cuyahoga valley national park

Recapping Our 1st Workshops of 2017: Joshua Tree, Cuyahoga Valley and Cape Cod

National Parks at Night’s 2017 started slowly, relative to what it would become. The first few months of the year involved a lot of sitting at our home bases planning, planning and planning. But then spring came, and our itinerary revved up to a furious pace of four workshops in five weeks.

That flurry of activity was not only … well, flurrious … but also widespread, covering national parks across the United States, from the California desert to rural Ohio to coastal Massachusetts. We’re happy to now be able to report how those workshops went, which we’ll do below.

After this we’ll be moving our program into summer and fall, including four workshops that still have a few seats open: Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park, Washington’s beautiful Olympic National Park (twice!) and California’s Eastern Sierra. To come seize the night with us and bunch of new friends, sign up today!

In the meantime, here’s a taste of our first four workshops of 2017. …

Joshua Tree National Park

April 21-26, 2017
April 30-May 5, 2017
By Lance Keimig

Our first two outings of the 2017 season were back-to-back Passport Series workshops at Joshua Tree National Park—our originally scheduled workshop plus an overflow week we offered due to high demand. I was an instructor on both workshops; Gabe and Chris each worked with me on one of them.

The Joshua Tree Week 1 group

The Joshua Tree Week 2 group

For both workshops, National Parks at Night collaborated with the Desert Institute, the educational program partner for the park. Through the Desert Institute we were able to arrange special after-hours visits to Desert Queen Ranch, also known as Keys Ranch. Normally off-limits to the public except for ranger-guided tours, Keys Ranch is a historic homestead within the park that was a spectacular location for night photography and light painting.

To reciprocate for that great access, in the few days off between the two workshops, Chris and I delivered a presentation on night photography in national parks at Copper Mountain Community College in the town of Joshua Tree. It was a lot of fun, as we got to talk about what we love to do, plus meet a lot of local photographers who also love the park.

At first glance, Joshua Tree doesn’t offer the kind of varied scenery that many other parks do. With the exception of Keys Ranch and the remains of a few abandoned mines, the park has relatively little diversity of subject matter. It’s all about the eponymous trees, and the rocks. Fortunately though, the variations in both the Joshua trees and the rock formations are enough to keep any photographer busy for a long, long time.

Moreover, we had a bonus. The rains of last winter had finally broken the California drought, and the wildflowers and cacti were in full bloom when we arrived at the park. It was spectacular.

During the first workshop, we had mostly clear, dark skies with the new moon occurring on the last day. The Milky Way was rising late, around midnight each night, and the weather was unseasonably chilly. The cool temperatures kept our sensors from overheating and the noise manageable with the high ISOs required in the very dark environment. We were bundled up with multiple layers, hats and gloves!

What a difference a week can make. By the second workshop, the weather had changed, and daytime temperatures climbed into the 90s, with comfortable T-shirt-weather nights. The first quarter moon occurred in the middle of the second workshop, which worked out well. By the time the moon was setting around midnight, the core of the Milky Way was rising above the horizon, giving our students the best of both worlds: We had a combination of moonlight to illuminate the landscape and complement our light painting, and dark skies to photograph the arch of the Milky Way core later in the night.

In each group we had a mix of veterans and night-photography newbies, but regardless of experience level the productivity and growth we observed was exceptional. We were proud of the progress made by each and every participant in both weeks.

We always encourage collaboration during our workshops, as we find that the experience is amplified when people share knowledge and ideas out in the field. These two groups exemplified this collaborative spirit, which is one of the most rewarding things for us as instructors to observe. This was on full display all week during both workshops, and also at the end of each when the groups worked together on large light-painting projects (as blogged about by Chris and Gabe, respectively).

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

May 7-12, 2017
By Tim Cooper

There’s a National Park in Ohio? There is, and it’s a good one!

