2021 – The Light At The End Of The……………….Year


…………………     .         (ignore April 30, 2017 publish date – this was published on December 30, 2021)




Light – where would we be without it? For one thing, I’d be out of a job and since there would have been no reason for eyes to evolve, we’d all be eyeless mole people living in the ground.

No thanks.

Seeing things is great, but photographing things as they’re never seen in nature is a lot more fun (“Whut the hell IS that thang?”) and creatively inspiring.

And you can do it with practically nothing. In the above picture, I’m sitting in my car in 1975 on a dark street in Bergenfield, NJ, waiting for someone to wrap up a visit to someone else. There’s NOTHING to see except darkness………….and a street light.

Here’s the story from my site:

What could this possibly be? Simplicity from boredom is a good guess, so here’s the story:

One night, someone asked me to drive him to someone else’s apartment where he would ‘only be a minute’. I didn’t like his friend, so I waited in the car. ‘A minute’ became 15, then 30. I had my camera with me, but could see nothing to shoot but a streetlight, so I put the star filter on the lens and took the top ‘+’. I then forwarded to the next shot without advancing the film, so I could double-expose the same frame of film.

I then guessed where that first ‘+’ was in the viewfinder and lined up the second ‘+’ where I thought the 2 vertical components would meet and took the second exposure. Of course, I would have no way of knowing if I was successful or not until it was developed, so – hey, why not go for 3?

I then gave the star filter 1/8 of a turn to make the ‘+’ an ‘x’, forwarded without advancing the film again, and lined it up where I thought the second ‘+’ would bisect the new ‘x’, fired away, and wound up with a lucky triple-exposure of guesswork from a simple street light.

Don’t believe it? You can see the same telephone wire to the right of the light in each exposure.


You have to be REALLY bored to come up with something like that, but I like the result, so I kept experimenting……………and not always with success.

I started taking pictures while I was driving at night in places where there were lights, like the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel and midtown Manhattan:

Ehh – not so hot………..motion worked against me.


So I decided to try “waste shots” at the end of film rolls, using longer exposures to let motion work to my advantage – hopefully.

Here’s Waste Shot #1 and my site’s story:

Lexington Ave., Clifton, NJ 1980

Why is this cool-looking shot a ‘waste’?

I had just finished shooting a show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic. After a show, I usually went to the Kodak plant in Fair Lawn, NJ to drop off my film in the night box before I went home.

If there are still a couple of shots left on a roll in my camera after the show, I hate to not use them, so I ‘waste’ them by taking strange open-shutter shots as I’m driving to Kodak.

In this one, I was stopped at a red light, holding the camera on the dashboard. Just before the light turned green, I opened the shutter.

The red lights are the brake lights of the car in front of me. The white lights are the headlights of the car in the opposite lane. When the light turned green, he took off and you can see his headlights driving by me.

In the greenish lights on the left, the vertical word ‘DINER’ can be made out. This is the Lexington Diner.

This shot is my favorite waste of time.


Kinda cool………….let’s try something different:

Route 4 West, Paramus, NJ 198? (Kodak date stamp too faint)

(My second-favorite waste of time). This one had a bit more danger involved. Instead of holding the camera on the dashboard while the shutter was open, I held it out the window, aiming at the store and highway lights on the eastbound side and turning my arm in the semi-circular pattern seen in the photo, while driving in the fast lane (at the posted 50mph limit, of course).

The wind almost tore both the camera out of my hand and my arm off. I also stood to lose all the good shots (most of what was in the camera) from whatever show I just shot.

What a waste that would have been and what a waste this is.


