Northern Lights over Main beach, with the Big Dipper, Grundy Lake PP.Photographer: Jessica Schulze

Tips for night sky photography

One of the best parts about camping at one of our parks is the breathtakingly clear night sky. These clear skies provide the perfect backdrop to see the wonders of our solar system sprawled out above you.

Seeing these magnificent skies is one thing, but being able to capture them adds a whole other level to the experience.

Here are our top tips for night sky photography: 

Watch the weather

Perhaps the most important part of getting a perfect night sky shot is having a clear night sky. One really big obstacle is a bright moon. While a bright moon may save some battery power on your flashlights, it can really overpower the  stars. (Although, if you’re looking to take some pictures of the moon, this is your time to shine!)

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Many smartphones are equipped with apps that can check sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset times. You can also try taking some night sky photos on your smartphone.

Park staff may be able to provide you with weather information if you’d prefer to drop off the social media grid. Weather forecasts are also often posted on bulletin boards near main park offices.

Wait for the right season

Every photographer longs to capture the beauty of the Northern Lights, but did you know the best time to shoot the Aurora Borealis is winter?

Ontario Parks does offer winter camping at several parks. Some even have heated accommodations which would provide the perfect base for your photography expedition.

Aurora Borealis at Greenwater PP. Photo taken by Stephen Foley.

In cold weather, make sure to give your lens about 30 minutes to adapt to the outside air. You might need this time for your body to adapt as well. You’ll also want a battery backup, as the cold will suck the life out of your battery.

Pack the right equipment

In order to take great photos of the night sky, you’ll need a digital camera that can produce an exposure time of at least 30 seconds. To get a better quality image, your camera should have a “BULB” mode to allow shutter speeds that are longer – maybe even up to an hour.

A Mirror Lock function will reduce camera slap, which happens when the mirror moves up at the beginning of the exposure. This will allow for a sharper image through the reduction of any kind of motion blur that may happen. Another step that you can take to sharpen your image is using a higher ISO.

The Eagle Nebula including the Pillars of Creation at the centre of the nebula. Taken at Inverhuron Provincial Park.

In terms of lenses, a wide angle lens (16 mm or 28 mm) would work best if you have one. For less-pixelated images and faster shutter speeds, lenses with an aperture of f2.8 are recommended.

Of course, one of the best parts about photography is experimentation, so feel free to try a variety of equipment, or make the best out of what you have.

The most important piece of equipment for night sky photography is a tripod. A heavy tripod is a major key to great night sky photos because of the stability they offer.

Location, location, location

The further away from the city, the better. The darkest skies are found in the northern sky, away from the horizon.

Explore our parks to find a perfect location, perhaps somewhere with interesting features to place in the foreground like rock formations or tree tops.

If you happen to be in Bon Echo Provincial Park, stargazing on South Beach is one of the park’s “Top Ten” activities to do during your visit.

Globular Cluster M22 in Sagittarius. Taken at Inverhuron.

Collaborate with other stargazers

We’ve got lots of astronomy-themed events coming up this summer, including:

Mysterious Night Skies at Rock Point Provincial Park

One July 7, 2017, join park staff and special guests from the Royal Astronomical Society of Niagara for a family friendly evening program about those mysterious night skies. Topics will include: constellations, galaxies, stars, planets and so much more.

On July 8, 2017, join park staff and special guests from the Royal Astronomical Society of Niagara for Part 2 of those Mysterious Night skies at 8:00 pm for a short presentation. We will then move to the east end of the Day Use Beach at about 9:00 pm to hopefully view those mysterious night skies through some scopes. We will have several telescopes set up and there will be a variety of “stellar” views.

Astronomy Weekend at Quetico Provincial Park

Join park staff and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as they guide visitors through the night sky.

  • Friday, August 11, 2017:
    • 17:00 – Roving Stars, Dawson Trail Campgrounds
    • 20:00 – Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Information and Heritage Pavilion
    • 21:30 – Perseid Meteor Shower, Information and Heritage Pavilion parking lot
  • Saturday, August 12, 2017:
    • 12:00 – RASC Solar Telescope, Information and Heritage Pavilion
    • 17:00 – Roving Aurora, Dawson Trail Campgrounds
    • 20:00 – Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Information and Heritage Pavilion

Star Party at Charleston Lake Provincial Park

August 12, 2017, is the best night of the year for seeing shooting stars. Come for a fabulous light show! Join internationally renowned astronomer Terence Dickinson to explore the amazing world of astronomy and then gaze through telescopes at the majestic night sky (weather & clouds permitting).

Stargazing with the Peterborough Astronomical Society, Emily Provincial Park

On August 25, 2017, join us on the field next to Picnic Shelter #1 as the Peterborough Astronomical Association sets up several telescopes to help us explore the stars. Bring your questions with you and please turn off your flashlights once you walk on the field. If it’s too cloudy or raining the event will be pushed to Saturday.

Astronomy Night at Rushing River Provincial Park

On August 2, 2017, Peter Toth, Astronomy Enthusiast and Past President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, with be giving us a “laser show” of the night sky. Using a laser pointer, Peter will point out constellations in the sky. Park visitors will have an opportunity to look through a telescope to view stars and planets!

With these tips, you’ll be able to start taking your own night sky photos. Make sure to tag us in your photos if you post them on Instagram!