night photography techniques » You Can Sleep When You're Dead: Blog by Colleen Miniuk

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May 142015

“Neon Golf” photo copyright Christye Flanagan

“Neon Golf”
This photo that I took called “Neon Golf” was inspired by the golf course behind my house that I live on. It was taken for an assignment in my Intermediate Photography class at NAU. The assignment was Painting with Light. This technique added a modern spin to a traditional object. The neon green is a contrasting color to the red bag adding depth and interest. The full moon adds light to the focal point being the golf bag and clubs. The golf ball on the ground adds to the focal point also. The visual message that I tried to convey was to take the imagination to golfing at night with a neon ball, golf bag and golf clubs during a full moon. The image is shot at ground level to add an interesting perspective.  The golf bag and clubs are at one side of the image to use the rule of thirds for the composition.  The topline of the trees is another compositional element and it is positioned above the midline. The moon adds light to the dark sky. The trees recede into the background to add depth to the photo. The background below the trees is dark black drawing the eye to the golf clubs.

The technique that I used to make this photo was a long shutter speed set at 60”, f-stop 5.0, ISO 100 and 14mm. I used my small Olympus EM10 with 14-42mm lens set on a tripod. I did not use any filters.  I placed the golf bag on the fairway and the camera was lower in a sand trap. I used an external flash mounted on the camera and a headlamp placed on the ground shining light onto the golf bag. There was a full moon in the bag ground. I focused on the center of the golf bag. I shined the laser light on the golf ball first and then hit the shutter button. After a few seconds shining the light on the ball; I put my hand over the laser light and pointed the light at the bag and removed my hand so the light would shine on the bag. I then traced the golf bag and clubs until the shutter was done. Since the camera had such a long shutter speed I had time to trace the bag and golf clubs.  As far as post processing the only thing that I did was crop it a little.

About the Photographer:
My name is Christye Flanagan and I am a post-baccalaureate student at Northern Arizona University. I have a previous degree from the University of Arizona in Family Studies. This semester I just finished all the classes that I need for my degree at NAU with a Bachelors of Fine Art in Visual Communications with an emphasis in Graphic Design and will graduate May 8, 2015. This semester I also took an extra class in photography. It is my third one and I am developing my photography skills to use with my graphic design. I like to manipulate photos to use on websites and with graphic design.  To develop my photography skills more I plan to take some photography classes through Arizona Highways.  After graduation I plan on freelancing.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 122015

Photo copyright Stephanie Austin

As someone who has been interested in photography from a young age, I always enjoy a challenge and forcing myself to think outside of the box. When my photography teacher gave us the assignment “Painting with Light,” she showed us images of people using flashlights to create shapes or to illuminate their subjects. I wanted to create an image that did both. I had experimented with the concept before in my high school years, but I was unsatisfied with the results and had not thought to retry the technique since. As the teacher continued to show the class different examples of the technique, my wheels were turning. By the time class finished, I had already planned exactly what elements would be a part of my image.

Just over two years ago, I had my first exposure to a rising party trick—gloving. Using gloves with rapidly flashing LED lights inserted at the fingertips, people can create a light show that, paired with the right music and movement, can put viewers into a hypnotic state. When I first met Jordan, it was at an ecclesiastical function. I remember walking in to the gym with my friend, the beat of the music pulsing through our bodies. When we entered the room, I immediately became aware of the flashing lights that on my left that seemed to be moving in sync with the music. At first, I assumed they were a part of the ambient light, maybe a disco ball or something. Upon closer examination, I came to realize that there was actually a person manipulating these lights.

Jordan has worked with the art of light for about 5 years now. His light shows have always been a party staple, one that catches the attention of many. When my photography instructor gave us the assignment “Painting with Light,” I immediately thought of the shapes and displays that Jordan made while demonstrating this talent.

We soon after collaborated to create our “Painting with Light” image. To capture the exact image that I had pictured, we ended up trying this technique two separate times. On the first go, I did not have an exact game plan for how I would execute the photo, but I had an idea of how I wanted the image to turn out. Not only did I want to capture the movement of the lights, but I also wanted Jordan’s face illuminated. I had hoped that the lights from his gloves would be enough to illuminate his face, but we quickly discovered that this would not work. After enlisting the help of my external flash and about 200 frames later, I had finally captured an image that I was almost satisfied with.

On our second meeting, we both had a little better of an idea as to what we needed to do in order to achieve the exact look that we wanted. After setting up a studio in the apartment of my front room, we got to work. We found that the exposure could be no longer than 2 seconds; otherwise, the movement of the lights would take over the image and make it difficult to see who was in control of the lights. We also found that it was better to illuminate the external flash at the end of the exposure. This allowed the camera to capture the light trails that Jordan created, and the flash acted to illuminate his face and hands.

For this image, I used my Canon Rebel XS. My shutter speed was set for a 2-second exposure, with an f/stop of 5.0, and an ISO of 100. When the exposure began, Jordan would start creating shapes, and I would manually activate the external flash to illuminate his face. In post processing, I made some changes to the exposure and boosted the contrast. I also made sure that the background was dark where it needed to be and that there were no unnecessary light spots on the background.

About the Photographer:
My name is Stephanie Austin; I am a photography minor at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. I really discovered my passion for photography in my early high school years. From a young age, I had always found joy in using my mother’s camera to take pictures at different functions. However, I had never really thought of using photography as a form of art until I enrolled in a photography class my freshman year of high school. From there, my love for photography has only multiplied. I have always enjoyed photographing people and their interactions. Some might even label me as a people watcher. In recent years, I have turned my focus to photographing the beauty and mysteries of nature and the world around me.

To see more of my work, please visit my Facebook page:

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 072015

Photo copyright Emma Benanati

Landscape and natural patterns have always been my subjects of choice and passion with photography.  However, my goal this semester was to learn new photo techniques and to see the value and beauty in different subjects.   The goal of this photo was to paint or show movement with light.  I love cycling so I chose my bicycle as the subject and hoped I could get it to somehow show movement while also staying close to my camera and in focus.  It looks like patterns (although not quite natural) have prevailed again in this photo, but I do like the repeating cycle effect… kind of like a bicycle spinning down the road.  If you squint your eyes while looking at the white lights in the photo, it almost looks like a person leaning forward and riding the bicycle.

This image was taken in my garage at night in order to give a dark background against the bicycle.  I wrapped colored holiday lights around my wheels and white lights around the frame and handle bars.  I tried moving the bike in various directions and patterns on different shutter speeds.  Mostly everything turned out to be a colorful blur and I didn’t like the result.   Then I tried different types of circles and the “painting with light” looked much better.   Here is the final set up for my photo:  The bike was positioned upright against my car in the garage.  Setting my camera timer on 10 seconds gave me enough time to press the button and run over to my bike, pick it up, and begin moving it around in smooth circles.  The shutter speed was set for 5 seconds so I made sure to keep the bike moving the entire time.  ISO was 100 and aperture was 14 at a focal length of 22 mm.  No filters or flash were used.

Even though it was completely dark in the garage, the holiday lights were bright enough to illuminate my face and car wheels.  I wanted a completely black background so I cloned those out using the lasso tool and capturing pieces of the surrounding dark background to fill in my face and wheels.  These were the only adjustments needed.

About the Photographer:
My name is Emma Benenati and I’m a biologist with Northern Arizona University.  My graduate degrees are in geology and biology and I love combining both in photos and film.  I’ve spent most of my life in science and “snapping photos” so I really enjoy these opportunities to work with my artistic side to take the time to “create” photos and improve my photography techniques.   I seem to continually gravitate toward natural patterns and details, usually on a larger scale.  However, I just attended a very enlightening macro photo workshop with Arizona Highways (Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and Paul Gill), and now I’ll experiment with macro and see what subjects attract me next.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

May 042015

Photo copyright McKenzie McLoughlin

Flagstaff is a beautiful city full of many opportunities for landscape photography, especially at night. It is a little known fact that Flagstaff, AZ is an international dark city, actually the first of its kind. This means the city is the perfect spot for stargazing and that is what I wanted to capture.

