Smokestacks and Iron: Night Photography at Alabama's Sloss Furnaces - August 28, 2019 - Atlas Obscura Trips

Birmingham, Alabama

Smokestacks and Iron: Night Photography at Alabama's Sloss Furnaces

Join us for a deep dive into composition, exposure, and black and white photography as we explore the imposing industrial remains of the historic Sloss Furnaces after dark, camera in hand. As night falls, we’ll use moonlight and light painting to breathe fire back into these hulking machines.

Sloss Furnaces, named for the influential railroad man Colonel James Withers Sloss, was once the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world, operating from 1882 to 1970. Now a National Historic Landmark, this incredible maze of 20th-century metal machinery stands on the eastern edge of the downtown Birmingham, a striking reminder of the city’s industrial past.

This workshop is best for people who are...

  • Avid photographers eager to tackle night photography, and who are comfortable shooting RAW in manual mode with a DSLR or high-end mirrorless camera.
  • Spend hours creating images in the dark, in a heart of a historic industrial site.
  • Excited to explore Birmingham’s civil rights and industrial history.

Led by two expert photo instructors, we’ll weave our way with the help of headlamps through the web of pipes and smokestacks that once fueled the mass production of pig iron at the height of the Industrial Revolution. This five-day, four-night workshop will focus on learning to properly scout and plan, compose and focus in low light, optimize exposure, light-paint, post process, and more. It will end with a public slideshow of our work at the Sloss Furnaces Visitor Center.


National Parks at Night (NPAN) has been leading photo programs for the last four years. Their team of educators has been inspiring passionate students to “Seize the Night” with videos, workshops, speaking engagements, and articles featuring locations all over the world. NPAN aims to visit every National Park in America over the next 10 years—at night, camera in hand.


Tim Cooper
Originally from New Jersey, Tim was an electrician before moving to Montana in 1991 and discovering his love of image-making. Tim's career began with commercial and assignment photography for clients such as The North Face and The Ritz-Carlton. He now teaches and writes on photographic and digital technologies. Tim’s authored 14 books and videos on photographic and digital technologies. His latest, Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, was co-authored with NPAN partner, Gabriel Biderman.

Matt Hill
Matt has been teaching night photography for seven years, has worked in the photo industry for two decades, and has been obsessed with long night-time exposures ever since he was a teen. Over the years, he's worked for Sinar Bron Imaging, Mamiya America Corporation/MAC Group, B&H and, most recently, Gradus Group, where he serves as Director of Marketing. He is also a paper artist, making both 2D and sculptural pieces; he’s currently working on a multi-year project called NIGHT PAPER, a surreal combination of cut paper fashions and night portraiture in urban and rural landscapes.


