Making the shot – Conway Ranch and Milky Way

As part of my “Expanding Your Creativity – Mono Lake” workshop, I take clients for a night photography session at Conway Ranch. The ranch was owned by early settlers of the region and is now protected by a conservation easement and management plan from Mono County, Eastern Sierra Land Trust, Caltrans, California Department of Parks and Recreation, and the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

The first time I came to this location to photograph was in the fall a few years ago during the day. I thought it would really cool at night with the stars behind.  When I checked the app, Photo Pills, I saw that I could stand on the west side and look east, or stand on the east side of the house and look west. The east side of the house is featureless, just a solid wall, so I knew I wanted to photograph from the west looking east.

Knowing the Milky Way was visible as soon as it got dark in the fall, made me realize I could there right around sunset and not have to wait too long to make images. The first year I tried light painting the building with my flashlight and with a Luci Lantern. If you are not familiar with Luci Lanterns, they are inflatable, solar lanterns. (

IMG_7853.JPG“Candle” model on left, “Outdoor” model on right


These lanterns fold flat and are solar charged, and light for hours. I have about a dozen of them and use them for photography, emergency lighting, camping, outdoor lighting and more.

As I mentioned I first tried light painting with my flashlight, but that image looked too harsh to my liking.

_DWA9624.jpgPainted with flashlight


Next, I tried painting with the Luci "Outdoor" lantern to give a softer light.  I like those results better.

_DWA9755-2.jpgPainted with Luci “Outdoor” lantern


Just a few weeks before I was leaving to teach the workshop the following year, Mpowerd came out with “Candle” model of the lanterns and I bought two of them.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them at the time of arrival but a few days before I left for Mono Lake, I had the idea of lighting the interior of the ranch building with the new lanterns.

For my first attempt I placed the 2 “Candle” lanterns inside the building and then lit the exterior with the an “Outdoor” lantern.  Here is what I got.

_TEL9590.jpg2 “Candle” lanterns inside, exterior painted with “Outdoor” lantern


I liked the image, but I really wanted the exterior to show more and to painted with the same warm glow. I did have my flashlight with me, so I placed a warming gel over the light and tried to paint the exterior.  Here was my best result.

_TEL9592.jpg2 “Candle” lanterns inside, exterior painted with gel covered flashlight


It was too difficult to paint with the flashlight evenly and in spite of the warming gel, the building still was warm enough for my taste.  I started thinking and I remembered that when I used to work in a commercial photo studio, we would use reflectors to bounce light onto the subject we wanted to light evenly.  I didn’t have any reflectors with me, but I did have my car, which fortunately is gold colored.  I repositioned my car at the correct angle and I took the flashlight and shined it onto my car, reflecting the gold colored light back onto the building and it worked great!  Here is my final result.

_TEL9593.jpg2 “Candle” lanterns inside, exterior painted with reflected light off my car


It was a fun experiment and a great exercise is problem solving. Since then I have ordered 3 more “Candle” lanterns and I look forward to more opportunities to use them.


Check out upcoming workshops on here on my website.


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