Seizing a World of Nights: Announcing Our 2020 Workshops and Tours

As we enter our fifth year of workshops, I must simply say, we are so very humbled and grateful for all of you–readers, attendees, friends and all.

Now … it’s time to announce our 2020 itinerary! Our dream locations span the world. From coastlines to mountain peaks, boats to four-wheel-drives, we will explore this amazing planet and work together on capturing photos of the darker side of its beauty.

Let’s go find those amazing places, improve our skills and become the best night photographers we can be.

Note: Several workshops have already sold out. As always, we announced them to our alumni and our email list first. However, if that workshop truly speaks to you, be sure to sign up for the waitlist! There is no fee to do that, and we’ve had many waitlisters become happy alumni! See our 2020 Workshops page for updates on what is sold out and what is still open.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

A Slight Change in Direction

You may notice above that we're going to Joshua Tree this year. Didn't we do that in 2017? Yes, we did.

From our beginning, we have been committed to offering a workshop at every U.S. national park, one at a time, without repeating. However, for four years we’ve heard the refrain from our most loyal attendees: “Please go back; we want a chance to go with you.” So we’ve listened, and we’re adjusting our mission. We are still committed to running a night photography workshop at every national park possible, creating new experiences, exploring new places, seizing new nights. But we will also do this: Once per year, we will host a workshop in one of the parks we’ve visited before. For you. Because you’re right. These places are too amazing not to revisit.

And this year we start with Joshua Tree, a gem of the desert in southern California.

Our 2020 Night Photography Workshops & Tours

Without further adoing, below is what we’re up to in 2020. This includes all our workshops and tours. A simple rundown, with links, dates, photos and brief descriptions. A ton more info is available about each event by simply clicking on the links provided.


Passport Series Workshops

Our signature event workshops. We take a deep dive into a national park, and a deep dive into the fundamentals and intricacies of night photography, exploring and photographing some of the most beautiful places that have been set aside for the preservation and enjoyment of all. Involves shooting every night, and at least a partial daytime curriculum of lessons and/or image reviews.

  • Joshua Tree, April 25-30

  • Shenandoah, June 6-12

  • North Cascades, August 2-7

  • Badlands, August 9-14

  • Yellowstone, September 20-25

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park encompasses sections of two different deserts—the Mojave and the Colorado—both full of opportunities for remarkable images. We will extensively explore this IDA Dark Sky Park. People come for the trees and bouldering on the rock during the day, but at night these features take on a heightened surreality and make for great foreground subjects while the Milky Way stretches across the sky. We will also have special access to Keys Ranch, a photogenic “ghost ranch” that has several buildings, old cars and lots of machinery to light paint. The workshop will feature dark starry skies, Milky Way explorations, as well as a gentle waxing moon that we can mix with our light painting to create wonderful night images.

Dates: April 25-30, 2020
More Information: Joshua Tree National Park

Shenandoah National Park

Road-trip through time as we fully immerse ourselves in the scenic Shenandoah area. We’ll visit historic towns like Harpers Ferry and venture deep into the surreal underworld of the Luray Caverns. Then of course there is the 105-mile Skyline Drive, which features 75 beautiful overlooks of the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains. We’ll do some daytime hikes to photograph waterfalls, and nighttime shoots to capture the Milky Way rising above the Appalachians. You are sure to enjoy an incredibly immersive experience in our nation’s 20th national park.

Dates: June 6-12, 2020
More Information: Shenandoah National Park

North Cascades National Park

In the northern regions of Washington state, some of the least-visited and most beautiful mountains in the U.S. rise dramatically from the landscape under untainted dark skies. An alpine wilderness rife with dramatic peaks, lush forests, placid lakes, gushing waterfalls, curious wildlife and more. We will explore by day and night, visiting and photographing different regions of this peaceful, special place.

Dates: August 2-7, 2020
More Information: North Cascades National Park

Badlands National Park

Nestled in the Northern Great Plains, Badlands National Park comprises 244,000 acres of otherworldly landscapes, grassy prairie and wildlife such as bison, black-footed ferrets, mountain goats and bighorn sheep. We’ll be visiting during the 2020 Perseid meteor shower, and will be focusing on capturing the incredible eroded landscapes with Milky Way, meteors and some moonlight.

Dates: August 9-14, 2020
More Information: Badlands National Park

Yellowstone National Park South

At well over 2 million acres, Yellowstone is the second largest park in the lower 48. Covering three different states, this park has such a diversity of scenery and biospheres that we decided it was just too much to cover in one workshop! This, the first of our Yellowstone workshops, will cover the southern end of the park. From the Upper Geyser Basins and Old Faithful to the awe-inspiring yellow stone walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, we’ll explore and photograph some of the more iconic features in the southern half of our first national park.

Dates: September 20-25, 2020
More Information: Yellowstone National Park South

Adventure Series Workshops

A workshop or tour that explores one or more of the many inspiring night photography locations in North America. Examples include national monuments, national forests, scenic byways, urban ruins and more. May also include specialty experiences in narrowly defined regions of national parks, or even narrowly defined themes in broader spaces. May or may not involve a formal daytime education component.

  • Charleston March 29-April 3

  • Trona Pinnacles & Alabama Hills, May 4-9

  • Maine–Mid-Coast, July 12-17

  • Maine–Monhegan Island and Acadia, July 19-24

  • Colorado High Country, October 4-9

Charleston

This gem of the south is a night photographer's dream. We'll explore the natural—the boneyard beaches, the sandy shores, the dark skies over the Atlantic. And we'll explore the man-made—the cobblestone streets, the Civil War forts, the historic cemeteries. And so much more. Welcome to the ghosts and charm of one of America's prettiest cities.

