A cloudy night at the airplane junkyard: part two


"Junk is the most pervasive product of technological society. There is little or no junk visible in backward countries, for everything is cannibalized, cleaned, reused, sold. One might say, with a reasonable probability of being right, that come war or peace, affluence or depression, junk is our ultimate landscape."

"Many artists have been fascinated by junk and by the inexhaustible richness of forms it assumes. Artists have been painting landscapes for centuries, and if ours fills up with junk, junk is what they paint. Artists always know where the action is."

"If you have never gone through a large junkyard, it is a strange out-of-the-world experience. There is poignancy in these transformed relics of technology. They have a startling power to evoke images of human use and ephemeral dreams of affluence. It may well be that artists turn to junk as a raw material from time to time because this is the only moment in modern life when a consumer product relates directly, intimately and deeply to the human condition."

All quotes are from designer George Nelson's book How To See: A Guide to Reading Our Man-Made Environment.


A cloudy night at the airplane junkyard: part one

I spent the December full moon photographing an airplane junkyard in the Mojave Desert. There was a lot of residual moisture on the planes, ground, and in the air from a downpour earlier in the week. The dew point was in the mid 40's. I kept an extra pair of gloves over my lens to help prevent fogging.

The first night was cold and clear, and I shot 360 degree panoramas. The second night was very cloudy, so we shot interiors for a couple of hours until the moon broke through. The clouds acted as a big softbox for the moon, giving the light a quiet feeling.

By keeping the exposures short, I was able to maintain definition in the clouds. Most exposures were 1.5-3 minutes. I wanted to shoot at the optimum aperture of f/8 or f/9.5, so I bumped the ISO to 400 to combat the filtered moonlight. The weather was in the mid 40's, so long exposure noise wasn't a problem for the EOS 6D.

Light pollution bounced off the clouds, creating a complementary orange and blue dynamic in the sky. A little bit stronger contrast and curves settings were needed in the RAW conversion to make the images pop in this softer light. Stay tuned for more airplane boneyard night photography, and eventually I'll get around to processing the 360 panoramas!



School Strict: Light painting a Fox Body Mustang at the Valley Junkyard

During the fall Valley Junkyard Night Photography workshop, we reviewed a photo of a car in front of a school bus during the critique sessions. The image resulted in a lively discussion about how your eye gravitates to any words that are in an image, and the importance of their placement.

The following night, I took a closer look at this section of the junkyard, and found a Fox Body Mustang behind one of the school buses. I set up on a 3/4 view of the car that looked good in the moonlight. I made sure to leave room for the detritus in the foreground. I made a point of keeping the strong vertical lines on the left side of the frame clean in the composition. I experimented with the camera height in order to layer the Mustang's grill and window louvers against the lines of the school bus.

I checked the composition, exposure, and focus using high ISO test shots. Once everything looked good, I set my timer remote to make 6 shots in a row. Each exposure was 3:20 at f/9.5, ISO 200. Stacked together this would give me 20 minute star trails.

Taking 6 shorter exposures allowed me to work without using long exposure noise reduction (LENR). I planned to leave one exposure with moonlight only, and light paint the rest. After reviewing the results on the back of the camera, I made 2 shorter exposures to make sure I nailed the light painting.

The 6 image star trail stack in Lightroom, plus 2 additional images for light painting.

The 6 image star trail stack in Lightroom, plus 2 additional images for light painting.

The light painting plan for this shot had 3 objectives:

  1. Light the hood and front grill of the car at a hard angle from camera left. This would emphasize the grid pattern on the grill.
  2. Provide some subtle fill light on the interior of the car by crouching behind the open door.
  3. Emphasize the strong lines of the window louvers by lighting through the rear window.

I used a Stinger Streamlight flashlight for all of the light painting. The warm color of the Xenon bulb blends nicely with moonlight and city lights at a color temperature of 3800K. The louvers and interior lighting were handled nicely during the 6 image stack, but I didn't put enough light on the front of the car. The lighting on the final 2 images solved that problem.

After developing all of the images in Lightroom, I used Photo -- Edit In -- Open As Layers in Photoshop. Then I put the images into Layer Groups to stay organized. The images below show how the star trails were stacked, and how the light painting was fine tuned with layer masks during post-processing.

Once the light painting was dialed in, there were a few more steps before the image was ready for output:

  1. Enhance the orange against blue color palette of the image using a LAB conversion technique. You can see this technique in action at my workshops.
  2. Select the sky, and use Curves to darken it down.
  3. Retouch a distracting piece of trash on the left edge of the frame.
  4. Output for the web using Lightroom.

So that's a lot to digest. Did you notice the placement of the letters on the school bus as framed by the car window? This took a lot of test shots to get right, but the little details are worth it.

The Valley Junkyard is an amazing place for night photography and light painting. Troy Paiva and I will be announcing a spring 2015 workshop at this location soon. Registration opens in mid-December. The best way to get a spot is to sign up for our email list.


Imagining New York City


Manifold Terroir: A Junkyard 360 Night Panorama

Shot during the Valley Junkyard Night Photography Workshop in September, the camera was positioned between rows of exhaust manifolds that almost look like a post-apocalyptic vineyard. Except these vines are growing rusty old metal instead of grapes. Absorb the moonlight and taste the terroir in the interactive version of the panorama.


That owl isn't on the Internet: Around town and to the Mojave

There was an owl in my yard, and I have this little dog that’s like seven pounds, and then there’s this huge owl out there I’ve never seen before [with my dog]. The next morning I woke up and was reading an article that had that phrase in it – “Everything is on the internet” – and I thought, “You know, that owl isn’t on the internet.” We’re taught to believe that they are putting more and more things in our cars, in our phones, our computers, and that they are doing us the favor of separating the wheat from the chaff, but really the chaff is online, and the real shit is out here for us to partake in without anybody fucking with us.

From Aquarium Drunkard's interview with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy