Planning a road trip to Skagit Valley and the North Cascades National Park? How about a Night Sky Photo Tour in August with Andy Porter?! The Perseid Meteor Shower is coming in August and this year it coincides with the New Moon. This is great news for anyone interested in Astrophotography as you will no only be able to capture images of the Milky Way, but you’ll have a great chance to get images that also include shooting stars!
Capturing stunning images of the Milky Way is surprisingly easy. All you need is a decent DSLR, a wide angle lens and few more simple tools and you’re good to go. The only real difficulty is getting the convergence of a night with no moon AND no clouds!
A simple web search of moon cycle will bring up the years calendar of the moon and its phases. Of course a ‘full moon’ we all know. A ‘new moon’ is when there is no moon at all in the night sky. To capture good Milky Way shots you need to wait for a night plus or minus two days from the new moon date. Then you pray for clear skies!
The further away you are from the light of cities, towns and roads the better. Higher elevations also tend to make for less atmospheric barriers. Here in the North Cascades there are several Drive-in locations where you just park, amble a short distance and get some great shots. The main ones Andy uses are:
These last two spots are at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet and have the wonderful benefit of including towering peaks in your images! Their high elevation also limits availability: The North Cascades Highway is closed in winter and usually opens in May each year. The road to Artist Point is also snow-bound in winter/early spring and opens, depending upon snow pack, in June or July.
There are many fantastic locations for capturing Milky Way Images that require a hike and overnight stay. Far from the road and any lights the sky is bright and crisp. One such location is at the Park Butte Lookout, on the southern slopes of Mount Baker. The old fire lookout is open to the public and you can spend the night there. The lookout creates a fantastic foreground for Mount Baker and the Milky Way.
There are several North Cascades camping spots that offer wonderful scenery for Night Sky Shoots: Heather Pass; Lake Ann, Sauk Mountain.
This trip involves meeting early the day of the night shoot, driving to the trail head, hiking in to the camp spot, capturing sunset images, having dinner and awaiting the stars. The next morning you will have coffee/tea, breakfast while capturing the sunrise and then hike out and drive back.
This year Andy Porter is guiding Milky Way Imaging Tours in the North Cascades. The dates for this year’s Night Sky Photo Tours are:
Drive-in Outline and Itinerary
The outline for all Night Sky Photo Tours is to meet in Sedro-Woolley, have some coffee or a bite to eat while we discuss setting aperture, manual focus and other details for great star shooting and then head up the highway. Depending on the time of year you should have some great photo opportunities along the way of sunset and other spectacular views. The Cascadian Farms Fruit and Ice Cream Stand is along the North Cascades Highway and makes a fantastic spot to stop on the way up the valley.
Once you arrive the group locates the spots for shooting and have more time to further discuss image settings and composition. As the sun sets there will be all sorts of wonderful shots to get of alpen glow on the peaks. For trips to Artist Point you will make a stop at Picture Lake where you will get luscious shots of Mount Shuksan. This particular view of Mount Shuksan, from Picture Lake is THE most photographed mountain scene in all of North America. When you get there, you’ll see why!
When full darkness arrives (assuming it’s not cloudy!) you will easily be able to see the strip of the Milky Way overhead and start composing and capturing images. Each night the orientation of the Milky Way to our backdrops changes by the hour, as the earth rotates. How long you stay out each night will be decided by the views and how long you want to stay out!
8:00pm: Meet in Sedro-Woolley, discuss nighttime image capture, and go over specifics regarding setting aperture, shutter speed, ISO and how to manually focus your lens.
8:00 – 10pm: Drive to our viewpoint, set up and capture images. Driving time to the various viewpoints is between 1 and 2 hours.
11pm to 1am: Milky Way Photo Session! Leave shooting location and return to Sedro-Woolley. In March and April the sun sets earlier and so you can start shooting the Milky Way earlier. In June and July it’s not really dark until 10 or 11pm, so these nights run later.
1am: Leave shooting location and return to Sedro-Woolley.
In order to get to the hike-in location the tour starts the excursion in late morning or early afternoon. Each of the hike-in locations involve approx 3 to 4 miles of hiking to reach the destination. Tents (which also look great in Night Images!) and food provided. However you will need to carry in your sleeping bag/pad, clothes and misc. equipment, in addition to your photo equipment. Your estimate pack weight would be 25 to 30 lbs, depending upon your camera gear.
9:00am: Meet in Sedro-Woolley, discuss the trip and hike and nighttime image capture, and go over specifics regarding setting aperture, shutter speed, ISO and how to manually focus your lens.
10:00 – 12:00pm: Drive to trailhead, park and start hiking. The tour is set at a Hobbit’s pace, taking frequent breaks for water, snacks and picture taking!
4pm – 6pm: Arrive to location and set up camp
6pm – ? Ramble about, capturing sunset images and then when the stars appear, capture Night Sky Images.
6am – 8am: Capture sunrise shots, have some breakfast, pack up and start to hike out.
2pm – 4-pm: Arrive back in Sedro-Woolley
4pm – ? Review images and cover some basic editing techniques for nighttime shots. The last item is optional, based on your schedule.