Dates: March 29-April 3, 2020
More Information: Charleston

Trona Pinnacles & Alabama Hills

Two fantastical places in the southern California desert, both known for rock formations that photographers love to make art with. Trona Pinnacles, a collection of 500 spires of rock rising from a dry ancient lake bed. And the Alabama Hills, a set of arches and other formations in the stark and mesmerizing Owens Valley. We'll be there in full moonlight for a light painting-intensive workshop, capturing the nighttime beauty of these surreal and wild places.

Dates: May 4-9, 2020
More Information: Trona Pinnacles & Alabama Hills

Maine–Mid-Coast

The Maine coast epitomizes coastal New England. Rocky points extending out into the sea, spruce forests and sandy beaches, small harbors full of fishing boats and lobster traps, villages with country stores, churches and lighthouses. We’re used to seeing iconic—or some would say cliché—images of this scenery. We’ll take those photos, and you, a couple of steps further by photographing this quintessential scenery at night, with a special emphasis on techniques for photographing different types of lighthouses.

Dates: July 12-17, 2020
More Information: Maine—Mid-Coast

Maine–Monhegan Island and Acadia

Our night photography expedition of the Maine coast continues for a second week. A small island community, a village surrounded by the Atlantic, a lighthouse standing tall upon a hill, an 80-year-old shipwreck. Then we drive up the coast to an amazing national park, small but diverse, with rocky coastline, crushed-stone carriage roads, the Milky Way hovering above. Monhegan Island and Acadia National Park await, in the dark, ready to be photographed.

Dates: July 19-24, 2020
More Information: Maine—Monhegan Island and Acadia

Colorado High Country

Skies seem clearer at higher elevations and Colorado has plenty of those. We’ll be exploring the state’s San Juan Mountain range, which is the largest within the Centennial State and contains some of the highest and most jagged peaks in the lower 48. It also has a ton of jeep roads which allow fun access into these alpine landscapes.

Dates: October 4-9, 2020
More Information: Colorado High Country

Voyager Series Workshops

Photography tours outside the United States, often overseas, sometimes far overseas. We endeavor to trek the globe finding beautiful landscapes and fascinating cultures to immerse ourselves in, especially in the dark. International tours usually forgo classroom or formal meeting time in favor of exploration.

  • Lofoten Islands, March 8-16

  • Orkney Islands, May 16-23

  • East Greenland Schooner, September 4-13

  • Barcelona, November 15-20

  • Easter Island, January 25-February 1, 2021

Lofoten Islands

This will be a winter workshop focused on photographing the rugged snow-covered mountain islands, northern lights, pristine fisherman huts, and the untouched beauty of this remote and breathtaking region of the world. March is a perfect time to visit Lofoten—the milder winter temperatures make the overall experience ideal for catching the auroras over a snow-globe winterscape.

Dates: March 8-16, 2020
More Information: Lofoten Islands

Orkney Islands

During our tour we’ll explore the remarkable ways that past and present collide at the crossroads of the Celtic and Viking worlds. A cluster of 5,000-year-old archeological sites on the archipelago are collectively designated as a World Heritage Site called The Heart of Neolithic Orkney. The main sites consist of two major circles of standing stones, a massive chambered cairn, and the remains of an ancient village that was exposed on a clifftop during a storm in the 19th century. Orcadians live with these monuments in their backyards—these relics are part of the cultural, as well as physical, landscape that influences the way the locals interact with the world.

Dates: May 16-23, 2020
More Information: Orkney Islands

East Greenland Schooner

Experience the extraordinary scenery and Inuit culture of Greenland’s captivating coastline. This trip along the striking and sparsely populated east coast of Greenland will begin and end in the village of Kulusuk, but everything in between is truly an exploration. Glacier hikes, stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking, and of course photography––you’ll have the opportunity to do all of these and more on one of our grandest adventures yet.

Dates: September 4-13, 2020
More Information: East Greenland Schooner

Barcelona

Barcelona, Spain’s premier city of culture and art, is rich in delicious dichotomies. From the 13th century gothic Barcelona Cathedral to the 19th century Art Nouveau masterpiece of the La Sagrada Familia. From the respectful and beautiful graffiti to the citywide art installations. Here world class food, art and architecture are woven together to create one of the most beautiful and photogenic cities in Europe.

Dates: November 15-20, 2020
More Information: Barcelona

Easter Island

Few places on Earth are as mysterious or compelling as Easter Island. The giant stone figures known as Moai oversee this remote island 2,200 miles off of the coast of Chile. Most of Rapa Nui, as it’s known to the locals, is a national park. Not only is it hard to get to Easter Island, it is notoriously difficult to access the park at night. In Late January of 2021, National Parks at Night will be taking a maximum of 12 people for an unforgettable week with the Moai.

Dates: January 25-February 1, 2021
More Information: Easter Island

Skills Development Series Workshops

Classroom- and education-intensive workshop experiences designed to teach specific skills and goals, such as post-processing, night portraiture and the like. Usually comprises more classroom or studio time, but will always include some amount of shooting.

  • Post-Processing Intensive–Catskill, January 12-17

  • Post-Processing Intensive–San Francisco, April 18-23

  • Catskill Night Portraiture, October 29-November 3

Post-Processing Intensive–Catskill

You’ve spent a lot of time building your camera skills and honing your photographic vision. Now it’s time to take it to the next level. Post-processing has become an integral part of nearly every discipline of photography. Just as the black and white photographers of the 20th century were able to creatively interpret their work in the darkroom, we can now use modern technology to enhance our photos, and even to create images that were impossible only a few short years ago.

Dates: January 12-17, 2020
More Information: Post-Processing Intensive–Catskill

Post-Processing Intensive–San Francisco

Same as our post-processing class in Catskill (above), but in the beautiful Bay Area.

