The story:

On my recent trip to California, one of the things I had to do was night sky photography in Joshua Tree.  I knew that this iconic place would be a great backdrop for shooting the stars.  One of my oldest friends Alain, who is a great cinematographer & photographer joined me from LA, and on the night of the new moon in May, we set out into the desert.

We had spent the day hiking around the park, exploring some trails with my little family.  It was beautiful & hot, as can be expected in the afternoon there.  The landscape of Joshua Tree has an alien feel to it at times, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for travelers to see it so long ago.  Waterholes are few & far between!

By night, the park became an eerie place…And we certainly had thoughts of rattlesnakes & scorpions on our mind as we made our way on foot in the dark to set up our shots.  Alain filmed a timelapse of the Milky Way rising above the boulders and trees, while I moved around a little, capturing a few different angles.

We only had the one night to shoot, and as usual, I wish I had more time to explore.  There were a few cars rolling through the park at night, and they would occasionally light up the landscape with their headlights.  Rather than be annoyed by it, I used it to my advantage, trying to time it just right so that the headlights would give just enough light on my scene.  As well, there was significant light pollution coming from the Southwest, which was somewhat disappointing, as I had hoped for darker skies.  Again, I used the light pollution to my advantage, silhouetting Joshua Trees against this glow on the horizon.  Sometimes you have to work with what you have, and make the best of it!

Low-level lighting:

I did also bring a couple dimmable LED lights to illuminate the foreground.  This technique is called ‘low-level lighting’.  It was my first time trying this & I am very happy with how they worked.  Being able to turn them down low is important to not throw too much light on the foreground during a long exposure.  This allowed me to get just enough light, and also shape the direction of the light too.  There are many different kinds, & I got some inexpensive ones from Neewer, here is the link to them on Amazon.  I like that they came with warming gels, and a mount, so I can use them on light stands if needed.  There is a great educational website about this technique, it is:

Overall I am pretty happy with the results.  As I mentioned, I would like to have had more time to really explore & photograph the park, but I think that is always the case.  By the end of the trip we would have traveled over 1500 miles, and we had much more exploring to do.  I’m glad we made the drive out to this strange place, to see this unique landscape & do some night sky photography in Joshua Tree!

The images:

Joshua Tree at night
I used dimmable LED lights to illuminate the Tree and boulders beyond. This low-level lighting is perfect for adding some light to the foreground without overwhelming it.
Joshua Tree at night
Here I used the light pollution on the horizon to silhouette the Joshua Tree. Adapting to what you have is so important as a photographer!
Milky Way in Joshua Tree
Timing is everything… In this image the lights of a passing car shine just long enough to give nice light on the foreground landscape for me.


Thanks for checking out the blog today!  I hope it inspires you to get out & shoot some interesting night sky photographs of your own!  Please share any tips, or work you have done like this in the comment section below.

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