Here are a couple of old stills. Back to a street light……….this is an old one I saw in Hawthorne, NJ that’s nicely iced:


Also in Hawthorne, I shot an ex in 1980 playing with a sparkler while jumping in the air:


I think I shot these lights at the Meadowlands Race Track:


Not far away from there on Rt 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, was a bowling establishment called Eclipse Lanes. In 1982, I took a longish, hand-held exposure of their “Eclipse” sign (with bowling pin) and – because trying to hold it steady for the entire exposure would probably result in a shaky picture – I instead immediately moved the camera downward, so the lights would streak upward on film, which looks more interesting than a shaky, unsharp picture (at least I hope it does):


In 1998, I shot the moon seemingly about to drop out of a hole in the sky, while it reflects on the Atlantic Ocean at Emerald Isle, North Carolina:


One thing I really enjoy shooting are images where the lights of moving vehicles “paint” on the film during long exposures (and mostly shot from my living room).

Fire engines – with all their lights – are great for that. In this 2007 shot, a fire engine was parked in the lot below my window (bottom of pic) and then suddenly exited (see the “bumpiness” in the lights as it hits the street), going the wrong way up a one-way street (a quicker way back to the firehouse). This was published in (local paper) The Record:


Same street, but going in the correct direction:


I’m standing across the street from my building as another fire engine whizzes past the church next door:


Since cars are more plentiful than fire engines, I get plenty of practice with them -ESPECIALLY on Christmas Eve (?) Figure it out: I have churches that hold 8pm Christmas Eve services on either side of me and a big municipal lot below me right between both churches.

In this shot, cars that find no open spaces in the church lot to my left, cross the street to park in the municipal lot:


In these two shots – taken on different Christmas Eves – the caption on the first one tells you what the photographic attraction is when they go around corners in the lot:


But the absolute king of all these Christmas Eve parking lot shots is one I took the very first December 24 that I tried doing this. Mind you – this first one is a 2017 makeover of the original, which is right below the story (too bad I didn’t have PhotoShop in 1992):


This is one of my favorite pictures. My living room picture window faces a big municipal parking lot behind my building. Is there anything more boring than a picture of a parking lot? Yes! – taking that picture at night.

I have a Christmas Eve ritual unlike anyone else’s. On either side of my building is a church and both of them hold Christmas Eve services that begin at 8pm. Between 7:30 and 8, lots of cars pull into the central lot to park on the half that’s closest to their church.

Meanwhile, I’m 7 floors above them with my camera on a shortened tripod that’s perched on the window’s wide shelf. The camera’s shutter speed is maxed out at 30 seconds.

Did you ever see pictures of highways taken at night and all you see are solid streaks of red taillights or white headlights? Those are time exposures in which moving lights basically “paint” on the film while the shutter is open. That’s exactly what I’m doing here.

However, unlike a highway with a steady stream of cars and their lights, this is a lot more difficult because these cars are entering the lot sporadically and I have no idea where they’re going to park. When one car pulls in, I have to hit the shutter as soon as it does, because I’m hoping that it goes the length of the lot and turns one way or the other to park one lane closer to their church within those 30 seconds. That means that I’ll have a good shot in which white headlights turn into red taillights.

If the car parks right away in the central lane, I’ll have a short, boring, white light path.

This guesswork goes on fairly intensively for a half-hour and if I shot a full roll of 36, I’d be lucky to have 3 really good ones.

1992 was the first year I tried it and, although I’ve continued every year since, this shot from that initial year is by far the best I’ve ever gotten: two cars pulled in almost back-to-front, traversed the entire central lane and pulled into spaces in the opposite outer lanes (gotta love the semi-symmetry) – all within the 30 seconds and both providing nearly-perfect white-to red-transition (with some yellow sidelights connectivity).

It has been suggested that the car being driven on the side street maybe belonged to an atheist, but it’s clearly pulling into the parking lot. And what looks like a scratch in the upper left is actually light from the path of a plane that had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport in NYC.

And lest you think that I selectively hand-colored a black-and-white image to set off the car lights and the Peruvian restaurant in the background, take a look at the below pic. That’s the original 1992 slide. It took me a LOT of hours to remove all the other color, but I finished it in January, 2017, so it’s my 21st century makeover of my 20th century photo.

