One of the highlights of PhotoPlus Expo 2017 was a fun and informative nighttime photo walk along the High Line with National Parks at Night partner and photographer, Lance Keimig. I took the opportunity to ask him about a short interview in the near future and he graciously agreed. I’m pleased to say that we’ve finally found the time for a few questions and answers and I’ve posted them below. I think you’ll find his responses interesting and insightful. You might even find some motivation for trying your hand at night photography. Enjoy!
Opening image: International Car Forest of the Last Church in Goldfield, Nevada. Captured with the Irix 11mm f/4.0.
All photos ©Lance Keimig, used with permission for this publication only.
Lance Keimig is a professional fine art photographer, writer and teacher with a passion for night photography. He is a partner and instructor for National Parks at Night, a collaborative group of professionals offering unique photo workshops, tours and classes in some of the most scenic destinations in the U.S. and abroad.
His love of creating images in the dark began 30 years ago and led him to pursue a formal education in photography followed up by studying with mentor Steve Harper. Today, Lance teaches workshops with a focus on sharing creative ideas, rather than competition. Follow the links at the end of the article to learn more!
These lenses must have been designed for night photographers. With the focus lock, easy to read hyperfocal distance scale, the minimal coma wide open, and excellent resolving power, both lenses perform extremely well for astro and night photography.
Welcome, Lance and thanks for taking a few minutes to share some thoughts with our readers. Let’s lead off with your area of expertise. You’ve chosen night photography as something of a specialty. Why this particular niche?
The first roll of film that I ever shot was a series of long exposures taken on a tripod in my bedroom with the lights turned out, waving flashlights around. My girlfriend at the time (1985) was into photography, and she introduced me to her Canon AE1. Sometimes I pointed the flashlight at the camera and drew lines and shapes, other shots were “painting” my girlfriend with light. I’m not sure how we got started down that path, but even if the photos weren’t very good, they set off a spark that has stuck with me for the past 32 years.
I have always been fascinated by how time can be manipulated through the photographic process. Compressing long periods of time into a single image can lead to very interesting results.
The term “night photography” covers quite a variety of styles and techniques. For instance, it might mean astrophotography to some, light painting to others and even specialties like infrared photography to others. Do you differentiate between these in your work? If so, how?
Back when I started, there were really no sub-specialties. Exposures were long, and that was that. We either went out and photographed in industrial areas with artificial light, or under a full moon. There was no Milky Way photography. A good night was 10-12 exposures, and 1 or 2 good shots.
These days, I’m primarily attracted to the juncture of the natural and the built environment. There’s something that speaks to the romantic nature of the nocturne – silence, solitude, and mystery at the edge of civilization.
For those of us amateurs interested in night photography, can you offer an idea of absolute equipment requirements for success out there in the field?
These days, you don’t need a high end camera to do night photography, only a recent one. Almost any new-ish DSLR, 4/3, or mirrorless camera will do a pretty good job of making night exposures. What camera you need is largely dependent on what type of night photography you plan to do, and what you will do with the resulting images.
If you are interested in urban night photography under artificial light conditions, most any camera will do, but choosing one with a sensor that has a wide dynamic range is key to avoid clipped highlights. For moonlit landscapes, any post-2008 camera (other than compact point and shoots or phones) will do nicely. If you want to shoot starry skies and the Milky Way, then a recent mid-level or higher DSLR or mirrorless camera is best.
For lenses, wide, fast and manual focus (Doesn’t Irix make a couple of those?) is preferred, but most any lenses will do, again with the caveat of what type of night photography you are interested in. Always use a lens hood, regardless of the environment! A sturdy tripod, a couple of flashlights and a remote release or intervalometer round out the kit.
Like many seasoned professionals, you offer workshops [See the list at the end of this article.] and classes as part of your “repertoire”, as well as your book, Night Photography and Light Painting. Do you believe the steps to author and instructor to be a natural transition for a professional photographer?
There are many paths a photographer may follow – more today than ever before. The industry has changed so much since I first got involved with photography. The days of making cold calls to schlep a portfolio around to potential clients seems as far away as daily trips to the lab to process E6 film.
Over the years, my own path has led me from architectural and commercial photography to exhibiting and selling fine art, writing, and teaching. These days, it seems you can make a career out of creating videos about how you became a photographer. There are just so many possibilities out there now, but one thing that has not changed is the need to be motivated, driven, and creative.
As one of the partners in National Parks at Night, you obviously need to stay abreast of restrictions imposed on photographers in these locations. Can you offer any precautionary advice for an amateur shooting in the Parks, particularly after dark?
First, some general advice about location, safety and access. It’s always better to go through the front gate than over the back fence. I’ve hopped more than my share of fences during my time, but they just seem a little higher than they used to these days. Getting permission for special sites sometimes requires a bit of perseverance, but it’s worth it not to have to worry about getting arrested while you are out there trying to make images.
The parks are coming under increasing pressure on all sides…
The parks are coming under increasing pressure on all sides – budget cuts, development pressure, and also dramatically increased visitation. One of the great things about spending time in our parks at night is that they are far less busy than during the day!
Most parks do not have any extra restrictions on individuals photographing at night, other than where wildlife is involved. Some parks shelter threatened and endangered species that need their space, and others are full of nasty beasts that find night photographers to be tasty midnight snacks.
Aside from taking the time to learn everything you can about the park before heading out to photograph, check in with the ranger station to find out what is and isn’t allowed. Individuals don’t require special use permits, but may be required to register for a back country permit. Regardless, make sure to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
Let’s talk a little bit about your upcoming NPAN tour in Iceland. I understand it’s a good opportunity for one-on-one interaction and instruction. Can you give us a quick overview of what participants can expect?