Dates: April 18-23, 2020
More Information: Post-Processing Intensive–San Francisco

Catskill Night Portraiture

Master the fundamentals of night portraiture with our expanded five-night workshop. Mash up night photography with classical portrait lighting to create dramatic long-exposure portraits. Level up your creativity and craft.

Dates: October 29-November 3, 2020
More Information: Catskill Night Portraiture

But Wait, There’s More!

Don’t see the perfect fit for your schedule or location? Throughout the year we continually announce our Ambassador Series destinations with our partners at Atlas Obscura, Rocky Mountain School of Photography and more.

Also, remember to always monitor our Speaking Engagements page. We give lectures and photo walks in the New York City area and all over the country. And if you want us to come directly to your camera club or meet-up group, feel free to contact us. (Click here to see what we can offer.)

We also offer one-on-one tutoring in-person or via videoconference that can help you build your portfolio, organize your images or give you targeted, individualized education to elevate your photography skills.

Finally, we’d like to express a deep thanks to all our alumni—the 300-plus fine photographers who have accompanied us over the past 3.5 years to wonderful night photography locations such as Acadia, Big Bend, Biscayne, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Dry Tortugas, Death Valley, Great Sand Dunes, Great Smoky Mountains, Olympic, Redwood, Zion and more. We appreciate you so very much.

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

Seize the Night

Are you ready to leap with us into 2020 and beyond? Sign up today to #seizethenight!

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.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Sometimes it Takes Two Takes: How Revisiting Locations Can Improve Your Night Photos

I learned early on in my career that revisiting sites and images over time can lead to a deeper understanding of the landscape, as well as to better and less obvious photographs. In a way, this is like going back to reprocess an older image after gaining more knowledge of post-processing software, except you’re remaking the image in person—bringing additional personal experience, acquired skill and a more mature mindset to the scene.

Of course, multiple factors can change in addition to the photographer’s vision or perception, most of which have more to do with the location than the photographer. Places are different across the seasons, in different weather and during different phases of the moon.

If you first visit a place in winter, perhaps coming back in early summer to include the Milky Way core in your image would be worthwhile. Other less obvious things can change the nature of a location too––a streetlight that has burned out or been replaced, a car parked in an unfortunate spot, or some other distraction that prevents (or creates) an ideal composition.

In this week’s post, all five of us present examples of photographs that we made on different occasions in the same location.

Panorama Point, Capitol Reef National Park

by Gabe Biderman

I love all the Utah parks, but if you were to ask me which was my favorite … well, I’d have to tip my hat to Capitol Reef National Park.

I was fortunate enough to visit this Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park twice, the first on an epic road trip with Matt, Chris and my brother-in law Sean in 2016. We stopped at the aptly named Panorama Point and fell in love with the S-curve of the road cutting through the spectacular red rock landscape. We talked about driving the car, with headlights on, down the road to emphasize the line, but Matt suggested that we level up by taking advantage of the car’s moonroof—we could hold his Pixelstick out of it and carve a unique band of light around the curves.

It was a true team effort. I ran all three of our camera rigs from the top of Panorama Point, Matt drove the car without the headlights on, and Chris held the Pixelstick straight through the roof. It took a few attempts under the mostly full moon, but this has remained one of my all-time favorite collaborative images.

Take 1, April 2016. Nikon D750 with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at 24mm, light writing with a Pixelstick. 2.5 minutes, f/8, ISO 800.

When Matt and I returned to Capitol Reef to lead a workshop in June 2018, we knew we wanted to share Panorama Point with the group. This time there was no moon and the road that cut through the dark foreground led exactly to the core of the Milky Way. I wasn’t even planning on shooting that night, as I had already taken what I felt was a pretty unique shot of this location—but this was just too good to resist.

The Milky Way was definitely the dramatic feature and could have very well stood on its own with a thin silhouetted foreground. But I wanted to revisit the road. This time I aimed my camera down the opposite end as it curved toward the core. By total coincidence, a car drove down while I was exposing, and this time it ruined the shot—it was way too bright, despite no one holding a Pixelstick!

Because the conditions were so dark, to get the best image quality I shot multiple high ISO frames that I would later blend in Starry Landscape Stacker. To get a clean foreground with good detail, I let in an additional 3 stops of light and shot at a lower ISO (1600). I then blended the sky and foreground. (You can see how I processed the final image in the video that accompanies the blog post linked above.)

Take 2, June 2018. Nikon D5 with an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Sky composed of multiple frames at 25 seconds, f/2.4, ISO 6400; foreground shot at 13 minutes, f/2.5, ISO 1600.

Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park

by Chris Nicholson

In 1995 I drove cross-country with a college buddy who was also a photographer. When we got to southern California, we saw that our route took us close to, though not through, Death Valley National Park. For a moment we considered veering toward the park, but instead opted to beeline toward the Pacific. Big mistake. Twenty years later, I finally made my way back and instantly fell in love with this stark and beautiful landscape. I developed an affection for this place that’s so strong, I’ve returned a half-dozen times in the four years since.

One of my favorite locations in the park to photograph is Mesquite Flat Dunes. Everything about this area lends itself well to landscape photography—the strong lines of the dune crests, the patches of playa in the troughs, the ripple patterns in the sand, the way light and shadow interplay, the desert-mountain background on every horizon. Really, you can’t go wrong here.

Well, I suppose you can go wrong, and I have, more than once. One case to prove the point: On my third trip to Death Valley, I wanted to locate and light paint a single shrub among the dunes. I found a good candidate, composed it, lit it … and lit it, and lit it, and lit it … and just wasn’t creating what I wanted. I could see the final result in my head, but couldn’t get the light to match it. Eventually I abandoned the idea and moved on to more successful matters.

