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.
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
An old bomber jet lies derelict in the Mojave Desert under a full moon. The side view is a 40-minute exposure, and the other images are 16-minute exposures. Stay tuned for more airplane photos.
Hello, faithful readers. I'm sure all 2-3 of you are wondering when I was going to talk about weird things to watch and read and listen to again. Well, wonder no more. It's time for another installment of WRLD.
Nikkatsu Studios in Japan produced some of the coolest gangster films of the 60's. I noticed that Seijun Suzuki's Detective Bureau 2-3 was available streaming on Amazon, and always enjoy watching Jo Shishido in action. ***
I went back and watched Tokyo Drifter, and this film is still one of Suzuki's best. *****
For No Good Reason is a documentary that profiles the artist Ralph Steadman, best known for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson. Watching Steadman paint and draw is cool, and there is a little bit of great HST footage. The talking head style interviews are a bit dry at times, and the film is marred by crappy, invasive graphic overlays. Worth watching if you're a big fan. **
Terry Gilliam's new film The Zero Theorem was released on streaming at the same time as the theatrical release. The plot and cast sounded promising. Unfortunately, the writing is not great, and neither is the CGI. Tilda Swinton's bit part as a virtual shrink is hilarious. The look of the film is wonderful, but when that thrill wears off the story and characters just don't feel cohesive. Worth watching, but not worth buying. **
A few people have recommended the film Frank, starring Michael Fassbender as a musician who never removes his giant fake head. Planning to watch this one in the next few days.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is a documentary co-directed by Werner Herzog that profiles a hunting community in remote Siberia. Seeing how other cultures live can be a nice reminder that our day-to-day worries are definitely first world problems. ***
To the Wonder is Terence Malick's latest film and the only good things I can say about it are that I enjoyed the cinematography at times, and that I was really happy that Ben Affleck barely has any lines. A disappointing mess, and that's coming from a huge fan of his other films. *
Yuichi Yokoyama's Color Engineering is an amazing mix of abstract comic book narrative, paintings, drawings, and photographs. Wilder in stylistic scope than his also quite enjoyable book Garden, Color Engineering touches the abstract edges of how we comprehend and digest art and storytelling. Reading this book requires simultaneously decoding 4-5 art forms at the same time, which is very stimulating. Highly recommended. *****
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is Haruki Murakami's latest novel, and everyone in my book club thought it was sub-par when compared to the rest of his work. **
Gringos is a hilarious 1991 novel by Charles Portis involving a cult, some UFO freaks, and archaelogical hustlers. Highly entertaining. ****
Robert C. Jones writes ghost town books they way they oughta be. How to get there, a little bit of history, and most importantly - what kind of ruins are left to see. The Mojave Preserve is a beautiful, underrated place to explore, and Ghost Towns of the Mojave National Preserve is an excellent resource. ****
Fine Art Printing for Photographers is the third edition of Uwe Steinmuller's highly technical book on inkjet printing. If you want to make better inkjet prints, this book is an excellent resource. While I didn't know him personally, I followed Uwe's site outbackphoto.net, and was saddened to hear that he passed away last month. He will be missed. ****
Every year I try to read a big, challenging book. This year, I finally read The Recognitions by William Gaddis. A huge, complex story that centers around art forgery, The Recognitions is the literary bridge between James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon. At times difficult, erudite, hilarious, complicated, and astonishing. ****
The Wes Anderson Collection features an essay on each of his films through Moonrise Kingdom, combined with extensive interviews, and behind the scenes photos. The supporting artwork is fun, too. The discussions about Anderson's influences and working methods are really interesting. Essential reading for fans of his work. ****
Chester Brown's review of Ant Colony nails it: "Michael DeForge is that rare sort of cartoonist, a genuine artist with a unique vision and a teeming imagination. He’s not trying to create sentimental pap for a mass audience. I love his work, but I do wonder why any sensible, profit-minded publisher would release this crazy book." ****
Someone pointed me to a 2013 Slate article on Mike Mandel's Making Good Time. Mandel covers an early 20th century industrial photography team called the Gilbreths who put pulsing lights on workers and took long exposures. The photographs were then analyzed in order to improve worker efficiency. Mandel then provides his own modern update on this style of photography. A wonderful intersection of industrial photographic history, light painting, and humor. ****
Matthew Young's 1982 album Recurring Dreams was reissued by Drag City earlier this year. Subtle, wonderful headphone listening. ****
Some how Van Der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts has escaped me all of these years. Wow. This album hurts my head, but tickles a little bit at the same time. ***
We continued to explore more of the amazing photographic terrain of the Valley Junkyard during this month's night photography workshop. One night we had some really great clouds, and I shot a few 360 panoramas. The old trailer, piles of hubcaps, and rows of windshields on racks made for interesting subject material. Clicking the image above will take you to an interactive version of the panorama.
My night photos straddle a weird line between documentary and art. I'm exposing and post-processing for an open, descriptive look. I want enough contrast to show form, but try not to be overly dramatic. The rich, saturated color palette has been tuned to represent how I saw the scene. Yes, it's an artistic interpretation, but hopefully more reality based than lurid.
To achieve this look, my exposure times for full moon photos away from city lights are typically 5 minutes at f/8, ISO 200. This creates a balanced histogram that can sometimes look like daylight straight out of the camera. That's fine, because darkening the image in post-production tends to hide noise.
The Valley Junkyard is an urban location that's still large enough to let the moon light the subject. The city lights do have an influence, especially on the tone and color of the sky. The image above is 3 stacked exposures of 3 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. That's 1.5 stops darker than a typical full moon shot.
The extra brightness in the sky can make post-processing a little bit tougher. I often use Lightroom to develop for the foreground, and bring the image into Photoshop to darken the sky using a Curve with a Layer Mask. This process is faster, easier, and more flexible than making selective sky adjustments in Lightroom.
The truck image above is a stack of 8 exposures - each one is 2.5 minutes at f/8, ISO 200. This achieves 20 minute star trails without needing to run in-camera noise reduction. The truck image also benefitted from a Curves layer to darken the sky. I really enjoy the complementary colors of blue and orange. I usually do some minor Saturation and Luminance adjustments in the HSL panel in Lightroom. The real magic of refining the color palette happens in Photoshop using Selective Color, or Curves with a LAB color space conversion. You can see these techniques in action at my night photography workshops.
I'm still experimenting with the post-processing on the image above. I shot a 5 image bracket of 23 seconds, 45 seconds, 1.5 minutes, 3 minutes, and 6 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. I used the 6 minute exposure for the sky/stars, and a blend of the 3 minute exposure and HDR file for the foreground. I also used the HDR file to recover some highlight detail along the horizon. The feel of the lighting is soft and quiet.
The gas pumps image is still undergoing some fine tuning. I shot 9 exposures - each one was 3 minutes at f/8, ISO 200. Seven of those images were used for the 21 minute star trails above. I omitted 2 images because the clouds were too dense, creating gaps in the star trails. Stacking star trails with fast moving clouds can create the ribbed effect that's prominent in the upper right. This image will benefit from some more fiddling with the sky colors, and some selective tone adjustments on the pumps.
I hope these meditations on shooting and post-processing under mixed lighting conditions are helpful. Stay tuned for some brand new 360 panoramas from the Valley Junkyard.
I've just returned from the Valley Junkyard Night Photography and Light Painting Workshop in California's Central Valley. There are some new images in the Valley Junkyard gallery. Eleven adventurous photographers joined us for the workshop, and we had a great time. I've spent 10 nights in the Valley Junkyard, and I'm still discovering new things to shoot. Troy Paiva and I will likely be hosting another workshop at this location in the spring of 2015. Contact me to get on the notification list - these workshops can often fill up quickly.
Below is a time-lapse video of the workshop participants enjoying the sunset, just before gearing up for their 3rd night of shooting in this amazing place.