(Editor’s Note: We welcome night photographer Ken Lee to Photofocus. He’s an expert at capturing the night sky, driving hours in a dusty car listening to weird music, staying out all night to create photos and hang out with other creative sleep-deprived weirdos. He loves seeing the stars drift across the sky, and always finds the best taco stands. He has one book published with two on the way, and his images have appeared in National Geographic Books, Omni magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Westways magazine and numerous other publications. Learn more at kenleephotography.com.)
Night photographers, just because we are staying at home doesn’t mean that we can’t continue creating photos. Here’s a few ideas we can do while not leaving the house while during the coronavirus.
Backyard light painting
This first photo of R2D2 above was done in my backyard. I used electroluminescent wire and a little penlight laser to create the lighting as well as a regular LED flashlight. While I did this outside, there’s no reason why you can’t create images like this indoors as well.
“There is no try, only do!”
Sports fans can get in on the action as well.
These sorts of images do not need to cost a lot of money or require a lot of setup to do. You may have a lot of the materials in your home already, or at least be able to purchase them inexpensively. Electroluminescent wire, for instance, can be purchased easily on Amazon or elsewhere, and often only costs around $13, not including the battery.
Although I use a ProtoMachines LED2 for a lot of “light painting,” a light painting device that is fantastic but rather expensive, many of these were photographed before I purchased that. These were done with a relatively inexpensive LED flashlight.
Now I am rather lucky in that I have a lot of trees on the periphery of my backyard. Still, I live in the city, and there are a lot of stray lights from the neighbor’s houses that occasionally manage to sneak their way through the trees and into the camera lens. I try to photograph from a lower perspective so it eliminates most of these lights.
Still, though, despite my best efforts, some lights still get through. To eliminate these, I sometimes take some dark blankets or paper and hang them from the trees or with some extra stands I have lying around.
I do usually have to go into Photoshop later and darken this a little bit more just to make the background even, but it typically does not take very much effort since I am pulling these back farther from the subject and not shining the light on the blankets. I also prefer to underexpose the background and keep it black as well, which helps immensely.
Creating a message
And finally, you can “light write” important messages indoors!
This photo was created on New Year’s Eve with Lisa helping out, not knowing that this was going to be a marriage proposal. I set up the camera, had her help out by lighting me with a flash, and used “light drawing” to write this message while the camera’s shutter was open for this long exposure photo. I did this only once.
Then I had her look at the LED screen on the back of the camera. She was very surprised! She said yes. I joked and said she had to “light draw” her answer.
I had intended to propose in Joshua Tree National Park at night, with the stars in the sky and next to a Joshua Tree. But when we were there, it was 40 degrees and windy, so New Year’s Eve it was, inside the warmth of our house!
I liked that I was able to propose while doing so in a way that was fundamentally me. After all, I am a night photographer, so it’s fun to imbue this with my personality and what I love to do.
Being able to create a photo that actually captured the very moment that I proposed as well as creating a fun surprise really illustrates the way that we can create lasting memories — and images — even while inside the home. In fact, it may be that very familiarity that works in your favor. Here, we have an image that makes for a great story and will last a lifetime.