Leveling Up by Layering Light: How to Paint with Short Exposures

I love painting with light. Crafting the illumination in my scene by carefully painting my subject with a flashlight is both fun and challenging.

One of the biggest problems I run into, however, is not having enough exposure time to paint my entire scene. Shooting under a full moon, working in brightly lit cities or even trying to capture the Milky Way all require shorter exposures that limit the amount of time you can paint with your flashlight.

The solution? Paint each part of your scene on a separate exposure and layer them together in Photoshop.

In the following example—shot in Jerome, Arizona—I take this method to the extreme. I made this image at dusk, but I wanted it to look like a night photograph. My base exposure was 1/125, f/11, ISO 100. This very short exposure did not allow me the time to paint with my flashlight like I normally would. So instead I used my speedlight (flash unit) to light different parts of the scene in three separate fast exposures, with the goal of layering them together in post-production.

This technique can be used with longer exposures too, and with any light painting tools you like to use. Maybe light pollution or moonlight is limiting your ambient exposure to 30 seconds, and you have 2 minutes of light painting to do. That's another perfect time to layer light painting frames.

The Technique

Shooting to blend later in Photoshop is actually pretty simple.

Start by establishing your base exposure. Again, in this example, using a 24mm lens, my base exposure was 1/125, f/11, ISO 100 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Jerome, Arizona. Base exposure of 1/125, f/11, ISO 100.

This is the exposure you’ll use for all the subsequent frames. Keeping the exposure constant keeps the background illumination uniform in your final image.

With your base exposure established, simply click the shutter and jump into your scene and paint as much as you can. Click the shutter again and paint another area. Continue in this manner until everything you want illuminated has been painted. In this example I shot and light painted three frames, but you could do four, six, ten … whatever it takes the get the lighting right.

Figure 2. First exposure painted from the left, second exposure painted from the right, and third exposure painted from behind.

Once your images are made, it’s time to blend them.

1. Begin in Lightroom by selecting the images you want to blend.

2. From the menu choose Photo–Edit In–Open as Layers in Photoshop (Figure 3).

Figure 3.

All of the images will open in Photoshop in separate layers within one file, as seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4.

3. Click on the top layer and then hold down the shift key while you click on the bottom layer. This will select all of the layers in the stack (Figure 5).

Figure 5.

Figure 5.

5. With all of the layers selected, it’s time to change the blending mode, which is what makes the magic happen. Choose "Lighten" (Figure 6).

Figure 6.

Voila! As you can see in the image below, all the of the areas that I painted are now visible, creating one comprehensivley lit scene.

Save and close. The image will now return to Lightroom.

Figure 7. Final layered image. Nikon D4, Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 lens. Three layered images shot at 1/125, f/11, ISO 100, each with flash.

Using the Lighten blending mode is a great trick for night photography. It allows for shorter exposure times, multiple attempts at light painting during star stacking, and even the ability to control the color and brightness of the individual exposures back in Lightroom!

Tim Cooper is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. Learn more techniques from his book The Magic of Light Painting, available from Peachpit.


How We Got the Shot: Light Painting the Upright Stone in Iceland

Nikon D750, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art lens. 73 seconds, f/8, ISO 200.

One of my favorite moments of our recently completed Westfjords of Iceland photo tour was working with three of our travelers on a joint light painting image one night while we were waiting for the aurora to appear. (The aurora did eventually appear, and in a big way!)

We were positioned high on a hill with 360-degree views in order to be able to see and photograph the aurora no matter where it appeared in the sky. The weather was perfect, the sky mercifully clear, and the vistas magnificent. The group was excited with anticipation as the KP index of 5 was a good sign that the sky would put on a good show for us.

There was a large upright stone, about 5 feet high, perched neatly near the edge of the hill. It reminded me of an image by the Czech photographer Jan Pohribny titled “Positive Energy Emitter” (Figure 1). Pohribny’s photo was of an ancient standing stone at twilight, and he had circled the stone with a red light held overhead and also pointed down at the ground to create the “energy vibrations” implied in the title.

Figure 1. “Positive Energy Emitter," 1992 Jan Pohribný. From the series New Stone Age.

