joshua tree national park

So Far, So Awesome! Recapping Our First Workshops of 2018

It’s hard to believe that the year is almost half over. Our workshop season, however, is just kicking into high gear. Matt and Gabe are leading a group in Capitol Reef National Park, and Chris and I are about to do the same in Redwood National and State Parks. But this week’s post is about celebrating the amazing experiences we had with the attendees of our first six workshops and tours of 2018.

We started the year by visiting one of the lesser-known national parks, Biscayne in Florida, and in the spring we offered our very first night portraiture workshop, in Catskill, New York. For 2018 we added a second international tour, and notched both Iceland and Scotland in our passports before the end of spring. We also partnered with two of our favorite institutions—Rocky Mountain School of Photography and Atlas Obscura—to create two opportunities to seize the night in California.

We’re also working hard on a new series of workshops and programs for 2019, to be announced later this summer. (Want to be among the first to know about them? Be sure you’re on our email list!)

It may sound like we’re tooting our own horn, but what all of this really means is that (as Matt proclaimed in a lecture earlier this year) this is the golden age of night photography. It is not because we are teaching a lot of workshops, but because so many of you are out there photographing at night and continuing to produce so many amazing images.

As we move on with the second half of 2018, let’s see where the first half brought us …

Biscayne National Park

January 29-February 3
By Gabriel Biderman

They said it couldn’t be done—a night photography workshop was impossible at a location that’s 90 percent water. Well, here at National Parks at Night, we love a good challenge and we made the most of the 10 percent of land in Biscayne National Park!

The first night of the workshop was the day before the second blue supermoon of 2018, and we came prepared. Our friends at Nikon shipped us an 800mm lens with a 1.25X teleconverter, which we matched to the D500 with its 1.5X-crop APS-C sensor. With that, we practically lassoed the moon. That “kit” was set up on a Gitzo tripod and students could stick their memory card in the camera and track and capture the moon. The rest of the first night was spent getting our night feet wet with the many subjects to photograph around the Dante Fascall Visitor Center, the only mainland section of the park.

The next two nights we were transported by charter boat to Elliot and Boca Chita keys. Elliott provided a supermoon moonrise, mangroves, dock and other subjects. But Boca Chita is definitely the crown jewel of the location. We literally “lit up” the ornamental Honeywell lighthouse, photographed the Miami skyline, light painted the cutest little chapel, and explored the many views along this picturesque curved key.

We also got to spend an evening at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, which offered spectacular views of off-shore Stilstsville at sunset, which is in the northernmost part of Biscayne National Park. Baggs is also home of the oldest standing structure in greater Miami—the Cape Florida Light, which we were able to wrap lots of star trails around as well as climb up and sing an opera song or two!

Our last night was even more special, as we were able to gain access to Stiltsville, a grouping of wooden stilt houses that are 1 mile from Miami.  The structures are still recovering/rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, but we were able to watch a spectacular moonrise over Leshaw House as well as shoot a few other unique “floating" houses from the dreamlike location of the Baldwin-Sessions house.

Tim and I have taught many workshops, but this was definitely one to remember—from being transported to and from the islands by boat at night, to just the amazing camaraderie that we had with all the students and people who helped make this adventure happen. We want to give a big thank you to Biscayne National Park, Biscayne National Park Institute, Stiltsville Trust and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park for helping us put together this amazing experience.

Iceland South Coast

March 12-20
By Lance Keimig

Our first international tour of 2018 was remarkable for two things: some really bad weather, and a truly extraordinary group of travelers.

After an outstanding exploration of the remote Westfjords of Iceland in the late summer of 2017, we scheduled our second Iceland adventure to the more frequently visited south coast. This is where most visitors to Iceland end up, and for good reason. Some of the most spectacular waterfalls, along with the famous glacial lagoons and the ice beach can be found there.

We arrived and spent our first day and night in Reykjavik, and had an amazing meal at the Fish Market with many courses of truly delicious and innovatively prepared seafood dishes. The next day we headed south under sunny skies and spent some time with a friendly herd of Icelandic horses before making our way to Vik.