Our National Park system is filled with lesser-known gems that often get overshadowed by the grand western icons such as Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio is exactly that—a gem. While most national parks are quite a distance from the glow of city lights, Cuyahoga Valley is somewhat unusual in its close proximity to two major metro areas: Cleveland and Akron. Urban areas like these can often produce a lot of light pollution that makes it a challenge to capture star-filled skies. Thankfully, stars are not the only thing to photograph at night!

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park group

Cuyahoga Valley is filled with vestiges from the industrial revolution. Old quarries, mills, farms, bridges, train stations and tracks all dot the valley that bears the name of the hard-working Cuyahoga River. These structures provided the perfect opportunity for our workshop participants to learn and/or practice the art of light painting.

The week started with light clouds and clear skies, allowing us to get our feet wet with capturing the night sky over Indigo Lake. The train station there also lured many in the class to jump right into light painting. From this point the group just took off. It was a light painting extravaganza! Using flashlights to illuminate a subject at night usually takes a fair amount of practice, but the participants took to it like ducks to water. Chris and I marveled how quickly everyone picked up on the techniques.

The remainder of the week found us in varied locations in and around the park opening our shutters for long exposures and flashlight art. From a light-wand sword fight on the steps of a quarry wall to painting the rusted bodies of retired Volvos in a salvage yard, our participants tackled some of the most difficult scenarios in night photography.

Kudos, folks! Chris and I had a great time and we thank you all for your enthusiasm and hard work!

Cape Cod National Seashore

May 21-24, 2017
By Chris Nicholson

Our few days in Cape Cod marked a bit of an internal celebration for NPAN: It was our very first workshop to have lobster! ... (Just kidding. Acadia had lobster too.) ... In fact, Cape Cod was our very first Adventure Series workshop!

While our Passport Series events submerse attendees in the nighttime experience of a national park, our Adventure Series might bring us anywhere, and can also afford us the opportunity to work on specific night photography techniques that are pertinent to local subject matter. Cape Cod National Seashore certainly presented a prime opportunity for the latter.

The Cape Cod National Seashore group

Unlike most of the locations we visit, Cape Cod is fertile ground for lighthouse photography, with over a dozen beacons in the area. So one of our focuses was shooting lighthouses, exploring techniques such as how to photograph them at night without blowing out the lantern illumination, capturing images with multiple beams extending from the lights, and creating a beam where none might be.

Also, because we were shooting in late spring, the Milky Way was arching over the Atlantic horizon, giving us a great opportunity to work on stitched panorama images of our galaxy over ocean, over sand dunes and (of course!) over lighthouses!

What we couldn’t plan for was the bonus of having different weather conditions to work with, allowing the group chances to create different kinds of images each night.

Our first evening out—to Nobska Light, Chatham Light and Lighthouse Beach—was mostly clear. The attendees took full advantage, creating stunning Milky Way photos at the water’s edge and out amongst the dunes.

Our second night out was in the rain, so we ventured to Provincetown to photograph this unique town with puddle reflections and wet pavement. Afterward we shot the cottages of North Truro and then Highland Light, all in gloriously unpleasant weather. Unpleasant only for comfort, glorious for photography—which was proven not only in the group’s photographic results, but also in their willingness to stay out shooting until past midnight despite the cold spring rains.

Our third night featured thin clouds, which allowed some of the strongest stars to shine through, but also picked up the colors of the sodium vapor lights of Provincetown, which many of the photographers used to awesome creative effect. For this final evening we worked at Nauset Light and Nauset Light Beach, then at the Old Harbor Life-Saving Station and Race Point Beach.

In between shoots? There may have been a little lobster.

Thank you for the perks, partners!

