This week is International Dark Sky Week, an initiative dedicated to minimizing light pollution and bringing better lighting to communities around the world. To bring some awareness to the cause, we enlisted Astrophotographer Jack Fusco to help us find some dark skies near one of the brightest places in the US: Los Angeles. Here's what he had to say.
Despite a population of nearly 4 million, living in Los Angeles can come with some unexpected perks. If you can time your drive around traffic, you can find yourself under some unbelievable dark skies in no time. With a little bit more planning, you can not only find yourself under dark skies, but in the perfect location to get a view of the Milky Way.
Before we dive in to the list of locations, here are some photo setting and gear tips to help get you on the way to capturing the stars!
Camera Gear & Settings:
Camera: Any camera that will allow you set your controls manually will work
Lens: Most often a wide angle lens (24mm or wider) with a fast aperture (f/4 or ideally f2.8)
Tripod: You’ll want to keep your camera stable for the entire long exposure to make sure you photo is sharp
Aperture: A fast aperture will let more light in, so we’ll want to set this as fast as possible.
ISO: This will vary between cameras, but start around ISO1600 and experiment to see what works best for you. If it’s your first time out, be sure to try a few different settings each time.
Shutter Speed: Although most cameras will take up to a 30” exposure, this may result in your stars becoming short lines. Experiment with different exposure times between 10 to 30 seconds. A wider focal length will generally allow a longer exposure.
Temperatures tend to dip at night and since many of these locations are at a bit of elevation, may drop even more than expected. It’s best to layer up so you can be prepared. My favorites include the Reign Long Sleeve and the Tundra Quilted Hooded Jacket
Location 1: Malibu
Distance from LA: 33 Miles
Just a short drive, depending on traffic, from LA and you can find yourself staring up at the Milky Way. Pair this surprising view of the stars with the beautiful coastline and a night stargazing in Malibu is sure to be on you'll remember. Though stargazing can be great year-round, the best time to view the core of the Milky Way will be from late Spring until the Fall.
Tip: Your best view will be to the West/South West. Use apps like Star Walk to see what will be in the night sky on your visit.
Location 2: Alabama Hills
Distance from LA: 211 Miles
Sitting at 4,534′, Alabama Hills lays in the foot hills of the Eastern Sierra mountains. Although there are small towns and plenty of amenities nearby, this location is remote enough to provide an incredible view of the stars and Milky Way in nearly every direction. In the very early AM hours, the Milky Way becomes visible over the East/South East horizon during the first few months of the year. As we head toward Spring and Summer, the Milky Way will become visible earlier with each passing night.
Tip: With the nearby town of Lone Pine at your back, you can look up at the stars above Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States.
Location 3: Joshua Tree National Park
Distance from LA: 131 Miles
In addition to being a National Park, Joshua Tree is also recognized as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Though the entire park will offer a great view of the stars, certain areas will be better than others due to some of the nearby towns. Pinto Basin Road will often have less traffic and will be less impacted by some of the light pollution.
Tip: Be aware of locations marked as “Day Use Only” as this is often to protect areas that wildlife tends to visit at night.
Location 4: Mount Laguna
Distance from LA: 167 Miles
Even closer to San Diego than LA, the views attainable from Mount Laguna are sure to be worth the drive regardless of your starting point. Stargazing here can be done at simple roadside pull outs or along any number of trails that provide stunning views as the Laguna Mountains overlook the desert landscape below. These sweeping vistas only become more stunning after the sun sets and the stars shine. The best view of the Milky Way will be from early Spring to Mid-Summer.
Tip: In addition to cloud coverage, keep an eye on wind speed as this area is prone to gusts upwards of 50mph.
Location 5: Trona Pinnacles
Distance from LA: 168 Miles
Possibly one of the most unique and other worldly looking landscapes in Southern California, it’s no surprise that this area is often the back drop for films set on other planets. Over 500 of these tufa spires become visible after just a few miles of driving off road. Though a bit bumpy, the road shouldn’t be a problem for 2wd vehicles with proper precautions. Once arrived, you’ll immediately understand what makes this a great location for stargazing. With no immediate town nearby, you’ll have unobstructed views of the stars in every direction.
Tip: Plan your trip around a New Moon for the best view of the Milky Way year-round.