I made a quick trip to the left coast to visit the strange land of the Joshua Tree. Unlike earlier trips, I had no time to blog. If you are interested, you can see those photos by clicking “portfolio” above.
As you know, one of my fascinations with Iceland is to view Aurora Borealis, which thus far has eluded us. The clouds are too thick and the rain more on than off. But last night was an exception, it was mostly clear so hope blossomed thinking that if it were to be, I wanted a beautiful foreground to shoot them.
So back to Jökulsárlón where I was earlier in the day to photograph the floating ice. But now it was night time and we were going to wait and see if those scarce but spectacular illuminations would appear. While waiting I wandered around exposing the ice chunks at night, which was most spectacular.
As you can see, the ice bay takes on a completely different quality after dark, almost as if its true beauty emerges. We were there for 3 hours and I have to tell you it was like a dream to me, it went so fast I was shocked when I heard how much time passed. Being in a place like this take the time away, truly present.
It seemed like everything was glowing with Energy as I wandered along the coast of the river. Finally, I went to bed, but too excited to sleep. The cells in my body seem to come alive and no cold or physical conditions seem to affect me. It truly was a beautiful evening but…. No Northern Lights.
This next morning was different because the rain had stopped and I found myself back on the black beach with no wind. I found my groove quickly and remembered I wanted to try some time exposures.
All of a sudden, the world slowed down, I saw everything in slow motion, I tried to encapsulate my feelings in several images similar to this. I stayed all morning until the rain started again and soon left for lunch. Later that day, As a group we stopped to walk to one of the glaciers near a small hotel. The glacier was amazing and I found this tiny little spot that may be gone by tomorrow, the glaciers are melting quickly.
I stand before a spot like this in our world and see it for just a few minutes and make my photograph. Then I go but take a timeless moment with me that may never exist in this world again.
So for now, I am going to sign off and start packing, heading back to VIX in the morning, hopefully without rain or wind.
The story says that Eve received a message that God was coming to visit her. So she spent the next 3 days scrubbing and cleaning, baking and cooking in preparation for His visit. At the last minute, Eve realized that her children were not cleaned up, so just before He came, she put them in another room. God arrives and say (paraphrasing) “Eve, you know you can’t hide anything from me, where are your children?” When Eve answered, “What Children?” And God told her; “From now on, your children will be hidden from you, they are now invisible to you and your neighbors and they will live forever.
So the story goes…. And this is the origin of the story of the Hidden People who are characterized and kind, happy, playful but fiercely protective of their land.
Well, This particular morning, those Elves were working hard to keep us off the black sand beaches with diamond like ice, scattered, strewn around like toys thrown from the attic.
The wind was gale force, the sting of the ice crystals in my face and the deeply wet clothing reminded me that I was alive in every way possible; fighting the forces of nature, on a mission to make a wonderful photo. But time, as always, was limited to the one short hour I had before moving to the lagoon. As I began to retreat Ice began emerging from the ocean, shaped like the pets of those little people themselves. Beckoning me back, they weren’t done, they were very playful that morning.
But I couldn’t play any longer.
Next stop was the Ice Bay called Jokulsarlon. It too was very beautiful and haunting as the ice slowly floated by, as if leaving this world and going on to the next. I bid the beautiful floating sculptures good bye and now left to find the home of the Hidden People, to be with them and see what they see.
So I did.
It was time to visit the hidden Ice Cave, over 800 meters from the main road and requiring a stout 4 wheeler and a 1/2 hour of trekking through rocky fields and streams of icy water.
If getting there was hard, the sight to be seen was completely worth the trouble. Hidden inside a glacier, dripping, melting away as I made my way inside the mouth of this amazing place, reminding me of Superman’s Lair; The Fortress of Solitude. Tomorrow, this might be gone completely.
And there I was, inside the Elves home.
This is not all for today, for it was an amazing day with more to come. But now I must move on to my next destination.
There’s a peculiar feeling I have walking through a graveyard at midnight, it’s not that death is all around me, no it’s more like life is infinite and takes many turns along the way, one of them is to a place like this. It’s beautiful and magical in a grave yard and the night time washes away all the day-to-day concerns of life.
There’s generally no schedule when I go out at night, I am always just externally focused on my surroundings; problems and situations seem to disappear in comparison to what’s in front of me. Tonight is no different, I am here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in NY, making photos.
The weather is not cooperating at all, tonight was cloudy and the ambient light from the ground is reflected in the clouds, making the sky look like paste and reflecting ground light making it brighter than I would like. This is my first image:
As in all endeavors, there’s always a start. And tonight this was mine. I loved the crooked steps and they reminded me that imperfection is beautiful to the person seeing the whole. Not all imperfection of course but the differences are the difference, they make things interesting.
I walked further into the night, I heard the rustle of trees, wind… almost a howling sound coming from in front of me. I wasn’t afraid, I was curious. I have no fear in a grave yard, I have been here many, many lifetimes before, no it’s that simple curiosity of the unknown.
The reason is because I know my angels are always with me. So who are these curious souls who seem to follow me around, keep me safe and find me amazing parking spots? They are those who’ve loved me and now they watch over me. I always wondered what they might look like if I could see them, maybe like this….
It was nice to see them again, a little less conversational than the last time, but always showing me the way.
And finally, as the cold seeps through my double layered pants and heated vest, I spot one last place to locate my camera, a place where the symmetry of life and death come together.
Lets see what tomorrow brings…..
NOTE: I have updated this tutorial after some years experimenting with the settings, as of January 2013.
In this image, I photographed the landscape in a full moon, then began my series of exposures that later were “flattened” in Photoshop. I painted the tree trunk with my Surefire incandescent flashlight for several minutes. Each exposure was for 15 minutes which I determined with the testing sequence I will describe below. My intention was to create a spinning star effect around the North Star and centered at the top of this tree. Lets explore how you can do this yourself.
This has been an incredible week for me, I have pushed myself to learn new skills and see new places. I have never been to any of the spots visited on this trip before and I have never had this much fun after dark. It’s Thursday and today is going to be different. I will be photographing during the day… at least for a little while.
The day started out as it normally did this week, breakfast at Nicely’s (poached egg on home fries and coffee) and then a walk back to the hotel to pick up gear and get started. Up the Tioga pass and now and in the daytime, I see the beauty of the park.
I know this has been said before but the majesty of this part of the world, it’s splendor and beauty is not to be matched. While it’s true that no beauty exists without the eyes of another to appreciate it, this place is magnificent no matter who is looking. In one of many stops, I pull over sometimes even obeying the rules and parking in the rest areas. Most times, if I spot something, I pull over.
So today, I am going to show you my snapshots first, then I will tell you a story.
Notice the tree against the stone. Do you realize how hard it is to get that stick to stand straight? (only kidding)
And there’s more where these came from, it’s like spitting out post cards; the colors, the splendor, the vastness of it all. And yet it’s hard not to smile while driving. Is that a problem?
But the real story is about the big catch of the weekend. Yes, everything was amazing, the hot springs, the Tufa’s, Bodie Ghost Town, everything but the one thing I came to do was to learn night photography and the techniques required to build on it when back home. After 4-5 hours of class a day and after being out until 2:00 every morning, I am tired and ready to be done. But not yet…. Because the big fish to a night photographer are star trails. To the average person, they might not even notice.
But for night photographers, one of the essential techniques to master is finding the North Star and locating it over your subject. Now back on Olmstead Point for the second time this week, I waited for the moon to rise, And did it!
The moon came up as if thrown by an Olympian, faster than I would have expected and then hung there in the sky like a giant glowing orb reflecting the inner light of the sun.
I found the tree I wanted, I found The North Star and I went to work. I made several test exposures all in the 1st half hour and yet I wasn’t ready yet. I experimented first with the amount of light to paint on the tree. Next I experimented with exposure time. I wanted long star trails so I set each exposure at 15 minutes. I set the intervalometer for 2 hours and then… I found a comfortable spot and watched BattleStar Galactica on my iPhone while waiting.