As always, we owe a special thank-you to our brand partners for helping our attendees have an even better experience:

  • Nikon sent some of the best photography gear ever made for students to use for free. The kit they shipped to each workshop included a D5, D810A, D810, D750 and D500, plus a huge selection of lenses, including the awesome 14-24mm f/2.8, 20mm f/1.8, 28mm f/1.4 and more!
  • Coast sent HP1 flashlights for each person who attended our Passport Series workshops in Joshua Tree and Cuyahoga Valley to keep, and a whole kit of lights for anyone to borrow for light painting at all workshops.
  • B&H Photo sent along loaner gear such as intervalometers, remote shutter releases and bubble levels.
  • Our newest partner, BenQ, provided a projector for presentations and the crystal-clear SW2700PT 27-inch display for students to use while post-processing at Cuyahoga Valley and Cape Cod.
  • Light Painting Brushes provided a Deluxe Starter Kit for attendees to practice light writing.
  • X-Rite supplied an i1Display Pro to profile and calibrate anyone’s laptops and the instructors’ projectors.
  • Bay Photo provided free prints to award to attendees in random drawings.
  • Peak Design supplied a random giveaway as well, in the form of their Clutch strap.

Wrapping up ...

Last, but always first in our hearts, is a big thank you to the most important people in our program—our participants. The energy and enthusiasm they brought to the workshops cannot possibly be paralleled.

We have enjoyed working with everyone who attended our first four workshops of 2017, and look forward to those coming along on our remaining adventures in Natural Bridges and Hovenweep (sold out), Dry Tortugas, Great Sand Dunes (sold out), Centennial Valley (sold out), Westfjords (sold out), Olympic (twice!) and Eastern Sierra.

If you would like to join our participants photographing one or more of these great locations, grab one of our few remaining spots by visiting our the pages linked to above and signing up today. We will see you out there ... to seize the night!

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


More Parks in the Dark: Rounding Out Our 2017 Workshop Schedule

Back in September we announced the first part of our 2017 workshop calendar. We also promised that before long we'd be ready to announce even more opportunities to learn about night photography while enjoying the camaraderie of like-minded photographers under the beautiful skies of our national lands.

Well, now we're here, getting the new year started by following through on that promise. Today we're publicly releasing the details of six new 2017 night photography adventure workshops.

For our Passport Series, one is a brand new workshop in a remote and unique national park, while two are second offerings of our two most popular '17 locations. And for our Adventure Series, one new workshop is on the beautiful New England coast, one is in the mountains of California, and one represents our first international event, a night photography tour of Westfjords, Iceland.

Passport Series

Our new Passport Series workshops include a deep dive into the night skies of a national park, plus location scouting tutorials, lectures and image reviews. Plus a whole lot of camaraderie.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Olympic National Park

Joshua Tree National Park, California (2nd Week)

April 21-26, 2017Joshua Tree National Park encompasses sections of two different deserts—the Mojave and the Colorado—both full of opportunities for remarkable images. We had a high demand for the first week of this workshop, so we added this second week to provide more people the opportunity to attend!

More info & registration: Joshua Tree II

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

July 27-30, 2017 — Live life on a boat as we explore one of the most remote national parks in the NPS. The sights on Fort Jefferson—the most ambitious and extensive coastal fortification in the United States, located in Dry Tortugas National Park—are absolute wonders to photograph. And all this in the darkest skies on the east coast, 70 miles from Key West into the Gulf of Mexico.

More info & registration: Dry Tortugas

Olympic National Park, Washington (2nd Week)

September 24-29, 2017 — Photograph 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. Our first week of Olympic sold out in just two days, so we're offering this second workshop here in this park's best season.

More info & registration: Olympic II

Adventure Series

Adventure Series workshops are forays into national monuments, private lands near national parks, and more. These workshops will generally be shorter in duration than our Passport Series, and depending on the event, may involve less time in the classroom and more time in the field having adventures.

Cape Cod National Seashore

Eastern Sierra

Westfjords, Iceland

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts (3 Spots Left!)

May 21-24, 2017 — Photograph the open sand dunes, regal lighthouses, quaint cottages and quiet seaside villages of Cape Cod National Seashore, one of the natural gems of the New England coast.

