A Visit to Big Sur, CA

Location: Big Sur, CA

After a long drive out of city, through hours of vacant roads in the farm country of the central valley and some curvy roads through wine country in the hills, we made our way to the coast of central California.

There were several landslides and road closures along Highway 1 North so the scenic route was not an option, our trip was scenic anyways:

Here I am spelling it out at Bixby Bridge with a new color-tip design that looks like a crystal (in gallery above).

Tucked away in the heart of the California coastline, Big Sur has some of the darker skies in the country and you can see bright stars at night. During a new moon, it was ideal astrophotography conditions. It was difficult to pick out constellations you could see so many in the sky at once.

Looking North up the rocky coastline:

McWay Light Posse:

The sky was so dark, clear and calm that stars made reflections on the ocean. Here Sirius is backlighting an agave blossom:

Last image I'll leave you with is one of 'Sea and Space'. See more posts about Big Sur, CA by clicking this link.

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.

Bryce is Nice

Location: Bryce Canyon, Utah

Print Options

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.

Print Options

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: 

Print Options

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':

Print Options

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!

Print Options

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!

Print Options

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!

Carrizo Plain

Location: Carrizo Plain National Monument - Maricopa, CA

Print Options

The image above was taken at Carrizo Plain around Maricopa, CA - as you can see it was in full bloom. I've never seen so many flowers in one place, it looked like a massive yellow uneven carpet that stretched for miles toward the base of the hills.

This location in the Central Valley of California is a large grassland home to elks, antelopes, kit foxes, squirrels, owls, rattlesnakes, birds, and lizards.

In addition to the animals, it has some interesting geological features, like the San Andreas Fault:

Print Options

Our group hiked onto an island split and walked to the end of it for this view between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. This would be a great spot to fly a drone for an aerial view.

Here's Astro Bandit making the most of a sunset.

campfire

Later that night we camped out and had a little guitar session. I had no idea my friend Evan was a human jukebox - we brought a great bluetooth speaker but never used it bc he was always killing it on the guitar!

Print Options

That night we drank some whiskey and then I thought of drawing a space-martini with my Night-Writer to add to my Food series - this photo had an added bonus directly above the martini when I was looking at a zoomed-in version of it on the computer screen.

It looks like I captured a small meteor or something:

enhance

Here's a 130 sec exposure of the brightest star in the sky that night, taken with my Vixen Polarie Star-tracker. Click the image for a large view, it's worth seeing on a big screen.

Print Options

On our way back to Los Angeles, we saw a 'sundog', a rainbow reflecting through the clouds.

Superbloom

Location: Death Valley, CA

Print Options

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:

Print Options

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.

Print Options

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.

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..

Two Heart Tree

Location: Red Rock Canyon State Park | Settings: (Composite) Light Art at F5.6 / ISO 50 / 246 seconds / Stars at F2.8 / ISO 3200 / 15 seconds

Print Options

Here's a Valentine's Day post for all you lovebirds out there. I guess it's a day late at this point, but my internet line was out yesterday, so better late than never!

While on a recent camping trip to the Mojave Desert with some friends we stopped at this place called Red Rock Canyon State Park and I thought I'd try a few heart-themed pieces using my Night-Writer along with some Pink and Red Color-tips. You can see some orange glow from the campfire which was projected onto the cliffs behind the pink tree. 

It was a new moon, so you can see quite a few stars in the mix. We'll have to wait another Month or so for the Milky Way to be in full effect and have the Galaxy's core most visible.

The route to this location is a nice trip to take and a fairly close one to the outskirts of Los Angeles. Go North on the I-5, and about an hour down the 14 East into the Mojave desert. You'll pass the future Space Station of Virgin Galactic in Mojave, CA on your right and a newly constructed Solar effort on the left. Good use of space out there!

I started off this light-painting by doing a 3D-looking heart using my Ceramic technique where I circulate the LED in the air to form different sized light-masses. After a few hearts, I thought it looked a bit too plain, so I decided to spice it up a bit with a light-tree and a few growing hearts on the limbs.

heart

After looking at this image for a while, I begin to start thinking of adding on some leaves, maybe some birds to mix it up. That's the beauty of images - just looking at one gives you ideas for another!

Check out my Misc. Gallery below for more images that do not conform to any Collection at this point.. I'm thinking I may need to add a plant-life section soon: 

So Many Stars

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

Print Options

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:

Yurtles

Location: Borrego Springs, CA / Settings: (composite) Light art at F7.1 / ISO 50 / 375 seconds. Stars at F2.8 / ISO 6400 / 15 seconds.

Printing Options

I try to stay away from vertical images, but sometimes there is no other way to shoot it properly.

For this image I used a new prototype of the Night-Writer (this is the 3rd version - R & D is not easy!). The chameleon version of the tool is performing really well and this version does not get hot like the last did. The main problem is the form factor, which I'm working on, I hope to have something ready at some point during 2016.. May need to crowd-fund a project.

The idea behind this image stems from my childhood, my parents had all these awesome Dr. Seuss books with the most wild and creative art - this is an ode to that. I found the metal tortoise sculpture in Borrego Springs by artist Ricardo Breceda a perfect fit for the idea. Please check out his website for more examples of his incredible artwork.

For this image, I sketched out the idea before-hand and shot a photo on my phone so I could reference it later:

yurtles sketch

Check out the full collection of Animals in the gallery link below:

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:

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.

Spectral Corythosaurus

Location: Salton Sea, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light art at F5.6, ISO 50, 142 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

This image is a bit deceiving to me - it looks like the dinosaur is about 12 feet from the camera, in reality, it's more like 4 feet.

That's what a 14mm lens does - it crams everything into the camera. For the light-painter, this is both a blessing and a curse. It's great for tight spaces, but can be a bit confusing for us to imagine where the frame begins and ends! 

Check out the full collection of Light-Fossils below:

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. 

Primary Goals

Location: Leo Carrillo Beach - Malibu, CA / Settings: (Composite) Light skeletons at F5.6, ISO 250, 165 seconds. Stars at F2.8, ISO 3200, 15 seconds.

Gear used: Canon 6D, 24-70mm Lens, Manfrotto Tripod, Wireless Remote, and Night-Writer light-pen w Red Yellow and Blue Color-tips.

For this image, I wanted to take advantage of a sunset that just happened - blue hour was giving way to night and the milky way was in the perfect spot.

It was an unusually hot night for the middle of October in Malibu, CA - 85 degrees at 9:30pm when we left the beach!

Check out the full light-skeleton collection by clicking the image below:

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.

Final Frontier

Location: Vasquez Rocks - Los Angeles, CA / Settings: F5.6, ISO 400, 20 seconds.

Gear: Canon 6DRokinon 14mm Lens, and Manfrotto Tripod.

Another idea I've wanted to try for a minute - triple exposure at Vasquez Rocks using the lens-cap trick.

Point the lens in one direction, expose for 7 seconds - put the lens cap over. Point the lens in another direction, count to 7 and cap it again, continue until desired results are achieved.

Dig this image? Check out some other interesting landscapes here!

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