Take 1, February 2017. Nikon D3s with a Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8 lens, light painted with a Coast HP7R flashlight. 8 seconds, f/8, ISO 200.

Later that year, on my next trip to the park, I was out in the dunes again, determined to find a way to make my old idea work. I adjusted a few things about my strategy:

  • I shot later in the evening, toward the end of twilight, when I could have a nice blue sky but also get some stars.

  • I found a shrub on a more gradual slope, which provided a more uniform background.

  • That slope was also wide, which provided me an angle from which I could backlight while facing downhill, from well outside the frame—which meant I could light paint from one spot to create nice, hard-edge shadows that didn’t drift off the bottom of the frame.

Not only did this approach work much better than what I’d tried and failed at just 10 months before, but the result ended up being one of my favorite photos of the year. And actually … maybe one of my favorite photos I’ve ever made in Death Valley.

Take 2, November 2017. Nikon D3s with a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, light painted with a Coast HP7R flashlight. 20 seconds, f/5.6, ISO 1600.

Marshall Point Lighthouse, Maine

by Lance Keimig

I’ve had the good fortune to teach at Maine Media Workshops for the last several years, and over the course of five or six workshops there, I’ve been able to photograph some of the area’s iconic lighthouses on multiple occasions. Marshall Point Lighthouse is one that never fails to give up a picture that I’m excited to go home with.

A photographer’s vision may change and develop over time, influencing the way that they might respond to a location. But in the three examples shown here, the local conditions at the lighthouse were more significant than anything else.

I first visited this beautiful Maine lighthouse in August 2016 and had the incredible good fortune to experience a little aurora borealis. That led me to photograph the lighthouse from the south, the opposite from where most people usually set up. The exposure was dictated more by the appearance of the aurora than the lighthouse.

Take 1, August 2016. Nikon D750 with a Sigma 24mm f/1.4 lens. 15 seconds, f/4, ISO 1600.

In June 2017, the beacon had been replaced with a much brighter and cooler LED light source, which changed the scene dramatically, even bathing the shoreline across the bay in bright greenish light. My first thought was that the residents of the homes across from the lighthouse must have been dismayed at the change, as their backyards were continuously illuminated by the crazy-bright light. Fortunately I figured out how to compensate for the brightness, by positioning my camera in a way that prevented the lantern from blowing out completely.

By choosing a closer and lower camera position on the northwest side of the lighthouse, as well as blending separate exposures for the lantern and landscape, I was able to keep the bulb out of the frame and therefore control the exposure better than on my first visit. The Milky Way core is in the background, and dictated the overall exposure. In hindsight, I should have used ISO 100 for the lantern exposure to preserve maximum dynamic range.

Figure 2, June 2017. Nikon D750 with a Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens at 20mm. Two exposures of 1/3 and 20 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600.

Finally, in both July 2018 and this past May when I went to Marshall Point, lightning was flashing out at sea. The lightning enhanced the images from those nights, and made for a memorable experience.

I used a longer overall exposure and lower ISO to preserve dynamic range and also to allow more time to increase the chances of catching a lightning strike. As it turned out, I captured three of them! I used Lightroom’s Merge to HDR feature to combine the images. The wider angle of view of the 15mm lens allowed me to include the reflection of the lantern in a puddle in the foreground.

Take 3, July 2018. Nikon D750 with a Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 lens at 15mm. Three blended exposures of 8 seconds, 20 seconds and 110 seconds, f/4, ISO 400.

Zion National Park

by Tim Cooper

Zion National Park just may be my favorite park to photograph. Not because it’s more spectacular than any other park, but because it’s simply so rich with photo possibilities. It seems everywhere you look, there is some version of beauty to capture. Day or night, cloudy or sunny, spring or fall, you can always find a photograph here.

My first visit to Zion was in 1994, and since then I’ve led workshops there almost every year. Frequenting the park has given me the opportunity to revisit locations that I love.

I’d had this particular image in my mind for some time but had never been able to pull it off, for one reason or another. Finally during a workshop in 2011 the conditions and timing were just right—or so I thought. A nearly full moon provided the foreground illumination I wanted, and the semi-clear skies allowed for a chance at good star trails. I located the North Star and framed it with the tree and the distant mountain.

Full-moon nights are tricky conditions for capturing star trails. The brightness helps illuminate the foreground, but makes using long exposures difficult. In this example I had to stop down to f/5.6 to achieve a 12-minute shutter speed. While I liked the shot, I never really loved it. The foreground illumination is uneven, the star trails are a bit short (12 minutes isn’t really long enough when pointing north), and I somehow ended up with a gap in the trails.

Take 1, November 2011. Nikon D700 with a Nikon 24mm f/2.8 lens. 12 minutes, f/5.6, ISO 200.

Fortunately, I was able to visit again the following year. Same place, similar moon phase. But this time I started a little earlier in the evening, which allowed the moonlight to provide more even illumination throughout the foreground. Conditions dictated an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 5 minutes. That was clearly not long enough for star trails, so I needed to shoot multiple frames to stack in post-production. After setting up my composition, I calculated that to get an hour and a half of exposure time, I would need to shoot 18 5-minute exposures. I set my ShutterBoss II intervalometer and sat back to enjoy the night.

My reshoot solved all the problems, and I had an image I was happy with.

Take 2, March 2012. Nikon D700, Nikon 35mm f/2 lens. 18 5-minute exposures at f.8, ISO 200.

Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

by Matt Hill

Visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park two years in a row was a real treat. One of my favorite views includes a portal to see the road you drive to get up to Newfound Gap. So, car trails plus star trails!

