National Parks

2018 Night Photography Workshops: From Sea to Shining Sea

Where will you go?

As we enter our third year (can you believe it?), we are delighted to share our list of dream locations for night photography workshops in the U.S. and abroad in 2018.

In 2018, we continue to present two kinds of learning experiences: Passport Series and Adventure Series workshops.

At Passport Series workshops, we take you to a national park and teach to the landscape, sky and celestial events.

At Adventure Series workshops, we take you to other interesting natural wonders that may be on or near national and/or protected lands, perhaps during singular events (like a solar eclipse), sometimes focusing a little less on instruction and more on field time, exploring and creativity, or sometimes focusing on advanced night photography techniques.

We’re also offering some cool options this year. The Biscayne and Redwood workshops will include a coordinated gallery show with both national park offices. Tim and I will be offering night portraiture classes at our headquarters in Catskill, New York. Chris and Gabe will take you on a road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway on our most mobile workshop yet. Lance and I will take you to a sacred space for a light painting intensive camping workshop. And Gabe and Chris are offering a black-and-white light painting workshop at a steamy industrial space.

Are you curious? Click on …

Calendar

Dates Location
Series
Jan 29-Feb 3
Biscayne National Park
Passport
March 1-9
Iceland South Coast
Adventure
March 12-20
Iceland South Coast
Adventure
April 27-29
Catskills Night Portraiture
Adventure
May 13-23
Scotland: The Hebrides
Adventure
June 17-22
Capitol Reef National Park
Passport
June 25-30
Redwood National Park
Passport
July 29-Aug 4
Blue Ridge Parkway
Adventure
August 26-31
Glacier National Park
Passport
September 15-20
Rocky Mountain National Park
Passport
September 23-26
Chaco Culture Advanced Light Painting
Adventure
October 12-14
Catskills Night Portraiture
Adventure
November 15-18
Sloss Furnaces
Adventure
 

The Amazing Locations

You can click on any of the links above to learn a lot more about all the workshop locations. They include the inspiring landscapes of five U.S. national parks, national historic sites, a national parkway, an island nation, European old country and more. For a quick read about what each experience will entail, read on below …

 

Passport Series

Biscayne National Park

Welcome to the land of the forever horizon, where the clear blue waters and big sky envelop you from all directions. With 95 percent of this park underwater, we will use the marine night skies as a beautiful and surreal backdrop to a variety of unique subject matter. Stilt houses, ornamental lighthouses, grounded chug boats, and the many mangroves that protect Biscayne Bay will be just a few of our stops in Biscayne National Park.

Dates: January 29-February 3, 2018
More information: Biscayne

 

Capitol Reef National Park (Sold Out)

Join us for the gently moon-kissed cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges of the classic Utah red-rock Waterpocket Fold. From the lush orchards of Fruita to the rich geological history within Navajo Sandstone, we’ll explore the deep skies of this Gold-Tier Dark Sky Park.

Dates: June 17-22, 2018 (add-on experience June 15-16)
More information: Capitol Reef

 

Glacier National Park

This northwestern Montana park contains some of the most wild and diverse ecosystems in the country. Waterfalls, subalpine tundra, soaring rocky mountain peaks, high plains and crystal-clear rivers create breathtaking foregrounds for our night skies.

Dates: August 26-31, 2018
More information: Glacier

 

Redwood National Park

Redwood National and State Parks is composed of three distinct environments—a rocky coastline with steep cliffs and the ubiquitous coastal fog, upland prairies, and of course the magnificent redwood forests that give the park its name. During this workshop, you’ll have the opportunity to develop your night photography skills in all three.

Dates: June 25-30, 2018
More information: Redwood

 

Rocky Mountain National Park

Within the wilds of Rocky Mountain National Park lie alpine lakes, boulder-strewn tundra, aspen groves that turn gold in fall, and a Milky Way so radiant that you’ll feel you could reach to the sky and brush it with your fingertips. We will venture together into the mountains to photograph all this and more, in one of the most wondrous landscapes in all the national parks.

Dates: September 15-20, 2018 (add-on experience September 20)
More information: Rocky Mountain


Adventure Series

Blue Ridge Parkway

The night is falling, and the road is calling. And we will be there, driving and photographing America’s greatest scenic byway. When the sun fades, we’ll bring our cameras along the 469-mile ribbon of national parkland that stretches atop mountain ridges, through farming communities, past historic cabins and mills, alongside meadows and more, while the stars and moon gently shine on the great blacktop river called Blue Ridge Parkway.

Dates: July 29-August 4, 2018
More information: Blue Ridge Parkway

 

Catskills Night Portraiture

Master the fundamentals of night portraiture. Mash up night photography with classical portrait lighting to create dramatic long exposure portraits. Unleash your creativity.

Dates: April 27-29, 2018, and October 12-14, 2018
More information: Catskills Night Portraiture

 

Chaco Culture Advanced Light Painting

The Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Chaco Canyon are the centerpiece of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park was also designated as Gold Tier by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2013. Who could ask for more from a night photography location? National Parks at Night aims to do just that. In addition to having rare nighttime access to photograph the park, we will have a ranger-led tour and meet with others with deep knowledge of the Puebloan people and the ruins on New Mexico. This is a full-immersion experience.

Dates: September 23-26, 2018
More information: Chaco Culture

 

Iceland South Coast

This photo tour will take us along the famous south coast of Iceland, where we will experience the capital city of Reykjavik, bizarre geothermal landscapes, magnificent waterfalls, glacial lagoons, an ice cave, and, with luck, the northern lights. Iceland has seen a huge surge in tourism in recent years, and we will strive to find a balance between getting you to the most important locations, but also some off-the-beaten-path places that are much less visited but equally as interesting.

Dates: March 1-9, 2018, and March 12-20, 2018
More information: Iceland South Coast

 

Scotland: The Hebrides

Come explore and photograph some of Scotland’s most interesting places and dramatic landscapes on this first of National Parks at Night’s photo tours of the islands of Scotland. The Hebrides are a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of the mainland. The culture of the residents has been affected by the successive influences of Celtic-, Norse- and English-speaking peoples. We will spend our time on the largest of the inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye, and the largest of the outer Hebrides, Lewis and Harris. The history of these islands is ever-present in the landscape in the form of Neolithic, Mesolithic and Iron Age archaeological sites. We will explore cultures past and present along with the stunningly diverse landscapes we’ll encounter along the way.

Dates: May 13-23, 2018
More information: Scotland

 

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

The focus of this night photography workshop will be a deep dive into light painting, composition, and black and white photography. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark is an incredible hulk of 20th century metal machinery located on the eastern edge of downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Don’t expect to see many stars in the city, however we will use moonlight and light painting to breathe fire back into the furnaces.

Dates: November 15-18, 2018
More information: Sloss Furnaces


Don't Want to Wait for 2018?

Olympic National Park

If you'd like to come with us on a workshop even sooner, we have great news: We opened up a second week at Olympic National Park next month: September 24-29, 2017. Join Chris Nicholson and Matt Hill on the rugged mountains, in the vibrant rainforests and along the pristine coastline of Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, in one of the most beautiful and diverse national parks in the U.S.

Dates: September 24-29, 2017
More information: Olympic


Blasts from Our Pasts

Finally, as we embark on our third year, we’d like to express thanks to all our alumni—the 200 fine photographers who have accompanied us over the past two years to wonderful night photography locations such as Acadia, Dry Tortugas, Death Valley, Zion, Great Sand Dunes, Cape Cod, Centennial Valley and more. We appreciate you so very much.

Do you want to see their work? Check out this playlist of all the workshop slideshows.

Matt Hill is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. See more about his photography, art, workshops and writing at MattHillArt.com. Follow Matt on Twitter Instagram Facebook.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Park Ranger and Photographer Jacob W. Frank Takes On The Night

If you’re any kind of national park fan, you have almost certainly seen the work of Jacob W. Frank. It is ubiquitous—and excellent.

Part of Jacob’s not-so-secret approach is that he has one of the best tools a photographer can possess: constant access. His intimate knowledge of his subject comes from having what many of us would consider a dream job—he’s a photographer who works as a park ranger, currently at Montana's Glacier National Park.

Moreover, some of Jacob’s best-known photos were shot at night, including a superb series of work he created under the pristine skies of Arches National Park and other red-rock hot spots on the Colorado Plateau. Perhaps his most famous image is of Delicate Arch being lit by a headlamp under a stunning Milky Way sky, a photograph that exquisitely portrays the night experience of the western national parks.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Jacob's photo work spans many gems of the park system, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Death Valley, Carlsbad Caverns, Hawaii Volcanoes, Olympic, Kenai Fjords, Mesa Verde, Saguaro, Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison ... and the list goes on, and on, and on.... Some of this work has been exhibited, most notably in the Smithsonian.

