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The Wonder of Whistler’s Night Skies

The Wonder of Whistler’s Night Skies: What you need to know to capture them for yourself

Whistler’s known for its incredible views, bolstered by bluebird days and stunning peaks. But once the sun goes down there’s nothing like the quiet of a myriad of twinkling stars peeking through treetops or the shimmering beauty of the Aurora Borealis as it dances in the sky. Throw in a backdrop like the Black Tusk, a glacier, or an ancient Douglas Fir and you may never want to see daylight again.

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Before you strap on a pack and head out for the night with your camera, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Check the weather and moon phases. The last thing you want is to be on top of a mountain in a lightning storm or taking pictures of the Milky Way during a full moon. You’ll want a clear sky with no cloud cover if you’re taking pictures of the stars.
  2. Dress for the cold. It gets cold, very cold in the alpine. Bring warm gloves, a headlamp, and a toque plus an extra layer. A warm thermos of tea or hot chocolate will keep your insides warm while you sit and wait for the ideal picture.
  3. Bring food. You’ll probably be hiking or bushwacking to get that perfect shot. All that work will build up an appetite, especially since you’ll be carrying all that gear.
  4. Speaking of gear, make sure you have it all. You’ll want a tripod to get that crisp image since there is less light and your hands won’t stay still enough for your slow shutter speeds. Bring all your lenses, many empty memory cards, and a shutter release cable so you aren’t touching the camera and making it jiggle.
  5. Scout your area during the day. This is a great time saver since you can look for ways around objects like trees, houses, mountains, boulders or chairlifts – or the best angle to include them.
  6. Download a star app. This will help you know which stars or planets you’re looking at, and help you find the ones you want.
  7. Don’t forget to tell others where you’re going. Even if you’re walking up the hill at the back of your house, let someone know where you are and when you’ll return. The smallest rock or root can be invisible at night and leave you susceptible to tripping – especially if you’re looking up. Plus it’s easy to get lost in the dark. See tip #5 to avoid this.
  8. Memorize where infinity is on each of your lenses. Focusing is one of the greatest frustrations in night photography. While each lens has an infinity mark, it may not be accurate. Take the time to memorize where it is on each of your lenses and you’ll be significantly less frustrated in the dark when it’s cold out.
  9. Be prepared to wait. Night photography is all about slow shutter speeds and long exposures. Don’t expect to snap a shot in five minutes. Commit to the night and you’ll be rewarded with the vibrant, dramatic shot that your imagination envisioned.
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    Cover image: Mike Crane