Technique

If you want to know how I do this work in total detail, you should buy my technique e-book.  It’s only $10!

All the photographs on this site were shot in the full darkness of night, or in low- and no-light conditions.

The outdoor work was shot on or near the full moon, which is the main light-source in most of these images.  Many of the interiors were shot in total darkness, relying only on added light to create the image.

The basic exposure formula for this work: ISO 100 or 200, at f/5.6 or f/8, with exposure lengths running from 2-8 minutes. Virtually every photograph on this site falls somewhere inside those numbers except exposures done in total darkness, where the lens is left open only as long as required to add the lighting. Typical white balance settings are 3500-4000K, with some images in the 5000-8000K range as well.  All of the work dating from 1989 to 2005 was shot on 35mm chrome film, mostly the now discontinued Kodak 160T. The post-2005 work was captured with Canon 20D and 60D DSLRs. Every image on this site was shot with wide-angle lenses.

I also use common xenon and LED flashlights and a single Canon 430EX strobe, frequently masked with theatrical lighting gel material, to light the scene. I don’t use light stands, umbrellas, synced lighting or external power supplies.  All my lighting is hand-held and is added one source at a time during the minutes-long exposures. I frequently light the entire scene with a single light source used from several angles.  I also use snoots and gobos to manipulate the way the light falls. This simple lighting methodology allows me to travel light and work fast in difficult locations.

I started doing this work in 1989, while I was a “Micro Machines” designer and illustrator at Galoob Toys. Auditing a night photography class taught by Steve Harper at The Academy of Art in San Francisco, I was immediately floored by the moonlit time-exposure aesthetic.  So I bought my first real camera and took my first baby-steps in photography . . . by doing 8-minute exposures of abandoned Route 66 buildings under the full moon.  My lighting technique is self-taught and has been developed through decades of experimentation and trial and error.

Some of these photographs were finished in the digital darkroom with multi-exposure compositing, star trail stacking, contrast and perspective adjustments and lens-flare clean up, but the lighting and color are all done in-camera. These images are not Photoshop creations. What you see is what I shot that night.

I snuck in to shoot about half the locations on this site.  The rest were accessed with permission from property owners and caretakers.

Want to know more?  Take the workshop!  Buy my technique e-book!