Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Inside Double Arch

Ultra wide angle view of Milky Way stars through a light painted Double Arch, Arches N.P. ~ © Royce Bair 2014
Daylight view of our children
inside Double Arch, circa 1983
Three Decades Inside Double Arch: Although my family lives in Salt Lake City, Arches National Park was our vacation playground when my kids were growing up, and Double Arch was their favorite place to play. It's only natural that when I started to experiment with night photography and light painting in the early 1980's that Arches NP would be my canvas of choice.

In my early years of magazine and commercial photography, I wanted a graphic way to show clients that I could bring the studio (and its lighting) on location —providing ultimate control. If I could artistically light some of the world's natural features at night, it would indicate that I could do something similar for my client's needs.

Building that early portfolio was a family affair. My sons accompanied me the during the daylight planning and positioning of lights, as well as helping to firing strobes at night. They clicked the camera's shutter for me at my radio commands, carried equipment up and down rocky trails, and rarely complained that their hands were cold, or that it was past their bedtime.

Blue Hour to Starry Nights: In those early years, film provided considerable limitations for night photography. ISO 400 color film had grain similar to the look of today's ISO 3200 digital noise. It was impossible in those days to photograph the stars as points of light —film just was not fast enough, so one had to be content with star trails or twilight photography during the blue hour.

Nautical Twilight w/light painting
N. Twilight inside Double Arch
Calculating light painting exposure in the early 1980's was also extremely difficult as there was no instantaneous image feedback from an LCD in those days of film! Lighting exposure had to be calculated mathematically with flash guide numbers and distance. And, because most of my exposures were 10 minutes long, starting at the end of the Blue Hour (about 50 minutes after sunset), I was only able to take one photograph a night. There was no chance for the bracketing of exposures or trying different angles or compositions. Color transparency film had a narrow latitude of only one-half of an exposure stop, so one had to be extremely accurate.

A light-painted view from outside Double Arch,
taken at twilight, during the Blue Hour
Digital vs. Film:  Digital photography has much more latitude and the advances in digital imaging sensors has allowed for amazingly results, even at ISO's of 6400 and above —enabling one to shoot deeper into the night, use short exposure times to capture the stars as points of light, rather than streaking star trails. These greater digital sensor capabilities have also eliminated the need for high-powered studio lights. With today's higher ISO's one can now use small, battery powered LED lights to do what once required me to employ a group of "Sherpa" sons to help carry the powerful studio lighting into the mountains! Today, one of my adult sons, Chris, continues to assist me on my Arches workshops.

Join me April 21-24 for our Arches Workshop


  1. Love the shot! Arches has become my favorite place to play as well. I need to try some night time stuff. It would be a welcome addition to my collection.

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