I spoke recently with Jacob about how he got his amazing job, his favorite photography gear, and his thoughts about doing night photography in our national parks.


Chris: How did you become a national park photographer?

Jacob: In college I got an internship at Grand Teton National Park. My mom was into photography, and she said, “If you’re going to live and work in a national park, you should probably have a camera to take pictures.”

I would get lots of visitor questions: “What is this thing that we’re looking at?”—“What is that bird?”—“What mountain is that?” I didn’t have any idea, so I would take a picture, figure out the answers and e-mail people—and that’s how I learned and what got me interested in nature.

Then after a while, I was thinking things like, “Oh, I already have a picture of that bird but I want to try to get a better one.” Once I started knowing what things were, I didn’t need to take pictures to figure them out, but rather I found myself trying to get better photos.

Now I really enjoy photography. It pushes me to go out sometimes when I wouldn’t otherwise. I’m not about hiking just for the fun of hiking—hiking is what you have to do to get good photos or to get to the top of the mountain. I just really love capturing photos. There’s an intrinsic value for me of just getting really good photos, and then it just happens to be that other people enjoy the work that I do.

Chris: What cameras do you use?

Jacob: I have a Canon 5D Mark III, which is pretty much my main camera now. I just recently got rid of a 7D that I had been using for wildlife photography.

Chris: What’s your favorite piece of non-camera photography gear?

Jacob: My Peak Design camera clip for my backpack has been a game-changer. Backpacking, hiking and climbing with a camera can be challenging. You want to have your camera accessible but putting a strap over your shoulder or neck isn’t comfortable or secure. Their Capture clip solved that problem. I find myself taking more photos and capturing better photos because I always have my camera at the ready.

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Owachomo Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Chris: What’s your favorite lens for night photography?

Jacob: I’ve used a variety of them. Right now I have the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, and I mainly use that. Probably down the road I’ll get the 24mm f/1.4. I’ve used that one also and I really like it.

Also, I had the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8, and the Sigma 20mm f/1.4. I’ve gotten great photos from all of them, but when you’re doing night photography, I find my lens setup changes based on what park I’m in.

For some parks you need just a superwide angle, and don’t really need a lot of zoom. For example, in Glacier the 16-35mm was too wide for most times, unless you were on top of a mountain. Often I felt like I wanted a little bit more reach, so now I shoot with the 24-105mm a lot. But that’s not fast enough for night photography, so I sold my 16-35mm and got the Rokinon.

I try to not have specialty lenses, like a one-trick pony, but I really like that Rokinon for night photography, and the 14mm is super sharp.

Chris: What is it about a park that changes the type of lenses you’re using?

Jacob: In some parks, you’re really in the park. For instance, when you’re in Arches National Park, you’re in tight spots—you’re either inside an arch or the arch is really close to you. You’re maneuvering through a squeeze or you’re hiking on some sort of a slick rock. Whatever it is, you’re in the resource and the landscape almost becomes the foreground because you’re so close to it—you’re in it. So having a superwide angle is really helpful.

Turret Arch, Arches National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Turret Arch, Arches National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

On the other hand, when you’re in a big mountain park, with huge mountains far away, you can be on the mountains but there’s still a lot to see for a long distance. Having too wide of an angle diminishes the grandeur of where you are; it doesn’t portray how big and how vast everything is. You can still get those shots—I still use a superwide angle—but a lot of times you need to zoom in and capture the detail of how big a park is. Telephoto is also good for when you’re hiking around on the trails, for having the ability to zoom in and add a person to give the photo some scale.

I decided to switch from the 16-36mm to the 24-105mm after I did a detail to Alaska last summer. I went to Wrangell St. Elias National Park, and that is the ultimate park of grandeur. Everything was so big and I found myself wanting to zoom in on details, but was unable to without having to have carry separate setup.

I really like the style and the ability to zoom in on particular mountains. I’ve been doing a portrait series of mountains this summer during sunrise or sunset. There are a lot of cool peaks that you can focus on using the 100mm and 150mm range. I’ve been calling it a “Mountain Portrait Project”—just taking lots of cool pictures of individual mountains in the portrait orientation. It’s been fun and people seem to like it.

Chris: Do you have a favorite night photography technique?

