Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Night Photography Edition

Let me clear something up right away. If you are aware there’s a burgeoning ghost population, live in a high nighttime murder density population, have coyotes known to seek out human flesh specifically when it’s dark out, really feel that Sean Hannity rubs you the wrong way, don’t have a penchant for fruitcake, can’t get over the fact that white chocolate isn’t actually chocolate, or positively can’t shake the feeling that monsters are indeed in your closet—though statistically that’s only true 19% of the time—then you absolutely should feel afraid of the dark. But for those of us who realize that the darkness holds more mystery than fear, well, nighttime photography can be the most awesome thing since sliced bread.

If you’ve done night photography before, you know of the new worlds that can be discovered. If you haven’t, you should take a chance and try it sometime, for it’s so much more than photographing stars or the moon. When you turn your flashlight off and let your eyes adjust while taking short or long exposures, you realize that it’s a way to see everything with a new perspective. Everyday objects become shadow shapes. Your ears almost become supersonic, and your mind tries to trick you. The sky is incredible, and if you’ve never stood outside and stared up for at least 10 minutes, you’re missing out on realizing how small we really are—and how much of the solar system we know absolutely nothing about.

There are different techniques that can be used in night photography—long exposures, light painting, star trailing, stacking, reflecting, etc.—but instead of explaining it, I’ll post a few photos from my recent trip out west. California and Utah’s rocky landscapes in particular made for fascinating nighttime shoots, and no rattlesnakes attacked me while I was out in the desert, alone, at 2 a.m.

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A Road Trip or a Baby? I’ll Take a Road Trip for 2, Bob.

Life is a balancing act. Are you a road trip or baby kinda balancing act?

Life is a balancing act. Are you a road trip or baby kinda balancing act?

I thought the past few years were busy, but apparently 2014 is Year of the Second Baby. Oh, and I also have 6 or 7 weddings to attend this summer alone. In fact, my dumbphone, Facebook, and Pintwittergram are filled with so many dirty diaper stories, horrific bridesmaid dresses, and baby mugs that it’s not even worth logging on anymore. Oh, stop taking offense. You feel the exact same way–or did before you got all preggers on us.

I thought to myself, you know what would look really great juxtaposed with your baby’s adorable double chin? Some rocky landscapes and arches. So I took off to California for a roadtrip to Arizona and Utah.*

*Presence of baby photos not actual reason for trip.

Off I flew to the America Southwest(ish) to visit my outdoor adventure-photography-food friend, Vic. As we started off with the eating part—we were attending the country’s largest food fair for 3 days while in L.A.—I started to realize that the thoughts, worries, and daily choices I was being forced to make while traveling were not all that different from my baby-readying, kid-rearin’, and/or wedding-planning friends. We all have choices to make.

The choices were pretty simple at first.

Them: What color do we paint the baby’s room: vomituitous pink or stale pale blue?

Me: What chocolate-covered berry flavor do choose: raspberry, acai, or blueberry?

 

Or a few days later:

Them: How do I hide the growing baby bump w/ a shirt?

Me: Which shirt do I wear at Food Show: Day 3 in order to hide my personal obesity epidemic?

 

And later still:

Them: The baby’s one year old. I should start getting my body back in shape.

Me: Nope.

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But pretty soon, we all face unforeseen challenges.

Them: After a few months of marriage, we realized that not every situation will be black and white; after all, marriages and parenting are often about compromise.

Me: After a few frames, I realized that black and white photography works really well in the desert

Them: He started to snore, and it ruined our sleep. What do I try: Breathe-Right nasal strips, sleeping in separate rooms, or gently waking him up?

Me: My camping buddy started snoring, so I immediately smacked him. When that didn’t do the job, I placed my pillow over his mouth and held it firmly in place for a few minutes.

 

Them: That bridesmaid looks so awkward in that photo! My groomsmen and I all look normal…what happened on that side?

Me: Every photo I’m in looks awkward. 

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Them: Let’s make sure we get child #1 on a strict bedtime schedule. 8 p.m.?

Me: Let’s make sure I have no schedule so I can go out and photograph night timelapses at 8 p.m., 2 a.m., or 6 a.m.

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Them: Let’s get another photo with the baby! 

Me: Why am I holding a baby pug?

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Conversations can get pretty ugly.

Them: Every time you say “jump,” am I supposed to say “how high”?! I’m not your servant, SWEETIE.

Me: How high do you want me to jump?

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[Awesome photo by Victor Vic Photo]

But in the end, it often works out. Well, 50% of the time it ends in divorce and custody battles, but for the other 50%, it often works out! You see, we’re really not all that different, you and I.

 

Photos ‘n’ Stories from the Southwest are Coming. Soon(ish).

I know you’ve all been waiting patiently for photos and stories from the American Southwest, but I’ve been busy catching up with work—and haven’t even gone through half my photos yet. What I have gone through in my head, over and over again, was how I experienced my own little People of Wal-Mart party while out in California and Arizona, specifically. Yes, the patrons were all wearing pants in the Wal-Marts I visited, but no, they were not…all there. Their minds, I mean.

There was the man who was dressed in goth with a dark top hat. He was walking around the store slowly, staring at people. I felt a shiver run through my body when his WalMartian eyes met mine. No, that’s probably giving his eyes way too much credit.

