How to plan a night photography shoot

Night photography

Astrophotographer Jack Fusco reveals how he plans his night photography shoots.

In the world of night photography, it doesn’t get much better than a dark, star-filled sky located far away from any light pollution. Unfortunately, these locations can be few and far between. Hours upon hours are often spent driving or flying to these remote spots, seeking out that view of the stars that makes you momentarily pause and take it all in before your sleepless night really begins. One quick look at a light pollution map of the states shows just how little remains of the areas that provide a good view of the stars. Living in New Jersey – the most densely populated state in America – hasn’t made my trek in to landscape-astrophotography an easy one. With all of this in mind, I’ve planned out a trip up the Eastern coast of the United States to one of the darkest spots east of the Mississippi river; Acadia National Park in Maine.

I’ve spent a good deal of time researching the areas I want to visit and the best time of night to be there. But before I get to that, let’s take a look at what I’ll be bringing with me:

  • Canon 7D
  • Tokina 11-16 f/2.8
  • Canon 17-40 f/4L
  • Remote Shutter Release (2)
  • Slik 500dx tripod
  • Manfrotto MKC-03 (backup tripod)
  • Flashlight with “night mode” (2)
  • Flood light
  • GPS

I prefer traveling as light as possible, but I also want to make sure I’m well prepared while I’m there. I’ll be taking backups of easily lost or broken items to make sure that if anything happens, I won’t be left unable to get the shots I’m there for. I opted to pick up a headlamp for this trip to leave my hands free while maneuvering at night. The additional flashlights/floodlight will help me through trails at night and also help light paint the foreground while shooting.

Having never been to Acadia before, I want to be as prepared as possible for the trip. I have a large agenda and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that I can achieve everything.


So, how do you prepare and scout locations for a place you’ve never been to?  To start, I took advantage of the vast amount of information on the internet to begin finding places of interest. A quick Google Images or Flickr search will return plenty of photos to help get your ideas flowing. I followed that up by using Google Earth/Maps to do some further research of the areas I plan to visit. After I had my list of locations and research finished on Google Maps, I used a stargazing app on my iPhone to try to see what time I will need to be at each location for the shot I want. Knowing when the Milky Way will be exactly in the spot you want it to for a specific shot can save a lot of time as opposed to waiting once you’re there.

Night photography

Credit: Star Walk for iPhone

Light Pollution Map. Copyright Royal Astronomical Society. Reproduced from the Monthly Notices of the RAS by permission of Blackwell Science.

On my trip, I’ll be racing from location to location throughout the night. I’ll be making stops at Jordan Pond, Otter Cliffs, Bass Head Harbor Lighthouse, and Cadillac Mountain as well as many other spots.

After all the prep work is done, there isn’t much left to do other than hope everything else cooperates. I’ll be sending out updates from my trip on my Facebook page and Twitter account along the way. Be sure to keep an eye out for a follow up article here to see all of the shots I was out chasing.  Here’s hoping for clear skies!


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Gallery: Seascape and night photography from Jack Fusco