How to Find Dark Skies for Night Photography

Finding dark skies can seem challenging at first - especially if you don't use any tools to guide you along the way. Sure, you can drive away from the city into the countryside, but there's a little more to it than that. Fortunately, astronomers have been thinking about dark skies for a long time so this isn't anything new.

So over the years, I've come across a few tools that help to identify some locations that would be good and others that don't quite fit the bill. This approach to driving my night adventures with light pollution data is a key part of my dark sky photography planning.

Option #1 - Dark Sky Finder
My favorite tool is called the Dark Sky Finder at http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/ - a website that lays light pollution data over top of a Google Map. This makes it really easy to see just where the light pollution is with colors indicating the intensity of the light pollution - a great asset for planning night photography adventures in the Continental US.

Option #2 - Blue Marble
The only problem with this first approach is that it won't work for you if you live or travel outside of the US. In that case, take a look at the very good alternative Blue Marble at http://www.blue-marble.de/nightlights/2012.

Option #3 - Google Earth With Light Pollution Data
There is at least one more approach worth mentioning - adding a light pollution data layer to Google Earth. Here are some resources for going this route.

  1. http://www.stpeteastronomyclub.org/googleEarth.php
  2. http://www.lightpollution.it/worldatlas/pages/fig1.htm
  3. http ://www.iceinspace.com.au/index.php?id=63,404,0,0,1,0

Finally, no article on dark skies would be complete without mention of the International Dark-Sky Association. They're the only non-profit organization fighting to preserve the night with a website at http://www.darksky.org/.

I hope these tools help in the hunt for dark skies. Let me know if you run into any questions.