Figure 1. “Positive Energy Emitter," 1992 Jan Pohribný. From the series New Stone Age.

I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to attempt an homage. My thought was that the stone before us could be a beacon to summon the aurora, as well as a tribute to an early light painting innovator.

After my standard procedure of framing the composition, focusing and determining the ambient exposure, I made my initial attempt at creating the rings of light around the stone (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Initial experimentation. Nikon D750, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art lens. 30 seconds, f/16, ISO 100.

First I set up a Luxli Constructor Large Block Bi-Color LED Light on the ground pointed at the stone, set on low power at 3200 K––partly to illuminate the stone, and partly so I could see to move around without tripping over the other rocks on the ground.

I also used a short section of frosted plastic tube that I had removed from a collapsible light sword from Light Painting Brushes, and fixed it to my Coast HP5R flashlight on low power, which created a DIY light wand. I wasn’t satisfied with the look I was getting with the wand, so Erika, one of the workshop attendees, suggested using a different Light Painting Brushes tool that she had, a purple translucent light writer (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Second attempt. Nikon D750, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art lens. 30 seconds, f/13, ISO 100.

We liked the look with the translucent light writer better, but since there was still a lot of light in the sky, we were limited to a 30-second exposure at ISO 100 and f/11. Because the ground around the standing stone was covered with rocks of various sizes, it wasn’t possible to move around very quickly in order to create the desired light writing effect in such a short time. We could make only a few revolutions during the half-minute exposure. But I knew that as the sky got darker, we would be able to extend the exposure time and create more light rings.

Meanwhile, Erika’s husband Dan suggested adding another element to the image using shadow painting rather than light painting. His idea was to project a hand shadow onto the rock by placing his hand between the rock and a light source. We loved the idea, and the initial result reminded us of pictographs found in ancient rock art sites around the world.

The first attempt was encouraging, so we made a few refinements until we came up with an iteration we all liked. I also added some illumination to the foreground by sweeping a flashlight low to the ground on the left and right sides to fill in the shadows and reveal some detail (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Third attempt. Nikon D750, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art lens. 30 seconds, f/11, ISO 100.

By this time, things were getting complicated, as Erika was making the rings around the stone, Dan was holding his hand in position for the shadow, and I was lighting the ground and creating the hand shadow, which took precise alignment of Dan’s hand and the flashlight. Each of us had our cameras set up and were shooting side by side.

Fortunately, Steve, another participant, was available to assist us by opening all the shutters, which gave us time to get into position before the exposures started. We made one more frame just as the aurora was starting to appear in another part of the sky, and that frame was exactly the vision we were working toward (Figure 5). So we called it a wrap, and repositioned ourselves to photograph the aurora.

Figure 5. Final image. Nikon D750, Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art lens. 73 seconds, f/8, ISO 200.

So many elements came together to make this image succeed:

  • the references to ancient cultures associated with mystery and spirituality––the standing stones of neolithic cultures in Europe, and the pictographs reminiscent of Native American Kokopelli
  • the ritual of light painting and the call to the gods asking for the aurora to bless us with its magical presence
  • and most importantly, the collaborative spirit that we shared to create the image, which made this special moment a highlight of our trip to the magical place that are the Westfjords of Iceland

Thank you Erika, Dan and Steve. It was an honor sharing this experience with you!

Lance Keimig is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He has been photographing at night for 30 years, and is the author of Night Photography and Light Painting: Finding Your Way in the Dark (Focal Press, 2015). Learn more about his images and workshops at www.thenightskye.com.


Finishing Touches: 3 Killer Post-Production Tips for Night Photography

In the whole history of photography, at least half the magic of creating images happened after the shoot, in that period of prestidigitation known as “post-production.”

In the film days, post happened in the darkroom, where many of us got stinky hands and forgot how to socialize with people who lived on the other side of the door in light. These days, post happens mostly on a computer, in which the millions of data points that make up our image are rearranged and altered in a way that produces the final photograph as our minds saw it in the field.

And when it comes to night photography, post-production tools can be used in all sorts of unique ways to help us seize the night exactly as we see fit. Below are a few of the techniques a few of us here at NPAN use to bring the image down the homestretch.

