This is part two of an interview with Mojave Desert-based night photographer Dave Dasinger. In part one, he had mentioned some of his art and horror movie influences that has informed his approach to composition. We began by discussing his own approach to lighting.
Illuminating the night
“I mostly use the ProtoMachines handheld light painting device. Lately I’ve been experimenting with a Lume Cube for some situations. One technique I’m trying is putting it on a monopod and holding it over the subject out of frame so you have that unseen light beaming down.
“It’s also good for sticking into places that you can’t light with the shutter open like under bushes, in a rock crevice. I also put it inside some vehicles the last time I was shooting in a junkyard.”
As is common with many night photographers who photograph on or near a full moon, Dave sometimes chooses varied colors. “I like to occasionally use the bolder colors to make a subject pop or to lend a more surreal look to the shot.”
Dave elaborated on how the environment might have him choose contrasting colors.
“Most of the time if there is going to be a lot of blue sky I’ll go with a warmer temperature to complement that. The ProtoMachines allows for very fine control of the hue. I sometimes adjust it to make certain colors come out more.”
Advantages of night photography workshops
“Having good instructors and an interesting location can help build your skills quickly and generate a lot of positive feedback. My first workshop was with Troy Paiva and Joe Reifer at the Pearsonville, CA junkyard. While I had done some experimentation on my own, by the second night I was choosing a subject, setting up in just a minute or two in the dark, getting the shot and moving on the next. There is also value in learning with others, seeing how they approach the same subject, the lighting choices, the mood of the shot. And you can make new friends!”
Some night photographers study composition formally, while others, such as myself, have worked more intuitively. Dave mentions, “I’ve just studied art that I like and what makes it work for me.”
“I like the surrealist painters, particularly Leonora Carrington as well as the lowbrow aesthetic of Robert Williams.”
Dave also mentioned liking Assemblage/collage art like Robert Rauschenberg and Kurt Schwitters. “I’m lucky to live near the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Museum, a 10-acre collection of Assemblage art,” he mentions, a museum located in the high desert in the town of Joshua Tree. Dave also cited the environmental work of Andy Goldsworthy.
I asked how much research he does before heading out with his camera to photograph. “I’ll usually try to read up on the history and current conditions and have a route planned.”
Like almost anyone, Dave will use Google Maps to determine locations and approaches. And he’s no stranger to dirt roads. “Sometimes a few miles of dirt road may be involved but nothing too serious.”
Wish list photography destinations
Much of Dave’s wish list mirrors mine. “There are lots of junkyards I know of around the country that I’d like to visit one day especially the ones with aircraft. More aspirational picks would include Iceland, the abandoned railway in the Atacama Desert, houses swallowed by dunes in Namibia, abandoned amusement parks in Japan … the list is endless.”
The technical stuff
I asked how long he often sets his exposure. “I’m usually shooting in Moonlight so I often start with a 2-minute exposure at f/5.6 as a baseline. From there I’ll adjust to get the proper exposure or mood I’m looking for.”
I also asked about the sort of equipment that he uses for his night photography. “I have a Canon 7D DSLR. My main lens is a Canon EF 17-40 f/4L. I occasionally use a Sigma 10mm fisheye. I also have a Sigma 10-20mm I like to use for things like getting right up in a car grille and filling the frame without the distortion of the fisheye.”
“I usually do it all in Lightroom, basic adjustments like levels and curves. I like to crop to 8×10 if it works. Maybe it’s just because so many classic photographs had those dimensions but often, this dimension just looks right to me and I usually compose with that in mind.
“I’ll take images into Photoshop to work with Layers or if I need to do some advanced adjustments or object removal.”
Some night photographers use apps such as PhotoPills or Clear Outside extensively, while others don’t find any to be particularly indispensable. Dave falls into the latter camp. “I really don’t use any apps aside from the timer if I’m going to walk away from the camera for a long sequence of star trails.”
Advice for beginning night photography
“Don’t get hung up on what equipment to use, experiment in your backyard or other familiar location and practice working with your camera in the dark.”
Indeed, particularly if someone is photographing near a full moon, an older, modest camera is capable of producing remarkable images.
Find out more about Dave Dasinger’s photography at www.dasinger.org