BTW – if you look closely, you can see some light glare in the original that reminds me that I never even opened the window to shoot that night. And if you’re wondering why the red taillights on the car on the right fade and then get brighter, the driver hit his brakes to park. It’s a little less obvious in the car on the left.

And if you look REALLY closely, you might find midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building along the horizon that was curved by the fisheye lens.


Just one more moving car lights pic and long, boring story – this one from 2007:


This was probably the most experimental, time-consuming and slightly dangerous moving-lights shot I came up with during my short burst of semi-creativity (and will take the longest for me to cram in all the detail here – most of which will only be relevant to those familiar with the location), so here goes:

I was driving eastbound on Route 4 in Paramus, NJ, during daylight hours and right after I went under the Garden State Parkway overpass, I noticed a giant Ferris wheel to my right in the parking lot of the Garden State Plaza mall – a carnival was being set up.

I thought that it might be an interesting shot if I took it at night from the higher Garden State Parkway: it would include the carnival and Ferris wheel lights and all the moving car lights in both directions on Route 4.

So I picked a night, parked some distance from the Parkway, and lugged my equipment up the hill to the roadway, which turned out to be partially blocking my view of the scene I wanted. There was no other way up the hill on the other side of the roadway, so I climbed back down and trekked up Route 4’s westbound lane until I was directly across the highway from the carnival.

There was no room to back up………….only just enough room to set up the tripod and steady it against the guardrail, which you can see in the bottom right. You can also see how close the speeding cars were.

The curvature of their lights is due to the fisheye lens, which I needed to get everything else into the frame, including the highway signs (note Garden State Parkway logo in upper right), the Parkway overpass, the white headlights of cars coming down a Parkway exit ramp to head east, and, of course, the carnival.

The higher red vehicle lights are probably from a truck or bus.

I was VERY happy with the outcome – especially given the semi-dangerous (and LOUD) situation, but it wasn’t terribly unlike shooting an outrageous heavy metal concert.


On a somewhat similar note, these two moving light shots are train-related, but don’t show any trains. You’ll have to read another long, boring story that I think is worth it (of COURSE you do, Bob):

(from 2007) After my comparative photo malaise of the previous few years, I woke up and revived/refined my love of capturing moving night lights – something I attribute to shooting fast-moving/changing concert lighting for a couple of decades.

The trigger? Washing the dishes in my kitchen sink one night. (what?)

There’s a commuter railroad line that’s about 3 blocks away from home that I can see from the window above the sink. This night, I looked up when I heard a train’s horn in the distance and saw the blinking lights of the two gates as they lowered to block traffic. This had to have happened in the spring before all the tree foliage came in – otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to see them.

As you know, the gates straddle the road and start in an upright 12 o’clock position. The left one goes from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock as the right one goes from 12 to 9. The light on the tip of each gate does not blink, while the other two do.

All of a sudden, I immediately pictured in my head exactly what those quarter arcs would look like on film in a time exposure. I had to try this out, but it would take a little research.

The street I selected was a commercial street (more lights!) that was a block away from the one I saw from my kitchen. It’s also where the train stops at a station. I looked up the train schedule for the time that would have the most trains in the shortest period, so I wouldn’t have long waits between them.

I was trying to figure out when I would start the exposure before the gates started coming down. That was practically impossible, but then I realized that I could accomplish the same effect by starting the exposure on the other end – when the gates were opening after the train left.

This was a lot easier to do because the rear of the stopped train was visible and I just needed to count the seconds between when the train started to move and when the gates started opening. Since the camera would be on a tripod, I had to add a couple of seconds to account for the camera’s timer that I need to use in low light and maybe add a couple more seconds just to be sure.

All of this added up to about 15 seconds. Since I was using a 30-second exposure, that would allow the now-moving cars’ lights to paint on the film and add to the moving gates’ lights paint job. That wouldn’t have happened with closing gates.

OK – I’m now ready to try all this out live…………and here comes a train.

As soon as the gates went down, I ran out into the street and set up the already-camera’d tripod on the center stripe of the road, frantically framed the scene to include where the gates’ lights would be going, set the timer and rested my finger on the shutter button.

I noticed that the drivers in the stopped cars that were nearest to me were looking at me like I was nuts. Maybe, but we’ll know for sure when the film gets developed.

The train starts to leave the station, I start to count seconds and hit the shutter, which opens two seconds later. The gates are still down – good. Then they rise and cars start whizzing by me on both sides…………IT FEELS LIKE IT’S GONNA WORK!

And it did – perfectly. The only flaw was that one of the blinking lights on the left gate wasn’t working. You can see the tracks and a bit of bumpiness in the cars’ lightpaths as they cross the tracks.

This is exactly the picture that popped into my head while I was in the kitchen washing dishes. It’s also a scene you’ve encountered a million times in your life, but have never seen this happening this way right in front of you. THAT’S what I love about these shots.

Oooo…………I wanna do more.


Actually, I got something similar 4 years later from my roof. Mercifully, the story is quite short.

This is the scene I saw in my mind from my kitchen sink in my 2007 post about waking up photographically. This is similar to the image I created back then:


For this final grouping – moving carnival rides’ lights – I’ll ditch whatever stories may be associated with these pix and just say that if you want to capture some REALLY cool shots, just go to a carnival with lots of rides……….at night. Bring a tripod and do long exposures:



Last-minute addition (thanks to a light bulb going off over my head just before I posted this):

Way back in 1977, I took this picture of the lighthouse in New Haven, CT. Although its light appears to be very bright at dusk, it’s actually not on!

It’s the sun and I shot it in late afternoon, stopping the camera down to make the light fit in its “container”.

As I wrote elsewhere: “Maybe I’m now starting to be creative instead of just observant.”

By the way, I asked the New Haven Preservation Trust when was the last time this lighthouse’s beam shone: “1877” was the reply, meaning that exactly 100 years later, I may have been the only person to have shot it “lit” once again!


And on THAT self-congratulatory note, it’s time to sign out (I’m feeling a little light-headed), but I’ll do it with – what else? – light:


(It’s a tiny flashlight with a red plastic cap, camera on tripod, timer on, write your sig at the camera – in the dark, of course – and flip the result.)



This just in………..VERY LATE ADDITION!

The below first comment of a remembrance means I forgot an important moving-lights shot that was entirely my own creation  – sorry, E!

The story:

These are my LONG-time friends, Frank and Elaine O’Toole. I was trying out a new long-exposure-painting-on-film lighting effect I came up with that involved someone dressed completely in flat black – including ski mask – who was standing behind them and moving a handful of Christmas tree lights in a circular motion. Pretty technical, huh?

I had an upcoming rooftop session scheduled with Dee Snider’s Widowmaker band and this was the test run………and this came out MUCH better. I love this shot!

(see subsequent second comment)



And lastly:


                                        HAPPY NEW YEAR!



And thanks for another year of putting up with whatever spills out of my head.


(Can somebody please clean up this messy brain-splat?)







  1. E December 30, 2021

    Remembering the night on the roof with the Christmas lights!
    Happy New Year Bob.

  2. E December 30, 2021

    LOL, I was so afraid to move a muscle! Good shot of Frank! Good times too. Thanks. Happy New Year. 🥳

  3. Annemarie December 30, 2021

    Both creative and observant!! That is a really great picture of Frank and Elaine! Happy, healthy New Year Bob!

  4. John OToole December 31, 2021

    Great pics, especially Frank & Elaine! All the best for the new year!

  5. Hay Vanessa Briscoe January 5, 2022

    Happy New Year!
    These are so cool!
    Thanks for sharing!

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