Working through post-production on a 27-inch BenQ SW2700PT monitor at our workshop in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Working through post-production on a 27-inch BenQ SW2700PT monitor at our workshop in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Chris Nicholson

Making Planes Disappear

Remember when David Copperfield made a Learjet disappear on national TV? I do that trick too.

If you have photographed anywhere within the region of a major airport at night, or even just along major flight paths, then you know how conspicuous planes can be in an otherwise pristine dark sky. Many star trail photos have been bisected by plane trails.

Some photographers don’t mind that, and some do. Even among us five NPAN instructors you’ll find varying opinions. I, for one, don’t want planes in my sky shots, so I usually remove them in post-production.

Fortunately, Adobe has made this really easy to do, in both Lightroom and Photoshop. In the old days of digital darkrooms (as in, like, five years ago), to clone out a plane trail could take a fair amount of effort—it generally involved stamping over the offending pixels with the Clone tool while sourcing various other spots in the sky to avoid telltale digital artifacts, and then doing some cleanup work to make things look normal. But these days you can use the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom or the Spot Healing Brush (in Content Aware mode) in Photoshop to do most of that work for you.

But that’s not the tip, as many people reading this already know what a great job those tools can do to quickly and effectively remove unwanted elements of a photo. The tip is something that many photographers don’t know: You can draw a perfectly straight line with either the Spot Removal or Spot Healing Brush tools by shift-clicking on two points. This is enormously useful for quickly wiping out a straight unwanted element—such as an airplane trail in a night sky!

Simply zoom in on the airplane trail you want to remove, hold down the shift key, click once at one end of the trail, then once more on the other end. The trail will disappear from your composition, almost always without any artifacts to clean up afterward. It’s like magic. Like David Copperfield.

Matt Hill

Blending a dusk shot with star points

When you shoot on new moon nights, shadow detail is pretty hard to come by. One way to fix this—to add detail in the shadows, to mask high ISO noise and to add a “fantastic” sparkle to your image—is to blend in a photo that was shot during the tail end of dusk.

Of course, this requires patience. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Owachomo Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument, as photographed during our workshop there this summer.

Owachomo Bridge in Natural Bridges National Monument, as photographed during our workshop there this summer.

When I see the light turn that special indigo color, I set the camera on its tripod and go through all the motions of composing and getting ready for my night photo. Then, with twilight light still in the air, I shoot (in RAW, of course) one to three photos at a low ISO, with a white balance of Daylight, to faithfully render that delicate color.

Then I wait patiently until all twilight has left the sky (which happens faster if you face east) and then take a high ISO photo for star points, preferably with the Milky Way in plain view, and even better if the galactic core is in your frame.

During post-production, I cook the two images to taste, being careful to not accentuate the shadow details on the star points photo. Then I select the two images in Grid view, right-click one of the chosen thumbnails, and choose Edit In–Open as Layers in Photoshop. I put the dusk photo on the top layer, add a layer mask, and then mask out the sky (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Finally, I reduce the layer opacity to taste (Figure 3). I usually use anywhere tom 10 to 20 percent. The more you show, the more the final image looks more like fantasy. My ideal effect is to simply add a little sparkle to those dull shadows with color and quality.

Figure 3.

Gabriel Biderman

Creating and Saving a Milky Way Brush in LR

The great thing about our latest batch of digital cameras is how sensitive they are to light and how much better they can see than our own eyes. Take a look at the multitude of Milky Way photos populating the World Wide Web. Unfortunately most of them are a bit too over-processed for my taste. In their understandable enthusiasm, many photographers push the  Clarity and Dehaze sliders too far to the right so that every pixel is sharpened and we are seeing a very unnatural shift in the colors of the night.

A more subtle way to “treat” the Milky Way is by locally applying a gentle brush adjustment. I do my global adjustments and general processing first, but I do like the Milky Way to stand out a bit from the background of all the other stars, which is when the brush comes into play (Figure 4).

Figure 4.

To achieve this, start by clicking on the Brush tool and selecting a default Effect, such as Highlights. To aid me in seeing where I am brushing, I will generally adjust the brush to the extreme—like +100 highlights (Figure 5). Once I have brushed in the appropriate places, I start bringing back the effect and finessing the look.