  • Workshop participants must have at least basic photo skills, know their cameras well, and be comfortable shooting RAW in manual mode with a DSLR or high-end mirrorless camera. Night photography experience is not necessary, but even folks with extensive experience shooting at night will find this class challenging, stimulating, and inspiring. For more advanced night photographers, we can offer a portfolio review, specific challenges and goals, and guidance in the field based on your areas of interest.
  • You will need to bring a DSLR/mirrorless camera, a wide and fast lens, and a tripod.  A full list of recommended gear will be provided once you sign up! 
  • Over the course of our five-day workshop, we aim to increase your comfort and confidence with night photography. Daily lectures on night photography, post-processing, and image review will take up a good portion of our days.  At night, we'll roam within the industrial landscape and help you focus, compose, and paint with light—and push you to take full creative control over your images. Come ready to dive into many hours of education, exploration, feedback, and hands-on experiences.
Jonathan Black
Day 1
Welcome to Birmingham!
  • We recommend that you arrive in Birmingham on Tuesday to give yourself time to check in and relax before our workshop officially kicks off the next morning. Your trip leaders, Tim and Matt, will be meeting for dinner on Tuesday at 7 p.m., and welcome all to join!
  • On Wednesday at 10 a.m., we’ll meet for a proper welcome and introduction, as well as an orientation for the exciting days ahead. Then, we’ll set off to explore some of this historic town.
  • First off, we’ll stop for lunch at Miss Myra’s BBQ, a local favorite that claims to have the best BBQ in the state of Alabama. Afterwards, we’ll take  a tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an interpretive museum and research center located in the city’s Civil Rights District. Time permitting, we’ll also check out Railroad Park in the downtown.
  • Our last stop of the day is Vulcan Park and Museum, perched atop Red Mountain and home to the world’s largest cast iron statue. After a short welcome and introduction from Vulcan staff, we’ll take a self-guided tour. Afterward, we’ll stay and photograph the city skyline as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon.
  • Tonight, relax and take dinner on your own.
Gabriel Biderman
Day 2
Sloss After Dark
  • This morning, we’ll kick things off with a classroom session, where we’ll discuss the specific night applications we’ll be using for Sloss. We’ll also begin exploring the topics of urban night photography, star trails, and crafting compositions.
  • After a break for lunch, we’ll dive into a lecture on light painting to start getting you primed for our three incredible nights of shooting in the historic furnaces.
  • While it’s still light out, we’ll be treated to a private tour of Sloss, followed by a quick dinner at the local brewery across the street.
  • Then, it’s time for our first night of photographic exploration within Sloss.
Chris Nicholson
Day 3
Another Night in the Industrial Jungle
  • After a late and exciting night, feel free to sleep in and relax. We’ll meet around 11 a.m. for our first black and white processing session.
  • Following a lunch break, we’ll reconvene for an afternoon image review.
  • After a break for dinner, it’s back into the industrial jungle—where we’ll continue to practice new tools and techniques. Keep in mind that our night shoots will last from around 7 p.m. to midnight.
Andy Montgomery
Day 4
Big Fish, Big Furnace
  • This morning, we’ll be taking a road trip to Spectre, an abandoned town built for the set of the 2003 film Big Fish. The town is located on Jackson Lake Island, about a 1.5-hour drive from the city.
  • We’ll have lunch in the field as we spend the afternoon photographing the ruins of this quaint and slowly crumbling set. Please watch Big Fish to prepare for this aspect of the trip—it’ll definitely be worth it!
  • In the late afternoon, we’ll return to Birmingham, where you can take dinner on your own before we head into Sloss for our final night of shooting.
Chris Nicholson
Day 5
Post-Processing, Slideshow & Celebration
  • This morning around 11 a.m., we’ll have our final post-processing session, led by Tim and Matt, and lasting through the mid-afternoon.
  • It’ll then be time for our student slideshow, which we’ll put on display at the Sloss Visitor Center. It’ll be a chance for us—and other visitors—to appreciate everyone’s outstanding images, as well as our progress over three full nights of shooting.
  • Join us for a final celebratory dinner before you depart. We’ll raise glasses to our time together in the classroom, behind the lens, and beneath the formidable smokestacks of Sloss Furnaces.
  • Depart for home after dinner, or extend your stay in Birmingham.
  • Until next time!
The Fine Print


  • Teaching and mentorship by two talented photo instructors from National Parks at Night.
  • Daily lectures, image review sessions, photo instruction, and post-processing.
  • Two lunches and two dinners, as well as water and snacks throughout the workshop. If staying at the Tutwiler hotel, breakfast is included.
  • Brand-new headlamps for your nightly photo sessions.
  • A great group of fellow Atlas Obscura fans and photographers, excited to explore all that the night sky has to offer!


We recommend staying at the Tutwiler Hotel in downtown Birmingham, which will serve as the location of our classroom sessions. When making reservations, members of our group will receive a 10 percent discount. Note that breakfast is included in the room cost.


We recommend that you arrive in the afternoon or evening on Tuesday, August 27 to give yourself time to join Tim and Matt for dinner and get settled into your hotel before the workshop begins on Wednesday at 10 a.m. As for the workshop's conclusion, you should plan to depart after dinner on Sunday, September 1. If you'd prefer to depart the next day, you can extend your reservation another night. Note that you'll want your own means of transport for parts of this workshop.


Birmingham in late August is toasty during the day, with a high of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so we’ll take things at a relaxed pace during daytime hours, spending much of that time in the classroom. At night, the temperature drops to 70 degrees, perfect for our industrial outings. Keep in mind that this workshop is fairly active. You should be reasonably fit and feel comfortable walking for long periods of time, especially after dark. We'll sometimes be walking on dirt paths and other uneven ground.


Itineraries are subject to change. We expect to do everything listed in the itinerary, though the order may be rearranged based on weather and other local conditions.


A $500 deposit is required to secure your spot. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. We have a limited capacity, and we expect the trip to fill quickly. The trip will cost $1,720 ($500 deposit plus $1,220 final payment). The final payment will be due by July 15, 2019. Accommodation is not included, but our travelers will receive a 10% group discount at Birmingham’s Tutwiler Hotel.


  • Transport to, from, and around Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Accommodation (participants receive a 10% group discount at the Tutwiler Hotel).
  • Breakfasts, three lunches, and three dinners.
  • Photography equipment and gear. (We'll send a list of what you'll need once you sign up!)
  • Travel insurance (recommended).

Other Trips You Might Like