From Film Cameras to Glowing LCDs: Night Photography, with Lance Keimig

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Next weekend, in Tarrytown, New York, the Headless Horseman will ride again through the storied Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. This time, however, the equestrian rider will not slip through the area unnoticed, as a small band of night photographers, led by Lance Keimig, will be on scene to capture the excitement through the dark of night.

The stars shine through the clouds above this abandoned shack in Rhyolite, NV. A light was placed inside the window on the
left, and the exterior was lit with a flashlight from camera right.

In the world of photography, there are photographers who take photos at night and there are "night photographers," devotees whose camera bags are never sun-faded and whose days begin as the sun sets. Lance Keimig is a night photographer and has been one for nearly 30 years.

Keimig's foray into night photography started in 1986 when he and his then-girlfriend began experimenting on film with ghostly night images and rudimentary light painting. He moved to San Francisco in 1989 to attend the Academy of Art College (now Academy of Art University) and continued studying night photography. Keimig dabbled in all types of photography, but the low-light/night photography is what captured his interest—a fascination that continues to this day.

Hard at Work: Four night photographers chilling on top of a water tank in Death Valley, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Like many of the biggest names in the world of night photography, Keimig fell under the guidance and tutelage of educational pioneer Steve Harper. Harper taught the first-ever college-level class dedicated to night photography at the Academy of Art, and his disciples have gone on to successful careers as professional night-time photographers and also as educators and workshop instructors around the world. Tim Baskerville formed a night photography group, The Nocturnes, in 1991, and he and Keimig started teaching workshops on night photography. Regarding Harper's influence on the group, Keimig says of him and Baskerville, "Steve had a profound impact on both of us. His openness and collaborative instincts definitely influenced our development, and teaching just sort of happened when the time was right. We really owe everything to Steve for not only what he taught us, but how he taught us."

Keimig's passion for night photography has not only led him to teach the subject, but he is also the author of Night Photography: Finding Your Way in the Dark, one of the most comprehensive and well-written books on the subject, which he authored in collaboration with another photographer, Scott Martin. The digital-photography revolution has made all aspects of photography more accessible to scores of shutterbugs, and night photography has been no exception. Keimig says his greatest challenge when photographing at night is "finding ways to make the image I want while working within the limits of the scene at hand. So often, shots have to be compromised to hide a light source, or make a scene work with the technical limitations of technology."

Scott Martin waits for a long exposure at the Barstow Drive-In. A red flashlight was scraped along the edge of the fence for added effect.

"...seeing images in your mind that don’t exist in real time is still one of the greatest challenges."

One prominent feature of Keimig's workshops has been the use of "light painting," an aspect of nighttime photography that has really exploded in popularity since the advent of digital imaging. Light painting is accomplished through the use of flashlights/hand torches and other artificial light sources to illuminate a scene or create patterns or streaks of light through an exposure. Keimig credits fellow Nocturne Troy Paiva with being one of the early pioneers, while considering himself "a promoter and dedicated practitioner" of the art of light painting. "I started with Maglites, and now use the contemporary equivalent, small, powerful LED lights with homemade snoots and diffusers. My approach is pretty simple; typically somewhat subtle. I light the shadows, or an object that I wish to glorify, and use warm/cool color differences for emotional impact. I’d say that my technique has gotten better over the years, but hasn’t radically changed."

Keimig admits that night photography is easier now that photographers get instant feedback on their cameras' LCD screens to verify exposure and composition. But he will be the first to tell you that, although digital capture has its benefits, night photography has become much more technically oriented and that "the real nature of seeing images in your mind that don’t exist in real time is still one of the greatest challenges." He adds that although digital photography has made successful night imaging more accessible, the complexities of digital photography require one to possess a very specific skill set to be a proficient night photographer.

Dream Date Redux: An homage to Keimig's friend, Tim Baskerville, who has photographed the date palms at Furnace Creek,
in Death Valley, for years. Keimig waved a light wand around on a string as he walked through the scene.

For the better part of three decades, Keimig has maintained a fascination for night photography. "I find much more inspiration at night, I like the 'Easter egg' aspect of looking for images, and seeing them where other people don’t, or wouldn’t. The light at night just provides so much more visual interest. Revealing things that cannot be seen with the eye—only imagined—that’s what it’s all about for me."

Another old shack in Rhyolite, NV. A longer exposure at a lower ISO yields star trails in this shot, which was intentionally underexposed for added drama.
The lighting style is an attempt at mimicking the lighting from the original Star Trek series, on some of the alien planets.

For more information about Lance Keimig, or to join next weekend's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Workshop, visit his website.

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You have furthered the knowledge of Night Photography through both the film the digital eras and have written the most comprehensive Textbook I have yet seen on the very subjective approaches to Night Photogrphy. I have learned from your excellent book myself and recommend it to everyone I know who is interested in Night Photography wheter they be advanced or just starting out. I feel honored to have been an influence.

  I've eaten a couple of dinners under those palm trees at Furnace Creek--beautiful place.  Lance is brilliant, and willing to share his knowledge.  I met him when he was still workomg with black and white film. 

Where I live in North Carolina  I am unable to see the stars as they are captured in some of these pictures due to light pollution. Thanks for posting the shots

First of all thanks for the absolute garbage you shared with shutter love which brought me here in the first place. There are photographers who take photos at night and there are "night photographers" is complete hogwash and poppycock. Mr. Kiemeg obviously only posses one skill...how to use faux photography by using light sorces to do most of his work. Such a hard skill indeed as he said in this article. Such as the article says "he adds that although digital photography has made night imagery more accessible, the complexities of digital photography require one to have a very specific skill set to be a proficit night photographer". Yes so complex are the systems unless you know what you are doing which is 80% of people shooting pictures now. To make "night photography" a sub culture of photography is so cliché its ludecris. It's photography. I'm sorry when you take pictures during the day do you call it "day photography" Mr. Kiemeg? Or when it's overcast is it "overcast photography"? I know plenty of people who get up early in the morning so is that called "morning photography"? Get over yourself. You are trying to make something it isn't.  Sorry. Night photography, space photography, b&w photography, giraffe photography, Harry potter photography. Please do everyone in the Photography world a favor and stop making nonsense up. 

Sincerely,

The Gourmet