With each click, I knew I was closer to seeing the results. And then the final click. The stop watch said for about 1-1/2 hours had passed.
Remember, each frame is not a picture per se, but it’s the combination that makes it magical. In this case, I wanted to be sure everything seems to be working. Then it happened, I heard the last click of the shutter and patiently waited for the 1 thing that I had to do.
Now, before I look, I saw a quick prayer for the gods of Luminos to be kind, and I see a perfect photographic sequence of the stars moving around the stationary tree. Later, back at the hotel, a friend provided instructions on using layers in Photoshop and this was my result.
All week long I worked up to this picture. I hope you enjoy seeing it, I am delighted to show it to you.
Another hot, hot day here in the land of tourists. So many of us wandering around looking for somewhere. Not me, I know where I am going… I am going to Jail tonight.
But before I tell you about my evening behind (and in front of) bars, I should tell you I am innocent. Yeah, that’s what they all say, right? But no, really… I am! “Step this way fella…” Well it didn’t start that way. It started with a closed restaurant.
I was with a couple of guys and we wanted dinner at The Bridgeport Inn. Except it’s closed on Wednesday but we didn’t know that; trying to escape the fine cuisine of Lee Vining, we sought other culinary arts outside town. Instead, we ended up at Pops, a quaint little takeout place for fried food and other delights. Sitting there, across the street from the Bridgport Court House, we contemplated our approach. The four of us, Scott, Greta, Manu and I, scheming and planning our approach. Scott, having been a multiple offender warns us of the dangers, Manu and Greta are carrying heavy hardware and they want to be careful not to damage the merchandise. We already had one disappointment that night, dinner was not what you would call “gourmet” and now we can’t make any more mistakes.
Leaving our get-a-way car across the street we wander towards the target. I get there first to scout the area, I like what I see. The guards are either gone or sleeping, the town is quiet and the darkness is getting louder and louder. I walk inside with my flashlight and damn it….. bats. I hate bats. Zipping by my ears I remember hearing that “only” 15% have rabies. So I could get lucky if I get bitten, no thanks and I start to back out. Scott reminds me we are on a mission; bats or no bats…. so I proceed with caution.
I canvas the inside and it looks clear, we’re the only ones there. I set up outside the farthest point in the building and wait for the rest to get into position so we can shut down the interior lights. I get the nod, the lights go out and then I set up for my first shot.
Inside the cell now, it’s dank, musty, smelly and yucky in general. I don’t really care, if I do my job I can be in and out in an hour. But disaster, not for me, is on it’s way, uninvited and without saying please. I hear a woman’s scream “Cameras, Cameras! Water! Water!” and then scrambling outside the building. I feel like it’s safer for me to stay put and continue working, I am just about to complete my first exposure. Four minutes to go. It’s over, I check it, not good but it’s a start.
I run outside to see what happened and sure enough, Greta and Manu were gone. Chased away by the local sprinkler system which soaked their borrowed $40,000 Hasselblad Digital, they were trying to recover across the street. I realized no one was bleeding so I returned to the scene to finish, I had to get out of this jail soon or else I could lose my compadres.
Exposure, test, correct. over and over. I had it nearly right then I kicked the tripod leg and it was back to square one, I readjusted, tested again and it looked perfect. One more shot I took, just to be certain:
I was alone, no one to visit me in jail. I had to scram quickly, someone could catch me. I ran off to a safe place, a place of laughter and fun during the day but eerie at night. I decided, in the spirit of the evening, I would “splash” it with my red filter and light up the interior a little.
I left the shadow of my weapon in the scene, I could “erase” it in 2 minutes. What do you think? Should I make it go away or does that shadow make it stronger?
Now we knew we had escaped the law, it was time to head over to the hot springs. Everyone in town knows about those, even the fry cook at Pop’s was there. Myself, not really a hot springs kinda guy, I wandered off into the countryside but when I came back they were done springing and I pulled out my camera. They were all in this warm and wonderful natural sulfur spring and did they notice the beauty of the stone behind then? I made an exposure and saw the magic of that place unfold for me. I showed Scott and we both decided it was worth some serious time investment to get this right.
