Spring in the Eastern Sierras

Location: Eastern Sierras, CA

Here are a collection of images I captured last month during an Eastern Sierras road trip we took. As it was early in the season, I have a few quick tips for others seeking the same sort of adventure in their lives. We took this trip on April 9th, 2018.

First we'll start with the pros - less crowds (depending on where you go), a lot of water in the rivers and lakes, snow capped mountains, pretty flowers, and generally clear roads with mostly mild to cool temperatures depending on your elevation. 

If you're into hot-springs, and who isn't? Mammoth lakes area is where to find some really great ones with sweeping mountain views, this is due to all the volcanic activity in the area. Some of the privately owned hot springs are just off the 395N highway while some other hidden gems are a bit more of an adventure to get to over bumpy off road trails. 

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Over the years, some of these locations have really blown up in terms of crowds.

I think this is mainly because of geo-tagging images and social media, but you should expect other (perhaps nude) groups to share your experience if you do choose to visit these places. It's better without them, but there are ~7 billion people on this planet and we need to learn to co-exist with crowds even in the areas we go to seek solitude :*(

One place you probably won't run into crowds are all the abandoned mines along the Eastern Sierras, if you do your research you will find quite a few of them! Here is one we visited and it was eerily quiet. It was only after I entered this bunker that a bird roosting in the upper rungs came out flapping around everywhere, it spooked me for sure. In the skeletal image above I used all the color-tips for Night-Writer, my light-pen that I take everywhere and do this sort of light-drawing with.

The thing I love about the Eastern Sierras in Spring are all the snow-capped mountains you can see if you look West. This past year had record snowfall, so there is still quite a bit and it may last at higher elevations until early summer.

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Now lets talk cons - one thing about an early Spring trip is you run the risk of it still being very cold at the highest elevations and the roads can be icy. Take for example the image above, where we got stuck on an ice patch at 11,000ft elevation trying to get to Patriarch Grove on the White Mountains. Here the temperatures at night are around 22 degrees! It was pretty bad.

I used a skateboard to pry and dig our way out for hours until exhaustion and then slept in our car - this is why we keep blankets, snow clothes, cold weather sleeping bags, and plenty of water in our car whenever we travel. You don't want to be out here without them, it can save your life!

Even though we were stuck and a bit fearful for our future, I managed to capture this pano before we hit the hay. In the morning we were greeted by another adventurous couple that also got stuck in the same ice patch! After a few hours of digging and bringing in rocks and branches for traction along with a bit of teamwork, we all managed to break free.

Here I am, a free & happy man after an exhausting night. You can purchase the hoody I am wearing by clicking the image above, my friend Justin is doing these and they are awesome!

Next stop for us was Mono Lake, which is where some of the most amazing sunsets happen. Here I tested out a long-exposure using my new Color-Caster tool I'm planning on making available on the Night-Writer shop soon.

Lastly, I will leave you with this pink skeleton in the lake using my Night-Writer + pink color-tip during blue hour. It was a fun trip and I'm always glad when we survive it! :D

Low-light Photography Roundup Winter 2018

Location: Los Padres National Forest

It's been a while since my last blog post, so I figured I'd make up for it with this Winter roundup of my best low light photography and light paintings since then!

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Here's Astrobandit and I kicking it off. We've been doing more collaborative projects lately. 

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What's New?

I've been testing out a new LED device I'm developing called a 'Color-Caster'. The tool is used for lighting a subject or the environment, you can draw with it too of course. Think of it as a bigger and more powerful version of the Night-Writer - a related but different type of tool.

Here it is in use. I colored in the tree with some purple and highlighted the background red-orange (below). The skeletons were drawn in with a Night-Writer + color tips.

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This is what the tool looks like if you draw with it pointed towards the camera. It doesn't work for detailed precision on/off stuff because this tool has a either on or off switch but it's great for one line continuous drawing. The colors are changed through use of a color-slider that you control with your hand: super-manual!

Here is a color test with 4 different color-sliders I've made. I'm working on developing a bunch of 6-color combo bars to maximize creative potential with the tool.

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The light without the color slider is very bright! Here is what it looks like directed at the camera - quite dense and quick to flare! This was shot around f.16 (below).

Color-Caster works well for psychedelic studio or portrait lighting. Quickly change colors and flick on/off for some wild visual effects.

