the same skeleton over and over). 

Now that you know how this works, I'll unveil a new page I've been working on called 'Licensing' because that's what smart artists do with their work. It will also function as an animation gallery that I will continue to add to over the year, do take a look

If you would like to send me any suggestions for what to animate next, you can do so by sending me an email

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..

Window Shoppers

Location: Porter Ranch, CA | Settings: F8 / ISO 400 / 361 seconds

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Here's a collaboration I did with another Los Angeles based night-photographer, he goes by @xrissvlad on instagram and you can thank him for the perfect orb in the middle of this image. Peep his insta for another shot we collabed on that I'll write about later this week. I used Night-Writer along with a pink color-tip to illustrate the skeletons looking in from busted windows.

The main thing that stuck out about this night was the intense wind at this location, there was a high-wind advisory on some of the highway signs. It was strange because less than 20 minutes away towards downtown, the winds were quite calm. It goes to show what a varied landscape Los Angeles is, and how all sorts of micro climates can exist on the same day in nearby places.

The high winds were probably a good thing for this area in particular, as weird as that sounds. Porter Ranch is the area of Los Angeles that is the site of a massive methane leak from a failed well at Southern California Gas Co. Check out this aerial video of the leak. 

Now that I've vented (no pun intended) let's get back to the night at hand. This busted building was our best shot at a clear image, we needed a guard from the wind. It was so intense that our tripods would buckle with the passing gusts. I took a handheld long exposure on my phone using NightCap Pro app that turned out not that great, but will give you an idea of what this place looked like on the outside:

busted building

I almost tripped over the spine of a deer or coyote walking around the interior, spooky stuff. Looks like a spine.

spine

To see more light skeletons, check out my full gallery below:

Back at the Ranch

Location: Mojave Desert, CA | Settings: F5.6 / ISO 50 / 703 seconds

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Here we are in the Mojave Desert around 10pm last night, it was 30 degrees outside, quite chilly for Southern California! This shot took almost 12 minutes to create using Night-Writer and color tips. 

In light of this location being so close to a main road, passing headlights were a constant concern. So I did what any long exposure photographer would do in this situation, I capped the lens every time a car drove by with it's high beams. You can see how many time I capped the lens by taking a closer look at the star trails:

lenscapping_DT.jpg

This technique is popular amongst advanced light-art photographers. If used creatively, it can result in some mind-bending imagery. Check out my friend Dana Maltby's work for an idea of what can be achieved by lens-capping and having another tripod handy. Here's another great creative set of len-swaps by James de Luna.

For more light-skeletons, check out the full collection below:

Ultra-violence

Location: Badwater Basin - Death Valley, CA / Settings: F11 at ISO 100, 608 second exposure

Blue hour in Death Valley is a great time to photograph and I selected Badwater Basin for it's notoriously cracked and flat expansive surface. Because this area is basically a huge deep bowl, it gets incredibly hot in the summer and even in Winter when we were shooting it was around 90 degrees out!

This translates to: not good for camera sensors. I had a difficult time cleaning up some of the noise for this exposure that took nearly ten minutes to shoot. That said, I'm pretty stoked on this ultra-violent creation.