Figure 5.

In Figure 6, you can see the adjustments I made to make the Milky Way, which make it pop a little bit more.

Figure 6.

That general separation between Milky Way and sky is created by adding contrast and clarity. I like to adjust contrast by not only using the Contrast slider, but also by raising highlights and lowering shadows. Clarity is a slider you need to respect though, as too much clarity creates noise and a halo effect along the edges of the contrasty regions of the image. That’s why it is so important to first apply any clarity and sharpening globally. Then you can really see how much, if any, is needed for the Milky Way.

Here’s the fun part—the real core of this tip. Those adjustments probably took a solid 5 minutes to make. But you don’t need to take 5 minutes to make them next time, or any time after that. Why? Because you can save those adjustments as a permanent brush that you can use at any time.

If you look at the top of the Brush panel, in the Effect drop-down menu, you’ll see an option called Custom. Click on Custom and a scroll-down menu of brush options will appear. Go to the second to last option and select Save Current Settings as New Preset (Figure 7).

Figure 7.

You’ll need to enter a title for your preset (Figure 8)—“Milky Way” makes sense, but you can call it whatever you want. Once you’ve entered your title, click the Create button.

Figure 8.

Now you have a Milky Way brush that you can paint onto all your dark sky shots! Any time you edit a Milky Way photo, make all your global adjustments first. Then select the Brush tool, choose “Milky Way” (or whatever you named it) from the Effects drop-down, and paint in your home-cooked adjustments.

Chris Nicholson is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, and author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.


Eclipse Lessons: What We Learned from Our Day in the Sun

Wow. That … was epic. Whether you experienced the solar eclipse of 2017 in the mountains or the cities, with a small group of friends or with the masses, or even just online, that was the most universally experienced eclipse ever!

As we slowly come down from the high of the event, we want to share our story with you.

All five of us here at NPAN witnessed the eclipse in different ways. Chris, Matt and I saw totality, and Lance and Tim took time out in their location to stare at the waning sun.

I planned a small, hands-on Adventure Series workshop around the event. We lived on a ranch at Exit 0 in Montana and then drove two hours to the remote wilderness to capture totality.

Matt collaborated with B&H and Atlas Obscura at a Total Eclipse festival in eastern Oregon and made the most of his two minutes by creating eclipse portraits during totality. And Chris probably did the smartest thing and simply shared the whole experience with his 4-year-old daughter, laying together on a blanket in the grass outside a zoo in Greenville, South Carolina.

Tim was leading a workshop in smoky Glacier National Park and guided the students not to shoot the blocked sun but instead to capture the unique rays of light from a minimal sun. And Lance, who had just recently moved to Vermont, took time out of his day to take it all in with his fiancée.

In this post, Matt and I share how we prepared for our shoots, and the ideas we had for capturing and creating during the whole of the eclipse.

Gabe’s Prep

I’m always looking ahead to unique celestial events that we at NPAN can share. When I first learned that the Great American Eclipse was going to be passing through an area I frequent, Montana, I knew I had to start planning!

As it turns out, I was invited to the rural big night skies of J Bar L Ranch in Centennial Valley. Located about one hour from the path of totality, I had initially planned to avoid the crowds and just shoot and share the eclipse at the ranch. When we posted the details of the workshop, we even downplayed the eclipse aspect because you never know with weather. However, we received several emails from “eclipsers” who told us that they would rather see the total eclipse in front of a pile of rubbish than a partial eclipse in the most beautiful place in the world.

So we changed the game plan and I started researching nearby locations in Idaho that would be in the path of totality, which I was able to scout a year ahead of time. My first thought was to go to Sun Valley and get close to Stanley, a small town smack dab in totality, But when I heard that this small town of 50 people was expecting 50,000 visitors, I starting looking for locations even more rural.

Figure 1. Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains. © Gabriel Biderman.

In the end I was guided by stormy weather and magical light. I was visiting the small towns of Arco and Mud Lake when an impressive storm drew me toward the Sawtooth Mountains (Figure 1).

I pulled off and drove down a dirt road to gain a better vantage point to shoot the rays of light dancing around the mountains. I knew I was in the path of totality and pulled out the PhotoPills app to confirm that the sun would be seen over the Beaverhead Mountain Range at the time of the eclipse.