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Here's a rough version of what the Color-Caster looks like in its current state, it uses a 9v battery and a large LED along with color-slider which can be stored below the tool (and give it some sweet color accents). Of course it still needs some work, but it works well and I'm excited about further testing!

If you have any suggestions for me or color schemes you'd like to see tested out, give me a shout at contact@dariustwin.com or leave a comment below!

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New Light-Fossils

I've created a few keepers in the 'Light-Fossils' department, so far my favorites are this 'Sabre-toothed Tiger' captured during blue hour (below).

The timing has to be just right for these type of images. You can easily go over or under on an exposure when working in these type of dynamic lighting conditions. My guess paid off here!

Speaking of dynamic lighting, fog presents it's own unique challenges! Carry a lens tissue because you may need to wipe off your lense after every capture. I was happy to create a nice brontosaurus skeleton in front of an abandoned camp during this dense fog. I love the way you can see the colored light dissipate into the moisture!

Super Blue Blood Moon

We woke up around 4am and did a few once in a lifetime shots like these below. I'll kick it off with this one, it has become a personal favorite(below). 

Of course I had to try a light-fossil. here is a Woolly Mammoth with the 'Super Blue Blood Moon' on its back.

Light-Painting in the Snow

Since we've moved out to the mountains we've gotten a lot more weather than we did in Los Angeles. When it's cold and raining in LA, it is often snowing an hour North on the mountain! here are some light-paintings I did in ~11 degree weather. Layering up is an absolute must along with a facemask for the wind! I especially liked this one of the polar bears. On my way back I noticed footsteps in the snow of a bobcat that had been following my tracks.

Here I trekked out a bit and illustrated a snowfox above the mountain village.

Had to light paint a 'frosty the snowman' ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

More things to come, I will be blogging a bit more during the Spring once we get to do some road trips again! Until then, stay bright and I hope you have enjoyed this light update!

Best Photo Gear for Light-Painting Photography

Location: Earth

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Here's a similar buyer's guide list I did in Spring of last year. These are quick Amazon.com links and prices to the products I use already, or would buy if I was looking to upgrade. This list is intended for people looking for great products used in low-light photography.

1. Cameras:

Sony a7riii - $3,198 (body only) - Top dog among consumer mirrorless options, it has all the important features that pro/consumer photographers and video creators wanted - 4k video, great in low light, super dynamic range, and much better battery life than it's predecessor.

Nikon D850 - $3,296 (body only) - Top dog of the tried and true camera brands, top ratings also.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV - $3,200 (body only).

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II - $800 (body only).

Sony A6000 - $500 (with 16-50mm lens).

2. Lenses:

Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 - $1,696 - Big and heavy, but beautiful.

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 - $1,700 - Good versatility.

Rokinon 14mm f2.8 (for Canon) - $189 - Cheap and good, what a combo!

3. Tripod:

Neewer 66in Carbon Fiber Tripod - $95 - Carries up to 26lbs.

4. LED Lights:

Night-Writer Kit - $65 - I use this for drawing detailed light-lines during a long exposure.

SOLARAY PRO ZX-1 - $50 - High power / rechargeable LED for casting light and getting a focus.

LED Filters & Adaptors - lightpaintingbrushes.com

 

Travel advice for night-photographers in Maui, Hawaii

Location: Maui, HI

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It's times like these that I wish I had a little drone to send up into the atmosphere and take a picture of this insane double rainbow from the sky's perspective with a very small and fast wide-angle lens to get the perfect full-circle rainbow.

I'll hang loose until then.. Welcome to Maui, you're on island time now! 

This is a land of comfortable temperatures for the most part, it was about 80-87 degrees whenever I looked at weather forecasts. It rained often and high winds affected the North side of the island more than the South. We traveled around the island extensively, taking the Hana highway, visiting the volcano atop Haleakala for sunrise, and hiking to countless waterfalls, and of course visiting lots of beaches with sands of white, red, and black.

Comfortable temperatures can change if you plan on visiting the top of Haleakala, the volcano that sits around 10,000 ft elevation and was about freezing temperature when we visited. It wasn't the low temperatures that got us there, it was the intense and biting wind chill!

That said, the views up there are basically perfect for astrophotography, on an island in the middle of the pacific ocean, above the clouds, and about as close as you can get to the stars without too much trouble breathing. Here I was able to capture the best meteor I've caught yet:

On the top of this volcano I felt as if I was on an island in space rather than just the Pacific. People come up here to see the sunrise, but the other stars are the best part for me!