On my first visit, I had a crazy mix of clouds, thunderstorms and Milky Way. Plus, the namesake smokiness the mountains exude was drifting over the peak into the scene. (I wrote about this photo last year—see “How I Got the Shot: Car and Star Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”) It was simply magical. But so much about executing the image involved compensating for obstacles to my vision. Which is fine—that’s part of photography—heck, it’s part of art (and life) in general. But I knew there was more potential in that place and in that idea.

Take 1, May 2018. Nikon D850 with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. 960 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 400.

This year, I was running a workshop in Great Smoky Mountains with Lance. We took the group (and Chris, who was visiting from nearby!) up to Newfound Gap, and all the obstacles from the year before were absent. The weather was entirely different. Clear. Crisply cold. Expectant. Awaiting the coming moonrise. So I set up to shoot it again. The result was a pastel mix of yellows and greens from the horizon to the star field, and then clear-as-a-bell star trails.

I was smitten. Both photos earned a place for months as the lock screen on my phone. And if I had to choose, I couldn’t say which was superior. I love them both. You?

Take 2, May 2019. Nikon Z6 and a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8. 871 Seconds, f/4, ISO 200.

We all reshoot, right?

When have you revisited a location to improve upon an idea? We’d love to see your images and hear your stories!

Please share in the Comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

How I Got the Shot: Dueling Dinos in Borrego Springs

Dueling Dinosaurs, Borrego Springs, California. Nikon D750 with an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens, lit with a Luxli Viola and Maglite Mini. 25 seconds, f/4.5, ISO 4000.

The Location

Ricardo Breceda’s metal sculptures in Borrego Springs, California, are intense and dramatic with or without light painting. They are incredibly fun to shoot. The 130 sculptures are spread out over about 8 miles of desert, but two of my favorites are a pair of giant dinosaurs that stand together in eternal battle.

The relationship between these two makes for some great composition options. The two dinosaurs are about the same size and roughly 40 or 50 feet apart, although they don’t appear that way in these images. I set up the camera to make it look like the near dinosaur was about to bite off the head of the more distant one.

You can find Ricardo’s two dinosaurs right here.

The Exposure

I was collaborating with Cutler Connaughton, one of our workshop participants when we partnered with Atlas Obscura this past May. We placed our cameras very close together, as there was very limited space to get the alignment just right.

After determining the composition, we focused and decided on the ambient exposure. I was using an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens, which I can usually shoot at f/2.8 and get incredibly sharp results. But in this case I needed to stop down to f/4.5 for more depth of field. The 400 Rule told me that my longest usable shutter speed for star points with the 15mm was 25 seconds, so I set the ISO accordingly to get an adequate background exposure. Final exposure: 25 seconds, f/4.5, ISO 4000.

This is the final composition without any added light. I thought that it worked as a silhouette, but knew it could be improved with a suggestion of detail. I don’t want to reveal everything with my lighting—I want the viewer to be left with questions. If you have all of the answers with a quick glance, there’s no need to keep looking at the image, and I want to keep eyes on the picture as long as possible. Nikon D750 with an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. 25 seconds, f/4.5, ISO 4000.

The Lighting

This exposure left the dinosaurs completely silhouetted. We needed to add light.

We turned on a Luxli Viola and set it to 10 percent power and 3000 K, and mounted it on a hand-held Elinchrom boom arm. I wanted to use a warm color balance to bring out the rust color of the steel sculptures, which would contrast nicely with the cool natural light.

Ten percent brightness provided just enough intensity to accomplish what we needed during the exposure, while still providing a good amount of control over the added light. Turning up the power of the Luxli would have gotten the job done in less time, but would have been less forgiving if my positioning wasn’t perfect while painting. Every decision I make when creating an image is a compromise, balancing the various elements required to make the shot work.

The Shoot

Cutler triggered both cameras, while I experimented with the lights.

We made a total of 47 exposures of this setup! Refining the composition took five frames, as we had to have our cameras nearly touching and the tripod legs overlapping to make it work. The rest of the exposures involved making slight modifications in the lighting. It’s not unusual for me to make six to 10 variations to get an image just right, but this one required a lot of perseverance.

The sequence of 47 exposures that Cutler and I made together. The final version actually occurred about two-thirds of the way through the sequence, but we kept at it because we weren’t confident that we had what we were after.

The lighting involved four steps from four different positions, and three of the four steps were done with a single light source during the 25-second exposure. I could have set up multiple lights in fixed positions or lit each part of the scene in separate exposures, but I needed the exercise! I ran from one spot to the next over and over again, reviewing the results with Cutler and making mental notes each time for the next exposure.

The first light position was about two feet behind and over the right shoulder of the foreground dinosaur. This is the main light in the image, and even slight variations in position altered the overall appearance dramatically. The light was about 10 feet off the ground, which is why I was using the boom arm.

I couldn’t tell you how much light was added from each position, but I had good control over the process, and that’s what’s important.

The second light position was just out of the frame from camera-right, and slightly behind the foreground dinosaur. The purpose here was to backlight the teeth of the beast to emphasize its ferociousness.

For the third position, I ran further to the right and behind the second dinosaur to light that one. I wanted to show texture as well as detail, so it was important to light from an oblique angle.

Cutler took care of the last detail (from the fourth position), which was to light the left claw of the foreground dinosaur with an incandescent Maglite Mini flashlight, just enough to separate it from the background. The color balance of the Maglite Mini is a little warmer than the Luxli, but against the monochromatic rusted steel, this isn’t noticeable. If Cutler had been using an LED light, the color difference would have been obvious. The mini-Mag was a good choice for this task also because it was both dim and focusable.

