Photographer Ken Lee enjoys the mystery and excitement of nighttime photography as he explores abandoned sites when most are asleep. His latest series features an abandoned water park that had plenty of photographic opportunities.
Nighttime photography can unleash creative opportunities that daytime shoots don’t always deliver. Lee, an experienced nighttime photographer and explorer of “secret places” across the country, finds this type of photography particularly appealing.
“If I do a long exposure of several minutes, I am able to walk around the scene and light it with a handheld light, much like a producer might light a movie, choosing what to illuminate and what to keep in shadow,” he says.
He also finds that having creative control over lighting, texture, and color can be “totally addicting” and unique because no two photos ever come out exactly the same. Not just that, the calm of the night makes the process a therapeutic and calming one, giving him time to slow down, take in the surroundings, and appreciate the stars drifting across the sky.
One of Lee’s latest shoots at an abandoned and post-apocalyptic-looking water park fit the bill — it had plenty of unique features to explore, splashes of color from graffiti sprayed on the buildings, and exuded just enough of darkness and mystery for Lee to really enjoy shooting the area.
The night he chose to photograph featured a full moon and as a result, provided Lee with plenty of light and allowed him to have a longer exposure of several minutes for his shots. He also was able to stop down to f/8 and use a lower ISO to have a broader depth of field, reduce the noise, and provide enough time to light paint exactly how he intended.
Lee points out that photographers often think they need special equipment to do shots like these.
“On the contrary, although a nice camera is of course always helpful, you may use any sort of camera that allows manual control, which is just about any DSLR or mirrorless camera, new or old,” he tells PetaPixel.
“You can create photos like this with modest equipment, especially since you don’t need a lens with wide apertures, which are typically more expensive.”
Currently, Lee uses a Pentax K-1 with Pentax 15-30mm f/2.8 lens, both he purchased used. He also has a Nikon D750 on hand, which was also a second-hand purchase, along with a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 lens.
All of the cameras were mounted on Feisol tripods, while he used a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, which produces all colors in the RGB spectrum, allows brightness and saturation control, among other features.
Although photographing in late hours can be a peaceful process, Lee felt a little apprehensive and unsure whether he’d come across any strangers hanging out at the park. That’s why Lee suggests photographers obtain permission whenever possible or go visit sites that require special permission prior to entry and can therefore be considered safer.
Another option is to organize a shoot with other people, which can give a sense of safety due to the number of people around. Similarly, night photography workshops can give a good shot at night photography, although those tend to focus more on astrophotography, Lee says.
When it comes to the finished images, Lee doesn’t let him sit idle on his computer. He already has two books featuring night photography of abandoned sites, which give personal stories alongside the history of the sites where possible. Images from this nighttime visit at the abandoned park are likely to make an appearance in his upcoming book, but there is yet plenty of work to do from writing to assembling the book.
He plans on visiting other abandoned sites for more images because part of the excitement is visiting, exploring, and learning about the history of these sites, as well as photographing them at night.
“Between creating night photos, the rich history, the mystery, and the vivid experience while exploring, there can be quite a lot to share in these books!”
More of Lee’s work can be found on his website and Instagram.
Image credits: All images by Ken Lee and used with permission.
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