Jacob: I got into night photography because of the aurora in Alaska. When I lived up there I shot a ton of aurora. It’s the coolest natural phenomenon there is, no matter how many times you see it.

Aurora Borealis at Glacier National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Aurora Borealis at Glacier National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

The Milky Way is cool because you can see it with your eyes, and you can take a picture of it. You can do time lapses because it’s moving. But when you’re looking at the aurora, it makes me laugh out loud because it’s so amazing. People always ask me, “I heard that the aurora makes noise if it’s a really good storm.” And I have to say, “Maybe, but I don’t know because I’m too busy laughing the entire time.”

I got into Milky Way photography because of how much fun I had at night shooting the aurora. When I came down to the Lower 48, I moved to the Colorado Plateau, which is known for its night sky. I already knew how to shoot night stuff from Alaska, so it was a natural progression to start shooting the Milky Way.

I do like shooting the Milky Way, but a lot of it requires good camera technique. The majority of what people see nowadays aren’t even single images—they’re blended multiple images. Your average everyday person can’t take a photo like that without studying and really upping their post-processing skills.

Good aurora photos require the same technique, but the average everyday person can point their camera, push a button, the aurora is going to pop out and they are going to be amazed with it.

Chris: What are your favorite national parks for night photography?

Jacob: Alaska parks for aurora, but aurora works only in the spring, fall and winter. In the summertime, the sky doesn’t get dark enough.

Aurora, Denali National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Aurora, Denali National Park. NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank.

For dark sky parks for shooting the Milky Way, I’ve had a blast shooting in Arches, and I’ve had a blast shooting in Capitol Reef National Park and in Natural Bridges National Monument. Hovenweep National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument have really dark skies, as does Great Sand Dunes National Park. I actually I saw northern lights when I was in Great Sand Dunes. They have really cool dark night skies.

Chris: You saw northern lights that far south?

Jacob: In May 2013 we went out to shoot the Milky Way in the dunes at midnight. I was going to stack an image of the stars rotating over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, so I was looking north. I had taken my first exposure and there was something like sky glow in the frame. I thought, “What happened to this being a dark sky park?”

Then I’m looking at the image and I said, “Wait a second, those mountains are 14,000 feet tall and I don’t think there’s anything north of them nearby."

I thought that was kind of weird, so I started time-lapsing and I noticed that the sky glow started moving and started getting pillars in it. I realized, “Oh, this is northern lights!” When we went back to the car, we got cell service and looked it up on Spaceweather.com—and it was a geomagnetic storm of like 7! So we were getting the southern end of the aurora storm.

Chris: What’s next for you? Are you working on any other specific projects?

Jacob: I had two photos in the Smithsonian’s “Wilderness Forever” exhibit that they put on for its 50th anniversary. They just took that exhibit out and are putting up a new one, and I have a couple of photos in there too. Also, my work will be one among the entrance photos for their new exhibit “100 Years of America’s National Park Service: Preserve, Enjoy, Inspire.”

In December, the plan is to go out and speak about the Centennial. Other than that, I’m just working in the park. Then when I’m not working, I’m traveling to other parks, just being outdoors.
 

To see more of Jacob's photography, and to read about his adventures photographing the national parks, visit www.jwfrank.com. He is also on Flickr and Instagram.


For more information about the gear mentioned in this post:

Chris Nicholson is the author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

International Dark Sky Week Highlights A Precious Commodity

Last week was International Dark Sky Week. Did you get out and enjoy the stars?

I did. In fact, I even got to enjoy a night in South Carolina’s Congaree National Park. Congaree is only half an hour outside the state capital of Columbia, but getting even just that far away from a city can make a big difference in how we see the night sky. In fact, it makes all the difference in the world.

And getting even further away? That can make all the difference in the universe.

Congaree National Park, © 2016 Chris Nicholson

Congaree National Park, © 2016 Chris Nicholson

I grew up in southern Connecticut, part of the New York City Metropolitan Area. We weren’t in the city, but kind of in night-sky limbo—far enough away from NYC to see a decent sky, but not far enough to see the best. So in my nightly experience, I knew the sky had stars, but not quite how many.

I also did a lot of camping as a kid—with my dad, with my family, with Boy Scouts. We even did some camping in the national parks, especially in Great Smoky Mountains. I’m sure during those experiences I looked up at night, but the first time I vividly remember “seeing” how magnificent a starry sky truly can be, the first time I had that "supernova" moment, was in upstate New York on August 7, 1993. On a night stroll, I came to a clearing in the trees, gazed skyward and had this profound realization that I could see—actually see—the Milky Way.

I once heard astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tell a similarly themed story about when he was a kid, growing up in the Bronx, very near the bright lights of Manhattan, thinking that there were only a handful of stars in the sky. When he learned how many were really there, that’s when his love of the universe began to dawn.

You could probably get any astronomer to relay such an experience, but another that I find particularly interesting is Tyler Nordgren, who we interviewed for the NPAN blog back in February. (See “Astronomer Tyler Nordgren Discusses Night Skies of the National Parks.)

I’ve been reading Tyler’s book Stars Above, Earth Below: A Guide to Astronomy in the National Parks. In the introduction he writes about how the parks are famed for preserving wild animals, beautiful landscapes, grand forests, amazing rock formations, and so on. But another preserved feature that many people don’t think about in those terms is the night sky.

And it’s absolutely true. So much of the civilized world is so lit up that in most inhabited places we can’t see the sky the way that our ancestors did for 200,000 years. But in many national parks, we can. Those dark skies are there for us, preserved very close to their natural, dazzling, awe-inspiring state.

As I mentioned before, Congaree has some wonderful night skies. So does Olympic, Everglades, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Joshua Tree. … The list goes on and on, perhaps right to 59 parks long.

Death Valley National Park , © 2016 Chris Nicholson

Death Valley National Park, © 2016 Chris Nicholson

Moreover, Death Valley, Big Bend and Capitol Reef are designated as Gold Tier dark sky parks by the International Dark-Sky Association. Additionally, Canyonlands and Black Canyon of the Gunnison are also certified as dark sky parks by the IDA. That’s right, five of the U.S. national parks are considered among the very best in the world at preserving pristine night skies.

With all these great places to see and photograph under the gentle light of the universe, how does anyone sleep at night?

Chris Nicholson is the author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.

Upcoming workshops from National Parks at Night

Photographic Foreknowledge: Planning Your Shots in National Parks

Visiting our National Parks with a little foreknowledge is the best way to ensure your chances of coming home with great photographs. Being in the right place at the right time is rarely an accident. Foreknowledge is also the recipe for making your images stand out from the millions of other photos taken in these dramatic locations.

Photographers should take the time to do some “virtual” scouting. Begin with a Google search of the name of the park you are planning to visit. At the top of the resulting screen you’ll find filters to adjust what content is displayed on the page. Click on “Images” to be rewarded with a page full of photos in and around the park.

While not all of the photos will be masterpieces, they will give you a great idea of the locations of the more popular viewpoints and places of interest. Clicking on an image opens it to a larger view and supplies the link to the image. You’ll often find the name of the location or feature right here. If not, click on the link to discover more information about the image.

Take some time with this process and create a list of all possible locations you’d like to visit. Some of the places you may want to shoot might be inconvenient, closed for the season or farther than you would like hike.

Next, find a map! Google Maps is a great resource, as are the official National Park maps that can be found at www.nps.gov. Once you locate the desired sights on the map, you can better assess the best time of day or night to be there. Knowing the exact direction you want to face makes it easier to find south-facing mountains for star trails around the North Star, east-facing objects for sunrise, and west-facing scenes for sunset.

Making a list of possible scenes and locating them on the map is the least anyone should do before visiting a national park for photography. For those who leave nothing to chance, there are plenty of websites, computer applications and smartphone apps that can assist in exact sun angles and rise and set times, direction of moon rises and even when it will rise above a land formation. A couple of my favorites are PhotoPills and Google Earth.

PhotoPills is a great iPhone app that can do just about everything — planning your Milky Way shots, calculating depth of field, discovering the start time of astronomical twilight, or even discovering exactly when and where the moon will rise over the nearby peaks. It’s a must-have for any photographer who uses an iPhone. By phone app standards it’s a bit pricey ($9.99), but well worth every penny.

Google Earth is another indispensable, content-rich application for your computer and iOS or Android phone. Using Google Earth you can get an excellent lay of the land you plan to visit. By using the controls in the upper right, you can not only zoom in and around but also tilt to get a reasonable idea of the land formations.

For those looking for a less technical experience, Sun Seeker, Night Sky and Moon Seeker are three apps that are quite useful … and free!

Learn more techniques from Tim Cooper’s book The Magic of Light Painting, available from Peachpit.

Upcoming workshops from National Parks at Night