I recommend that people count seconds in their head when they light paint to get a repeatable and consistent effect in the image. I’ve been doing this for so long that I work by what feels right rather than actually timing the light in each position. For this image, I couldn’t tell you how much light was added from each position, but I had good control over the process, and that’s what’s important.

The final image, before and after being lit as described in the text. Nikon D750 with an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. 25 seconds, f/4.5, ISO 4000.

Location Lighting  vs. Light Painting

Other photographers might have approached this scene differently. Most would probably not have run around tripping over rocks and waving a light on a stick in the dark, but that’s just the way I roll.

Using fixed-position lights on stands would certainly lead to more consistent results, and most likely fewer overall exposures to get to the end result. To me though, that is simply location lighting, and not light painting. The difference is more than just semantics––light painting is an active process that requires a different skill set than location lighting. Both are valid approaches, but the former is what makes my creative juices flow.

The line between light painting and location lighting has blurred in recent years. The term Low-level Landscape Lighting (LLL) has come to be used to describe static lighting in astro-landscape photography (ALP). This is partly out of necessity, and partly due to the development of new technologies such as the Luxli panel light.

When working at the high ISOs required for star points in ALP, it’s difficult to light from multiple positions during a brief 15- to 30-second exposure. With short exposures at high ISOs, it’s also hard to control traditional light painting tools like the venerable Coast flashlights, because they are just too bright for such a sensitive sensor. The amount of time required to adequately illuminate most subjects with a bright light at ALP settings is just a fraction of a second.

This is an outtake, initially overlooked because I was excited about the original concept. This one was made at the very end of the sequence—it was actually the last shot of the night. After I felt like I had finally nailed the shot we were originally going for, I decided to try a couple of other ideas just to see what would happen. Which one do you like better? Nikon D750 with an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. 25 seconds, f/4.5, ISO 4000.

Final Thoughts

I always tell our workshop participants that there is no wrong or right way to do things in night photography. That’s what makes this such a great medium––it’s incredibly flexible and adaptable to different visions. I don’t try to teach people to do what I do, but how to develop their own techniques and methods to make images that get them excited.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter if you do long or short exposures at low or high ISOs, or light with flashlights, strobes or an army of Luxli lights. What does matter is that photographers find a way of working that leads them to grow and that leads them to images that excite them.

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.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Oreos and More: 16 Ways to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.
— Neil Armstrong

It’s here. The Big 5-0. Fifty years since a person first touched a world beyond our home.

I don’t remember this happening. I was still a year and a half from—as my grandfather would say—being even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes. I wouldn’t be born until the latter half of 1971, and I’d grow up in a world where humankind had already made a giant leap toward the stars.

Yet here I am, in 2019, marveling that this ever happened and celebrating that it did.

How am I celebrating? Well, mostly by conversing with my 6-year-old daughter about it. Last night we talked about Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and we looked at pictures of the lander and the rover and the rigid U.S. flag.

And now I remember that “moon” was one of her first words, and how she would delight at seeing it in the night skies of Astoria, Queens, where she lived her first few years, and how when she was 3 she would love to say, “Look, the moon is a crescent, like a croissant!” And how she, even more than me, will grow up thinking that not walking on the moon is just a faint remnant of history.

Before going to bed, she asked if she would ever get to walk on the moon too, and I said maybe. Then I changed my answer. “Yes,” I said, “if you want to walk on the moon, then I’m sure you’ll find a way.”

She will—she’s that kind of kid—determined, unburdened by the nuisance of obstacles. Kind of like that trio of moonwalkers 50 years ago, and kind of like the thousands and thousands of scientists and technicians who helped lift them to the beyond.

Then she asked, “Daddy, can we do it together?”

Gosh, I hope so.


16 Ways to Celebrate

Not many things are celebrated by a majority of the world at once. The moon landing was one of the few, and its semicentennial also will be recognized globally. You won’t be able to escape it on the news today—heck, you can’t even escape it on our blog.

If you can’t beat a party, then you might as well join one. What can you do to be festive today? Below are 16 ideas.

1. Eat Some Oreos

Nabisco recently released limited edition Marshmallow Moon Oreo Cookies. Not only are they as yummy as the rest of the best Oreos, but the package glows in the dark! In stores now—if you can still find them.

(Might we also suggest Milky Way and Mars bars? Moon pies? Tang?)

2. Explain Dynamic Range

Moon-landing conspiracy theorists point to many pieces of evidence that a half-century ago NASA produced nothing more than a big show on a sound stage. One of their Exhibits A is that no stars appear in the sky in Buzz and Neil’s photographs from the surface. So for fun, go find a moon-landing denier and explain that the reason no stars appear is because film couldn’t handle the vastly different exposures of the bright surface of the moon and the darkness of space in one perfectly exposed frame. (Lunar module payload didn’t have space for split-ND filters. Duh.)

3. Watch the Movie

Whether on TV, or at a movie or IMAX theater, watch Apollo 11, the full-length documentary released earlier this year. It’s back in theaters this weekend, is streamable on multiple platforms (Amazon, Google Play, YouTube, et al.), and will be broadcast on CNN twice this evening.

4. Read About a Progmatic Woman

You may have seen this in 2015, but it’s worth a revisit. Check out Wired magazine’s profile of Margaret Hamilton, who, working in “a man’s field,” came to be instrumental in leading the development of the software that powered the Apollo missions. She was such a pioneer in coding that she even co-coined the term “software engineer.” See “Her Code Got Humans on the Moon—And Invented Software Itself.”

5. Shoot with Neil & Buzz

The New York Times put together an outstanding interactive digital walk-through of the moon landing, along with photographs the astronauts made both on the surface and on the flights to and fro. It’s hard to describe this experience—you’ll need to check it out yourself. See “Apollo 11: As They Shot It.”

