You can’t be afraid of the dark if you want to shoot night sky photography. The best destinations to capture the constellations are in rural or protected areas away from any light pollution. In short: It’s got to be pitch black to get a good shot. Before setting out, there are two golden rules.

 

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

In astrophotography, timing is as important as location. Certain phenomena are only visible a few months of the year and you’ll need clear, dark skies to capture them. We’ve included a rough guide, but Stellarium will tell you the star field, moon phase, and light conditions anywhere in the world.

IT PAYS TO BE PREPARED

No matter where you go to take your nightscapes, you’ll want to bring a flashlight, tripod, and lightweight wide-angle lens. Large apertures and high ISO help you gather light. For more control, use a camera that has built in Wi-Fi and a paired app so you can control your camera from your smartphone. Apps like OI.Share help you control the shutter so you don’t inadvertently shake the camera during long exposure (causing blur). You can also monitor the camera’s progress live from your smartphone. Check out more of our astrophotography tips here.


Now for the destination. Sites like darksky.org can help you pick a place, but first check out a few of our favorites.

1 NATURAL BRIDGES NATIONAL MONUMENT, UTAH

This special spot was the darkest night sky experts had ever seen when it was named the first International Dark Sky Park in 2007. With no human light visible, it’s the ideal place to observe and photograph the night sky. We’re talking 15,000 stars plus, and the Milky Way.


When to go: Summer

Olumpus User Gallery Contributor, Don Evans | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera

2 ZSELIC STARRY SKY PARK, HUNGARY

You’ll feel humbled in this 22,000-acre astronomy park in southwestern Hungary. It’s especially known for views of the zodiacal light, the hazy pyramid of light made when sunlight reflects off dust grains in the solar system. Visitors have said it’s even milkier than the Milky Way.


When to go: Spring or Fall

3 SONORAN DESERT NATIONAL MONUMENT, ARIZONA

It’s important to have interesting elements in the foreground of your astrophotography. What better contrast to the soft night sky than a prickly cactus? There are several deserts around the world with interstellar views, but Arizona (also known as Astrozona) is home to some of the clearest. The surrounding geology and flora make for dynamic compositions.


Pro tip: To focus on a subject when it’s dark out, use longer exposure (a slower shutter speed) to let in more light. As a slower shutter speed is more prone to blur, it works best if your subject is stationary and your camera is stabilized on a tripod to prevent any movement. Then set your lens to a narrow aperture to get a deeper depth of field so that your subject and starry background are both in focus.


When to go: Spring or Fall

Olympus Visionary Alex McClure | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 12mm F2.0 Lens

5 BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, NORTH CAROLINA

The Blue Ridge mountain range is the best stargazing spot on the east coast, offering breathtaking displays of The Orionids Meteors. If you want to brush up on your astronomy knowledge before you shoot, head to the Blue Sky Observatory and Star Park. It’s managed by Maryland Community College and free to visit.


Pro Tip: For epic star trails like this one, you’ll need a camera with a Live Composite setting. This automatically composites long exposure frames together and adds new sources of light to a base image to show movement (like the swirls in the image above). This will save you tons of time shooting, uploading, and stacking images in post-production.


When to go: Fall

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Tim Bonnette | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO Lens

6 BIG ISLAND, HAWAII

The Big Island is home to the highest point in Hawaii, Mauna Kea volcano. The skies above are so clear, stable, and dark that scientists have placed the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes at its summit. Mauna Kea’s unique latitudinal position means you can see stars from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.


When to go: Anytime

7 GREAT OTWAY NATIONAL PARK, AUSTRALIA

The Southern Hemisphere offers a host of astrophotography wonders we can’t see up north: Aurora Australis, the Southern Cross, and the Southern Star. That means swirls of reds, greens, purples, and blues all in one sky.


When to go: Fall or Winter

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Jarratt Morgan | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 7-14mm F2.8 PRO Lens

8 JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA

Known best for its stark desert landscape, Joshua Tree National Park has a mystic vibe. You’ll get views of Orion, Gemini, and Taurus in winter, and have the highest chance of seeing a meteor shower and the Milky Way in summer. It’s the perfect place to experiment painting with light, using flashlights to draw shapes in the air as you shoot long exposures. Again, use a camera with Live Composite to automatically stitch your long exposure images together and get the light patterns in one image so you don’t have to do it manually.


When to go: Summer or Winter

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Tim Hanko | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 12mm F2.0 Lens

9 BRECON BEACONS NATIONAL PARK, WALES

In southern Wales, sheep outnumber people 30 to 1. Thanks to the low levels of human activity, the sky above Brecon Beacons National Park is especially dark. It has also been recognized as an International Dark Sky Reserve. Visitors almost always get a clear view of Mars and Jupiter and though summer showcases the Milky Way best, the Plough part of Ursa Major shines brightest between January and March. The only tricky bit is getting a clear day as Wales is infamous for its constant rainfall.


When to go: Summer or Winter

10 KEDAH, MALAYSIA

Leave the beaches behind and spend some time in the “rice bowl” (Kedah) of Malaysia, where tourism flounders and dark skies reign. You won’t see many people, but you will get incredibly intimate scenes of the constellations. It’s enough to make anyone starry-eyed.


When to go: Winter or Spring

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Derrick Lim | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera | M.Zuiko 8mm F1.8 Fisheye PRO Lens

11 NAMIBRAND NATURE RESERVE, NAMIBIA

An extremely dry climate and low population has graced the Namib Desert with a thoroughly dark sky. The Milky Way stretches overhead, while Magellanic Clouds offer bursts of light. On especially clear nights, you’ll have 360-degree panorama views of the Tarantula Nebula, which is one of the most productive star factories in our galaxy.


When to go: Anytime

12 JASPER NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

Thanks to its annual Dark Sky Festival, Jasper has become a hot destination for stargazers and night sky photographers. The park received its Dark Sky Preserve designation from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2011 and has held the celebration every October since. You’ll not only have the chance to take great photos, but you’ll also meet like-minded night sky lovers too.


When to go: Fall

Olympus User Gallery Contributor, Valerii Dombrovskyi | Shot with an Olympus OM-D Camera

Now it's time to get starry-eyed.

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