If you plan on visiting Haleakala, definitely pack for the freezing temperatures and be sure to reserve a parking space at the top! This is a relatively new thing as of February 2017, and it helps with mitigating extreme crowds - they will turn you away at the entrance if you do not reserve a spot!

Ok, now let's talk animals.. At many of the beaches on Maui you might see sea turtles!

These are well documented in petroglyphs scratched into lava rock and on t-shirts and stickers all over the island. So I got a bit of inspiration from that and did my own light version at Ho'okipa beach, where we saw some turtles earlier that day. Cops kicked us out shortly after this image, the park closes after sunset.

Another small and interesting reptile that inhabits the island is the Gecko! This little friend will eat those pesky mosquitos and just about any other insect it can catch. They are fast little critters and can crawl almost anywhere because of the setae under their feet that allows them to hold onto most surfaces, unless the surface is wet! 

One of the more interesting geological structures we visited was a trail called 'Dragon's teeth' (Makaluapuna Point) - this was at the edge of a golf course in Lahaina. I thought a Spinosaurus light-fossil would be a good addition to this scene.

There's a few myths that are widely known around Hawaii, one of which is the 'Night-Marchers' - the story goes that if you are out hiking at night, and hear a conch shell sound in the distance followed by mysterious night-marchers holding torches, you should immediately lie on ground and not look at them. For if you look, they will kill you unless one of the spirits confirms that you are a native ancestor of their people. 

While I did not see any night-marchers on this trip, I was cursed by mosquitos trying to get this image above shot in Hana Bay.

I hope you've enjoyed island time, and some of the images I've illustrated with my Night-Writer light! Until next time, stay bright!

In the path of totality - Great American Eclipse - 2017

Location: Shaniko, OR

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This sort of opportunity only comes once in a great while and I was excited to see it happen in person! After following all the news reports, double checking the social-media accounts of well known Oregon-based photographers, doing calculations on Nasa's eclipse-app, as well as checking traffic reports, closures and warnings from Oregon Dept of Transportation, we finally decided to hop off the fence here in Southern California and just go for it!

Astrobandit and I drove 12 hours North to Madras, Oregon starting at 6am. The goal was to be in the middle of the totality path for the 2017 August 21st Solar Eclipse.

Once we got there, it was so packed full of people that we got a bit claustrophobic and decided to go to an area a half hour North but still inside the Totality zone, a little place that I'd been to once before on a roadtrip to a music festival back in 2011, a small historic-looking western town called 'Shaniko'. Here's what it looked like to me nearly 7 years ago during a delirious (we drove all night) yet magic sunrise:

When we arrived at 9pm on August 20th, the small ghost town was in full-on party mode. There was a band playing in the middle of the historic buildings and people dancing in the streets. People were camped out by the old rusted automobiles and it seemed like everyone was having a really great time. I stayed up to snap this pano of the old barn with the Milky Way above it. It felt like the completion of a circle:

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That night we slept in our car and woke up to what must have been thousands more that had arrived in the middle of the night or perhaps early that morning. The people parked next to us had driven from Washington and the people next to them had flown in from Japan! The general mood was filled with anticipation and a common sense of purpose, everyone was really nice to each other! It was a beautiful thing to witness in person because all I've read in the news recently is doom and gloom, this was the exact opposite of that!

At 10:20am is when it began, not that either of us could see the transition much.. We had opted not to get solar glasses - this was a pretty glaring mistake in the transitional phases of the eclipse, but I figured the most important part was the totality.

Here's a video I recorded on my phone (and a few other cameras) of the totality happening, one of the things that was a little unexpected was how much the temperature changed during totality, it must have dropped 20-30 degrees in just a few minutes! Also, it produced an incredible 360 degree sunset!

'Wow' pretty much sums it up:

Here are some of my favorite images we captured of the eclipse, I was trying to take some long-exposures to get stars in the background but that proved totally impossible because the sun was still so bright behind the moon!

I've listed the cameras used to shoot the various images below - iPhone 7 Plus, Canon 6D with 70mm lens + UV filter, Canon 7D with 300mm lens plus 10-stop ND filter, and a Sony A6000 with 200mm lens:

The traffic exiting Madras, Oregon was some of the worst I've ever experienced - historic for sure.