Neil, this is Houston. Did you get the Hasselblad magazine?

Roger, Houston. … We’re in the process of using up what film we have. We’ve probably got another half an hour’s worth of picture-taking.

6. Relive the Landing in 3D

Go to your local bookstore and buy Mission Moon 3D: A New Perspective on the Space Race by David Eicher, editor of Astronomy Magazine. The book features stereoscopic versions of famous and lesser-known photographs of the 1960s space race, lending unique visual access to one of the greatest stories of the 20th century. 3D viewing glasses included.

7. Listen to Brian May

On January 1 of this year, the legendary Queen guitarist released a composition called “New Horizons.” The song is really a celebration of the titular NASA space probe that buzzed a Kuiper belt object, but we’re including it here because May, also an astrophysicist, designed the 3D viewer that comes with the book mentioned in the previous paragraph. Yes, really. Plus, the song could have easily been about flying to the moon for the first time, right?

8. Also Listen to Pink Floyd

Because now that I’m mentioning it, Dark Side of the Moon will be in your head. Also, it’s where Michael Collins spent half his time 50 years ago today, while he circled over his moonbound friends. (“There is no dark side of the moon, really. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”)

9. Immerse Yourself in The Atlantic

If you’re not tired of reading (thank goodness, that means you’re still reading this post), then click over to the website for The Atlantic and peruse their 14-article series reflecting on the lunar landing, titled “They Went to the Moon.” Pieces include:

  • “What Is the Apollo 11 Landing Site Like Now?”

  • “Your Smart Toaster Can’t Hold a Candle to the Apollo Computer”

  • “The Most Compelling Photo of the Moon Landing”

10. See What Neil Armstrong Saw

Using NAC images, moon topography, trajectory data and all sorts of other neat technology, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera folks created a video simulation of what Armstrong saw when the lunar lander was lunar-landing. Check it out on the Arizona State University website.

11. Mail a Letter

Head to the post office (before noon—today’s Saturday!) to buy some First Moon Landing commemorative stamps, and use one to send a letter to somebody who’d like to receive a letter from you. Better yet, make it a postcard and tell them you’re vacationing on the shores of the Sea of Tranquility.

12. Watch a Monument Prepare for Liftoff

If you’re in Washington, D.C., head to the National Mall for the National Air and Space Museum’s “Apollo 50: Go for the Moon” show, which will culminate with an image of the mission’s full-scale, 363-foot Saturn V rocket projected on the Washington Monument.

13. Build Your Own Lunar Lander

Seriously! Lego lets you do it, and the job entails just 1,087 pieces. (If you count only 1,086, watch where you step with bare feet.) The NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander kit will set you back only $100. Think that’s a lot? NASA spent $240 million on each of theirs. Kit includes Lego Neil and Lego Buzz.

14. Build Your Own Moon!

Four Point Puzzles produced a beautiful 1,000-piece, two-foot circular puzzle of the full moon based on the highest-resolution photo NASA has made to date. (We encourage Four Point to make an easier version based on a waning crescent.)

15. Attend an Event

The U.S. is celebrating the moon landing anniversary everywhere (except the moon, ironically). If you’re interested in learning more about this historic moment, or seeing if you can score some green cheese, look for an event near you. (Know that today is not your last chance—many of these programs run longer into the year.) NASA and Space.com are here to help, with a list of ongoing events and exhibits, from Houston to Cape Canaveral, from the mountains to the prairies, from sea to shining sea.

16. Finally, Photograph the Moon

Last, but absolutely not least, get outside with your camera tonight and photograph that big gray ball in the sky. Want some help? See our blog posts:

Your Turn!

How will you be observing or celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing? Share in the Comments section below or on our Facebook page. We’re all in this together. Party on.

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.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Five Questions: Very Large Files, Pollution Filters, Fuji lenses and More

This installment of our “Five Questions” series features inquiries about large image files, light pollution filters, lenses for Fuji, organizing files in Lightroom and old Canon cameras..

If you have any questions you would like to throw our way, please contact us anytime. Questions could be about gear, national parks or other photo locations, post-processing techniques, field etiquette, or anything else related to night photography. #SeizeTheNight!

Giant Files Missing from Lightroom


A 4 GB, 38-layer PSB file from Matt. Files this big don’t show up in the Lightroom catalog.

Q: I have run into an issue with large file sizes when image stacking. In Lightroom, after I choose Open as Layers in Photoshop, the final layered file is greater than 2 GB. I saved it in PSB large document format. The file was saved to the disk, but is not showing up in my Lightroom catalog like PSD files do, nor does it show up in the Import window in Lightroom. It looks like Lightroom cannot see the file at all. So I tried flattening the file, but then I got a moiré pattern in the image. Have you seen this before? What is your process for saving and working with very large Photoshop files? — Craig

A: That is correct—for some reason, Adobe hasn’t allowed Lightroom to see PSB files. So your options are to either work with that file only in Photoshop, or to flatten it so it saves as a smaller PSD file.

But yes, flattening can occasionally create its own challenges. We have seen that moiré issue with stacked photos before. It happens sometimes, but not others, and we haven’t been able to identify a pattern of when or why. We’ve asked others who are Adobe-knowledgeable, and haven’t found an answer—but we’ll keep trying! What I can tell you is that the moiré seems to happen more often when working with images from higher-resolution cameras, and that sizing down the image a little before flattening seems to help. — Chris

Filtering Light Pollution

Light pollution from Miami over Everglades National Park. Nikon D3s, Nikon 17-24mm f/2.8. 20 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400. © 2013 Chris Nicholson.

Q: Do you use light pollution filters of any kind? I don’t remember any of you mentioning them, and I don’t see them in your gear list. Are they just a scam? It seems like such a filter would help when you can’t get to a dark sky area. — Brien

A: Night sky filters mostly help with color shifts from light pollution, and can increase contrast in the sky. We’ve tried a couple of them, but have not tested them scientifically––yet. There will be a blog post comparing them for effectiveness before too long.

That said, I think the general consensus is these filters they can improve skies somewhat, but probably don’t provide $250 to $300 worth of improvement, which is what they tend to cost. I wouldn’t call them scams, but I also probably wouldn’t call them a great investment if resources are limited.

If you decide to try one, please let us know what you think by sharing in the Comments section or on our Facebook page. — Lance

Night Lenses for Fuji

Q: I own a Fuji X-T2 and have a 14mm f/2.8 lens. I notice that at least one of you has posted photos using an X-T2 with their 10-24mm f/4 lens. These photos look great. I have been looking at that lens and/or the Fuji 16mm f/1.4 to get a stop or two of additional light, given that the tests I see appear to indicate the corners are much softer at f/1.4, better at f/2 and pretty good at f/2.8. My interest in the 10-24mm is the flexibility and range down to 10mm, but I am concerned about the stops of light I would give up. What is your experience with these lenses, and do you think I should instead look more deeply at a Samyang or Rokinon 12mm or 10mm? — Larry G.

fuji lenses.jpg

A: Several of us have been shooting with Fujifilm since the X system came out, and our two favorite lenses for the night are the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 and the 16mm f/1.4.

The 10-24mm gives an excellent zoom range that’s good for including lots of night sky. The f/4 does limit light, which makes it challenging for Milky Way shots, but if you were to shoot at ISO 6400 or 12,800 and use Starry Landscape Stacker, then you could get away with it. However, the 16mm f/1.4 would be our preferred Milky Way lens for Fuji—it’s an excellent focal length and you can shoot wide open or stop down to f/2 without a worry.

That being said, if I were to buy into the Fujifilm lens system now, I’d have to give their new 8-16mm f/2.8 lens some serious consideration. It’s wider, faster and heavier than the 10-24mm, but the f/2.8 aperture gives it the versatility to shoot in any day or night situation.

On the higher end of tried-and-tested night lenses, I’d also recommend:

For budget and manual focus lenses:

  • I’m not a fan of the Rokinon/Samyang lenses—I’ve had too many with soft, out-of-focus edges. (Though I might try Samyang’s new 10mm f/2.8.)

  • Matt and I both own the inexpensive 7Artisans lenses—the 12mm f/2.8 is pretty good and Matt really likes his 7.5mm f/2.8 fisheye.

Finally, with adapters, any lens can be at your disposal:

  • Our favorite night lens is the Irix 15mm f/2.4 that comes in Canon, Nikon and Pentax mounts. It’s manual focus with a click stop at true infinity, it has hyperfocus markings, and you can lock your focus. It comes in two versions: Firefly and Blackstone. Optically they’re the same, but the Firefly is polycarbonate and the Blackstone is magnesium alloy. The former is lighter, and is best for hikers and photographers who are otherwise weight-conscious; the latter is more rugged, made for extreme situations, and has engraved fluorescent markings that are easy to read at night. — Gabriel

Organizing Photos in Lightroom

Q: I really want to move into Lightroom, but I do not organize my images by date. It just won’t work for me because I really want to group photos by place and such so I can look at a “place” together with all times I’ve been there. I know that’s what collections are for, but I cannot even begin to fathom reorganizing everything into dates and collections. Can I use Lightroom that way? — Therese I.

A: You’re in luck, because the Lightroom engineers designed the catalog to be pliable enough to use in whatever way feels comfortable to individual photographers. So when organizing photos, do whatever makes sense to you.

There are two strategies I see most often:

  • Organize into folders by date, and use keywords, collections, etc., to catalog and find them. This is what I do. That works very well for the way I think, because I have a very good memory for dates—show me an image of mine and I can tell you the month and year I shot it. A folder in my catalog might be “2016-05-20_Acadia.” So I do have location info in the folder name, but it’s only secondary. However, this approach doesn’t necessarily work so well for a fair number of other people whose brains don’t categorize information the same way mine does. Many other folks tend to …

  • Organize images into folders by region, country, city, etc. So there might be a folder structure of United States -> Southwest -> Arizona -> Grand Canyon. Using this strategy, you could still search by date, as that info is built into the metadata.

Really, it just comes down to which way your brain tracks these things better. Like I said, I’m in Group 1, as are Gabe, Matt and Lance. Tim is in Group 2. Lightroom is flexible enough to make your own system within the confines of the software. The important thing is to pick a strategy that is easy enough to implement while effective enough to be useful, and then to be diligent about sticking with the procedure you choose so that you can always find your images quickly and effortlessly. — Chris

Old Canon vs. New Anything

1561852319_1346734.jpg

Q: What is your thought on the Canon XSi for landscape and night photography? I was thinking of upgrading to a their DLSR cameras, but was wondering if a Nikon camera would be a better option. — Nichole P.

A: The Canon XSi is more or less an entry level camera from 2008, and, to put it mildly, would be a subpar choice for night photography. We recommend a current camera that is at least one notch up from entry level.

To an extent, it matters what kind of photography you’d like to do. If you want to photograph the Milky Way, then the above recommendation is a minimum, and we’d encourage you to step up to a full-frame camera like the Canon 6D Mark II, or even the original 6D (which you could get on eBay for about $500) if you are on a tight budget. Over at Nikon, the D750 is an outstanding value, or the D5500 or D5600 would be OK.

Most importantly, I recommend buying a current generation camera. Even with lower-priced models, current cameras are far superior to those that were made even just a few years ago. — Lance

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.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT