Getting out at night and seeing the stars is something that I never get tired of doing. I hosted back-to-back Night Skies Workshops in Vermont the last 10 days and it was great to be out in the dark and see the stars shining. Seeing the stars is one thing and photographing them is another. This is one of the few areas of photography where you need to have the right equipment to make good images. The stars seem bright but it takes a good camera to handle the darkness and the long exposures required. There are tricks to making the photos and then also in post processing, which is what the workshops were all about.
For me it isn’t enough to just make photos of the stars, I want something in the foreground to add an extra element to the image. That means it will either be a silhouette or I need to light it up. I love using a technique called light painting to illuminate objects with a flashlight. I have a variety of lights I use, from very small penlights to a huge 18 million candle power monster light. I didn’t need the monster during the workshop since all the objects we lit were close enough that it would be too bright. I look forward to doing the workshops again next year.
Last night I did another version of a fun workshop, night photography. I love shooting at night, you can do it any night, it really doesn’t matter what the weather is as long as you aren’t doing astrophotography. And since New Jersey isn’t the best place to be for photographing stars I go for other things when in N.J.
I took the group to Somerville where I did some light painting and showed them the tricks of long exposures. Photographing car lights as they streak past during a long exposure is a lot of fun and crazy things happen. There are a lot of people on the street in Somerville on a Saturday night and they are a curious bunch when they see a lot of photographers lined up with tripods. It is fun telling them I’m waiting for Beyonce, which always brings on more questions. I’m not lying…
We light painted several buildings and the public fountain near the historic courthouse. Light painting is a fun technique where a flash light is used to illuminate objects. We also we went over to a dark railroad overpass and to a cemetery where I did the light painting and didn’t make any images.
One of the most common questions I get during workshops is What lens should I use? Most photographers make their lens choice based on how far away they will be from the subject or how much of the scene they can get in the shot. But the creative use of lenses is based on the foreground/background relationship. I explain it all in this video.
Today was a fun workshop that I ran for the first time. It was all about photographing street art, people and murals in New York City. The big city has an amazing amount of street art and there are locations where it is heavily concentrated. We started in Queens in a quiet neighborhood where most walls in a four block area have murals painted on them. They are kept fresh, many were done this year. It is a cool way to brighten a neighborhood.
Then we went to the Lower East Side of Manhattan where the art is a little more spread out. The talent is stunning, especially when you think about the artists using mostly spray paint on a rough surface. There’s an alley that is filled with art, graffiti and political and social statements. It has been a street artist haven for a long time.
The group of photographers who went with me had a great time and made some wonderful images. You can see their pictures at https://lorenphotos.com/nyc-street-art-photos/
Enjoy my photos below.
I saw my first total solar eclipse while in the Oregon desert in 2017 and decided right then that I would an eclipse chaser. I started planning for the next one as soon as I got home. Well, it was yesterday and pretty much all I can do is say WOW!
I was concerned that maybe the first eclipse would be the best and seeing another would be a let down. It sure wasn’t. The impact of seeing the moon move in front of and totally block the sun isn’t something I can do justice in words or pictures.
This time I went to the desert of Chile, which is the ground zero for astronomy in South America. I hadn’t been to this part of Chile before and I didn’t have a local guide, which added to the adventure. I was lucky to find a cool cabin for our group to stay Monday night and during the eclipse, so logistics couldn’t have been better. (See blog post)
So yesterday was all about making sure my workshop group was ready. I had made solar filters for each of their cameras along with my own. Each person in the group shot with two cameras, I was using three. I had one with a 70-200mm and a 2X teleconverter giving me a 400mm lens. This one was mounted on a star tracker so it would follow the sun as it moved across the sky. Once totality began, I set it to shoot non-stop during the entire 2.5 minutes. I had another camera with another 70-200mm lens ready to shoot the landscape during totality. Since we knew where the sun would be during totality I set it in a fixed position on a tripod and manually fired it during totality.
My third camera had a 400mm lens with a 1.4X teleconverter giving me a 560mm lens. This was my main camera and I manually tracked the sun during the eclipse and shot all the phases. During the partial phases of the eclipse you have to use a special filter to keep the sun from burning out the camera’s sensor. The same for your eyes. But during totality the filters come off. I had my laptop running an eclipse countdown program that showed when each phase was happening, which is important to know.
Just like in Oregon, the partial phase of the eclipse is cool but not overly compelling. For this eclipse it was an hour and 16 minutes from the start until totality began. People watching are excited for the first few minutes as the black disc of the moon slides over the sun. They people tend to stop looking much and wander around. There were about 40 people in out little compound, all of them family or friends of the owners. For all of them it was their first eclipse. At one point I went over and showed a 10-year-old boy how to hold his hands so the shadow from the partial eclipse would make a very fun design on the ground. He liked it for a few minutes. But I knew the best was yet to come.
About ten minutes before totality things really start to change. We were out in a mountain desert that didn’t have many trees or wildlife. July is winter in Chile but we were so far north that the temperature was in the upper 60’s. As the totality became more imminent the air quickly cooled and suddenly birds started fluttering around. I hadn’t seen any all day but now they were appearing from nowhere.
One of my favorite things of totality is the light. Being a photographer I appreciate light daily and love sunrise and sunset for the quality of light then. Right before totality the light gets this amazing color. It is dim but it isn’t the same warm color like a sunset. It is incredibly unique and all I could do was smile and spin around looking at the surrounding mountains. It all happens so fast and lasts such a short time that it is hard to take it all in.
Then totality happens.
My one mistake was having the camera with the tracker too far away from me and I had to run over to it to take off the filter. There are two cool shots to get at the edges of totality. The first is called Bailey’s Beads which looks like little beads at the edge of the sun. The other is Diamond Ring, which is a very short moment when the edge of the sun is just sticking out from behind the moon creating a cool glow. At the start of the eclipse I missed both of them running from camera to camera. But I got them as totality ended!
I had told the other photographers in my group that I was there to help them get the best photos they could but during the 2.5 minutes of totality they were on their own. If there was a problem at that point it wasn’t going to be something I could fix so they should just not worry about the camera and take in the eclipse itself. I also told them to plan on not making pictures during at least half of totality so they feel what was going on around them.
As totality began I looked and the other photographers looked like they were doing ok. I realized there was suddenly a lot of noise. People in the compound and other camps down the mountain were yelling wildly. Their exuberation was contagious and then cheers of “Chile, Chile, Chile” broke out. It was a great scene. I was having a hard time monitoring the cameras and taking it all in.
I wish I could describe in words or pictures the feeling I get during totality. Many times during the planning and worrying about logistics I wondered if it really was worth all that time and effort just to see something for 2.5 minutes. There is no doubt it is worth it. After totality ended and I got the camera filters back on for the rest of the eclipse I just stood out in the Chilean mountain desert and looked around thinking how absolutely fortunate I am. I got quite emotional. This was special. Incredibly special. Amazingly special.
Running around Chile without speaking much Spanish is a bit intimidating but what a great adventure!
This is the first time I’ve done a workshop and hadn’t either been to the location or worked with something who knew the area. I billed the workshop as an exploratory adventure and so far it has been fairly free anxiety or stress. I did a ton of research before going so I had a good idea where the best viewing locations would be but not exact places. I’m on a Facebook group of hard core eclipse chasers and they helped with pre-arrival scouting and logistics. The hardest part was finding hotel rooms around La Serena, they were sold out early but I found accommodations through AirBnB. All I could get was a three bedroom so I only brought three other people with me, Burt and Evelyn, an American couple living in Ecuador and Jane from New York City.
Sunday I took the group an hour east of La Serena to the Eliqui Valley and the town of Vicuña, near several international observatories. It is one of the darkest places in South America and is well known among people who care about that sort of thing. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get into the big observatories but I had read about a smaller one run by volunteers. We drove right up to it, ok, we had to kinda open the gate, but there weren’t many people around. We tried talking to a guy wandering around but he wasn’t a whole lot of help. A woman came over and said she heard English being spoken. She was from Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and working with other universities around the world to film and study the sun during the eclipse. She told me what experiments they were doing but it was way too detailed for my brain to handle. I told what we were up to and while obviously not impressed, she asked if I had heard of Fred Espenak. Yea, he is the king of eclipse photography. She said his group was using one of the three buildings on the site. If Fred is here, then this is the place to be. A while later the observatory’s head guy arrived and told us the place would be full for the eclipse and we couldn’t be here. Drat.