There was the woman who walked in wearing prostiboots™ and stood, in the doorway, muttering to herself. For several minutes. I don’t know where she went after that because I’d already started praying for deliverance.

There was the woman with two giant lip rings and three not-so-giant little girls, all hers, and each of whom appeared to be from a different father. I felt sad.

But I didn’t feel so bad for not having showered or combed my hair in a few days. Hey, I’d been camping! What were their excuses?

In the meantime, here are a few photos to hold you over.

Jaw-Dropping Beauty from Around the World

New York State, USA

New York State, USA

Not just a pretty dragonfly photo: I took this one summer when I was quite unhappy with my job–a well-paying but terrible desk job in Queens, NY. I had come up to visit my folks for the weekend, and walked out to my pond with my camera. I’d never seen this type of dragonfly before–3-4″ long, vibrant, and not afraid to come near me. Armed with my close-up lenses, I knelt down, and–wonder of wonders–a female landed on a long blade of grass right near me. My jaw couldn’t drop too far as I was already kneeling on the ground, but my heart was pounding. There’s no better feeling than being up close and personal with nature, and here I was in my own backyard, experiencing incredible beauty close-up. As she chewed up the stem and deposited her eggs slowly up the length of the stalk, I was able to grab several photos of her incredible blue-and-green markings. In that moment, I knew my job was a rather poor fit, and that the outdoors–and more travel–was calling.

The term “jaw-droppingly beautiful” is probably one of the most overused term in travel–and here I am, about to use it. But since my jaw actually dropped when I saw these places/people/animals, then I believe I’m allowed to say it. Do you remember the first time your mouth actually fell open, you couldn’t breathe, and your heart started pounding because you were staring at a place undeniably amazing? Don’t say it was NYC, puh-lease. I don’t think brown buildings and water towers are anyone’s idea of gorgeous, and yet every time I fly back into New York City, someone on the plane inevitably shouts out how gorgeous New York is. To each his own, I suppose.

But getting back to (mostly) outdoor beauty. For me, it’s not just that a lovely scene is before me; rather, it’s the context–the reason I’m standing at that point, the effort I’ve put in to get there, the newness, the colors, the adrenaline… In short, there are quite a few factors that make a place jaw-droppingly gorgeous to me, and for each of these places I’ve photographed, I distinctly remember my eyes wanting to drink up the place, my heart pounding, and the air rushing out of me. There’s a story behind each moment of beauty, and I’ll tell you a few of my favorite tidbits.

Northwestern Thailand

Northwestern Thailand

This is the first time I remember my jaw, quite literally, falling open. I had decided to leave everything in NYC behind and came to volunteer–alone, not with any group–in this remote Thai village. While out for a walk my first week there, I walked past some trees and came upon this view. I’d simply never seen any kind of vista like it before, with the greenish-blue cabbage hills, vines, trees, layers of mountains, and fog. There was a sing (in Thai, of course) saying that the next village was 7km to the right. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone ever need to go farther?”

Northern Nepal

Northern Nepal

You’ve probably heard this story before, but it remains a favorite. I had trekked with nomads into the Himalayas–nearly to the Tibetan border–as part of a project on Tibetan refugees in Nepal. It was completely foggy the evening we arrived, and though I thought I saw a snow-capped peak looming over me (behind where I was standing when I took this photo), it was hard to be sure in such fast-moving clouds. I had no idea what everything looked like when I went to bed, and I was the only English-speaking person in the hut. After having a cow trample my feet during the night, I awoke with Lhakpa, the nomad in whose hut I was staying, at 5 a.m. Though the sun was not yet up, I thought I saw a hint of snowy peaks through the slats in the wooden hut, and my breath caught. I stepped outside–only Lhakpa and her cows were awake–and saw this absolutely spellbinding scene before me. Standing there n the cold mountain air, it felt as though the peaks were hovering over me. I felt a tinge of regret that I had no one to share the moment with, but I was so excited I had this moment in time to hold on to forever. I can’t even tell you what it really felt like, but suffice to say my jaw was hanging open for a long, long time.

Central India

Central India

Does my jaw often drop open upon seeing people? No. I don’t get star-struck too easily. But show me a Muslim boy with the most beautiful light eyes I’ve ever seen, and there I go embarrassing myself in public. I’m still kicking myself for not having my portrait lens on, but this little boy, Azim, was beautiful, freckle-faced, and so sweet. I sort of wanted to adopt him.

Gozo

Gozo

Perhaps it’s because I never saw turquoise waters until I was 25 years old and in Honduras, or perhaps it’s because I love scuba diving. Heck, maybe it’s just because I love feasting with my eyes on impossibly beautiful water colors that I rarely see in nature. Whatever it is, this scene on Gozo still stands out. I was living on the small island writing a scuba diving guide, and my boss and I were driving around for photos the morning after a violent storm. Roads were a mess, streets were completely flooded, and businesses were shut down. We went to a high point overlooking the salt pans, however, and saw that the sea and sands had mixed to form incredible green, aqua, and blue swirled hues. I had never seen water that color before, and still haven’t, really. I could have stared for hours.

Below are (more than) a few more photos that caused mild shock–in a good way. If you want the story behind the photo, just ask! I’m hoping to add to this list soon. Quite soon. But then again, the most amazing beauty often catches us off guard. So just have your camera ready in case such a moment should come, and when and if it does, just enjoy it with your eyes before snapping away.