For most of us, the lights of the city make it difficult (if not impossible) to see the stars in the night sky, let alone take high-quality pictures of the stars. Given how beautiful the night sky can be, this is a shame. But, there are still areas around the world that sport dark skies free of light pollution that allows stargazers and astrophotographers alike to come together and witness the beauty of space beyond the borders of our home planet.
The problem, of course, is knowing where on Earth you can go for the best night time views. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of three locations that are sure to give you the best opportunity for truly wonderful photos of the stars.
Hawaii isn’t just famous for its lush landscapes, gorgeous beaches, and active volcanoes; it’s also a favorite spot for astrophotographers to get out their cameras and capture the beauty of the night sky. Mauna Kea, the highest point on the Big Island of Hawaii, is an especially good spot, which is why it’s home to one of the best observatories in the world. At 13,800 feet above sea level, the mountain is certainly tall enough to give the observatory enough distance from any light pollution below. But visitors aren’t allowed to the summit after dark.
Fortunately, the Mauna Kea Visitor Center has plenty of areas for you to gaze upon and photograph the stars. Sitting at 9,200 feet above sea level, the oxygen levels in the air are still thin enough that visitors have an incredible view of the stars. For a slightly higher adventure, visitors can head to the top of the Haleakala Crater for a 10,000-foot-high view of the night sky.
If it’s darkness you’re looking for, few places on Earth come close to the Australian Outback in Western Australia. Though the Outback doesn’t match Hawaii in terms of elevation, with no light pollution at all in many areas, the Outback offers stargazers and astrophotographers an ideal setup for viewing the stars.
Western Australia also offers varied terrain for an interesting combination of photos. Visit Nambung National Park near Perth to take photos with otherworldly rock formations in the foreground. Head to Wave Rock to get a horizon to horizon view of the night sky. Go into the Perth Hills to the Perth Observatory for night time shots of the stars and sky, with a touch of lights from Perth. No matter where you go, you’ll have an astounding view!
Alqueva Dark Sky, Portugal
For stargazers in Europe, Alqueva Dark Sky is an especially attractive place. There, you will find a Starlight Reserve in which the darkness of the area is preserved specifically for stargazing and astrophotography. A core zone of darkness is surrounded by a buffer zone so that it is protected from the effects of light pollution (and air pollution as well). Outside the buffer zone is an external zone in which special rules for lighting are enforced, again to protect the area from the effects of light pollution.
What all that means is that the area, which is near Alentejo in the south of Portugal, is a prime spot for unobstructed views of the stars. In fact, the Starlight Reserve includes approximately 1,864 square miles of dark skies, meaning you can pick a spot, set up your gear, and be relatively certain that you’ll have the immediate area all to yourself.
Be Prepared for Astrophotography
Of course, finding a prime spot to view the night sky is just the beginning. You also need to have the kind of photography gear that will set you up for astrophotography success.
Though you’ll need a fair amount of equipment, one of the most crucial pieces of gear you need is a good camera mount. Mounts come in all shapes and sizes, and from many manufacturers. But we like to recommend the mounts from Sky-Watcher USA because of their incredible features, great build quality, and excellent prices.
Among their line of camera mounts is the AllView. The AllView Mount is incredibly versatile, giving you the ability to take stills, time-lapse videos, regular videos, and it will even work with many telescopes too. You can capture 360-degree panoramas of the night sky with your DSLR as well. The AllView also has Go-To electronics that finds any one of 42,000 celestial objects, centers the object in your eyepiece, and tracks the object across the sky.
In short, the AllView has all the features you need - and more - to create breathtaking stills and video of the night sky, no matter which location you select. If you’re serious about getting top-quality images of the stars, you have to consider getting a mount from Sky-Watcher USA. Visit their website for details about the AllView and other fine products for astrophotography.