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Insights & Thoughts

How to find the best locations in your area for shooting the night sky

By Anthony Thurston on December 16th 2013

The 2010 Perseids over the VLTShooting at night can be a challenge if you live in a populated area. Light pollution can, and does, prevent you from getting the most out of your exposures and can ruin a shot. When I first started thinking about shooting the stars I thought I had to physically drive around and look for good spots.  Surely, I thought to myself,  there must be a better way to find locations relatively close to you which would be good candidates for amazing star photography.

Sure enough, there is a great method that is sure to get you in a good location for the best possible images in your area. Obviously I am referring simply to the level of light pollution here and the “cleanness” of the sky – this method will not guarantee you amazing star photos, but it will give you the best shot in your area.

Finding the Best Location in My Area For Nightscapes

I live in the Willamette Valley, not a hugely populated area…. but populated enough that light pollution is a problem to be mindful of. When I started to look around for places in my area that would be conducive to good night photos I first turned to Blue Marble Navigator, a great website that takes satellite images of lights on the earth and overlays them on Google Maps to show you where exactly the darkest locations are in your area.


In my case I looked at the above image and I was easily able to identify locations that would be good candidates to try out. The one problem that I ran into with this particular light map viewer was that it does not get any closer than this. It won’t show you small roads, just highways. So while you can get a good idea of where to go, you will need to look to other tools (real Google maps for instance) for the best directions on how to actually get there.

Here is a quick representation of locations and rough travel time from my residence. The key thing that you are looking for on these light maps is the dark blue color. The darker the area on the map the better it will be for images of the night sky.


As you can see from the map above in just a few short minutes I was able to find several possible locations to try, all except one is within an hours driving of my residence. If that is not convenient I do not know what is. Obviously it may not be quite so easy for you, especially if you live in a heavily populated area – in which case your travel time may be longer, but if that is the case that makes this even step more important so you do not waste your time going to a bad location.

What do you think of this nigh photography tip? Do you have any astrophotography tips or tricks that we should feature on the site? Share them in a comment below!

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Tim Johnson

    I was a bit skeptical because you also need to find a place where it’s OK for you to be (not trespass). As it turns out, there’s a wildlife refuge within 25 minutes from my house. I now have plans for the weekend. Thanks!

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  2. Colin Krieg

    This is another good one. It uses a heat map instead of imagery overlayed on google maps:

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  3. John

    This is a great resource thanks for bringing it to my attention. I absolutely love astorphotography, but living directly in the middle of Boston MA and Providence RI results in almost no dark skies. Looks like for me I’ll be driving to southern NH or western MA for the best skies in my area – other than that it’s booking a flight out west of the Mississippi :)

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  4. Steven

    This site seems better to me…you can zoom in much closer.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      I had not come across that site before. You can indeed get a lot closer. I thin I will use it from now on, rather than the one linked in the post. That said, both are great resources.

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    • Dirtman

      I know on Dark Skies you can add locations and enter information/links that may help other photographers. I added a place for Bodie Lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

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  5. Rodrigo Mancilla

    Great info! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while … only issue now is that the light pollution problem in my area is even worse than I though … camping trip in the plans :)

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