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  • Writer's pictureJames Paulson

Astrophotography Tips – Part 1 – Dark Sites


One of the most important and most affordable first steps that you can take on the road to getting better astro images is to start by collecting your image data under the best conditions possible. This means choosing a dark site.


I prefer Bortle 1 or Bortle 2 sites, but I sometimes will image in Bortle 4 or even Bortle 6. Bortle 6 is terrible to me. My images wind up with all kinds of transition gradients, and my sky is muddy and a dull grey. When processing I can of course set my black point deeper, but then details begin to disappear into the data. Bortle 6 is fine for planetary imaging, but is not suitable for deep sky no matter what people will try to tell you.


When we visit our Bortle 2 locations, the sky is like magic. Anything you can do to get stray light out of the background is better. The Milky Way begins to show its dust lanes very well, and details stand out to the naked eye. And when you are imaging, you can image much deeper, right up into a full well condition, and be assured that you are collecting actual data. The sky is truly dark, almost coal black. Bortle 1 is a truly religious experience to people who love the night sky.


As a matter of number, I find that I can image in 15 minutes under Bortle 2 what takes me an hour in Bortle 4. My images are more detailed, and going deeper on those images under Bortle 2 just adds even more usable data. The whole experience of doing astronomy under the best possible sky is almost a spiritual experience, and I urge everyone to get out and locate those places and help protect them.


You can use the Clear Dark Sky map linked below to help you locate these dark sky places.



Please feel free to zoom in to your area and learn more and find those special spots left untouched.

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