Alas, then the weather took a turn for the worse, with rain and ferocious winds. Our intrepid group made the best of it and we photographed when and where we could, and we even had an impromptu light painting lesson in the hotel meeting room when it was too wet to go out and photograph.

The nasty weather continued the next day, and the forecast was only getting worse––100 percent chance of nothing but cold, wind and rain for the entire remainder of our trip. Iceland can be like that sometimes, and you do what you can to make the best of it.

I’d never seen it quite that bad before, but we had a hardy group of outside-the-box thinkers who found a solution and presented it to Chris and I. The next thing we knew, we had changed our entire itinerary and were headed to the north coast, where the forecast was not only for clear skies, but also for lots of aurora borealis. Yup, we did it! The entire group agreed, and we changed our plans and our fortunes, and we found some great new locations and made a lot of great photographs.

I won’t ever forget how this group collectively transformed a gloomy experience into a very memorable trip. Don’t be surprised if you see a National Parks at Night trip to North Iceland show up on our website in the next few years. Maybe the weather on that one will lead us back to the south, and we can finish what we started.

Joshua Tree at Night

April 15-20
By Lance Keimig

Our friends at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography invited us to lead another workshop for them in 2018, and Gabe and I did that at Joshua Tree National Park in mid-April.

This was our first chance at the Milky Way for the year, and we planned the workshop to begin at the new moon and progress to nearly the first quarter. Conditions were perfect––cool nights, clear skies and a largely novice group of night photography converts. We had a few welcome NPAN alumni from Zion, Great Sand Dunes and Cape Cod to help lead the newbies on our dessert adventure.

Arch Rock, Hidden Valley and of course Key’s Ranch were highlight locations again this year, and we were happy to be working with the Desert Institute again as our park liaison. After our RMSP workshop, we led a second, one-night outing for the Desert Institute.

In addition to some truly stellar images, one of the memorable aspects of this workshop is that our group was not hesitant to stay out late and wait for the Milky Way to rise over the horizon—which, depending on the location, was not until 1 a.m. or later. Way to go, gang!

Catskills Night Portraiture

April 27-29 (Spring Session)
By Matt Hill

Students, model, Matt and Mabel in our headquarters backyard shortly after a massive thunderstorm.

In April, I hosted our very first night portraiture workshop. It was also the inaugural workshop in the newly renovated teaching space at our headquarters in the village of Catskill, New York.

This workshop was very intimate, catered farm-to-table by a local chef and designed for advanced students who want to make long exposure portraits of people at night.

From Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon, we worked on lighting, posing and storytelling. Our wonderful local model, Galaexius Quasar, worked with us in studio and on location in the area to bring to life fantastic ideas.

We had challenging weather, but on the first night, that was a real boon. The clouds and misty rain added a moodiness that complemented the scene.

Nikon D750 with a Nikon 105mm f/1.4 lens. 15 seconds, f/4, ISO 200.

The second night brought a very energetic thunderstorm. We decided to stay dry and warm and proceeded to build long exposure portraits in the studio until the weather cleared. After that, we went in the backyard, popped a couple of smoke grenades and made some more magic.

By spending time working on individual skills, both students really leveled up. I’m so happy we did it, and I’m looking forward to the six-person workshop in the fall that I am co-teaching with Tim Cooper.

Dark Skies, Desert Beasts: Borrego Springs, California

May 10-13
By Gabriel Biderman

Dark Skies and Desert Beasts was the official title of our first Ambassador Series workshop with Atlas Obscura. It was held in the dark sky community of Borrego Springs, California, and our focus was the 130-plus surreal sculptures of Ricardo Breceda that created an amazing “Night Sky Museum” with the Milky Way as our backdrop.

For those who are unfamiliar with Atlas Obscura, they have been the go-to online guide to the strange and unusual all over the world for the last 10 years. It was an honor to work with their team, to introduce them to the beauty of the night and to create a unique experience.

Borrego Springs is part of the Sonoran Desert and has been an oasis in the valley for many years—though now more people seek its dark skies than ever before. We enhanced the California vibes even more by staying at an Old West and vintage trailer themed resort!

