Eastern High Sierra

A couple of months ago, during a major heat wave, I traveled through the Sierra Nevada mountains from Sacramento to Reno and drove south on highway 395. The weather at over 4100 feet in Bishop, CA was 90 degrees, unusual for them, especially for September.

This part of California is not well traveled, yet offers spectacular scenery and has but one highway, US395. Snows often close or restrict travel in the winter months, but the summers are quite nice. I explored many back roads to crystal clear mountain lakes and rivers this trip.

This being a twilight and night photography blog, I’d like to share a few of the appropriate imagery.


I stumbled on an old mining camp about 10 miles out of Bridgeport called the Chemung Mine. There were various buildings from 1902, including the miner’s cabin above.  There was no lights nor anyone for miles around. This twilight shot was actually quite dark to the eye and the touch of fading light is reflected off the corrugated metal siding.  In the background is the glow of the hamlet of Bridgeport and car lights on 395. Yes, that’s the Milky Way in the upper left.

I concentrated on time-lapse photography that night which kept me from doing still work in the mining structures. You can only do so much, as I had two cameras on tripods shooting for hours and I had to stay out of the views of the cameras. This was shot with a third camera/tripod.

After camping in the Chemung ghost town, the following morning I traveled on some 4-wheel-drive back roads and eventually rolled into Bodie the back way. Having been there so many times, even at night, I continued on.



The next day, I took some 4×4 fire roads to the top of Mazourka Peak which is about half way between Bishop and Lone Pine in the White Mountains. This vantage point, at nearly 10,000 feet, gave me a fabulous view of the Owens Valley and mighty Sierra to the west. Here I’m looking south at the town of Independence and Lone Pine in the distance at twilight.



I hiked to the other side of the mountain for this view looking north. The center right lights are of Bishop, about 30 miles away. Note the curved white light to the left of Bishop. That’s an aircraft on approach into the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport there. I had binoculars with me to view during the long exposures. That is Tinemaha Reservoir, holding back the Owens River in the foreground, reflecting the blue twilight glow.



At the top of the mountain, there are telephone repeaters. In this shot, I silhouetted the towers against the moonless sky and Milky Way.



I did one shot with a bit of flashlight on the towers. Which is best is left up to your own opinion.  Personally, I like the silhouetted views better.



Here, the Milky Way looming above US395 shows the scale of the desert sky. It’s rare to see the lights of the Milky Way intensely with man-made lighting in the same view. A vertical view enhances the sky.



Here is a similar view, but a 10 minute exposure, showing star trails. Note the different colors of the stars on this moonless night. The Milky Way becomes a blur, looking more like a cloud compared to the previous 20 second long shot. The orange glow in the background are the lights of the Los Angeles basin, over 150 miles away. That shows how dark it was that night. You can really see the one highway though this area in these shots.



Here is another 10 minute exposure of the tower and the star trails. The cloud in the upper right is the Milky Way.

I photographed for 4-5 hours that night in warm weather (80 degree) but very windy conditions (I estimate over 30 mph winds all night). I slept on top of the mountain and I found the wind lulled me to sleep. At dawn it was 50 degrees, and the wind made it feel much colder.



I awoke at first light and shot a few time-lapses of the dawn. Here the early morning sun is illuminating the Sierra across the valley.

As I left, I realized that this was probably the best weather this location has all year, as by December there will be snow and cold, fierce winds. There wasn’t a soul anywhere on this mountain and the facility was powered by solar and wind power and operated autonomously. This isolation is why I enjoy the desert so.


On another note, I will be in a show at the Long Beach Museum of art with 5 of my urban industrial night images. The show will be up from November 10th through March 19, 2017. If you’re in the LA area, the show opening is Friday, November 18th from 5-7pm. Hope to see you there. Here is a flyer for the show:


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Parking Structures

Parking structures.  Sounds like a boring subject, doesn’t it. Actually, I’ve been shooting parking structures commercially for years for various clients. I have to make them look like “Palaces for Automobiles”. That can be a challenge. The people who design and build them are very proud of their work.