Figure 2. PhotoPills’ VR overlay of the path of the sun over the Beaverhead Mountain Range.

Figure 2. PhotoPills’ VR overlay of the path of the sun over the Beaverhead Mountain Range.

It was important for me to have an interesting foreground, as I wanted to have our students have a wide-shot option when photographing the eclipse.

Matt’s Prep

(Hi, Matt here!) I was a polar opposite to Gabe. Imagine that.

I wasn’t really interested in photographing the eclipse stages before and after totality. Why? I am happiest shooting at night, and totality was what I was looking for. The heat was on to make a plan for those two minutes.

I love making night portraits. So I challenged myself to stage and shoot as many portraits as I could pull off during totality. I knew the exposure would be akin to end-of-dusk light levels. So I grabbed my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens to make both the subject and the sun/moon combo a size that felt appropriate to me.

Figure 3. Night at Atlas Obscura’s eclipse festival.

We were set up in a field on a private farm in Durkee, Oregon, for Atlas Obscura’s eclipse event. I was hanging out with the B&H Photo crew, enjoying all the solar-equipped telescopes they brought to observe first bite and the looming totality.

The crowd was abuzz with anticipation (for the eclipse—not for what I was doing.). I grabbed a speedlight and a Luxli Viola, and prepared to test.

Gabe’s Practice and Process

As we discussed in our “NPAN 2017 Solar Eclipse Guide,” the most important thing you can do to prepare for the eclipse is practice shooting the sun.

Zoom lenses need constant monitoring to track the path of the sun in the sky. Solar filters take some getting used to looking through, as they darken everything but the sun. We practiced tracking for several days right before the eclipse. If you can practice during the same time of day, you’ll get a feel for how high you need to track.

I found that the autofocus of the zoom lens did a good job, but because we were pointing directly above us at noon, my lens had issues with creeping. I had to gaff-tape down my zoom ring so that it would stay all the way zoomed out. Investing in a lens that locks its zoom at multiple focal lengths would be very wise.

Matt’s Practice and Process

All of my practice is from years of night photography and flash portraiture. I’ve been shooting in dim light combining those two practices for a while, so I felt confident I could make it happen when the time came.

But it didn’t stop me from thinking though the possibilities over and over while waiting. I did fret a little. But the Light Painting Party the previous evening had me feeling all sorts of good.

Gabe’s Gear and Settings

My wide setup was the Nikon D750 with the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens and the cardboard DayStar Solar Filter. My settings during the eclipse (not totality) were 1/125, f/8, ISO 800. I manually set focus at hyperfocal distance so that everything was sharp from 10 feet to infinity.

My telephoto setup was the Fuji XT2 and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, with the best filter holder system I have ever used, the Wine Country. Even with the dubious Amazon scare, I stood by my Lee Solar Eclipse Filter, as I had used it for many hours without any issues. My base settings were 1/250, f/8, ISO 800.

I wanted to simplify my shooting during totality as much as possible and set up both cameras to bracket. To capture the “diamond ring,” I closed down to f/22 to heighten the flare, increased the shutter speed to 1/60, and bracketed as best I could. The light bursts were bright and quick and the bracketing worked out really well. The 1/2-second exposure gave me the best corona (see Figure 4) and 1/250 captured the Bailey’s beads (Figure 5). But the most dramatic image was the flare from the diamond ring effect, which worked out best at 1/15, f/22, ISO 800 (Figure 6).

Figure 4. Corona. 1/2, f/22, ISO 800.

Figure 5. Bailey’s beads. 1/250, f/22, ISO 800.

Figure 6. Bailey’s beads, or the diamond ring effect. 1/15, f/22, ISO 800.

During totality I lowered my shutter speed to 1/15 and bracketed again. I should have also opened my aperture, but I was trying to keep things simple while running between two rigs.

The best exposures ended up being 1/15 and 1/30, as exposures at or over 1/8 tended to be too blurry with the rather rapid movement of the sun and moon. In hindsight, I should have opened my aperture to f/8 and kept my shutter speeds in the range of 1/125 to 1/250.

