I am a night photographer. I drive long hours in a dusty car listening to weird music, stay out all night creating photos, get dirty, hang out with other creative sleep-deprived weirdos, see the stars drift across the sky, and always find the best taco stands. I have been exploring the Southwestern United States as well as parts of the East Coast for over six years, brandishing a camera, tripod, and colored flashlight. I especially love creating night photos of abandoned historical places, unique features, and beautiful landscapes. These are experiences that I absolutely cherish. I also currently have several books of night photography of abandoned locales that I am working on with a publisher. My images have appeared in National Geographic Books, Omni Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Westways Magazine, and many other publications. Keep up with me at www.kenleephotography.com and social media.
CREATING THE IMAGES
The night images were created through long exposure photography techniques. For these images, I use DSLRs mounted on sturdy tripods. Many of these images were created on or near a full moon, which provided the main light source. For these full moon photos, I leave the shutter open for up to several minutes at a low ISO setting, often long enough to show the stars streaking across the night sky and allowing whatever light is available to “soak in” a bit. Some photos, however, are Milky Way photos. These were photographed with no moon in the sky and have shorter exposures, typically around 20 seconds, and were photographed at much higher ISO settings.
While the shutter is open, I use a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 flashlight, a flashlight capable of creating different colors, to illuminate the scene, choosing what to highlight, and choosing what to leave in shadow. Many ask how I am able to walk through the scene without showing up in the photograph. This is because it is a long exposure photograph, and one must remain relatively still for at least 10% of the total exposure to begin appearing as a faint dark fuzzy blob. I am able to walk around freely, block the light from the lens of the camera, and illuminate many parts of the scene without registering in the image. All the lighting is done at the time of exposure, and is not the product of post-processing enhancement techniques.
Many of these night images have full, vibrant color. Some who are not familiar with night photography might regard this as odd since this isn’t the way night typically appears to our eyes. As night grows darker, our eyes become increasingly monochromatic. Our retinas widen to let in more light. But while our cones function well in brighter light and see color, our rods are monochromatic. However, our camera does not have the same limitations as our eyes, registering colors in low light far more vividly.
Not much equipment is needed to create these images. All of it can fit in a small backpack, leaving me free to explore on foot easily. Typically, I have a camera, tripod, flashlight, batteries, snacks, water, and not much else. This allows me to move easily, create, and photograph these scenes. Some of the scenes are historic treasures, and I feel fortunate to be able to photograph them before the elements or a bulldozer erase them from existence.
I use Nikon and Pentax DSLRs, various ultra-wide angle and fisheye lenses, ProtoMachines LED2 handheld light painting device, Feisol tripods, Really Right Stuff and Acratech ballheads, Vello intervalometers, big ol' boots, tons of water and convenience store munchies.