Of course the structures look better at night, like most subjects I shoot. I find them abstract, yet so ubiquitous in our modern urban world. They’re great to shoot when they are new and clean, too.

These shots are from about a half dozen different locations in California. As usual, I’m only showing night work. None of these images were used commercially. To be honest, they were really shot for me to push my creative skills. After all, I’m out there to do a job, so I simply stay longer to shoot more at night.


I think this makes a great establishing shot. The palm trees give it away that it’s Southern California, but it could be another sunbelt area. The urban light scatter gives that magenta sky in this 30 second exposure. It’s a parking structure, plain and simple but this view makes it seem monumental.



The strange patterns from the light fixtures is really exaggerated in the photo. It didn’t look as dramatic to the naked eye. It’s hard to see at this resolution, but the glow on the metallic paint on the silver/gray car got my attention. It seems as if it was studio lit.



I always look for mixed lighting situations and this one is a fascinating example. What you are looking at is the light from a mercury vapor lamp on the roof deck of the structure spilling down to the deck below. You can see another one in the background on the left. Again, this wasn’t as obvious to the eye, but the camera records it. There is no added color or light for this or any of the other shots–it’s just a matter of seeing what is there.



This image is about graphic shapes with light and shadow. It’s very simple. It seems like most parking structures have a different light source for the top level than the lower levels, as shown here.



The elevator shaft structure is an important one for an 6 floor structure. Again, the urban glow gives that magenta sky at night.



Sometimes the simple image works best. Here the yellow of the ‘floor 2’ and arrow seem to work together, contrasting nicely with the cool toned concrete.



Here is a great example of the perfectly straight verticals and all the tilted horizontals. It must be an engineering nightmare to design and build these structures! I shot two versions of this, but I really like the tractor trailer red running lights coming off an over pass in the background. Note the glow of red on the middle incline.



That green sure is lurid! I guess they don’t want anyone to hit that wall as you drive out. I like that it’s both back lit and front lit, as least on the lower part.



This rooftop view seems to have these concrete monoliths coming out of the floor. They are part of the structural beams and echo the light poles.



Yes, this is just a wall on the ground floor, but it has great texture and I like what is going on in the background on each end, giving it depth. Note the tilting ceiling. The verticals are perfectly aligned.



Floor 4–obviously. These 6 foot high numbers makes it easy to see the floor number. The lighting on this column is quite dramatic, too.



This rounded top floor structure houses the elevator shafts and stairwell. It really had a dramatic presence. More of the concrete monoliths, too.



Tilted floors again. This is shot with a long lens to compress the size of the area beneath the truck to add drama. Shooting vertically also adds a dynamic.


I was fascinated by what a friend sent me on what Apple expects of their desktop images. I certainly don’t go through these lengths to manipulate an image, but many people love the computer time of photography. Have a look at the ‘instructions’ in the meta data that wasn’t ‘scrubbed’ from this night shot of Half Dome in Yosemite.



I wanted to mention that my mentor from college, Steve Harper, who got me interested in night photography many years ago recently passed away. He pushed me to be more creative with his always constructive criticism. I often think of him and still think he will comment on this blog as he often did on previous posts. We who studied under him all miss him greatly. I dedicate this blog to him. Happy travels, Steve.


Urban New Jersey

A few weeks ago, I went to New Jersey with the primary idea to shoot at night and visit some fellow night shooting friends.  To most people who know NJ, you wouldn’t think that Newark, Bayonne, Harrison or Jersey City are photogenic, but I’d argue that point.

I’ve always been attracted to photographing the man-made world.  It’s not that I don’t like the outdoors and camping–on the contrary, I do, but I find there are others who shoot it better than me.  My take is to enjoy nature in real time, not so much photographically.

The urban-industrial city is simply accepted and taken for granted.  Especially at night. The eastern part of NJ bordering NYC is very man-made and urban, and has been for many generations.

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On our first night out (I arrived at 6pm) we shot close to where I was staying in South Orange to start thinking creatively.  We were shooting in a local park when I saw the TV flickering from this upstairs window.  The blue glow contrasted nicely with the orange sodium vapor lamps in the park, telling the story of home life after work.