It was very important to put my camera in the highest burst mode, to shoot in RAW (of course) and to still bracket. Keep the trigger firing and take some time to take it all in.

Matt’s Gear and Settings

I popped the CTO-gelled speedlight on a tripod and tested the output. Why CTO? Well, I wanted to shoot with Tungsten white balance and the flash should be neutral.

This is night photography, if but for a moment.
— Matt

I then grabbed the Luxli Viola and set it to 5000 K. I placed it lower than the speedlight, but on axis. I’ve been studying how cinematographers are making the shadows and highlights different color balances. So I wanted a cool shadow undertone from the LED light and neutral/warm from the flash. And the sky would look cool because of the Tungsten setting.

I revved up my Nikon D750 and Sigma 35mm with no filter. Why? It’s totality—this is night photography, if but for a moment.

I worked through a couple of test shots to get the sun/moon exposure while my first subject, John Faison, was making a few images for himself. I asked John to stand in front for a few darker frames at 1/125, f/6.3, ISO 200. Then I wanted some more corona and landscape for context, so I dropped my shutter speed down to 1/25 and then 1/3. (See Figures 7 through 9.)

Figure 7. 1/125, f/6.3, ISO 200

Figure 8. 1/25, f/6.3, ISO 200.

Figure 9. 1/3, f/6.3, ISO 200.

Figure 10.

We swapped places and by the time John shot two frames of me (Figure 10), our two minutes of totality were over. Wow. Talk about pressure!

I asked the next volunteers to step in and it was all over. :-(

Gabe’s Experience/Emotion

Well, that was the quickest two minutes in my life! It was magical to have the sunlight change so drastically and to have hard “night” shadows engulf us. Typically moonlight is very soft, so this was very surreal. I saw only the brightest stars and planets—it was a very silvery civil twilight.

The drastic drop in temperature brought an eerie chill and the only creatures close to us were flies that appeared out of nowhere when the lights came back on.

I did watch too much of totality from the back of the screen and really wish I had spent more than 15 seconds staring at the sky.

Matt’s Experience/Emotion

I was laser-focused on one mission. OK, two. I forgot to mention I was running a time-lapse with a fisheye from ground level on Aperture Priority (see below).

Anyway, my one mission (I told myself) was to do something no one else was likely to be doing. I like to zig when others zag. I’m known for it. It’s curiosity. I love that feeling of, “Oh, this might not work.” In fact, I told John and those who didn’t get a chance to get their portrait done that very same thing.

I was listening intently to everyone around me. I heard the hush of wildlife. I heard the birds all speak up at once, then crickets. I felt the temperature drop and one of the scientists nearby exclaim in glee, “It’s 62 degrees Fahrenheit—a full drop of ten degrees!” I felt the mosquitoes rise up and eat me alive. I heard all the oohs and aahs of everyone marveling about all the stars in the sky behind us. But I saw none of it. I was on task.

Do I regret not enjoying the eclipse with my own eyeballs? Not at all. Because now I would be regretting not trying for something that was a pressure-based stretch goal. I tried, and I believe I succeeded. In fact, I got a diamond ring in my portrait. Pretty rad.

Gabe’s Final Takeaways and Notes for 2024

I was able to share this experience with my dad as well as nine Centennial students, which was incredibly special. We were all alone among the mountains, and it would have been weird to experience it all by myself. Viewing it in a city would have been more of a universal gasp of astonishment, but I really appreciated the people I was with and the earth that surrounded us. We all promised to meet back up in 2024!

It was difficult to remain cool, calm and collected during totality. I totally forgot to turn on my 360-degree video camera, which would have been a unique way to capture the changing light and our reactions. Maybe next time we can work together and have each person be responsible for one way to interpret the eclipse—that way we would be more focused and could share the many results.

Figure 11. Composite of 25 frames showing the full sequence of the solar eclipse. Nikon D750 with 14-24mm f/2.8 lens and DayStar Solar Filter. Each frame (except totality) shot at 1/125, f/8, ISO 800.

In the end, the close-up shots give you a closer look at all the incredible things that happen moments before, during and after totality, but after the rush of it all, I’m really enjoying the wider-view composite shot of all the sun phases over the scene (Figure 11).