We tried many different angles, we had six steps of light paining, trying over and over again to get it perfect. While we were out there, now past 2:00 am, we started to discuss the magic that happens when you are immersed in something creative, how presence is the only possibility and how vision streams through most powerfully at those moments. That for others it was sports but for us it was making photographs. And now, more than ever, night photographs. I am afraid I’m hooked.
This is what we saw at that earliest moment of the evening.
Thank you Scott for being so patient and careful as to not stop until it was perfect.
Night photography brings out different qualities in different people. For some, it’s the deep and dark colors of the sky and for others it’s the unusual possibilities of images not yet imagined. But for those of us who are no longer walking this earth in bodies, it’s a chance to visit with the living and remember when they too had physical form. I am talking about ghosts. Now, I can’t tell you they exist but I can tell you that, while out with my camera in a very amazing place last night, they were with me and I heard them rumbling around, maybe looking through my viewfinder to see what I see. Maybe.
We visited Bodie which is an abandoned but well maintained town now labeled a “Historic Park” which was a gold rush boom town in 1877 and by 1879 had about 8,500 people living there and more than 2,000 buildings. They even had a China Town section which, if I were alive then, would be where I would eat supper most nights. But, by 1881, the town was no longer boom and headed quickly to bust. The gold mines were depleted and people were leaving. In 1892 a fire destroyed much of the town and again in 1932 another fire wiped out all but 10% of the remaining buildings.
This is the subject of this evening’s outings, walking among the dead at a place ruined by flames, yet still alive in more ways than you can imagine. While Bode is open every day at 8 am for visitors to wander, it’s rarely open at night and a rare and wonderful opportunity to have the entire town all to ourselves was the result of months of pleading, begging, arguing and promised favors. Lance Keimig who led this trip (google him) made this possible. Thanks Lance.
Meeting Rod, a roundish 70′ish fellow with a beard like Santa Claus in a Ranger’s uniform at the gate happened at 8:00 pm. He gave us a little speech about how we can’t go into any of the buildings and had to stay together as a group. While we didn’t enter the buildings (they were locked) we did manage to go our separate ways to locate our own magic that night. Unfortunately we turn into a pumpkin at midnight and had only those 4 hours. For most photographers, 4 hours at any decent location we’re just getting warmed up. And with multiple 10-15 minute exposures, time moves much more quickly.
Bewildered by the enormity and the choices, I find a simple subject to start and determine how I will light it, I spent a 1/2 hour but finally made one image. I made my 1st photo, I am officially started.
As I walk down the abandoned but well maintained streets, I notice a beautiful store front, as if wrapped and sealed from time over 100 years earlier, it too was worth considering. It has a few Edison bulbs hanging inside, I think about the exposure, make a few tests then compose best I can given the limitations of the space.
Next stop will be farther out from the center of town, I walk the streets as if I were a miner looking for a crew to sift the waters of the Colorado River, searching for something which I don’t yet see, for a chance to click my shutter once more and capture time.
The abandoned streets are unusually quiet and I stop to look and then it happened. I hear a sound, footsteps in a building that hasn’t been occupied for a century, they are heavy, moving slowly and the wood is creaking, as each step moves it closer and closer to where I am standing. I see nothing I hear everything. There’s a deep sigh. I check around me…. nothing. I look down the street…. no one.
I decide I am not leaving without a picture so I click, wait…….. then split. My own heart was pounding like the gallop of horses driven by men headed to the saloon after weeks of pan handling and hard core mining. I didn’t see exactly what I shot until later.
I checked to see if a ghost was behind me as a walked with a quickened pace, I think I lost him. But just in case, I said to myself “If there is a ghost here with me, take me to your favorite place” and as I walked down the street, I felt the pull of inspiration, as I passed an old piece of mining equipment. This is what I saw.
Remember, it’s pitch black, only the moonlight to work with, I washed the sides of this monster with a delicate swoosch of my flashlight, I went behind it to fill the dark spaces which were invisible to the world and I watched as the stars streamed by. How did they move so far in the last 12 minutes, was it the generator still working, pushing its electricity into the sky to propel the stars as a way of entertaining itself? Or was it simply there watching like I was, loving the attention from a stranger with a camera who took fancy to a huge lump of metal. You decide.
I wasn’t kidding when I said everything looks better at night. The only problem is that you have to stay up late to see it. I am tired and it’s early, but the time here is really worthwhile. Because it takes so long to make an exposure; up to 12 minutes per frame and up to 30 frames per image, productivity is not measured in quantity. I can see now that a night out shooting might yield one or possibly two good images. Yet, the process pushes everything to the limits. Expensive zoom lenses are not good enough anymore, now you need really expensive single focal point lenses to get the sharpness of star trails and to focus in the dark. This is serious work for some people and I am getting exposed (no pun intended) to the night photography community on this trip. It’s a wonderful, exciting and exhausting activity that is as complex or as simple as you want it to be. I am really just a beginner and I am really enjoying the process.
Now, lets talk about what I did last night. I drove into Yosemite about 12 miles in and found Olmstead Point. It’s a pull-off from the main road and really, unless you are looking for something specific, it’s just another rest stop on the road into the park. Yet this is a special place since many of the wonderful images shot at night in the park are made here.
I dressed warm, the sky was clear, the winds were still and left the comfort of my warm car to see what I can by moonlight. At first, the sky was still clinging to the daylight as the earth gently slid into the night. The western sky was glowing with those remnants of day and it was still a bit early to shoot, so I wandered into the woods to find a tree.
Looking for a tortured soul’s expression in wood, I found beauty once again in the death of a once vibrant wood. In it’s final reach for the sky, I saw in her arms why she loved to be here, in this spot and on this earth. Singing out to those still looking for her, she died showing her heart which glowed with the warmth of existence available only to those who look for such things. Here she was and there I was, asking her how she wanted to be seen. I walked from side to side, I opened my own heart and waited for that knowingness that comes from looking and there it was.
I carefully lit her branches which prayed to the night sky for expression through the eyes of others, and she had her wish…. and I had mine. The 1st exposure was complete, not too bad, only an hour. I thanked her for her gift and walked further. I wandered in the dark, still thinking about how I could have improved on the image but left feeling like I had something good.
I stopped at several other places only to leave without making the next connection. It had to be right or I wouldn’t be content. Then disaster struck. I tripped and fell, slightly hurt but worse…. my camera hit the ground hard. I brushed myself off and discovered that I had damaged the lens, which was a real disappointment. I had another lens with me but it was not one I thought I would use. Yet, opportunity to see differently comes to me sometimes if I don’t seek it on my own, so I placed my 50mm F1.4 on my camera, still mourning the loss of my 17 -40 F4 L and kept moving, a little bruised and banged but still excited about the night.
Walking in the opposite direction of the parking lot, I noticed a grand, old gentleman tree who had claimed his kingdom near the top of a small rise, watching over me as I approached. He was strong and confident, having seen so many like me pass him on the way to somewhere else. I also saw the wind was picking up and that’s not good with 12 minute exposures so I had to choose carefully where I would set up shop. I found that spot, finally, tested the light and made a few decisions. My first exposure was dark, my second was sloppy, so I started over. First focus, then plan how the flashlight will paint details into the bark and skin, then start with new tests. And test I did until I found a combination of light and time that made something beautiful to see.
I opened the shutter, walked into the scene with my flash light ablaze, careful not to “spill” on the ground and gently painted his majestic form from several distances and angles. This is what I saw when I was done.
The stars saw me out there watching and waiting as my camera absorbed the available photons, they didn’t stop to greet me buy continued streaking through the sky. From their perspective, it was me who was streaking by, not them. They stand still as they have for several billion years, it’s our upstart planet that can’t be still, spinning and spinning while the stars continue to watch and see how it all unfolds.
