Capturing the Milky Way: Tips for Astrophotography
Need tips on how to take pictures of stars? Utah is the perfect location to put tips from an award-winning photographer into action.
Tips on how to take pictures of stars:
- Preparation is key: For professional and amateur photographers like Prajit Ravindran, preparation for a night time photography session begins with an understanding of the earth’s revolution, the moon cycles (see tips for when to go stargazing) and a constellation map in hand. And don't forget the outdoor basics — remember to pack some warm clothes, tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return and to check the weather forecast.
- Scout your location: The hours leading up to sunset consist of scoping out unique formations, imagining the moon’s rising path and preparing a basecamp. As the sun descends, the discovery continues. New locations and angles reveal themselves as the evening sky begins its transformative traverse across the landscape.
- Know your camera settings: Any DSLR will work for shooting night sky photography. You’ll want to shoot with a long shutter speed and a wide aperture, and a tripod is essential for holding a still shot.
- Be ready for the darkness: Another component, perhaps the most important, is darkness. Not just any type of night sky darkness, but the blackest-of-black kind you only find far away from the world’s oft-consuming light pollution in one of Utah's certified dark sky parks. To preserve your night vision, use a red headlamp and turn your camera’s LCD display brightness down.
- Know the rules: Land management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, tribal lands, as well as state and local agencies all have different rules and regulations. Be sure to review the restrictions of any dark sky area you plan to photograph. In some parks, using artificial light sources to light up landscapes, rock formations, or other park features is prohibited. Even small amounts of stray light can affect wildlife or other visitors in the area.
"The night skies over here are some of the best I’ve seen."
With a growing number of certified International Dark Sky Parks across the state — currently the most of anywhere in the world — Ravindran identified Utah as the ideal place to test the creative passion for astrophotography he discovered seven years ago.
“The night skies over here are some of the best I’ve seen,” he says (Read: Utah After Dark).
On a recent trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park, he described the park as an ideal location, crowdless and full of “unique shots nobody has seen before.”
Now a resident of Utah, Ravindran often travels around Utah — from Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and the Spiral Jetty — to share an intimate creative experience with close friends, or to enjoy an evening of solitude with only the transportive experience of photographing a star-filled sky to keep him company.
For Ravindran, part of the excitement is putting his own spin on night photography. A camera set to a long, slow exposure is essential for capturing the Milky Way in all its detail, but a burst of inspiration might cause him to pull out a bright flash, the immediacy of which reminds him that, for a quick moment, he is capturing a spectacle that is as old as time itself.
Contemplating the celestial sphere gives Ravindran a cherished escape from the world’s pressures and “the daily stress of life.” Under the night skies, time passes as slowly as the shutter click on a drawn out exposure. Night photography challenges you to slow down, to unwind (unless you’re winding up an old case of Kodachrome film) and, most importantly, to look up.
Red Rock & Dark Skies: Stargazing the National Parks
This road trip through southwest Utah takes you to four of Utah’s best places to see the Milky Way — Capitol Reef National Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar Breaks National Monument.
- Hell's Backbone Grill
- Bryce Canyon Lodge
- Ranger-led Star Programs
- Road Trip Southwest Utah
Hoodoos and Stars
Hoodoos and Stars takes advantage of the proximity of Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef national parks to slow down and also experience some of the must-see southwestern Utah landscapes and experiences along the way.
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- All-American Road Scenic Byway 12
- Capitol Reef Country
- Kodachrome Basin
Stars by the City
Fill your days with adventure and your nights with stargazing by following this six-day itinerary from Salt Lake City through the International Dark Sky Places in Northern Utah.
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument
- East Canyon State Park
- Jordanelle State Park
- Rockport State Park
- Antelope Island State Park
- North Fork Park
A Party of Astronomic Proportions
Every Saturday from May through Labor Day weekend, weather dependent, crowds ranging from 100 to 500 people gather at Cedar Break’s main overlook, Point Supreme, to gaze up at the region’s amazing dark skies and explore the stars and the planets that make up the solar system.
Dark Skies in Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is a designated International Dark Sky Park. Make plans to come see the most magnificent night sky ever!
Discover Dinosaur Astronomy
Dinosaur National Monument's celebrated dark skies can offer some of the most inspirational looks into our universe given the monument's unique context: see the stars on an unblemished canvas like our human — or dinosaur — predecessors did.
How to Stargaze in Utah
Tips on what to pack and when and where to go stargazing in Utah.
Looking Up: Dark Skies of Heber Valley
A trio of state parks in Heber Valley offer stellar views of the Utah night sky. Come stargaze here.
Ogden's Star is Rising: Downtown to Dark Skies
Ogden is a hub for world-class skiing, hiking, biking, camping and fun water sports that, in turn, has brought chefs, artists, craftsmen and entrepreneurs to feed the body as well as spirit.
Reclaiming the Stars
Utah’s public lands are beautiful and dramatic during the day, but they might well become famous for how awe-inspiring they are during the night.
Seeking Starry Skies Near Salt Lake City
You don’t have to go far from the city to find dark skies filled with stars in Utah. Find out where you can see the Milky Way near the city or gaze into space from an observatory in Northern Utah.
State Park Stargazing: Interacting With the Galaxy in Real Time
Northern Utah's Camp Floyd State Park offers more than history to those who stick around after dark. With intense dark skies blanketing the atmosphere, stargazers of all ages gather to interact with the galaxy above.
The World's First Dark Sky Park
On March 6, 2007, Natural Bridges National Monument became the first International Dark Sky Park certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. More than 100,000 people visit Natural Bridges each year to check out the stunning bridges and hike in cool canyons, but only a handful of them stay through the night to see the area’s most amazing and unique feature: dark skies and glistening, bright stars.
Utah After Dark
When the sun goes down in Utah, a celestial show is about to begin.
Where to Find the Darkest Skies in Central Utah
A tapestry of thousands of stars awaits visitors to Helper and Price where conditions are some of the best for exploring the night sky.