As we were leaving there was a small camp next to the observatory and they had a little sign selling food. There were several small buildings in the complex and it looked like there might be room for our group to hang out on eclipse day. I had driven past it a little bit but we thought it might be a good idea to see if we could come back for the eclipse. I pulled the van into a dusty area near a tent and a couple of very friendly young people in their 20’s came over. They spoke great English, which makes things so much easier. We asked them what the deal was and the guy said they had two cabins for rent. How interesting! He gave us a tour of a newly constructed cabin and it was barely large enough to hold our group. It had two bedrooms and futon in a small common area. I was thinking the others could have the bedrooms and I’d take the futon.
One of my main concerns about any location was going to be traffic from La Serena. For months the government issued warnings about how bad the traffic would be since there was only a two-lane road out to Vicuña and the Elqui Valley and that they would be making much of it a one way road before and after the eclipse to handle all the traffic.
If we could spend Monday night on location and not have to fight traffic in the morning, I’d have no stress at all. The weather forecast was perfect and there wasn’t a better place to view the eclipse. I asked how much for the little three room cabin and he said $900 for a night. Ouch! I let him know that was way too much and I offered $200, pointing out that it was only two days away and $200 was better than nothing. His whole family lived there and he went to talk with his mother and aunt, the “chef” at the “restaurant.” He came back and said $300, telling us how good the food and wine was. Toss in two bottles of wine and we’d do it. We shook hands, I gave him a deposit and I was thrilled to be in such a great spot. It would also allow us to be out in a dark place for the night to shoot the Milky Way and stars. As we were walking out, workers were coming out of the second cabin, they had just completed both of them and we were their first guests.
We came back Monday afternoon in time to see exactly where the sun would be during the eclipse. Totality was at 4:42 p.m. so the sun would be pretty low on the horizon. I had found several maps online that showed where the shadows would fall at that time of day, which wasn’t a place I wanted to be. Interestingly the government had set up 11 official observation locations that had restroom facilities and most of them would be in shadow during totality, which was going to disappoint a lot of people.
Our compound was near the top of the mountain and it was a windy dirt road to get there. I had noticed there weren’t any utility lines to be seen and asked about the electricity. The camp ran on a generator that they turned off at midnight. Since we wanted to be out photographing stars, I was thrilled the place would be dark. They did have great cell phone service, so all was wonderful in the world!
The brightest and most colorful part of the Milky Way rose above the mountains around 8:00 p.m. so we made sure we were out there. Several camps had sprung up in fields below us and they had generators too. And they created a lot of light. I was hoping for legendary darkness but we could see town down in the valley and light from the other camps. It didn’t bother the Milky Way though, it glowed brightly in the sky. I wanted a photo of the complete Milky Way arch, which is hard to photograph in the Northeastern U.S. I have cell phone apps that show stars’ locations and knew the shot I really wanted was going to be between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. It was a perfectly clear night and I have never seen so many stars.
I used a flashlight to illuminate our cabin as a foreground and made some fun shots. I had also wanted to do some star trails shots. In the old days you left your camera’s shutter open for a couple of hours and hoped the film could handle it, which usually wasn’t the case. Now with digital it is a matter of making a bunch of photos and putting them together in the computer. If you aim the camera at the North Pole or in Chile, the South Pole, the stars rotate around it. Yes, it is actually the earth’s rotation that causes the starts to move. Earlier in the evening I aimed a camera at a mountain to the east and let it shoot for a couple of hours. I did 30 second exposures with a gap of 10 seconds between shots to give the camera time to process. You get a weird effect shooting to the east rather than the pole. Before I went to bed for a few hours I set up another camera behind the cabin aiming south and let it run all night. I set an alarm to get up at sunrise to fetch the camera before somebody else saw it and it was still firing away.
It was the perfect lead up to a total solar eclipse.
This Chile adventure keeps getting better. Today we made the journey along the coast from Valparaiso to La Serena. It is more than a five hour drive on the Pan American Highway, I thought about flying but seeing the country from the ground seemed more fun. We didn’t stop a lot, I wanted to get to La Serena, get settled in and go out do some night photography.
We stopped at a little fishing village that was pretty fun. Chile is a modern country, you won’t find carts pulled by mules through dusty villages. Cell phone coverage is better than in the U.S. and although there is some poverty, Chile is one the most affluent in South America. This town had a marina and nice park along the ocean. There was a helipad with horses roaming around it. They weren’t really fenced in, they just kinda stayed along the ocean. A couple of them wandered over into some cactus and found something to eat. They were pretty good at not getting their noses pricked.
After settling into our apartment we headed out to a lighthouse I had found. It was on a beautiful beach lined with hotels and restaurants. The lighthouse is being renovated so it made for tough photography but the sunset was spectacular and there were plenty of people on the beach even though it is winter in Chile, although the temperature was in the upper 60’s.
We had dinner near the beach then went into the countryside to find a dark area to shoot the Milky Way. This area is one of the darkest places on earth but La Serena is a city of 200,000 and the area has 400,000 and getting away from the light pollution isn’t easy. I took a dirt road east of the city for about 30 minutes. I had done some research on Google maps and found an intersection with another dirt road that looked interesting. Even that far away from the city there was plenty of light on the horizon but it was dark enough. There happened to be an old stuffed chair where I pulled off the road. It was a perfect place to sit and do some stargazing but we weren’t going to touch the old thing. It did make for a great foreground under the Milky Way.
This is the first official day of a photo adventure in Chile as we went from Santiago to the artsy town of Valparaiso. I had read plenty about Valparaiso and saw many photos but I wasn’t prepared for what was there. Most of the old part of the city is painted with murals by amazingly talented artists. Walking from our hotel, we took a funicular up a steep hill and everywhere we looked was street art. It looked like much of it was authorized but there was a good deal that looked like it was done when there wasn’t anyone official looking.
There is also plenty of graffiti and tagging but it seemed like there a respect of most murals and they didn’t get tagged. We walked and photographed for several hours but didn’t see nearly all of it. For blocks and blocks every inch of wall had something painted on it. There were some that were political or social in nature but much of it was beautiful art that could be hung in a gallery if it was painted on canvas. Several places long sets of steps had been painted on the front of each step so when you were at the bottom you could look back and see the mural.
There was so much art that the novelty wore off but the amazement didn’t.
I could spend days here.
I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time, almost two years. I’m in Chile leading a workshop that will climax in photographing the total solar eclipse on Tuesday. We are meeting today in Santiago, going to the cool town of Valparaiso tomorrow and then driving up the coast to our base in La Serena for the eclipse.
I had flown through Santiago when I came to Chile in December to scout next year’s eclipse in the southern part of the country but this one is in the north and I haven’t been there. It will be a true adventure.
My plane arrived around 7:00 a.m. and I met one of the participants, Jane from New York, at the airport. We got the rental van, checked in to the hotel and I took a nap. Overnight flights are tough and even though I slept a good deal I wanted to make sure I didn’t start the trip sleep deprived. Jane joined me a little after noon and we went into Santiago. I had done research on places to go but it always hard. I read about a park on a mountain overlooking the city. It was cool but didn’t make for great photos. On the way down there was a Japanese garden that looked interesting, so we stopped. It was pretty but it is winter in Chile so the plants were very vibrant.
We went over to a neighborhood where there is a lot of street art. There happened to be a street market but it was shutting down by the time we got there. There were a series of multi-story apartment buildings with windowless walls on the end facing the street. A local art museum paid artists to paint murals on the walls and they were spectacular. It was a great place to make some fun photos. The locals were extremely friendly, many hamming for photos when they saw our cameras. It was a great experience.