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We went to the Port of Newark’s cruise terminal to explore the new and old areas, which are changing rapidly.  The above is a shot of the staging area tent and the near full moon. What you are looking at is the orange sodium vapor lamp shining through the white plastic with the shadows of the internal structure on the tent itself.  I found this so abstract and shot about half a dozen views before I got this view.  Getting the reflection of the moon was a challenge, as there was a brick wall behind me limiting my options.


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There were some fast moving clouds near the Port of Newark on this cold, blustery night. The near/far relationship between the truck an the background gives interest and scale.


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This is the same water tower that was in the previous shot.  For this shot, the water column was  selected in LightRoom as the “neutral” color, eliminating the orange cast of the earlier shot.  I liked the metal building’s cyan color rendering.  The other shot is more what it looked like to the eye.  I don’t do this often, but a shot like this opens it up to different interpretations.


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The hard shadow from a security lamp made for some interesting shadows and colors. That is a power line, not an airplane in the sky.  Note the wisps of clouds and just a few stars.  You don’t see many stars in the well lit, crowded urban areas.


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Here is a twilight “beauty shot” of the  Manhattan skyline from Jersey City.  It’s so close (minutes by water taxi) but also so far away.  The NYC skyline has changed so much in the past 20 years.  I included this to show many of you that I shoot more than industrial areas!


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We went shooting down by the Hackensack River of the new highway bridges being built. I shot many shots of that construction, but I found the texture of these pilings more photogenic.  The water is murky in this industrial part of town, with a power plant on the right out of view.  The long exposure of 1 minute smoothed out the ripples in the water adding a nice tone to the brown to blue water color and reflecting the pilings.


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When traveling by train into Manhattan, I’d use my phone’s map to see where I was and make note of interesting areas to explore in the evening.  The 19th and early 20th century brick factories are rapidly being torn down (or on occasion, being rehabed), changing the landscape of places like Harrison.  It’s becoming quite gentrified!  The above factory has been gutted and turned into a parking lot–at least for the time being. I’m sure it will be gone the next time I come to Harrison.


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We wandered around this area of old abandoned factories and found one that has been recently been gutted.  Everything of value has been stripped.  It was open on one side, so we went in to explore.  There were bright mercury vapor security lamps shining through the gutted windows on one side, casting an eerie blue color cast on the red brick.


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In this shot you can see those intense blue lights in what seems like projections on the walls.  I shot quite a bit in this location, as there were no fences to climb or windows to climb through. I know this structure will be gone soon despite being over 100 years old.


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As I was shooting I saw a flash of a spotlight coming though the building.  It was the police making their rounds.  We both hid in the shadows as they made a slow drive by with the spotlights.  We were not seen, allowing us to shoot for a while longer.  I should mention that the Red Bull (soccer) Arena is just two blocks away from this location.  I figure they can make more charging big money for parking than what the factory could produce. Times change, indeed.


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I really wanted to shoot in the Meadowlands, showing the “nature” side of NJ.  After all, it is the Garden State!  With some time spent on Google Earth Satellite view, I found a nature preserve in Lyndhurst called DeKorte Park.  It’s less than a mile from Kearny and Jersey city, yet the locals I was with never heard of it!  It was closed at sunset, but there was an open gate you could walk in and we explored on foot.  It’s actually built on a closed and capped landfill.  This image is lit from some green security lights with the Meadowlands beyond.


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I shot quite a bit in the park as it had a boardwalk through the swamp-lands.  That’s a duck blind on the right.  The lights of Manhattan are just four miles away in the background.  It was a dense overcast night and it actually rained on us a couple of times. I had to duck into the duck blind for a while.  It’s really a hidden gem that I would come back to often if I lived there.


I also visited the Thomas Edison National Historic park while in West Orange.  If you’re in the area and enjoy industry as much as I do, I highly recommend it, as it’s in a frozen state of preservation from over 80 years ago.  One feels like the factory is between shifts.  The other special part of my trip was a three hour, private behind the scenes tour of Ellis Island few people ever see.  Many photos were made at both of these places…


Eastern Sierra Nevada

Over the past year, I’ve been enjoying exploring the Eastern Sierras of California.  The area encompasses south of Reno NV to LA along highway 395 and the environs.