I feel like I accomplished the standard takes on the eclipse and look forward to challenging myself for a new perspective in 2024—or before!

Matt’s Final Takeaways and Notes for 2024

I was very fortunate to be where I was, when I was. I wasn’t originally scheduled to go to the festival, but a series of other things put me in a position to represent NPAN at Atlas Obscura’s exclusive event.

I’ve always admired the cut of their jib. Their focus on adventure, satisfying curiosity and generously sharing is right up my alley. And I met a host of like-minded people there. It was kismet and I would do it all over again exactly the same way.

Next time, however, I will bring about five cameras. That may be in Argentina in 2019 or 2020, or much of North America in 2024. I am hooked. That was a truly singular experience.

Did you photograph the solar eclipse? We would love to see your images in the Comments section below!

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at www.ruinism.com.


2018 Night Photography Workshops: From Sea to Shining Sea

Where will you go?

As we enter our third year (can you believe it?), we are delighted to share our list of dream locations for night photography workshops in the U.S. and abroad in 2018.

In 2018, we continue to present two kinds of learning experiences: Passport Series and Adventure Series workshops.

At Passport Series workshops, we take you to a national park and teach to the landscape, sky and celestial events.

At Adventure Series workshops, we take you to other interesting natural wonders that may be on or near national and/or protected lands, perhaps during singular events (like a solar eclipse), sometimes focusing a little less on instruction and more on field time, exploring and creativity, or sometimes focusing on advanced night photography techniques.

We’re also offering some cool options this year. The Biscayne and Redwood workshops will include a coordinated gallery show with both national park offices. Tim and I will be offering night portraiture classes at our headquarters in Catskill, New York. Chris and Gabe will take you on a road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway on our most mobile workshop yet. Lance and I will take you to a sacred space for a light painting intensive camping workshop. And Gabe and Chris are offering a black-and-white light painting workshop at a steamy industrial space.

Are you curious? Click on …


Dates Location
Jan 29-Feb 3
Biscayne National Park
March 1-9
Iceland South Coast
March 12-20
Iceland South Coast
April 27-29
Catskills Night Portraiture
May 13-23
Scotland: The Hebrides
June 17-22
Capitol Reef National Park
June 25-30
Redwood National Park
July 29-Aug 4
Blue Ridge Parkway
August 26-31
Glacier National Park
September 15-20
Rocky Mountain National Park
September 23-26
Chaco Culture Advanced Light Painting
October 12-14
Catskills Night Portraiture
November 15-18
Sloss Furnaces

The Amazing Locations

You can click on any of the links above to learn a lot more about all the workshop locations. They include the inspiring landscapes of five U.S. national parks, national historic sites, a national parkway, an island nation, European old country and more. For a quick read about what each experience will entail, read on below …


Passport Series

Biscayne National Park

Welcome to the land of the forever horizon, where the clear blue waters and big sky envelop you from all directions. With 95 percent of this park underwater, we will use the marine night skies as a beautiful and surreal backdrop to a variety of unique subject matter. Stilt houses, ornamental lighthouses, grounded chug boats, and the many mangroves that protect Biscayne Bay will be just a few of our stops in Biscayne National Park.

Dates: January 29-February 3, 2018
More information: Biscayne


Capitol Reef National Park (Sold Out)

Join us for the gently moon-kissed cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges of the classic Utah red-rock Waterpocket Fold. From the lush orchards of Fruita to the rich geological history within Navajo Sandstone, we’ll explore the deep skies of this Gold-Tier Dark Sky Park.

Dates: June 17-22, 2018 (add-on experience June 15-16)
More information: Capitol Reef


Glacier National Park

This northwestern Montana park contains some of the most wild and diverse ecosystems in the country. Waterfalls, subalpine tundra, soaring rocky mountain peaks, high plains and crystal-clear rivers create breathtaking foregrounds for our night skies.

Dates: August 26-31, 2018
More information: Glacier


Redwood National Park

Redwood National and State Parks is composed of three distinct environments—a rocky coastline with steep cliffs and the ubiquitous coastal fog, upland prairies, and of course the magnificent redwood forests that give the park its name. During this workshop, you’ll have the opportunity to develop your night photography skills in all three.