I work in the Admissions Department here at NAU and my goal is to help students decide if NAU is the right fit. I have embodied the job into my creative world by photographing the beauty of our campus. I decided I wanted a picture of the iconic Northern Arizona University sign that is on McConnell drive, right off the I-17. Students who are attending NAU often take photos in front of this sign to declare their affiliation. The photos of the majestic sign are usually from camera phones, in the middle of the day with cars driving in the back. Sure the photos are spirited by it doesn’t fully capture how beautiful our campus could be.

So, I waited for a clear night. I mustered out into the brisk night bundled up a beanie, gloves and the like at 1 in the morning on a Wednesday. I decided that time would be quiet on the streets and would help me avoid ambient light. This was important because I had decided I wanted to do a long exposure that captured the stars gleaming brightly behind the NAU sign. I brought my tripod and my camera and set up in the marshy grass in front of the sign. Of course, I had forgotten to charge my phone before I left and it had died before I arrived, but I am glad it did. Not having that distraction allowed me to see the beauty of our night sky. The trick now was exposing the sign enough but making sure the focus was on the stars. It is a composite image. I shot for the sky first at a 20 second shutter speed. Then I shot for the sign which took a bit of work I was not expecting. The light was too low to get a good exposure of the sign without it fading into the background. The shot I wanted had the sign popping out. I thought, “Oh, I can use the flash light on my phone to paint the light!” Then I remembered my phone died. My next thought was, I probably have a light in my car, so I trekked back through the marshy grass and searched my car and finally found a light. It was the perfect illumination for the sign and I was able to capture the vision I had in mind. I shot with a Nikon D3200 at ISO 400 and F/18 at a 20 second shutter speed for the stars and ISO 400 F/18 and 1 second shutter speed.

About the Photographer:
I am a sophomore at Northern Arizona University seeking a Bachelor’s Degree in strategic communications with an emphasis in public relations and minor in photography. My passion for photography started in high school where I learned to shoot film. There is something so captivating in having a hand in the entire photographic process which I learned in film but I know it is a dying form. Therefore, I switched to digital and have tried to focus on composition and creativity. I am so inspired by everyday beautiful things that get passed by and my goal is to capture those ordinary things into something extraordinary. Photography is a hobby for me, but I believe it is a useful skill for the field of communications because photography is a very important aspect of visual communications. I hope to further develop my skills so that I can continue challenging myself and going on crazy photographic adventures that land me on the sides of freeways at 1 in the morning without a cell phone.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your insights and constructive comments in the Comment section below – the student would love to hear from you!

Sep 252013
AHWP Womens Retreat_Silly

In accordance with tradition on all of my photography workshops, our group poses for a “silly” group photo on the shoreline of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

This past weekend, 17 enthusiastic women embarked on a remarkable four-day photographic journey to Page, Arizona on the third Arizona Highways Photography Workshops(AHPW), “Women’s Photography Retreat.”  Offered in a different location each year, this year our group marveled not only at classic locations like Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon, but also lesser-known spots like the depths of Glen Canyon on the Colorado River from a jumbo raft and the geological “teepees” of Little Cut.

AHPW_WPR_Everyones Own Vision

Everyone following their own vision while rafting down the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, Arizona.

During our location visits and classroom sessions, we reviewed photography techniques like conveying time through slowing our shutter speeds, getting closer to our foreground subjects and maximizing our depth-of-field, and taking test shots at high ISO speeds to determine the proper settings for long exposures of the night sky.  We also held discussions about we can gain inspiration from learning about the history of women in photography as well as how women photographers may see differently.  In between, we swapped “interesting” life stories (some involving things like cats and microwaves…) and loads of belly-aching laughs.  But most importantly, this workshop is – and has always been – about empowering women to try new things by pushing the limits of what we think we’re capable of in both photography and life.

