National Park Week: How to take photos of stars in the National Parks

Madison Lucas Experience Park Tours, Photography

Happy National Park Week!

This year’s theme, “Park Stars,” is to celebrate the bright elements and souls that make up, represent, and provide for the National Parks. Visitors, protectors, and advocates come together this week to celebrate the light that these stars bring to the National Park Community.
We decided to get the inside scoop from one of our very own shining stars, Ryan (who just so happens to also be our photographer and videographer), on how to take professional photos of the night time sky in the National Parks. Ryan has a bachelor of fine arts in Graphic Design, has been honored for his work at the ACP National Media Convention, and has received the Glen L. Bach Graphic Arts award.

“Being born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, I begun to crave venture and creative outlets from an early age,” says Ryan. “From the jagged ridges of the Cascades, to the still fjords of Norway I’ve searched for new opportunities, experiences, and cultures. Through design and visual art I continue to learn, grow, and live.”

We worked with Ryan to find the best tips for night-time photography under the stars. First things first, lets gear up! Here are a few items that you will need to take photos at night in the National Parks.

  • Low aperture lens
  • Sturdy tripod
  • Tape
  • Remote shutter

The key to finding the perfect location for nighttime photography is to find the perfect light in a flat area.

Ryan recommends seeking out a site with low light pollution and lots of visible sky, “There’s nothing worse than getting to a location and stumbling around trying to set up.”

If you are taking any kind of nighttime landscape photograph,  It is ideal to have a clear sky and minimal moonlight is optimal for capturing stars. On the other hand, moonlight can also create some unique lighting! There are various light pollution maps that can be found by a simple Google search in order to find the best areas. Ryan states, “If you are intending to capture stars, avoid moonlight. If you are intending to capture night landscape scenes, moonlight is your friend.”

Camera Settings
The best setting to use for nighttime photography is  “M” or “manual mode”. This allows the photographer to set shoot long exposures with the help of a sturdy tripod.The aperture should be set as low as the lens will allow. For example, if you have a F/2.8 lens, you should utilize 2.8. Same goes for a F/4 lens. ISO, sensitivity of the image sensor, is also very important during nighttime photography – The higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera sensor will be to light. Ryan recommends keeping the ISO under 6400 and for images with the best clarity.


Prior to photographing stars, be sure to tape the camera’s focus ring to “infinity” and prepare your shot. This keeps the camera’s focus out in the distance so the stars remain sharp. Often times, while shooting at night, it’s difficult to see the camera and make adjustments, so a little bit of preliminary set up can go a long way.

“I recommend using a two-second shutter delay, because occasionally as you click the shutter there is a very small vibration which may or may not create a slightly blurred image,” Ryan says.

Common Mistakes

While talking more with Ryan, we learned that the perfect shot comes from the settings of the camera paired with skill and precision. Nighttime photography is not the easiest type of photography to execute. Many times photographers will bump their focus ring and cause blurry images; this is why taping the focus ring to “infinity” is such a vital step. Another common mistake while shooting at night is setting the ISO too high. When the camera’s ISO is too high, it causes grainy images (or small colored dots polluting your beautiful image). This can be prevented by keeping the ISO lower than 6400, and as low as possible for the location/shot.

Now that we have the inside tips on night-time photography, visiting parks in the evening can be even more fun! Check out our destinations page here, and visit our Facebook page to watch tomorrow’s webinar on founding fathers who continue to brighten the parks with their influence.

Happy National Parks Week!