We spent our afternoons in class, reviewing students’ work and going over the many techniques of night photography. We explored a different section of the Galleta Meadows each night. The variety of sculptures—from the iconic “dragon” serpent that cuts through the main road to the spectacular standoff between the grasshopper and scorpion—were just amazing to aim our lenses toward. But there were so many other beasts to play with too, from dinosaurs and wild horses, to sabertooth tigers, camels, sloths and jeeps driving into the stars!

We scouted each area during the day, and we dropped Google pins and took test shots for sculptures that inspired us so that we could be more productive once the sun set.

Our group of students were amazing and worked so well together, each taking a crack at light painting to reinterpret these pieces of art into something they could call their own.

It was definitely a challenging workshop, operating under little to no moon and maintaining focus on some fairly close subject matter while keeping those background stars sharp!

However, both Tim and I were incredibly impressed with the work that was created and the camaraderie that was forged with all! We had so much fun that we are already planning on a return to Borrego and more collaborations with Atlas. Stay tuned!

Scotland: The Hebrides

May 13-23
By Lance Keimig

Our second international trip of 2018 was to the Isle of Skye, and the Hebridean Isles of Lewis and Harris.

Skye has some of the best landscapes in Europe, and Lewis and Harris are rich in Neolithic archeology. I had been there the year before in March, and things were pretty quiet as you might expect at that time of year. It was immediately apparent that like Iceland, Scotland has seen a major increase in tourism in the last couple of years, and no place in Scotland more than Skye. It was interesting to note that unlike in Iceland, where it seems that much if not most of the tourism centers around photography, that wasn’t the case in Scotland. Some of the locations I’d been visiting for years, often having them to myself, were now absolutely swarming with tourists (and the busy season was only just beginning).

Fortunately, there are still plenty of places to appreciate the spectacular landscapes and appreciate the culture and history of Scotland if you’re willing to come back after dark! That’s what we did!

We had five full days and nights at the wonderful Uig Lodge on the Isle of Lewis. We had some good weather, some mediocre weather, a smashed iPhone (mine) and a real beater of a minibus (thanks, Sixt, but we’ll look elsewhere next time). Again NPAN travelers showed their mettle and faced every challenge head-on to come home with new friends, good memories and great images.

Chris and I took a couple of days before the tour to explore an area in the southwest of Scotland, and he even found the exact apartment in Campbeltown where he had lived for six months as a child while his dad was stationed at the U.S. naval station nearby. National Parks at Night will be leading more tours to some of the other Scottish islands in the future, so stay tuned!

Partner Participation

When we form brand partnerships, we look for the relationship to benefit our workshop attendees too. Nikon, Coast Portland, B&H Photo, Peak Design, Light Painting Brushes, X-Rite, BenQ, Bay Photo, Irix Lenses, Valleret, PhotoPills and Luxli all offered loaner gear, discounts, gifts and other perks at various locations. As always, our gratitude is unending.

Looking Forward

As you can see, it’s been a pretty exciting year so far, with more to come. As of June 22, all of our remaining 2018 workshops are full with the exception of our second week at Glacier National Park led by Tim and myself. You can still sign up for the waitlist for any workshop at no cost and with no risk. If a spot opens up, we’ll invite you to apply.

We’ll be announcing our 2019 workshops and tours in August, first to our esteemed alumni, then to our email subscribers, and then to the general public. We hope to see you out there under the Milky Way!

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


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


Collaborate & Create: Making Better Night Photographs by Working Together

What is the best way to master a skill? Typically the first steps are to study the subject and then gain comfort applying that knowledge to real-world experience. However, there is a missing X-factor that can lead us down so many different paths of knowledge. That is collaboration.

We at National Parks at Night have been preaching the importance of collaboration since Day 1. Our whole business model is dependent upon it, as is the experience we offer. We almost always provide two instructors to lead a workshop and try to mix up different combinations that will each yield a unique vibe to the overall experience. We encourage our students to work together and each take turns directing or light painting. A new aspect that we have been experimenting with, and that came together quite spontaneously, is working on a larger-scale collaboration. See our recent post about how our first Joshua Tree workshop did panoramic light painting as a group.

