Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Eyes of Turret Arch

"The 'Eyes' of Turret Arch" ~ © Royce Bair (click to enlarge)
On a very hot night in late June, I climbed up into Turret Arch and aimed my ultra-wide angle lens through the arch. From a daylight hike I had done that morning, I knew that "The Spectacles" (North and South Window Arch) would line up inside the Turret. Having checked with Stellarium, I also knew that the tail of the Milky Way would also pass through this opening (@ an 82º heading) at about 11:00 PM. However, in order to separate Turret Arch from the two Window Arches, I needed to do some light painting...

L to R: No light painting; one stationary light from the left; with 2nd moving fill light (click to enlarge)
It took about 40 minutes to set up and perfect the light painting for this shot, which worked out perfectly for the final shot, because the sky had by then reached maximum darkness, allowing for the best star contrast. The final image was exposed for 30 seconds @ f/2.8, ISO 6400, using a LF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens on a Canon 5D Mark III.

The middle image was illuminated by one Calumet LED Light Panel, covered with a translucent white diffusion filter and a 3200ºK daylight-to-tungsten warming filter (they come with the unit). I placed the light on the ground about 30 feet to the left of the camera, leaned it up against a rock and feathered the light just to the right of the image center. Because I wanted this light to remain on during the whole 30 seconds of my exposure, I dialed in the exact intensity using its built in dimmer switch (a very handy feature). This was my hands-off "key" light, and it covered about 65% of the areas I wanted lit. This left the foreground and the bottom left of the arch still in shadow.

Tool of the Week (TOTW): The lighting tool that saved the shot was a lowly, plastic cup: a translucent white, 10 ounce plastic drinking cup (this one is made by Solo)!

A white plastic cup works as a omni-directional diffuser/filter when placed over an LED flashlight (click to enlarge)
By placing the translucent white cup over my adjustable beam Maglite flashlight (LED 3-cell D), I created a diffused, omni-directional light that was easier to control in the tight and precarious perch behind my camera and tripod. (I pushed the cup down onto the front of the flashlight until it was snug and wouldn't fall off.) Upon opening the shutter with a remote radio release (a PocketWizard transceiver on the camera and one in my hand), I moved this light up and down (as high as I could reach) and walked between the Calumet key light and my tripod—for 15 of the 30 seconds exposure time. By moving up and down and left to right during the exposure, I am able to soften the edges of the shadows and help this light blend better with the first. I also placed a circular, amber colored filter (cut out from theatrical gel sheets) over the flashlight, and inside the cup (to better match the white balance of the key light).

Light Painting Tutorials: I have several blog posts describing more about advanced light painting techniques, and the equipment that I and other night photographers use.

Featured Post: Shooting Stars eBook Review — How to Photograph the Stars and the Moon


  1. Spectacular! I've done many shots in that very area, but never have I been inspired to do what you did. Brilliant!

  2. I love all the different perspectives people can capture in the windows area of Arches and this one is as creative as any I've seen! I love the eyes and how it brings the image to life. I hope you're doing well, Royce! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Having just returned from Arches National Park and the Turret in particular, I am delighted to read your description of the shot above. Very well done - both the photography and the writing.

  4. Such gorgeous, inspiring photography! Reading all details is icing on the cake.

  5. Amazing work and very simple approach to the lighting of the scenes... got across your work, love it :) Kudos