This is a part of California that even many Californians have not visited or know about. It’s a remote vast area with the Sierra Nevada mountains on the west and various mountain ranges on the east.  The largest town is Bishop, population of only 3800 at an elevation of 4100 feet.  Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, about 60 miles south of Bishop are another draw.  Hundreds of movies were filmed in that area, strewn with huge rounded granite boulders.  There are a few other smaller towns for fuel and food.  It’s a popular place for fishing and camping in the summer, but the other seasons there isn’t much traffic.  There are a few mountain passes open in the summer through the Sierras, but most of them close for the winter with the first major snow.  Mammoth Mountain and June Lake area are a major attraction in the winter for Southern California skiers, but they simply pass on through these towns.  There are highways into Nevada, too, but again to very remote areas. If I drive a mile off highway 395, my cell phone coverage fades to zero.

The night sky is usually wide open and if there are clouds, they are high altitude ones. Rainfall is blocked by the Sierras and most of the area is a near desert.  Because of the lack of ambient street and city lights, the Milky Way is clearly visible at night.

I’ve shot many aspects of the Eastern Sierras, but I’d like to share some of my recent night work.

20160412052aa 600pxHere is a shot looking east of the snow capped White Mountains with the Sierras behind me out of view. It’s a 15 second exposure.  In the distance are headlights of cars on highway 6 heading to Tonopah NV.  Highway 6 goes all the way from Bishop CA to Provincetown on Cape Cod, MA.  Note the evidence of a meteorite at center left.

I typically don’t like to discuss too much about equipment, but recently, I upgraded cameras to the Sony A7RII, selling off some older gear.  This camera is of course good to use during the day, but at night it really ‘shines’.  It has become my go-to night-shooting digital camera.  It’s low light capabilities with little noise is a pleasure to shoot with along with its electronic view finders (both monitor and eyepiece).  All of your information is accessible from the view, if you choose.  You can customize the camera for specific needs, like night shooting.  Digital cameras have come a long way for night shooting in the last dozen years.


160412315aa 600pxHere is a similar view done with a different camera about 50 feet away than the previous shot.  This exposure is 10 minutes and shows the movement of the clouds, stars and highway lights.  I climbed to the top of a bluff off a dirt road you can see in the lower right. I wanted the dirt road as some foreground interest.  I  had three cameras set up shooting at this location, with the third camera doing a 90 minute night time lapse video.


160411384aa 600pxHere is a shot along highway 6 east of Bishop.  The light on the brush is from passing cars as I chose to shoot on a bend in the road.  I did four exposures until the “light-painting” from the headlights was the way I wanted it.

I’ve also purchased a new lens specifically for night shooting, a Rokinon 24mm f1.4.  The above (and below) shots are shot with this lens.  It is sharp corner to corner with little coma in the stars, even at f1.4, wide open.  There have been quality control issues with some copies this lens, but I was lucky and got a good one.  Buying from a reputable dealer is important to be able to exchange a problematic lens when there are issues.


160411156aa 600pxHere is a 10 minute exposure from the same location and the same lens, but at a much lower ISO of 200.  The tones are creamy and smooth in the sky and brush.  The shadow detail is excellent, with little noise.  This will not be evident at 600 pixels on your monitor, but it is very pleasing on a 24 inch monitor in high resolution.

24mm is my favorite focal length to begin with, so an excellent fast prime lens is a welcome asset to the camera bag.  Another benefit is that the cost is about a third the price of the Canon lens equivalent.  It’s a manual focus and exposure lens, which is a bit more work for daytime shooting (sort of like shooting with a camera from the 70s), but is fine for night shooting, as I shoot manual at night anyway.  In the end, the quality of the glass and the images it makes is my main criteria for choosing a lens.


20160412072aa.600pxjpgThis 15 second exposure of a high tension power line off of highway 395 looks so rock solid with the fast-moving clouds above.  There was a quarter moon that night illuminating the clouds.  Note how big the two brightest stars appear.  This is from the veil-like high altitude clouds that flare the pin-points of light.  The stars tell you it’s a night shot, but otherwise, you wouldn’t know.