When I taught my first workshop many years ago, part of my proposal was that I co-teach the workshop with Tim Cooper. Tim is not only a good friend, but someone whose photography knowledge and general demeanor I respect very much. We each had different strengths that complemented one another, and not only did the students gain a wealth of knowledge from the workshop, but Tim and I also inspired each other.

You gain knowledge from each experience—good or bad. If you study and learn from that, better photographs aren’t far away.

Night photography can very much be a solo effort, whether that means you are shooting alone or going with a group to the same location and just splitting up to hone those night visions. I think this is a very common and old-school approach. With astro-landscape we are looking for strong foregrounds or landscapes, and then framing them creatively against the backdrop of the night sky. We are also seeing more and more people add the human element to their night photography, and that of course is a collaboration.

Personal Collaborations

I remember the first portrait I took of my then-hopeful girlfriend, now wife, Nancy. She knew I was a budding B&W photographer and asked if I could take some portraits of her prior to attending a big fashion event in San Francisco.

At the time, I was doing a lot of portrait work but obviously had little “fashion photography sense.” An early and continual inspiration was Duane Michaels, who created wonderful storyboard fantasies about human interactions. I had recently purchased the Lubitel twin lens camera, a fantastically plastic version of the Rolliflex. You could easily do multiple exposures by just cocking the shutter without forwarding the film. So I asked Nancy to strike three different poses within the boundaries I set. Let’s just say that everything clicked and we have been collaborating ever since.

Another great collaboration, also from the SF film days, was with good friends Peter and Jen. We used to plan shoots every month—Jen would bring a variety of props, costumes and ideas, and Peter and I would set up the shoot.

My favorite experience that came out of our many shoots was the “Angel in the Subway.” We scouted that location and were aware of when it was safe to walk on the tracks. We knew we had to work quickly because the authorities could kick us out at any time. The whole shoot lasted around 10 to 15 minutes and the resulting image became our holiday card for years to come!

When I moved to New York City, I helped start a couple of photo meetup groups that would either schedule early morning shoots or impromptu one-night gallery shows. It was a ton of fun, but it was mainly a bunch of us sharing our individual visions. When I was introduced to Matt Hill and we discovered our passion for night photography was mutual, sharing and collaborating started moving furiously forward!

Matt and I immediately started shooting and experimenting with bending time! We asked “What if” a lot and re-approached our styles of night photography with childlike eyes. Several wonderful projects were born out of our continual collaborations—my favorites are our yearly workshops on Bannerman Island, Matt’s time-bending night paper portraits, and of course National Parks at Night, which was concocted one evening when we were both sitting under the stars as our cameras were ripping long exposures.

Coaching Collaboration

How do you teach collaboration? Because it either works or it doesn’t. You can really sync with some people and might have to just walk away from others. But I strongly feel that you gain knowledge from each experience—good or bad. If you study and learn from that, better photographs aren’t far away.

Bouncing ideas off of each other prior to getting out in the field is a great first step to see if you gel. Like-minded people aren’t always the best collaborators—ideally we want to complement each other and bring a unique idea, question or solution to the table.

We like to arrive to our locations during the day—either a couple of hours before sunset or during midday. We use that time to scout the locations and really walk around the scene to figure out the shot. We are often drawn to the obvious, but more dramatic possibilities might be just around the bend.

For example, at the last night at our second Joshua Tree workshop, we invited anyone who wanted to collaborate on a group shot to meet Lance and I at 10:30 p.m. Most of the class joined and we divided the group into two. We chose locations and set a 20-minute time limit for each group to shoot at one location and then switch to shoot the other.

Below, Lance and I share both teams’ behind-the-scenes process and the images that came out of this.

Two Cars

Gabe: Our first subject was two cars hidden behind some rocks. Without setting up our tripods we walked around the scene. The point of view seemed pretty obvious and could have been captured with a superwide-angle lens. However, I wanted to tell the story of how these cars were nestled under the rock hill and under the night sky. I suggested a four- to five-shot panorama that would encapsulate the location with minimal distortion from a wide-angle lens.

I zoomed my Nikon 14-24mm lens to 24mm, leveled my tripod and head with a panoramic level base, and took some quick test shots to see if it would work. We tried compositions that included the moon, but decided to exclude it as it detracted from the real story.