Please note that as of the morning of this blog post, only three spots remain for the Cape Cod National Seashore workshop, so if you want to go, register now!

More info & registration: Cape Cod

Westfjords of Iceland (sold out)

August 27-September 5, 2017 — This photo tour will be special in that it occurs at the end of the brief Icelandic summer. We will visit the Westfjords before the area becomes inaccessible for the winter, but late enough in the year that we might see the Aurora Borealis.

Please note that this event sold out when pre-announced to our alumni and our workshop-announcement email list. To receive early notifications of new workshops (including, hint hint, to this same country in 2018), sign up for our workshop announcements today! Alternatively, to be added to the waitlist for this photo tour in 2017, please visit the following link: Westfjords

Eastern Sierra, California

October 30-November 4, 2017 — This workshop occurs just before the full moon, and is intended primarily for photographers who are interested in light painting by moonlight. The workshop will feature three nights at the Alabama Hills in California’s Eastern Sierra, one night at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, and one night photographing a mystery location.

More info & registration: Eastern Sierra

And don't miss out on ...

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

We have only three places remaining for our light-painting-intensive Passport Series workshop at Cuyahoga Valley National Park this coming May. Be sure to register today!

May 7-12, 2017: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley is one of the most visited national parks in the country, and also one of the most unique. It combines stunning natural scenes with rural features, such as railroad depots, farms, historic structures, covered bridges and old cemeteries, granting the photographer a nearly endless buffet of subjects to photograph at night. This will be a light-painting-intensive workshop, so ready your flashlights!

More info & registration: Cuyahoga Valley

Seize the Night

Never miss out on one of our adventures. Be one of the first to learn about our new workshops by signing up for our mailing list/workshop announcements. Plus you'll get our free ebook, Seize the Night: 20 Tips for Photographing in the Dark.

We're eager to see you out in the parks with us this year, photographing the night!

(Click here to see our entire 2017 Workshops Calendar.)

Chris Nicholson is the 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


How I Got the Shot: Under the Bridge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Under I-80, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. © 2016 Tim Cooper.

Under I-80, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. © 2016 Tim Cooper.

The Location

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a gem in our system of parks. It has a completely different flavor and feel than its western counterparts.

Being located so close to Ohio’s metro areas of Akron and Cleveland, it provides a host of photographic opportunities that other more remote parks may lack. Old train stations, bridge spans, barns, farms, railroad tracks and turn of the century towns all provide unique light painting subjects. This is one of the very many reasons I’m excited to be leading a night photography workshop in Cuyahoga Valley with fellow NPAN instructor Chris Nicholson next May.

During a recent visit I tried my hand at light painting the I-80 bridge span that floats over part of the park like a Roman aqueduct. I knew this would be a challenging shot that would require different white balance settings and multiple exposures to give me time to paint the entire underside of the bridge plus the headstock and piers. Here’s how it went …

Getting the Shot

The first order of business was to determine a rough composition and exposure, so I arrived at the location just after sunset. This allowed time to focus and compose in the fading light. My initial exposure was at ISO 100 for 90 seconds at f/13 (Figure 1). I used my Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G lens on my Nikon D4s. The overcast sky created a heavy blue cast that was apparent when I left my camera’s white balance set to daylight as seen in the image below.

Figure 1: Test shot to determine composition and sky exposure

Figure 1: Test shot to determine composition and sky exposure

By the time I was finished fine-tuning the composition and settings, the scene became dark enough to begin light painting. I made my first exposure to capture the proper brightness and color of the night sky. The sky was a mix of low clouds that were picking up the pink/orange cast of the sodium vapor lights of nearby Cleveland, so I set my white balance to 3900 K to keep the color cast from being overly pink/orange.

The exposure was ISO 200, 5 minutes at f/8. This longer exposure would allow enough time for me to move around while painting the underside of the bridge. The image below (Figure 2) shows the night sky from this exposure, which is the sky I used in the final composition.