Bottlenecking everywhere due to all the 2 lane roads and massive camps of people all leaving at the same time. Add on a few small towns in the middle with a few traffic lights that were not designed to accommodate millions of people and we were looking at about 10hrs of 2mph traffic from Madras to La Pine - a terrible price to pay but an surreal experience I'll never forget.

Thanks for reading! If you'd like to see more nature related imagery, check out my landscapes gallery here!

Red, Light, and Blue

Location: Los Padres National Forest, CA

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Here's my rendition of the American Flag done with light-painting shortly after sunset, to view large click here.

Camera Settings: 94 seconds / ISO 250 / F 7.1

I used this rusty barbed-wire gate as a template of sorts, it took a few tries to get it right. You can see what I mean in animated .gif below. At first, my Night-Writer light was not bright enough to compete with the recent sunset, but over time it dimmed and I was able to get something I liked. 

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For this image I used a newly designed 'Pyramid' color-tip. This custom design was Red, White, and Blue for July 4th. America's 'Independence Day'.

For each color in the flag, I rotated this new tip design at a slightly different angle toward the camera lens. I experimented with different speeds of light-drawing also, at first I would move in slow motion with the light, toward the end I began speeding up to balance the light-drawing brightness with the environment. You can see some of the stars come out illustrating how dark it became toward the end of the animated .gif (above).

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Astrobandit and I watched the fireworks in Ventura, CA this year. I wasn't feeling the idea of lugging around a tripod and camera gear, so I opted to use my phone as the camera of choice for this particular occasion.

Here are some images I took of the fireworks using an 'iPhone 7 Plus' and NightCap Pro App. I held the phone steady on my knee (in place of a tripod) for a second or so while the camera captured colorful streaks of each big bang!

The colors aren't perfect, as you can see in way the sensor picks up red colors, but overall I thought 'not bad' for a little pocket camera!

Light-painting Animation Tips

Location: Cerro Noroeste - Kern County, CA

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Let's talk about light-painting animations, I can give you some insight here as I have done a few short films featuring detailed light-art creations moving over the past few years. Here they are below if you have not seen them yet:

'Light Goes On' - 2013

& 'Lightspeed' - 2015

Let's get into the basics first - this is no easy task and if you think animating on paper is tough, this is a bit more physically demanding than that, it's hiking, balancing, squatting, wild hand gestures, intense focus, and most importantly, a grand vision!

My first recommendation is trying it on paper, if it works there, it will work with light! Here is an example of the kind of sketches I like to do before light-drawing the animation: 

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Sometimes, I will reference videos on youtube (pressing the spacebar like a spaz to play/pause the frame). Other times I will reference images and videos I capture myself, it all depends on your vision. 

After you can ace the flipbook test, it's time to move toward the light-art animating. For starters you need a dark location - somewhere that has a unique view, or perhaps build it yourself? Up to you! 

You'll need a DSLR, remote, tripod and light - I use Night-Writer because I made it for drawing with. First part is setting the scene - I like to scout locations in the day so I know exactly what I'm getting into at night. Often I will take phone pics to get a general idea of what angles I'd like to use later that night. 

Once on location you'll get to the spot, set up your camera on a tripod, take the lens cap off and start to compose a scene using a high-powered light. Manually set your focus on the area you would like to animate around and set your camera to 'Bulb'. You may need to adjust your camera settings so that you can use the remote. After you think all the settings are correct, it's time to test it out - do something basic to start with and then adjust camera settings to get the right look you're going for. 

Common settings for different lighting conditions:

City Lights: F.16-22 | ISO 50-200 | 100-150 sec

Full Moon: F.7.1-9 | ISO 200-400 | 150-250 sec

New Moon: F.16 | ISO 1600 | 50-100sec

Using your remote - trigger the beginning of the shot, then hop in front of the lens and draw each frame (I like to use a rock or something to mark where my character needs to be for each frame), slowly move your character and motions with each consecutive long-exposure (just like with a flip-book). Trigger your remote for the beginning and the end of each frame in the animation, I like to animate at 24 frames per second because I think it looks best. 24 frames is equal to one second of footage!

Once I have all of my frames, I will edit them using lightroom or photoshop so that they all look like similar exposures. After this, I open all the edited images in Adobe Bridge so that I can see the first frame to last frame files in one place visually.

I open the first frame in photoshop and then stack the next frame on top of the first into separate consecutive layers. Once I've compiled all of my 24 layers on top of each other, I open the 'Timeline' tab from the 'Window' top selection. There's a button that says 'Create Frame Animation' - click it. 

You should see one frame in the timeline, but you will need to select the upper right drop-down menu, there is a selection called 'Make Frames from Layers'. Use that to have all of your layers import to the timeline. 

Now it's time to select the frame rate, adjust the delay as needed to make for the smoothest animation. I like to use a .06 sec delay on each frame.

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After you're happy with your animated sequence, you can export it to video or save it as a .gif, you may need to resize the file along the way.

Night-Writer Lineage

Location: Los Angeles & Pine Mountain, CA

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With the release of the 7th iteration of 'Night-Writer', I thought I'd give a bit of context as to where the design came from and where it's going.

It all started back in 2011, when my friend Dana Maltby (a.k.a. TCB) gave me a light-pen he made of duct-tape, 2 AA batteries, a push-button, and an LED light. You can take a look at some of the historical photos below to get an idea of what the first prototypes were like, and which images were made with what early versions of the LED tool:

A custom LED light may seem like a fairly mundane concept to most, but for someone with illustration chops it's like the difference between a surgeon using a steak-knife or a scalpel when operating. There are certain nuances to the design that make it better for drawing with than your average LED light. Think of it as an instrument!

Now let's take a closer look at each of these design iterations and I'll tell you some of the pros and cons of working with each tool, as well as how each version informed the next. You can click on each image and hover-over to read the story about each model, 

Here's a link to the current model of the Night-Writer (V.7), it can be purchased right here for a limited time.

I have hand-made every version of the LED tool (V.1 - V.7) and each is signed and dated on the interior. Here's to the next evolution, stay bright!

Flipping Out

Location: Pine Mountain, CA

 See more in  animation / licensing  collection

See more in animation / licensing collection

It's good to try new things, so I brought a step-ladder with me on my most recent night mission during the last full moon.

The few extra steps gave me enough height to animate my red light-skeleton running up the walls ala Gene Kelly from 'Singing In The Rain'. 

I used a remote controlled color-changing 'LED Pod' to color the shadowed areas blue and a Night-Writer with red color-tip for the skeleton character. 

For these type of time and energy dependent projects it helps to have a well defined process and stick to it through the length of the shoot, otherwise the animation will never get done. You've got to find your groove.

Mine was roughly 3 seconds of blue light exposure from the 'LED-Pod', and then drawing out the skeleton while the full moon illuminated the background, each long exposure frame was about 150 seconds.

Here's a kinetic blend of the different drawings together:

kinetic LP

Here's a quick GoPro time-lapse of the process:

The next image was a special one for my Mother, it was Mother's Day after all.

Here's a 'Mama Bear and Cubs' walking along a fallen tree under the full moon.

Mama Bear

Thanks for reading and stay bright light fam!

Man On Fire

Location: Pine Mountain, CA

 See more in the  Animation / Licensing  collection.

See more in the Animation / Licensing collection.

The other night I checked out a nearby spot that has a burned down section of the forest. A stark reminder of what can happen over the Summer when the weather is hot, dry, and windy.

This must have happened a handful of years back, you can see smaller growth making a comeback but it could be many more years until we see trees here again.

burned forest

Here's a blend I did of all the frames in the animation above so you can see the frame by frames. The steps are a little wonky, but hey - he's on fire! Fire effect produced with red El Tape.

stack

The next light-art challenge is a different type of photo-merge. This one is done in-camera during a long-exposure. It's essentially a double exposure using the lens-cap and two tripods. 

Light-painters call it the 'Lens-cap Trick'.

The best way to accomplish this 'Lens-cap Trick' yourself is to have two tripods with the same quick-release plate, that way you can quickly set up different positions and remove the camera and set it up easily on another, just remember to cap your lens while you move the camera from one location to the next and re-adjust your focus each time.

If you're in the market for a killer tripod that won't break the bank, check out this lightweight and ridiculously strong Pro-series 'Dolica' Carbon Fiber Tripod for about $100. I've been using the same model for the past year or so and I am thinking of getting another soon - for this price it can't really be beat! Other carbon fiber tripods can cost 5x the price!

Back to the 'Lens-cap Trick', first set up the tripods in two different locations, I chose one up close to a fireplace (close focus) and another further away from the camera to draw the heart (long focus).

The idea is to line up the two separate compositions so that they are relatively seamless and look like one surreal photograph. It requires getting the exposure accurate and in focus for both composites - this takes a bit of trial and error to get just right - you have to remember the focal length for each exposure.

I recommend getting a good shot of the plate first, then trying the light-art until it's lined-up correctly separately, after these are both dialed in, then go for the make of both. Here are my practice shots, I try expose a little darker so that the blend works out:

stove

Sometimes it's the simple things that are most difficult! This heart took quite a few tries to get just right, but now I have a sweet burning heart .gif:

heart on fire

Here is my end result:

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After the make, I wanted to try another more ambitious shot where I set the tripod up outside in my backyard by an interesting V-shaped tree.

For the image below it was more like 3 exposures - First I exposed the stove (lit w bare Night-Writer), then I capped the lens and started a small fire in the stove. Next, I took the lens cap off to expose the flames (2nd exposure) and capped it after the fire had burned a bit. Lastly, I moved the camera to the outside where I refocused and exposed for the 3rd time toward the 'V-shaped' tree in my backyard and drew in the light-skeleton with a clear-tipped Night-Writer

Give it a try the next time you're in the right place for it!

The 'Lens-cap Trick' is one of the more advanced techniques for light-art and takes a bit longer to master than almost any other kind of shot, so please be patient and give yourself plenty of time to try and fail... If you don't give up, you will eventually succeed. Stay Bright!

Lighthouse in the Pines

Location: Pine Mountain, CA

Since my last blog post, Astrobandit and I have become new homeowners. It's been a wild process but I will be happy to be doing my work in the mountains about an hour and half drive from my previous residence in Los Angeles, CA.

At around 5000ft elevation and hardly any light-pollution, this place is ideal for night-photography. I hope to host fellow light-artists if they wish to visit in the future - perhaps do some workshops.. I see many collaborations happening in and around this house!

pano

Let's take a quick trip inside for a moment, here is the loft-space where my cat likes to tempt fate.

Yes, that is a disco ball hanging from the ceiling.. I've only pointed a laser at it once.

A special feature of the house sometimes happens around 7:30am, if there are no clouds and the sun is out during the right time of year, the disco ball lights up for a few minutes after sunrise, it only happens when the light hits just right! 

disco sucks

This area of California sits on an intersection of sorts between two mountain ranges - the Coast Ranges (West) and the Sierra Nevadas (East), North is the Central Valley of CA and South, down several thousand feet, is the city of Los Angeles.

One of my favorite things to do recently is explore the surrounding areas, most of which are accessible by ridge routes that connect winding mountain roads through places like Ojai, Carrizo Plains, and around Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Here (below) are some crows flying high above Carrizo Plains National Monument a few days ago.

crows

Here (below) is a hillside full of small yellow wildflowers, I added in some other light-flowers with my commentary on heredity. 

Of course I take my trusty Night-Writer along on each of these road-trips..

Night-Writer

So I can draw philosophical things, like 'Why did the chicken cross the road?'.

Since the heavy rains in March I wanted to try and venture into and shoot the usually dry lake in Carrizo Plains - Soda Lake. This was not a good idea because the crusty surface of the lake quickly gave way to a muck the consistency of baby food.. Basically quicksand, as you can see in this video:

I was content with a sidelines view of the sunset instead.

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After changing my initial goal of reflecting light-art on the water, I began writing a phrase I've found truth in over the years. My interpretation of this phrase is somewhat similar to Karma, sow light! 

 You Reap What You Sow

You Reap What You Sow

Superbloom 2017

Location: Borrego Springs / Lake Elsinore, CA

I feel like I've been hibernating for a bit.. But all that's about to change with Spring in the air! Here's a quick animated loop I made with the most recent version of my Night-Writer prototype at Walker Canyon nearby Lake Elsinore.

You can see these flowers off the side of the 15 freeway and they make the hills look like they were covered with Cheetos from a distance. Closer up, they are actually vast fields of wild California Poppies and a very popular place to visit for photographers.

The beauty of this bloom is a sight to behold, supposedly the best in over a decade.

All these flower fields in bloom gave me an idea for a light-drawing, so I did this quick sketch and have been thinking of it for a little bit. It seemed appropriate.

It took a few tries to get right, there was a whole process of set lighting for the actual creation, I'll go over the whole process below the image:

First, I used a remote triggered pod-light to cast red up from the base of the flowers around my soon to be light-drawing for about 10 seconds. Then, I highlighted the area in front of the flowers and up the hill from the left and right side (off frame) w a high-powered white light. After this, I began drawing in my fire-flower with an un-filtered Night-Writer for the starry eyes and color-filtered Night-Writer for the flower itself switching colors from yellow to red and then green. Lastly, I used red EL Wire for the fireball.

Out in the desert of Borrego Springs, we visited Coyote Canyon and Henderson Canyon. So many varieties of bright colorful flowers in the normally reddish brown areas.

For the next light-drawing, I decided to focus some energy on my 'Insects' series. Here's a popular (or un-popular) and spring-appropriate character, the Mighty Grasshopper.

The last image I will leave you with was made with a weird color-wheel device I created over the weekend with some color-filters and a skateboard bearing.

The tool was kind of difficult to work with, but it functioned well enough to draw this 'High Flower' waving goodnight.

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:

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.

Joshua Tree at Night

Location: Joshua Tree National Park - Joshua Tree, CA

During this time of year in Joshua Tree the temperatures can drop dramatically at night, the higher elevation (around 2700 ft) certainly adds to this effect. It can be 60 degrees during the day and 30 degrees once the sun goes down, make sure you pack a good jacket and layer-up if you plan to visit. 

For the photograph above 'Stand Tall', I used a new light tool I made especially for taller creations. For scale, the left skeleton is about 6 feet tall and the right one is about nine to ten feet tall. I used an old antenna, an LED and single wire to create an extendable light source I could draw with. Later I wrapped it in clear fishing line for a more diffused look:

Sunrise and sunsets create vibrant transitional colors in the sky, and at night the backdrop of space itself appears bright and unobstructed by city lights in the distance. 

The occasional passing car lights define narrow paths cut through the park, highlighting mounds of giant boulders.

setting up the shootout

Here I am setting up the next shot, I wanted a western shootout look with one character in the foreground and another far off in the background eating lead.

I was hoping to get a bit of that fading sunset color in the shot.

You can get a feel for about how much time went by taking a look at the length of the star trails. The 'Midnight Showdown' scene (below) took 370 seconds:

Later that night we headed to a really cool place called Cactus Moon Retreat, and I drew a cactus and moon in one of my favorite rooms in the property using my newly designed jumbo Night-Writer tips.

cactus moon

Here's a sneak peak at what some new modular (and larger) color-tips look like up close, I plan on making these available soon but need to fix a few minor things about the way they clasp together first.

Here's a short GoPro video I captured while trying to create the images in this post, hopefully it gives you a good idea of what making light-drawings is all about.

We'll finish this post with the 'Devil you Know', made with a red modular tip and a really bright white LED to create some flares over the eyes.

Click Here for more articles on Joshua Tree, CA.

 

Winter Redwoods

Location: Humboldt County, CA - Prairie Creek Redwoods and Avenue of the Giants

Here we are in the freezing Redwoods of the Northernmost coastal areas of California. A place that looks like time was forgotten and Giants remain. Indeed, these trees have been on Earth for around 240 million years.

My personal (probably incorrect) theory is that this was once a part of Pangea hundreds of millions of years ago and most of it broke apart and collapsed into the ocean on part of the Juan De Fuca Plate leaving a tiny portion that remains on the coast of the North American tectonic plate. 

It's fun to think of Dinosaurs once roaming between these trees, but it's another thing to draw them doing it frame by frame in 34 degree weather with a Night-Writer (+ yellow-tip) in the dark.

I sketched this animation frame by frame (below) to make sure the movement was accurate, a triceratops light-fossil is a complicated character, here it is simplified:

sketchy at best

The first thing you have to know about this area is that it's fairly remote and a bit difficult to get to (especially if coming from Los Angeles like us!), be prepared for many hours of windy roads on the 101 past San Francisco, CA.

During this time of year it typically gets cold at night and can be rainy, watch out for black ice on the curvy roads deep in the forest, we tried not to drive on these roads too late into the night.

Our stops along the way up were: Santa Rosa, Willits, Trinidad, Klamath, then we came down the coast visiting Fort Bragg, Tomales Bay, and lastly Big Sur.

 Most light-painting sessions occurred just after sunset and until 9pm, after that it got a bit frosty.

ice cold

Welcome to Winter!