The proof of my story lies in the remnants left on microscopic silicon chips in my memory card, streaking the sky with blazing light that shone forth billions of years earlier, their passion still visible as they burned for hundreds of centuries only for their flickers to reach us now. For you and I to see.
That was enough, time to go, 2:00 am and tired. Adrenaline still coursing though my body with the ups and downs (literally) of the evening, I had to stop since I knew my internal clock, trained for weeks and months at a time, will still wake me tired or not, at an ungodly hour of the morning. Sleep, finally. More tomorrow.
The weather here is like it was yesterday, hot all day and cool at night. It’s beautiful here and as I will show you, it’s even more beautiful at night. The sky glows with a reminder of the daylight, as the sun sets slowly over the Sierra Mountains. The winds protest at first then they too decide it’s time to retire for the evening and wake up fresh the next morning. Even the bugs go home to their buggy family and tell stories of the day. But that’s when we just get started to see the world in a different way.
As the temperature drops, the excitement builds and the uncomfortably of the body fade quickly. Presence takes over and vision begins a new. The mind is quiet and the eye is roaming with a blank canvas as the world floods in with data. It’s all compared to previous ideas, images and thoughts yet quickly and without effort sort themselves out into a stream of just being with what is there, right in front of me and now only my emotions are in control. I can’t think about this, I have to feel it. Then, my heart quickens as something inspires me to my core, everything seems to be falling into place and the tripod magically opens, the camera is ready, the careful, technical dance of checking every detail before making an exposure is swift yet precise.
Then, as my vision flows through this tiny hole in the back of my small machine a emotional peak is hit. The camera is focused, locked down and a test exposure made. Ten seconds later, I see the results of my fit of passion. It’s good, not great or perfect but a good start. Change positions, visualize what could be with added light from my Sure Fire flashlight, try again. Now it’s perfect.
Set the timer, 10 minutes typically and now…. Get busy. I move to the left and “paint” the surface of my subject. Wait, I should do it from the side to add texture. I literally run to the next place I need to be with my flashlight, carefully doing the inverse square math in my head to figure out distances, times and intensity.
Careful to cover everything, yet trying not to over do it. From spot to spot, place to place, 20 seconds of light on each surface, always hidden from the camera so not to show signs of my physical presence in the frame, then I wait….. I hear the shutter click and I wait about another 10 seconds for the camera to display it’s gift. No, it wasn’t perfect, I set up again, carefully noting what could be fixed, I duplicate my steps with corrections. Time melts away faster then slower then faster, before I realize I spent an hour and not quite perfect. Doesn’t matter, when will I be here again, with these perfect conditions, this lighting with an able body and strong vision? Who knows. I am here now, I don’t go until I am done.
Then, I look, 3 tries later, it’s good, really good. Sigh. A nice image, my prize, my soul on the back of a camera soon for all to see stripped of pretension and status, just a picture from my soul and heart…. to yours.
The light on the distant Tufas are my flashlight, the light on the closest tufa is the moon light with a little help. The white foam that looks like snow is there and part of the mono lake ecosystem.
I look at my watch, it’s 1:00 am, that’s 4:00 am ET, and I am tired but too excited to sleep. Just one more, I will try one more, see what I can find, my comes to me, what makes my heart sing.
Most photographers describe a similar experience and that’s why we do this. You may write, draw, skydive or sing, you feel the same way when you do. It’s the creative process and the juice we get from that expression.
This image was lit in several places and is much different than the others. It’s on a path, in a literal forest of Tufa’s which outcrop all along the tiny south end of the lake. Sometimes plants die and are more beautiful in death than in life. See if you agree.
Notice the star trails, that’s the earth’s rotation creating that streak, which night photographers take great pride in getting perfect. This image was lit in several places, the inside of the dead plant was hit hard, probably for 15 seconds, along with the spiny remnants of it’s pulpy surface. The path was lit for 5 seconds total, the surrounding shrubs were “touched up” as were the tufa’s to the left of the subject.
Tomorrow, I will show you what it looks like from 10,000 ft up on the Yosemite trail.