Planning Your Night Shoot

There are many factors to consider before heading out for a night of shooting. One of the chief considerations should be finding an area with dark sky if you’re looking for maximum star definition in that night sky. Fortunately there’s an app, or two, for that! I use an app called Light Pollution Map, or LPM, for determining which areas have dark skies if that’s what I’m after. While dark skies are awesome for night sky images you can also get some beautiful shots using light from buildings, or cities, to illuminate your foreground. 

When I made the image of Louise Creek, during a big winter storm, I used light from the Chateau Lake Louise to illuminate the foreground. The image is a two shot vertical panorama from a 24 mm Nikkor PCE lens.  Above you can see a screenshot from the LPM app. I use the light version as it does everything I need for free.  The uncolored areas are very dark skies, the blue is reasonably dark skies, and the warmer colours represent areas that are quite bright.You can see that Lake Louise is actually not in an area of dark sky but is in a green zone meaning there is some light pollution present. In the image of Louise creek the sky is totally obscured by cloud so dark sky wasn’t a requirement. This brings to light the next factor to consider for a night sky shot and that is clear skies. 

A good weather app is essential to planning any shoot. My new favourite is the app released recently by Environment Canada called WeatherCAN. This well thought out app is about as a good as it gets for weather though the Canadian Rockies weather has a bit of reputation for being unpredictable. I find anything more than a day in advance is just a guess! I usually use the hourly report that covers the next 24 hours for the best detail on what weather is predicted. A few clouds can ad some interesting mood to a night shot, as you can see in the Louise Creek shots above, but too much cloud and you no longer have a night sky. Shooting from an area of dark sky adds additional complications. Where will the Milky Way appear? What is the phase of the moon? 

One of my favourite apps for planning a shoot is called Photopills. Above you can see a couple of screenshots from the Photopills app. The app has many functions available but what I use most is the planning portion of Photopills. Using Photopills planning function you can navigate to any place, and time, on the map and see the arc of the Milky Way and the times that the Galactic Center will be visible. One of the coolest features of Photopills has to be the Augmented Reality function that allows you to view the surrounds you’re standing in on any date/time. So if you’re standing at Bow Lake you can, for example, set the date to next weekend and see what the night sky will look like in any direction you turn while holding your phone up in front of you. At the very least it’s a great way to while away some time!

The last, and most unpredictable segment of night photography, is shooting the Aurora. There are many apps out there that give you detailed information on the Sun’s flare ups and the subsequent Aurora activity here on Earth. I use an app called Auroral Activity. There’s also a minimal Aurora forecast in the The LPM app that may be all that’s required. Often the Aurora activity is either greater, or weaker than predicted, so your experience will vary! The best advice I can give you is keep your options open and adapt to the weather, and aurora activity, as required for the most enjoyable night shooting. Take lots of extra clothing as it gets cold out there some nights! Have a good night folks!

Note: Any of the underlined text is a link that’ll take you to more information on the related app.