Saving Astrophotography in National Parks

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Brent Bergherm sits at the roundtable with Jeff hosting an episode where the two discuss the story of some passionate photographers saving the right to do astrophotography in two National Parks in the Unites States.  They also talk about about the progress of rebranding the Improve Photography Podcast Network.

Topic 1: IP Network Rebranding Progress

  • The Photo Taco feed has been split out and the episode this past Monday, April 30 2018 the episode about the update to the Profiles functionality released with Lightroom Classic CC 7.3 in early April 2018 is out there.
  • If you haven’t re-subscribed to the individual feeds you will want to do that.  We will continue to put all of the shows into the Improve Photography feed through the end of June just to give listeners a chance to hear the changes.  After that point we intend to only put episodes from the other shows into the IP feed occasionally.
    • If you as a listener would prefer to have the IP feed continue to have all of the shows then let us know in the Facebook groups or email
    • Brent teases about fabulous prizes that will be part of subscribing to Latitude when the separate feed gets going again.
  • We will be re-branding the Improve Photography Podcast to the Master Photography Podcast sometime between now and June.  So don’t worry when the album art and the name changes. Same show, same format, same everything. Just being rebranded.


Topic 2: Saving Astrophotograpy in National Parks

  • In 2017 three national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Teton) banned light painting and were talking about banning all night photography.  It was a very disturbing trend as astrophotography was something people from all over the world came specifically to those parks to do with the unique landscapes and the dark skies.
  • Arches in particular.
    • Bortle scale is a 1-9 scale developed by John Bortle.  Not going to dive into the detail of that scale here, that is something for Photo Taco that I may do someday, but the higher the number the more light pollution you have to deal with in your night photography and the fewer stars you are going to see.
    • Closest city producing light pollution is Moab and at the center of that city you only get to a Bortles scale of 4 out of 9 (
    • Unfortunate thing is that Moab is south of Arches, so if you are going there to take Milky Way photos you are going to have to deal with that light pollution.
    • The southern ⅓ of the Arches has a Bortle rating of 3 and the ⅔ is all the way down to a Bortles of 2.
  • Combine the low amount of light pollution with the very unique landscapes and Arches is a destination for photographers world-wide to get photos of that combination.  
    • In fact, the landscape is so unique there that there is a story you can’t possibly visit Zion National Park without hearing about Frederick S. Dellenbaugh who painted scenes at Zion National Park and took his paintings to the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis.  Nobody believed him that the scenes depicted in his paintings were real.
  • One of the techniques you can use to get a good astro shot is light painting.  Involves using a high lumen flashlight and sweeping over the landscape to try and illuminate it while your shutter is open for tens of seconds to capture the stars.
    • You can imagine that if you were camping in a tent in this area and all of a sudden at 3am a group of photographers was out making noise and sweeping this massively bright light over the area that you wouldn’t be very happy.
    • The park was also having to deal with groups of photographers who were doing a very bad job of cleaning up after themselves or even damaging the landscape.
    • The park had all but decided night photography was causing too many problems and they needed to ban it.
      • In January of 2017 Arches and Canyonlands gave word to Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) permit holders that they were not allowed to do any night photography even though they were issued the CUA permits
      • Worried it was going to be something all National Parks in the U.S. would adopt, deciding that they don’t like any of the problems groups of photographers cause but you can’t really justify banning daytime photography but it isn’t too hard to justify banning all night photography.
      • This caused an uproar and later that same month the Concessions Management Specialist, Michael Hill, said: “Some folks have voiced no concern about the change, while a few others stated that all they do is night photography and that change would be devastating. …For 2017 we will continue to allow night use in the Still Photography Instruction CUA for Canyonlands and Arches, as we have done in the past. Light painting, however has been an issue with our park nighttime visitors, and we still feel that does not have a commercial place in the park. …For 2018 I am open for dialogue if that night use will continue. Feel free to email me your comments.”
  • Something just changed on this in April of 2018 and I didn’t see it covered much by other photography media so I wanted to make sure we did here.
    • There are a couple of very passionate asto photographers named Royce Bair and Wayne Pinkston who managed to get Arches and Canyonlands to change their policy.  Pretty sure Royce lives in Utah, Wayne might too, but regardless of where they live they lead workshops in these National Parks every year.
    • Royce runs a very informative blog called intothenightphoto you can find at
    • Since January 2017 they lobbied the administrators of the park to allow a technique called Low Level Lighting to be allowed so that photographers could responsibly enjoy the unique nature of the park and the incredible astro photography opportunities there.
    • In April 2018 Arches and Canyonlands approved their Low Level Lighting technique as an allowed standard for commercial still photography instruction.
    • Even more important, the direction they were headed to ban all night photography at all has been reversed for the foreseeable future.
    • Grand Teton still does not allow ANY form of artificial lighting to be used (saying it protects the wildlife), but at least the park is allowing night photography.
  • Low level lighting technique
    • Going to see if I can get Royce to come on Photo Taco to detail the technique
    • Very simple, easier than light painting
      • Light panels need be very dim.  Usually turn the lights all the way down to the minimum
      • It is best to locate the light about 45-60 degrees off to the side of the camera position
      • Advantageous to place them at least a 100 feet (30m) from the focal point if the landscape allows. The farther the lights from the focal point, the more uniform the lighting.
      • Get the lights off the ground if possible.  
        • Use a lighter tripod for the lights if you are hiking into the location, something 42 to 50 inches of the ground is pretty good
        • Light stands that get the lights 10 to 15 feet off the ground is even better
    • Inexpensive



  • Jeff: Crossover between by day job as an information security professional and photography and I am going to recommend two factor authentication.  This is the fairly annoying thing you setup where after you put in your username and password you have are asked to put a number into the website before it will let you login.  Two things you really want to make sure you protect with two factor authentication if you can. Email and banking. If you are using Gmail then setting up the Google Authenticator on your phone makes it as painless as it can possibly get.  If you use Microsoft they have an authenticator app too.
  • Brent: reMarkable tablet. A sketching tablet that does a pretty good job of mimicking paper.



  • is the new home for the show, you will want to go there and check it out
  • Facebook group is Improve Photography Podcast, can search for it on Facebook or you can go to and there are links there.  To keep the bots out you have to answer a question naming a host of a show on the network. Either of our names will work and that is Jeff Harmon and Brent Bergherm.
  • Find Jeff’s work at,
  • Find Brent’s work at (workshops to Ireland and Croatia) and

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