We then went to the heart of old Santiago to a tourist area around a large open square surrounded by a cathedral and old government buildings. Street parking is different in Chile. Rather than have meters they have people come around as you park on the street and print out a ticket. When you leave you pay the street attendant. I had experienced it once in December but didn’t quite remember that was the way it is done. The attendant didn’t speak much English and I didn’t pay enough attention in my high school Spanish class to really get by. I finally understood what was going on and we were off to see the sights.
There is a large street closed off to traffic and lined with vendors. A large number of the vendors were in wheel chairs, to the extent that both Jane and I wondered if it was a marketing tool more than a necessity. I wanted to stick around long enough to see if they walked away when they were done selling. A couple were obviously in need of the chair.
We were there as the sun went down and the sky took on some wonderful colors. New, modern buildings had sprung up next to the old ones and made for a striking contrast. After the sun went down the lights came on and the colorful sky made for some nice photos. We were meeting the other participants back at the hotel for dinner and it was a great start to a new photographic adventure.
Tuscany is famous amongst photographers for the great light, especially the way it falls across the hills and mountains early in the morning and late in the day. It is a beautiful sight to see and I can’t think of anyplace where it is nicer. As long as it doesn’t rain. During my workshop there the past few days we had lots of great light but we also ran into some rather rainy days, although they weren’t the slate gray skies that we get in New Jersey. It would rain hard for a while and then the clouds would break up and let some sunlight sneak through. This was my second Tuscany workshop and the last one was in the dry heat of early July when it just doesn’t rain. While I knew there would be a chance and I made sure everyone was prepared, it was still a bit of a shock.
We had planned on going to Florence last Friday but Thursday night the forecast said clear skies Friday and rain on Saturday, so we made a quick change and took advantage of a beautiful day to shoot small ancient towns and incredible countrysides. It rained a bit while we were in Florence but only enough to be a nuisance. We were taunted by the possibility of a great sunset from a hill overlooking the city but the sun and clouds just didn’t make it happen. It just meant a late dinner at another tremendous Italian restaurant.
The rest of the week we would get an occasional downpour followed by great clouds. The group was great and didn’t let the little bit of rain slow us down. We did pick up plenty of mud while trudging out in fields for the bright red poppies or the fields of yellow or purple wildflowers. The floors of our vans were caked with mud and the rental company did charge us extra to clean them but it was worth it. We made wonderful photos and I had a great time with a fun bunch of people.
Enjoy some of my photos below.
New Jersey is the Garden State after all. And there are many public gardens that were previously large private estates that had elaborate gardens that are now either maintained by private foundations or local and state governments. I decided to load up my 12 passenger van and take a tour of three of them. It was a fun day and the group enjoyed going to Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, Cross Estate Gardens in nearby Bernardsville and then up to the crown jewel of NJ’s gardens, the New Jersey Botanical Gardens in Ringwood. If you haven’t been there it is an experience. If you have been there you know it never looks the same twice. It includes 96 acres of specialty gardens surrounded by 1000 acres of woodlands. It was a beautiful as you can see by the photos the participants made at https://lorenphotos.com/nj-gardens-tour-may-2019/
Below are some of the photos I shot.
One of New Jersey’s many jewels is Cape May, a beautiful beach town at the southern tip of the state. Cape May has long been a tourist town, they claim to be America’s first beach town. It has a huge white sand beach on the Atlantic Ocean and nearby beaches on the Delaware Bay, although they tend to be not as white. The town is filled with historic, quaint and colorful Victorian houses that are great fun to view and photograph. It is also happens to be one of the bird watching hot spots in the U.S., especially in migration seasons since the shape of the northeast U.S. funnels birds through Cape May and many stop to rest and eat before crossing the Delaware Bay.
It is the perfect location for a creativity photography workshop, which is why I did it there! It is a great fun to get away and think mainly about being creative with photography. I wanted to emphasize the creative aspects of photography rather than the technical, we often get too wrapped up in the technical and forget to just have fun and experiment. Even though we caught a bit of rain, it was a fun few days and we made some really nice photos while thinking about our creative sides. Take a look at some photos made by the participants at https://lorenphotos.com/cape-may-creativity-weekend-2019/
One of the really fun workshops I do is a day in New York City photographing some of the bridges. We start the day under the George Washington Bridge where there is the Little Red Lighthouse that not many people know about. They literally built the huge bridge over the tiny lighthouse and since the lighthouse is so small it didn’t get it the way much during construction. Once the bridge was completed and was lit up the lighthouse was decommissioned. It went into disrepair and was about to be torn down but there was public outcry because of a children’s book that had been written about it. Now it is part of the NYC park system and there for all to see, if you can find it.
