Night Sky Photography

_N5A0876The great thing about photography is that there is no end to subject materials or techniques by which to capture them.  For regular visitors to my website, you are used to seeing birds, mammals,  landscapes and other earthbound natural wonders.  This summer I have been pursuing photography of the sky at night.  There is nothing quite like the wonder and beauty of millions upon millions of pinpoints of light sparkling in the heavens.  As far back as I can remember,  like many young people, I been fascinated by all things astronomy so it makes perfect sense that I explore the night sky photographic opportunities.

Firstly, there are natural obstacles that have to been overcome before acquiring decent night sky images.  It has to be dark.  If you live in a suburban area, you may have to drive quite a way to get away from light pollution.  There are several references on the Internet that map out global light pollution and here is a link to one.  This particular map overlays the light pollution data over Bing Maps so you can see how far you have to go.  The next requirement is that the viewing has to be during the time of the month when there is no moonlight.  The ideal time is when there is a new moon and the few days before and after.  Lastly, you need a clear sky devoid of clouds.  My favourite website which is handy for planning dark sky activities in North America is

Assuming we have the ideal outdoor circumstances to begin taking pictures, we have one more significant hurdle, the lack of light!  Thankfully, recent advancements in digital camera technology and post-processing has allowed almost anyone to explore low light photography.  This type of photography is a balance of allowing in the maximum amount of light while minimizing the amount of digital noise or graininess.  Allowing the right amount of light involves the adjustment of the 3 main exposure settings of the camera – the aperture, shutter speed and ISO.  As you experiment with different settings, a wide open aperture such as f2.8 – f4.0 is desired and most likely not be changed which leaves us with the shutter speed and ISO.  The longer the shutter speed, the more light is gathered by the camera sensor and theoretically we could set a shutter speed lasting minutes but there is a caveat in night sky photography.  The earth is rotating and long exposures will turn the pinpoints of the stars into star trails.  If you want to keep the pinpoints of the stars, there is an easy calculation to determine how long you can keep the shutter open and it is known as the ‘500 rule’.  You simply take the focal length of the lens you will be using and divide it into 500.

The final adjustment is where the recent advancements in technology really comes to light (pun intended!).  The sensors on newer digital cameras are getting better and better at reducing the amount of electronic noise or graininess in an image so we can now dial in higher and higher ISO’s and this is what has really opened the door to night sky photography to everyone with one of the newer generation of camera bodies.

With all the theory behind us, all that is left is the accessories to complete the camera setup a sturdy tripod and a remote shutter release if you use the ‘bulb’ mode.

** In all my previous posts, I have used a variety of techniques to show my images which have somewhat accomplished my goal of presenting my images for you.  However, in this post, I am experimenting with a different format whereby you click on the image and you be able to view a much larger image which better suits images of the night sky.  Just click on the thumbnail to view the larger size and close by clicking the X in the bottom right corner.

Other than the moon and a variety of popular constellations, the Milky Way is one of the visible objects in the dark night sky.  The Milky Way is a large spiral galaxy which contains our solar system and gets its name from the dim glowing band of stars which arch across the night sky.   The galactic center is in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.  Even though the Milky Way always present, it is best seen during the summer months.

The following 2 images are my first attempts at shooting the Milky Way while we were camping in Tobermory.  These images are taken from a small beach with little foreground which creates its own unique effect.

Milky Way over Land’s End Campground, Tobermory

Milky Way over Land’s End Campground, Tobermory #2

Within the 156 square kilometers of the Bruce Peninsula National Park is Dorcas Bay which situated on the Lake Huron side of the peninsula.  It is a large wide-open beach area with plenty of foreground.  The lights at the bottom of the images are from cottages and campers.

Milky Way – Singing Sands Bruce Peninsula National Park

Milky Way 2 – Singing Sands Bruce Peninsula National Park

My next opportunity to photography the night sky has been twice in the last few days during the latest new moon phase.  We are very fortunate to live close to the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve and it is a favourite location for the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and is described in the following link.  I was there first with my good friend Scott Martin who has some of his favourite images already posted in his naturescapes folder.

Scott silhouette

Torrance Barrens #1

One of the biggest surprises was the appearance of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).  Even though we didn’t get the dancing light show, it was still an awesome sight.  You can see the Big Dipper in the upper left side.

Northern Lights

My latest visit to the Torrance Barrens was this past Friday night with another good friend and fellow photographer, Keith.  For this visit, I rented a fisheye lens from Canada Lens Rentals which I hoped would give me more of the Milky Way in the image.  Using a fisheye takes plenty of practice and having one in my bag wouldn’t be a bad thing 😉

The yellow glow you see in these images is the light pollution from Orillia and Barrie, 40 minutes to the south of this location.

Milky Way – 1 Torrance Barrens

Milky Way – 2 Torrance Barrens

Milky Way – 3 Torrance Barrens

The large orange light in the right side of the above images is from a campfire.

Milky Way – 4 Torrance Barrens

Milky Way overhead where the fisheye really shows it’s stuff

Milky Way – 5 Torrance Barrens

Milky Way – 6 Torrance Barrens

And my final image was taken while Keith and I were waiting for the darkness to arrive and the moon to set.


I hope you enjoyed this post on Night Photography and I encourage you to try it one day.  Even if you are not a photographer, it is still quite something just to be out and enjoy the sights of the night sky.

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  1. Scott Martin October 1, 2014 at 12:32 am #

    Thanks for another superb blog post Arni and it was a pleasure to join you at Torrance Barren. Its amazing how much fun it is to be out photographing in the dark and how awe struck one becomes when stargazing into the heavens. I can’t wait to get out again!

    • Arni October 1, 2014 at 9:27 am #

      It was a lot of fun for sure and the heavens are inspiring. This is one of those places where you can’t stop taking pictures, ‘just one more’ and time flies by.

  2. Mary McIntyre October 2, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    It’s clear you are mastering this technique. I need the reminder of the process, too. I wonder if you and your pals stumbled around in the dark as clumsily as we did at Otter Lake.

    • Arni October 4, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

      Thanks Mary! It is certainly lots of fun and the results are very satisfying. We scouted the area ahead of time before nightfall so we only had to be careful on our way back. I like arriving before dark so I can pre-focus my lens too.

One Trackback

  1. […] The following images were taken at the Torrance Barren Dark Sky Preserve in Muskoka Lakes Township about two hours north of Toronto by car. I met there with my good friend Arni, of ArniWorks Photography,  for a few hours of night sky photography and it was a beautiful night with above zero temperatures and perfect stars. As an unexpected surprise we were also treated a beautiful display of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. You can see Arni’s blog post from the evening by following this link. […]