Figure 2: Sky exposure

Figure 2: Sky exposure

The next order of business was to nail my light painting. I used my 300-lumens Coast HP7R flashlight to paint the underside of the bridge. I placed a warm gel inside of the Coast LF100 filter holder so that my bridge would have a warmer look than the sky. After some experimentation I decided that the gel I had with me wasn’t warm enough, so I changed the white balance setting on my camera back to Daylight (direct sun).

I began painting by moving about 100 feet to the right of my camera so that I could paint the bridge at an oblique angle. I was able to cover the entire right half of the bridge in about 2 minutes. After painting from this position I moved about 100 feet to the left of my camera and painted the other side of the bridge. During the remaining minute I crossed the road and shed a little light on the near bridge piers.

Notice in Figure 3 that the light on the underside of the bridge comes from both camera right and camera left. Working from so far off axis from the camera kept the painting on the underside of the bridge from looking flat.

After experimenting with light painting, I found that ISO 400, 5 minutes at f/8 provided the right amount of time and illumination for the underside of the bridge.

Figure 3: Light-painting underside of the bridge

Figure 3: Light-painting underside of the bridge

My first exposure (my first "real" exposure, not the test shot) from earlier provided the night sky. The second provided the illumination of the underside of the bridge. For the last exposure (which remained at ISO 400, 5 minutes at f/8), I focused my attention on the bridge piers (Figure 4).

Crossing the road, I again went off camera right and painted the nearest pier at steep angle. I then moved to camera left and painted the other pier. Painting at an angle to your subject always provides a richer, deeper image that reveals more texture in the subject. Due to the sheer length of the bridge I was unable to paint the distant piers from an angle so I had no choice but to paint them from the front. Light dims over distance so I spent the bulk of the exposure illuminating the far piers. The close piers received the same amount of light in far less time.

Figure 4: Light painting bridge piers

Figure 4: Light painting bridge piers

Sometimes our subjects are just a bit to big to paint in one exposure. In these cases, it’s helpful to know a little about post-processing. My final image (Figure 5) is a composite of the photos seen in Figure 2 for the sky, Figure 3 for the underside of the bridge and Figure 4 for the bridge piers. I used Adobe Lightroom for the initial tonal and color edits on the images, and then finished the composite in Adobe Photoshop.

Figure 5: Final Image

Figure 5: Final Image

Learn more techniques from Tim Cooper’s book The Magic of Light Painting, available from Peachpit.


Our 2017 Workshops: Introducing the Passport Series and Adventure Series

We are very excited to bring this news to you, as it's been in the works for months: We are, here and now, announcing our 2017 workshop season! And not only are we announcing new workshops, we are also announcing an entire new series of them.

As we dreamed our way into 2017, we all agreed that our vision for National Parks at Night was evolving with our passionate family of attendees, and we all felt we were ready to offer some new opportunities. So we will forthwith offer two sets of workshops: our Passport Series and our Adventure Series. 

Passport Series

Our Passport Series workshops are what our lucky first-year attendees have enjoyed so far: a deep dive into the night skies of a national park, plus location scouting tutorials, lectures and image critiques. Plus a whole lot of camaraderie!

Here are the 2017 Passport Series Workshops:

Adventure Series

Entirely new for this year will be our Adventure Series Workshops, which are forays into national monuments, private lands near national parks, and more to be announced! These workshops will generally be shorter in duration than our Passport Series, and we will spend less time in the classroom and more time in the field having adventures!

We will be announcing the complete Adventure Series this fall (including one in a [hint, hint] very new National Park Service unit). But to whet your appetite, we are making two early announcements for workshops you can register for now.

2017 Adventure Series Workshops:

Here is a sample of the places you can go with us in 2017:

We are very eager to see you in the dark in 2017! Don't miss your chance to join us—register today!

See more about Matt's photography, art, workshops and writing at Follow Matt on Twitter Instagram Facebook.