Then we went to the tan and black Queensboro Bridge, which may be the prettiest large bridge in the city. It is officially the Ed Koch Bridge but not many people call it that. We ended the day in Brooklyn, walking up on the bridge, which is always exciting. Then we went to the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass and is a cool area. There is a spot where you can photograph the Empire State Building framed by an arch in a Manhattan Bridge stanchion. It had been cloudy and threatening rain all day but the clouds cleared and we had a great sunset.
After the sun went down we walked over to the side of the Brooklyn Bridge as darkness fell on Manhattan and the lights of the city came up. It is always a spectacular sight and it doesn’t get any better than tonight. What a great way to end a beautiful day.
There are more of my photos and images made by the workshop participants at https://lorenphotos.com/nyc-bridges-4-28-19-photos/
This weekend was a fun one, I lead a three-day photography workshop in New York City. Friday was rainy, so I had to adjust our schedule to keep us dry. We went to the World Trade Center area where there are some great indoor places to photograph including Oculus, the new train station. It has some crazy architecture and wild lines that make for special photographs. Also nearby is Brookfield Place, a shopping area that is very visual.
One of the newest great attractions in the city is the Vessel at Hudson Yards. The Vessel is a $150 million stairway to nowhere. It is 150 feet high, is cone shaped and has stairs and landings all the way up. It was built purely to be a New York City attraction and they succeeded. It has to be one of the cooler things you’ll ever see and it was built with private money. It is free to go in but you have to get tickets in advance, which isn’t easy because of the popularity. I was lucky and got the group tickets Saturday morning so we had a great time wandering around in the thing.
New York is always full of surprises and I wanted to show the group some things they might not expect, so we went to the Tartan Day parade. Having photographed hundreds of parades I know the best photos come from the staging area before the parade starts and that is where we went. It was a lot of fun photographing and talking with the participants, many came over from Scotland just to march in the short parade.
Then we went down to Washington Square Park in the village where anything can happen. A large pillow fight was planned and it was a ton of fun to see and photograph. I took some swats to the head with fluffy pillows and picked up an abandoned pillow to do some defensive whacking.
Another hidden gem in plain sight is the High Line, the former elevated train track that has been converted into a public park. You can walk through tall buildings while in a grassy park with lots of trees and plants. It is a beautiful place that makes for some wonderful pictures.
We also visited Brooklyn which is a great place to be as the sun goes down and afterward. Seeing the lights of the city come on is always thrilling.
Sunday we went to Central Park, where is always wonderful things and people to shoot. We ended the weekend at Grand Central Terminal, a marvelous architectural spectacle. Inside is pretty dark and you really need to use a tripod, which requires a permit. They only allow 10 people with tripods at a time, so I had done the paperwork well in advance to get our permits.
One of the great thrills of my job is hosting photography workshops in great places like Venice, Italy. Add Carnival to the mix and it makes for an unforgettable adventure! The crowds were immense but if you knew where to go you could avoid them a lot of the time. It was great fun photographing the masked models at sunrise (see blog post) and all of the amazing costumes that people wore as we walked around the city.
The beauty of the city is legendary and it lived up to the hype. With canals cutting everywhere and little bridges arching over them as the many pedestrians made their way around, it was a photographers’ dream. We walked many miles each day and it was interesting how peaceful and quiet that was even though there were many people around. We went over the Grand Canal to near the bus terminal and it was disconcerting how the car traffic made us feel a bit uneasy. It is too bad more cities can’t be without vehicles.
I’ve said it many times after a workshop but it always holds true that it is interesting how a group of strangers can come from all over the U.S. and meld together so quickly around photography. Once again I had a great group of people and it was fun working with them to not only show them Venice but see how fast their photography improved. It was a great week!