Although the entire experience was unforgettable, what will certainly go down as one of my favorite memories of my photography career is our hike and night photography session at the Toadstools hoodoos in Utah. To watch the women light paint, photograph the Milky Way, and then hike back in the dark under the full moon light – all experiences some had never had until this past weekend – was incredibly rewarding.

We set out about an hour and a half before sunset to allow ample time to wander among this geologically rich area.  After photographing the hoodoos bathed in direct sunlight at sundown, the group refueled during our picnic dinner before starting our night’s activities.

AHPW_WPR_Wiggle the Pickle

While waiting for the night sky to fall and the moon to rise, we ate a picnic dinner on the rocks. Somehow, this led to a suggestion to “wiggle your pickle.” And if you’re going to wiggle your pickle among a group of photographers, someone is bound to get “THE” shot of everyone wiggling their pickle!

Since many of the ladies had never photographed in the dark or painted with light, we began with a quick introductory session around one of the clusters of hoodoos.  In a line, we focused (figuratively and literally) on composing the frame before losing daylight.  As the sun fell well below the horizon, the entire group tested their exposure settings starting at ISO 1600, an f/8 aperture, and 30 seconds shutter speed – an arbitrary setting to serve as a starting point for how much light our camera would collect during that time frame.  Based on the histogram, we could add or subtract light accordingly to record our vision.

As soon as everyone dialed to the right settings and achieved sharp focus, I counted “1-2-3” and everyone snapped the shutter at the same time.  During the exposure, I painted the hoodoos from the left side with about five to seven seconds of light from a strong LED flashlight.  After the exposure, we all reviewed our histogram to determine whether our cameras had collected enough ambient light and flash light.  Then, we’d repeat.

After a number of snaps, a large, unsightly shadow line revealed itself at the base of the tallest hoodoo.  Because the neighboring smaller hoodoo prevented the flash light from hitting the taller hoodoo, the light needed to originate from the front – not the side.  Because of the longer exposure, I could solve this minor problem by running into the frame with my flashlight while the group’s shutters were released.

On my first attempt, I painted the hoodoos from the side for a few seconds and then danced into the frame (“Like a gazelle!”), painting the tallest hoodoo at the base to eliminate the shadow.   A quick review of the photos indicated the tallest hoodoo had received an excessive amount of light, so we needed to repeat the process with less flash light time.

On the next attempt, one second I was painting the hoodoos as I had down countless times before.  The next second, I was chewing on sand.  By taking a slight deviation to the right in my path in order to distance myself and my flash from the hoodoos to achieve less light, my right foot dropped into a two-foot deep trench and my entire body fell forward into the higher ground on the opposite side.  Not wanting to ruin the entire group’s photo, I yelled, “I’m OK!  KEEP SHOOTING!!”

(The hilarity of this statement becomes more evident when you consider the entire group had released their shutter for 30 seconds, making any adjustments to their shot impossible.  What were they going to do then?  Change their ISO?!)

With the flash light still moving in my right hand, I used my left hand to pick myself up so that I could continue running across the frame to paint the shadow area with light.  After the exposure completed and many laughs about my tumble, “Keep shooting!” quickly became our trip’s motto.

And what a fitting rally cry this was not only for this trip and all the AHPW Women’s Photography Retreats, but also for life in general.  When something brings you down, hose yourself off, get up, and try again.  When something gets in your way, walk around it.  When something does not go the way you hoped, try something else.  No matter the situation or obstacle, personal growth and success comes when we keep going.  Keep trying.  And always KEEP SHOOTING!


P.S. If you or someone you know would like to join us on the next AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat in Verde Valley/Sedona in April 2014, visit the AHPW website at for more information and to register.  This workshop sells out quickly, so if you’re interested, I’d consider registering as soon as possible to reserve your spot!