Dates: June 25-30, 2018
More information: Redwood


Rocky Mountain National Park

Within the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park lie alpine lakes, boulder-strewn tundra, aspen groves that turn gold in fall, and a Milky Way so radiant that you’ll feel you could reach to the sky and brush it with your fingertips. We will venture together into the mountains to photograph all this and more, in one of the most wondrous landscapes in all the national parks.

Dates: September 15-20, 2018 (add-on experience September 20)
More information: Rocky Mountain

Adventure Series

Blue Ridge Parkway

The night is falling, and the road is calling. And we will be there, driving and photographing America’s greatest scenic byway. When the sun fades, we’ll bring our cameras along the 469-mile ribbon of national parkland that stretches atop mountain ridges, through farming communities, past historic cabins and mills, alongside meadows and more, while the stars and moon gently shine on the great blacktop river called Blue Ridge Parkway.

Dates: July 29-August 4, 2018
More information: Blue Ridge Parkway


Catskills Night Portraiture

Master the fundamentals of night portraiture. Mash up night photography with classical portrait lighting to create dramatic long exposure portraits. Unleash your creativity.

Dates: April 27-29, 2018, and October 12-14, 2018
More information: Catskills Night Portraiture


Chaco Culture Advanced Light Painting

The Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Chaco Canyon are the centerpiece of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park was also designated as Gold Tier by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2013. Who could ask for more from a night photography location? National Parks at Night aims to do just that. In addition to having rare nighttime access to photograph the park, we will have a ranger-led tour and meet with others with deep knowledge of the Puebloan people and the ruins on New Mexico. This is a full-immersion experience.

Dates: September 23-26, 2018
More information: Chaco Culture


Iceland South Coast

This photo tour will take us along the famous south coast of Iceland, where we will experience the capital city of Reykjavik, bizarre geothermal landscapes, magnificent waterfalls, glacial lagoons, an ice cave, and, with luck, the northern lights. Iceland has seen a huge surge in tourism in recent years, and we will strive to find a balance between getting you to the most important locations, but also some off-the-beaten-path places that are much less visited but equally as interesting.

Dates: March 1-9, 2018, and March 12-20, 2018
More information: Iceland South Coast


Scotland: The Hebrides

Come explore and photograph some of Scotland’s most interesting places and dramatic landscapes on this first of National Parks at Night’s photo tours of the islands of Scotland. The Hebrides are a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of the mainland. The culture of the residents has been affected by the successive influences of Celtic-, Norse- and English-speaking peoples. We will spend our time on the largest of the inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye, and the largest of the outer Hebrides, Lewis and Harris. The history of these islands is ever-present in the landscape in the form of Neolithic, Mesolithic and Iron Age archaeological sites. We will explore cultures past and present along with the stunningly diverse landscapes we’ll encounter along the way.

Dates: May 13-23, 2018
More information: Scotland


Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

The focus of this night photography workshop will be a deep dive into light painting, composition, and black and white photography. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark is an incredible hulk of 20th century metal machinery located on the eastern edge of downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Don’t expect to see many stars in the city, however we will use moonlight and light painting to breathe fire back into the furnaces.

Dates: November 15-18, 2018
More information: Sloss Furnaces

Don't Want to Wait for 2018?

Olympic National Park

If you'd like to come with us on a workshop even sooner, we have great news: We opened up a second week at Olympic National Park next month: September 24-29, 2017. Join Chris Nicholson and Matt Hill on the rugged mountains, in the vibrant rainforests and along the pristine coastline of Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, in one of the most beautiful and diverse national parks in the U.S.

Dates: September 24-29, 2017
More information: Olympic

Blasts from Our Pasts

Finally, as we embark on our third year, we’d like to express thanks to all our alumni—the 200 fine photographers who have accompanied us over the past two years to wonderful night photography locations such as Acadia, Dry Tortugas, Death Valley, Zion, Great Sand Dunes, Cape Cod, Centennial Valley and more. We appreciate you so very much.

Do you want to see their work? Check out this playlist of all the workshop slideshows.

Matt Hill is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. See more about his photography, art, workshops and writing at MattHillArt.com. Follow Matt on Twitter Instagram Facebook.