Collaborating in Joshua Tree National Park. Photos by Susan Wales.

Sandra and Beth experimented with some subtle light painting to open up shadow separation. We decided to go for a more natural-light approach rather than adding light for surreal effect. Susan, who was taking some amazing night portraits, captured some great behind-the-scenes photos of the shoot, and Robin set up next to me so we could have two points of view for the panoramic scene.

We did three to four takes where I was calling out when we were open so our light painters could time their lighting accordingly. We did two takes and kept things simple. I was pretty pleased with our results.

Another Two Cars

Lance: Somehow when the group split up to do the collaborative shots, everyone fell along gender lines, and Gabe, ladies’ man that he is, ended up working with the women. The men’s group consisted of Klaus, Rick, Terry, Steve and Hadley.

The guys decided right away that they wanted to do something different from the previous week’s workshop attendees, who had created the panorama of the ranch. Everyone was drawn to the cars, and we walked around checking out the various wrecks looking for our shot. We agreed upon the Plymouth and the Dodge, both of which were mid-1940s cars facing in opposite directions.

Klaus was elected to direct this image, and he framed it fairly tight, as a straight-forward composition facing west. The moon was high in the sky and casting shadows on the foreground. We decided to let the moon do most of the work. Terry took on the task of lighting the interiors, with a short string of warm-white LED Christmas lights on the front seat of each car.

Klaus used his previous experience photographing in junkyards to expertly light the headlights of the Dodge, and Steve raked a light against the back end of the Plymouth and then softly filled in the shadows on the back ends of both vehicles with reflected incandescent light. The warm color balance of the added light contrasted nicely with the naturally cool moonlight, and set the mood perfectly.

Three Cars

Gabe: Our next collaborative challenge was a cluster of three rusted-out cars. As we walked around the scene the moon was shining from one side, and as obvious a shot it was, we quickly assessed that the light was just to direct and flat. However, when we walked 180 degrees to the other side, the moon created a nice backlight and gave us lots of shadows on the front to be creative with while light painting.

Sandra loves abandoned old cars and started talking about how she saw the shot. It is always good to have a director who oversees the collaboration, so we gave Sandra the reins.

Photos by Susan Wales.

Photos by Susan Wales.

After setting up at a low angle and firing off a couple of test shots, with Beth confirming focus and composition, we were ready to practice painting. We knew we had to paint from both the right and the left of the cars. We used the same flashlight and Sandra directed how the light was falling so we could adjust our angles and timing. We also saw a need for a little backlight between the cars to separate them a bit more, so I jumped in and lit from a low angle so the flashlight wouldn’t be seen by the camera.

Because the light painting was a bit complex with three people working from three different angles, Sandra was only exposing for the light painting, reviewing the image and then giving us feedback. The overall exposure was 2 minutes but we were generally done with the painting in half that time. This let us repeat our motions and save time so that the final exposure was pretty much spot-on!

Two Cars and A Boulder

Lance: We chose two other cars that were spaced a little further apart, and we used a similar plan of attack. For this, Hadley was the director, and he set up his camera in what we determined to be the best spot to show these cars in the context of their final resting places. Vince also joined us for this second image.

This second shot minimized the moon shadows, but emphasized the location and the way that the cars were situated in the landscape. Everyone took turns lighting the various parts of the scene, and we ended up with a photograph that had a similar mood and feel to the first. The two work nicely together side by side.

The collaborative process was fun, and everyone got something out of the experience. I always encourage collaboration, but such collaborations tend to be smaller groups—pairs or trios. In this case, the seven of us managed to work together and all find a way to contribute. These shots were relatively simple and contained within a small area, but the seven of us managed to work together and all find a way to contribute. At the end, we even made a group portrait to commemorate the occasion!

Joshua Tree light painting Group No. 2.

Final Thoughts

Collaboration is definitely at the forefront of my mind right now. We at National Parks at Night have been excited with our early experiments during the workshops and we can’t wait to see how that continues to grow. On a personal level, I want to engage and work with more artists and opposites to see what new creative paths can be explored!

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, 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


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


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.