Acadia National Park is known as the East Coast’s premier spot for night photography; just ask local expert photographer, Acadia Night Sky Festival contributor, and park volunteer Bob Thayer. He knows the best locales, time of year, and subjects to frame to get that gallery-worthy shot. Even if it’s your first time.
Photo © Bob Thayer
Free from city lights, smog, and urban development, the skies of Acadia are crisp and sparkling with stars year-round. Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park have been making great strides to keep light pollution at low levels, such as campgrounds installing lights that shine down so they won’t impact the view of the sky. It’s why photographers like Bob Thayer choose this area for late night jaunts in the park, and why the Acadia Night Sky Festival – slated this year for September 21-24, 2017 – has become increasingly popular with visitors.
“You go out west, and you can see lots of night skies, packed with stars, but on the East Coast, many people haven’t seen the number of stars we can see [in Acadia National Park] because of cities,” says Thayer. “It’s eye-opening.”
Location, Location, Location
Scout an area prior to sunset, suggests Thayer. Trees, mountains, even buildings in the distance can often get overlooked by the human eye if planning a shot in the dark. A longer exposed shot will illuminate the area, revealing those hard-to-see details.
While a regular point-and-shoot camera or a cell phone can get a picture of the sky, Thayer says upgrading your digital to include advanced ISO and f-stop settings is a must.
“You’ll also want a camera that can deal with a high ISO (a camera’s sensitivity to light),” says Thayer, adding that knowing your camera’s settings backward and forward also saves time in the dark. For beginners, a first shot should be a 30-second capture with an f 2.8 setting and ISO of 6400. From there, tiny tweaks with ISO light settings and aperture (f-stop) opening will do.
Times to Avoid
While capturing a bright full moon might seem ideal, Thayer says that is actually one of the biggest novice mistakes. Stars and planets are much easier to capture on a new moon when the stars illuminate, not the moon.
The weather is also a factor. Coastal fog and haze is often a factor in Acadia National Park, so cool nights, particularly in the fall, are the best time to set up for a night shooting in the park (which is open all hours of the day and night).
Thayer’s favorite shooting locations are in the park. The first, he suggests a hike atop Cadillac Mountain, where framing Frenchman Bay is easiest. “It gives you a very different perspective to see what’s here on Earth,” says Thayer, saying that the breadth of residential and commercial lights are scattered across the area – a cityscape of Maine proportions.
Sand Beach, while just a 290-yard-long beach inlet between granite mountains, has a spectacular view of the night sky. During the daytime, park rangers host weekly programs and guests can hike short ocean-side trails. By night, the waves cresting the shore and wide open view of the sky are optimal for a wide angle view of Acadia’s skyline.
Thayer hosts an annual night photography workshop with the Acadia Night Sky Festival each September, but there are more than a dozen other nighttime adventures that same weekend. A bioluminescent night paddle with Castine Kayak unveils the bright Acadia National Park sky reflected in the water, while experts like Paul Bogard host nightly talks on how human development has drastically infiltrated the natural darkness of the wild. Rangers also pique the interest of future astronomers with evening telescope tours of the constellations and planets.