Tag Archives: milky way

“Half The Park Is After Dark”

A starry sky and mirror-smooth Reflection Lake in Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
A busy night at the Sunrise Area of Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
Comet NEOWISE over Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
Taking the road to the stars in Big Bend National Park (Texas)
A starry sky over the Watchman and Virgin River, Zion National Park (Utah)

“Half the Park is After Dark,” as the saying goes. This week is International Dark Skies Week, so here are a few images of some dark skies over Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, and Big Bend national parks. To read more about this week, click on any of the images above.

I don’t do much night photography, but that’s mainly because it’s hard for me to stay up past my bedtime. I’m not a “night owl” and never was. I’m an “early bird” and have no problem getting up at 3 a.m. to get to a spot for sunrise shots. I really do need to get more night shots of the parks I visit, and I’ll try to make that a mission. Another part of the problem, besides light pollution and staying up late, is that clear skies and moonless nights are the best circumstances in which to view and photograph the stars and Milky Way. Sometimes, I remember to time my trips during the week of a new moon, but oftentimes, I simply forget.

Night shots are a good way to work on your photography skills. To get a decent star image, though, you need to set your camera to Manual (not Auto or Program), put it on a tripod, increase the ISO to greater than 640, and experiment with different slow shutter speeds, anywhere from 10 seconds to greater. It’s also helpful to use a corded or wireless remote shutter release, or utilize the 2-second timer on your camera. That reduces blur from camera shake when your finder touches the shutter button.

It takes a little expertise with the editing software to really bring out that Milky Way and landscape. Some photographers blend anywhere from two to more images to get enough light on the landscape while keeping the dark sky dark. If they are honest, they will say what they did. But most photographers keep quiet. That’s why you will be amazed at seeing something like the night sky over the Watchman and Virgin River at Zion Park, where the landscape is beautifully lit. when in reality – as you can see from the image above, captured around 2 a.m. on a cold, clear February night – it is a a bit darker. Nonetheless, it doesn’t detract from the beauty of the shot.

Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.

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Filed under Big Bend National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, National Parks, Night Photography, Photography, Zion National Park

Starry Skies Over Big Bend National Park, Texas

Los Portales Morning

Los Portales Morning, Gage Hotel, Marathon Texas

My first vacation of the year was the last week of  April 2014.  I drove 13 hours from my home in southeast Texas all the way over to southwest Texas to Big Bend National Park…in one day.  I wasn’t able to get a room in the Chisos Mountains Lodge for Saturday the 26th, so I instead stayed in the beautiful Gage Hotel in Marathon, about 60-some miles north of the park.

One of the main reasons I timed my trip for late April was because of the new moon.  When I visited Big Bend back in December 2013, there was a gibbous moon, the light of which blocked out the wonderful stars and purple-white line of the Milky Way.  For this trip, though, the stars out-performed themselves.

Casa Grande Morning

Starry skies over Casa Grande

Chihuahuan Desert Starry Sky

Stars and the Milky Way over the Chihuahuan Desert

Starry Morning on Basin Road

Stars and the Milky Way along Basin Road, toward the Chisos Mountains

I used three different cameras for these shots:  my Canon 5D Mk III, Canon 1DX, and a rented Nikon D800.  For the Canons, I used two lenses:  24-70 and 16-35; for the Nikon I used a rented 24-70.  The ISO was 3200, f-stop was 3.2 and I varied the shutter speed between 20-30 seconds.  I had to use manual focus because of the lack of light for autofocus.  The images were all taken between 2-3AM.

The park’s most recent newsletter talks a lot about the starry skies in Big Bend, as well as the problem with light pollution elsewhere (which is why parks like Big Bend are so important).  Many nocturnal creatures guide their lives by the stars and even by the straight line of the Milky Way, believe it or not.

If you ever have a chance to visit this amazing, out-of-the-way park, try to go during a new moon so you, too, can see the starry expanse of the night sky.

Los Portales Morning2

The Milky Way over the Los Portales rooms of the Gage Hotel, Marathon, TX

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Filed under Big Bend, National Parks, Night Photography, Photography