20160412064aa 600pxI drove some 30 miles on the dirt road, center left north from Bishop to Benton Hot Springs where I got a room at the only place to stay in town, a B&B.  I went back south before sunset to several areas to shoot at night.  The above shot is of a lonely ranch. You can barely see the glow of a light from the farm house.  There were plenty of barking dogs as I drove by!  Again, this is lit from a quarter moon.

We couldn’t even begin to think about shooting in this low light situation to get pinpoint stars just five years ago.  Digital cameras have improved that much since then.  This image was actually brighter than what appears here, but I darkened it a bit to make it seem like a night shot, the way I remembered how it actually appeared.


20160412074aa 600pxI saw this old rusting 1958 Plymouth south of Benton Hot Springs on the way into town and knew I had to photograph it at night.  The lights in the background are from an Indian Reservation.  Lighting is from a distant security lamp (from the left) and the quarter moon.


20160412088aa 600pxHere is the local cafe in the town of Benton, population 280, about 3 miles from Benton Hot Springs.  Yes, I had dinner at this place, as it was the only place to eat within 30 miles. Lighting is from a street light and the interior light of the “Girls and Boys” room. The door was unlocked at nearly midnight.


20160412080aa 600pxHere is exciting downtown Benton Hot Springs.  Hard to believe this was once a thriving mining town of over 5000.  The date is painted on the building “Est. 1852”.  This is shot with my 28mm shift lens to keep it architecturally correct.  I was shooting in the middle of the street for about a half hour and not a car came by.  The glow of lights on the road and trees is from the B&B of the left where I stayed.  The light on the foreground road and building is from  the quarter moon coming through the clouds.  There was no detail to the eye on the items on the porch.

The outdoor natural hot springs baths was a great way to relax after a night of shooting and to clean off the desert dust.



Red Rock Canyon

Last month I went to Las Vegas for business.  Since I live in the huge city of Los Angeles and Vegas isn’t my kind of town, I ventured about 17 miles east to the open desert of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  It’s as different from Vegas as you can get.  I went shooting with a fellow night photographer also from a big eastern city.  We shot for two nights.


As  you can see, there was a crescent moon that night and it dipped behind the mountains at twilight, and about five minutes later, it was gone for the night.  None of the following images were affected by moonlight.



As you can see there was some clouds and they were moving slowly in this 5 minute exposure.  Those are Joshua Trees in the foreground.



There was some air traffic coming in to Vegas causing the curving light streaks in the center of this image.  The light on the hills are from the glow of Vegas, 17 miles east.



This dry wash is lit from the Vegas glow bouncing off some clouds behind the camera.  It’s enough to light the rocks in this 10 minute exposure.



Here the glow of Vegas really has a major effect on the mountains.  There is another smaller mountain range between the city and these mountains, causing the shadows in the foreground.



The second evening was overcast which has its own look with no stars.  In this twilight shot, I lined up with the one-way road that goes through the park to show the taillights in this one minute exposure.  They give a sense of scale to the mountains.



On the scenic road that wanders through the park, you climb to areas where you can see the lights of south Las Vegas.  Notice the reddish glow off the clouds.  This road closes at sunset, but once you’re in, you can stay later to shoot at night.



I positioned the camera off the road and low to the ground to get the headlights appearing though the brush.  I loved the mixture of the cool blue tones of twilight and the warm glow of the Vegas lights off the clouds.



I did a long exposure of 7 minutes to show that man and his cars are all over the desert.  The taillights are from the cars ahead of us on the way out of the park.  The stationary lights are from farms and ranches a few miles away.


160311218a_600pxThis is one of the last shots I did showing a car passing us by down the hill.  A few minutes after this, that dark turbulent sky visible in the upper right opened up and gave us a desert monsoon cloudburst.  We had to run for the car and we got soaked!  And people say it never rains in the desert…  They’re wrong, indeed!  The heaviest rain I’ve ever seen was during the summer in Las Vegas many years ago.