I drew a 'Lost Rudolph' with his nose so bright on an old bridge off the 101 in an area called 'Lost Man Creek'. I like how he looks a little confused here.. This area was pitch black at night, a bit spooky also.

Looks like we've got a hairy situation on our hands here, 'Bigfoot'!

For this image (above) I experimented with a new homemade Night-Writer tip made of cut, sanded, and glued plastic pieces.

I like the texture it added to my bigfoot:

I can't stress the importance enough of scouting a location first before it becomes too dark in the forest.

At night it's difficult to see anything more than 20 feet ahead of you. For the image below I was reaching around in the dark a bit.

Here are some of my 'light-skeletons' hanging around this fallen giant in the night, we'll call them the 'Forest Spirits'.

Looking further into the forest, I had an idea to topographically map the depth of the trees with a high-powered laser, the result is almost exactly as I envisioned, pretty wild!

Here is what 'Laser Vision' looks like.

That will sum up our adventure for now, here's a smiley face for you - Happy Holidays! 

Click Here for more articles about The Redwoods.

smiley

Night-photography in the Valley of Fire

Location: Valley of Fire State Park - Moapa Valley, NV

In one door and out the other.

These 'cabins' (above) were built for travelers in the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program made in response to the Great Depression under Franklin D Roosevelt as part of the New Deal.

Here we are at Valley of Fire (VOF) State Park in Moapa Valley, NV. It's blue hour (above) and I'm thinking of where to light-paint for the night.

I took this photo (above) during a Supermoon, just as the park rangers stopped by and told us to leave this section of the park because it closes at sunset.. I hate it when parks close at sunset.

toast people

During the day, you can walk through some of the hiking paths inside the park and see many signs of pre-history chiseled into the rock like these petroglyphs above. 

I'm not sure what this one means (above) but here's my interpretation - the toast-people are allies.

round rocks

You'll see some unusual rock formations throughout the park, everything is made of sandstone and can be easily eroded with wind, water, and other forces of nature.

This results in psychedelic swirling colors of red, yellow, orange, black, pink, and white rock. The circular stones (above) were about the size of walnuts, you could see they've been formed over a very long time. 

This looked like a fitting circle for a vanity shot of my Night-Writer. Those colors rock (*ba-dum-tss).

Light-skeletons 'In the House' - 243 second exposure / F 7.1 / ISO 160

Under a bright full moon I used the darkest shadows in and around the house to create some color contrasts with my skeletons in the Cabins.

'Capturing a Light-Fossil' - 547 second exposure / F9 / ISO 160

This is at a spot called 'The Beehives', it's toward an entrance of the park and was being well lit by the Supermoon above. Climbing around on those rocks was fun.

'Bee Yourself' - 547 second exposure / F8 / ISO 160

Of course I couldn't resist putting a Bee on guard of one of the hive-looking rock formations. Interestingly, the exposure time is exactly the same as the previous image.

'Dinosaur Island' - 328 second exposure / F9 / ISO 160

This lonesome rock looked like a good place for my lonesome Light-Fossil.

Same place as the prior two images, the Beehive rocks were my favorite night-spot on this particular trip.

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.

Pablo App

Locations: Los Angeles, CA | Berlin, Germany | Death Valley, CA

Here's an image I shot in Death Valley, CA at the Mesquite Dunes with a new long exposure video App called PABLO available for iPhone OS now via this LINK (Shot on iPhone 6 using a tripod).

The main point of this App is the process, it records the movement of your light live in-camera - pretty neat!

PABLO App is simple and user friendly - it works best w a tripod - tap the camera icon to get started and tap the red button to start recording. Tap the red button again and the video is over. Make sure to save & title your work, or delete if it's no good and share at your convenience!

I wasn't very good at the first few exposures with the App, one thing to note is you're definitely going to want a nice diffused light because it's easy to blow out such a tiny sensor with brighter torches (see below for example of blown out light). I did this skeleton in an abandoned hospital in Berlin - yes, it was creepy!

You can see how the App records casted light and directed light (video is sped up a bit).

Here's a quick one of the President Elect.. I used a Night-Writer w purple tip for this one but I think it was a bit too close for comfort so the light was a little bright in spots.

The last video I'll share is a quick one - a simple phrase that is all the rage right now. Now give this App a try tonight and see what you can come up with. 

Try some light-painting with your family over the holidays :)