Friday, February 1, 2013

David Kingham: Driven into the Night

"Snowy Range Perseids" - 22 meteorites captured in a Wyoming sky ~ © David Kingham (click image for how-to info)
Colorado landscape photographer, David Kingham, is passionate about night photography. "Creating stunning nightscapes is what drives me," says David. It could be the milky way, a meteor show, or just starry skies.

The "Snowy Range Perseids" shot was the accumulation of all the things Kingham had learned over the years. "It put all my skills to the test and I came away with more than I imagined," said David. "Everything from scouting the perfect location, creating a great composition in total darkness, shooting for an entire night, to the challenge of post processing to create an incredible composite with the meteors coming from the correct radiant point."

Creating unique imagery: As a landscape photographer, David enjoys capturing beautiful scenery. "But it often feels like it's all been done before," laments Kingham. "When I'm standing on the shore of Maroon Bells or Oxbow Bend with hundreds of other photographers I feel disenchanted. When I stand under a star filled sky, I know I'm one of very few that are taking in this beauty, and unless I'm with friends I know that what I'm photographing is exceptionally unique, not just a different composition, but something that nobody has ever seen."

David's night work often involves selecting a unique foreground element and pairing it with a feature in the night sky. He prefers to work with moonlight to illuminate his foreground subjects, but when there is a new moon he will also employ light painting.

Getting started: Growing up in the mountains of Colorado, Kingham had always been able to clearly see the stars at night—which few in our modern society get to experience, due to light pollution. When he started in photography he had no idea that our cameras were capable of capturing the night sky. It was a Flickr friend, Michael Menefee, and his nightscapes that inspired David. The thankful Kingham worked hard to learn as much as possible under Michael's willingness to share his techniques.

"Glacier Gorge Milky Way" - a nightscape panorama ~ © David Kingham (click for a larger view)
This was his first attempt at shooting a nightscape panorama. "I had no idea if it would work with the star movement," says David. The amazing software available today makes this possible. He now shoots night panoramas on a regular basis!

"Cupid Mountain Milky Way Panorama" ~ © David Kingham (click image for a larger view)
"This shot was a physical and mental test for me, says Kingham. "Climbing a 13,000 ft mountain in the dead of winter, at 2:00 A.M. stretched my boundaries. It has made me mentally tougher to take on anything in life."

Night photography challenges: Long, cold nights, and a lack of sleep are typical for night photographers. But David admits that driving for several hours into the mountains, and hiking in the middle of the night in freezing conditions is worth the effort. "It's those moments that remind you how amazing a warm bed feels, [and] forcing yourself to leave it takes a special devotion," reports David.

"No Wind on the Prairie" ~ © David Kingham (click image for a larger view)
"This was my first successful light painted shot," says David. " I barely knew what I was doing at the time. It was an experiment where everything went right and gave me the itch to never stop learning and playing with new ideas."

Favorite tools and equipment: Rokinon lenses are a favorite. David has discovered that they are cheap, fast, and free of coma—more so than some of the Canon and Nikon lenses, costing over $2,000!  David shoots a lot of panoramas, so a leveling base on his tripod makes life much easier. An intervalometer is also a necessity. And a custom made external battery has allowed him to extend his battery life by 7 hours!

On the software side, David uses Starry Night Pro on the his PC, and Star Walk on the iPhone—both are such amazing planetarium applications that he can't imagine doing night photography without them. Nik Color Efex is his secret weapon for bringing out the detail in the milky way, and Microsoft ICE has become invaluable for stitching night panoramas.

Workshops: Recently, David has began teaching night photography workshops. Giving others the gift of knowledge to create their own nightscapes is deeply rewarding to him.

More of David's work can be found at his website.

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  1. Really amazing and beautiful images !!!! I am a little jaleous , just because the excellent clear skies over there , in my neighboorhood its light pollution everywere ( Heerlen , Netherlands ). I recently also bought an intervalometer since the Canon550D didn't have this option , or I should always use the laptop for remote shooting :p . Great work !

  2. Wow, i can say that this is another great article as expected of this blog. Bookmarked this site.


  3. This was really an interesting topic and I kinda agree with what you have mentioned here!