…everyone will get as much or as little attention as they would like in the field.
Iceland has become one of the hottest travel destinations on the planet in recent years – especially for photographers, and for good reason. I’ve led 6 trips there since 2012, and have learned that there are so many outstanding locations off of the beaten path that it is not necessary to fight the crowds at the most popular spots.
Our international tours differ from our workshops in that there is no classroom instruction. We think most people do not want to spend their limited time in another country sitting in a classroom listening to lectures, so the trip is truly location focused. With a maximum of nine participants and two photo leaders, everyone will get as much or as little attention as they would like in the field. We’re on the go constantly, and photograph both day and night, but with an emphasis on chasing the Northern Lights!
This trip will cover the lesser known parts of the busy south coast. It’s one of the more dramatic regions, but also the most visited. For this reason, we are making an extra effort to get away from the main road and take our group to locations that are not as familiar.
We want people to be able to go home with truly spectacular images…
What about skill level requirements for the tour? What should a photographer know before he or she considers signing up?
The tour is open to all levels of photographers, but those who are comfortable with their equipment and have at least a basic understanding of photography fundamentals will be able to make more out of the trip. We want people to be able to go home with truly spectacular images, and think a domestic workshop would be better suited for a complete novice to photography.
I understand that participants in the tours will be able to try our Irix 11mm and 15mm lenses. Can you tell our readers how our lenses fit in to your niche?
These lenses must have been designed for night photographers.
The Irix lenses are especially well suited to night photography for a couple of reasons. One of the more unique features of the Irix lenses is the focus locking ring. Achieving critical focus is imperative at the wide apertures often used for night photographs, and doing so can be one of the bigger challenges of working in extremely low light levels.
These lenses must have been designed for night photographers. With the focus lock, easy to read hyperfocal distance scale, the minimal coma (or comatic aberration) wide open, and excellent resolving power, both lenses perform extremely well for astro and night photography.
…night photography is different things to different people.
Let’s assume that a reader wants to attend one of your workshops or go but doesn’t quite have the funds for that right now. What would you recommend as an alternate location to try one’s hand at night photography? What should the location offer?
First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug National Parks at night’s Creative Live suite of night photography classes. Five in-depth classes with each one emphasizing a different aspect of night photography. Now back to our regularly scheduled interview.
As I’ve mentioned previously, night photography is different things to different people. Let’s assume we are talking about natural-light night photography of the landscape. In that case, first consider whether or not you want to photograph by moonlight or starlight. That means choosing when to photograph is as important as where to photograph. I like to work in between the crescent and gibbous phases of the moon, when there is enough moonlight to provide a little light for the landscape, and to add some color to the sky, but not so much that the dimmer stars are overwhelmed.
As for location, get as far away from city lights as possible, which is easier said than done, depending where you live. I’m blessed to be able to see the Milky Way just by walking outside my front door. Look for a location with good views of the sky and interesting foreground subjects. That might be a field of boulders or an auto junkyard, depending on your taste.
The basics of visual design apply at night just as much in the day – and a bad picture taken in daylight will still be a bad picture at night. In short, compose carefully and consider how the sky relates to the rest of your composition. I think having interesting foregrounds is important.
Luminance noise can be a problem, but over-correcting for it is a bigger problem…
One of the frustrations that newcomers face in the area of night photography is the noise generated at high ISO settings. I don’t want to ask you to teach a crash course here, but can you give us (or point us to a source for) some pointers on dealing with noise in shooting and post-processing?
The smart-ass answer is to just deal with it. Test your camera and learn what its capabilities and limitations are.
When looking at noise in your images, you should be looking at the image in final form, and at final size. You are the only one who is pixel peeping at 100% resolution on your monitor. Chroma, or color noise is generally easy to resolve in ACR or Lightroom. Luminance noise can be a problem, but over-correcting for it is a bigger problem, and one that I notice in other people’s images far more than objectionable noise. A little carefully applied luminance correction in Lightroom with commensurate sharpening is all that most images need.
I make prints up to 30×45 inches shot at ISO 6400 with a Nikon D750, and more recently D850, and don’t have a problem with noise. The caveat is to be aware that long exposure noise increases exponentially with high temperatures, so it’s important to test your camera’s performance in different temperatures, too. For most modern cameras, long or high ISO exposures above about 75° F will cause increased noise.
Learn how to network – not how to schmooze, but how to genuinely connect and communicate with people.
I’m going to close with the same question I always ask for our readers at the end of an interview. Feel free to be as specific or vague as you like. What advice would you offer to an amateur photographer seeking to “go pro”?
A fun question to think about. The standard answer, and one that is very much on target is to shoot what you love, and not to try to make images that you think others will buy, or like. Hey, if I can make a career out of night photography, anyone can make a career shooting their passion. That doesn’t mean turn down gigs, but regardless of how you start making income from photography, you should always shoot whatever turns you on, in addition to what pays the bills.
Be generous, but don’t give your work away – at least not very often, and not to someone who can afford to pay. Get a gig assisting and/or an internship. Work hard and study hard. Learn the market, and your particular niche inside and out, and take business, marketing, and social media classes.
Learn how to network – not how to schmooze, but how to genuinely connect and communicate with people. Collaborate. The team that we have at National Parks at Night is so amazingly talented, and in different ways. We thrive off of working together towards a common goal. Collaboration with is so much more fun than competing against your peers.
I’d like to thank Lance for taking the time to share his thoughts. To our readers, I’d like to say that if you share his (and my) fascination with night photography, you should follow the links below to the resources offered by Lance and NPAN. You won’t regret it!
Lance’s website: https://www.thenightskye.com/
Lance’s book: Night Photography and Light Painting
National Parks at Night:
NAPN 2017 Holiday Gift Guide