Stargaze and Photograph the Night Sky at Glacier Point

Glacier Point Parking Area

With Yosemite National Park being miles away from the nearest town, Glacier Point provides some of the lowest light pollution in the country, making it the ideal spot to do some serious stargazing!

The summer months of June, July, and August tend to provide the best views of the stars, and particularly in August during the meteor showers. Amateur astronomers often gather on Saturdays during the summer, and provide first hand knowledge and guidance. Glacier Point can accommodate hundreds of people with plenty of viewing opportunities, and the view of Half Dome is hard to beat. The stars begin to appear just after sunset, and quickly blanket the night sky. And if you're there on a Saturday during the Summer you'll likely be entertained by a stargazing talk from local astronomers and park rangers.

However, if you prefer a more low key and less crowded time, try late spring. The above shots were taken around the end of April, and while the crowd was still significant for the sunset, the crowd quickly dissipates once the sun goes down. The only downside to this time is that you can still get snow well into May, and so Glacier Point Road will be hit or miss.

If you plan on trying astro photography, two mobile apps that will prove critical in planning your shot are PhotoPills and the Photographer's Ephemeris. Just be sure to familiarize yourself with the apps prior to using them for the first time on the night that you're shooting. They're not something you can just open and use right away without going through a little learning curve. PhotoPills is absolutely wonderful if you plan on trying to capture the galactic core of the milky way. It allows you simulate the time and placement of the core so that you can know exactly when and where it will be. Try your best to avoid a full moon as that will wash out many of the night sky objects.

For equipment, you'll want a good quality camera capable of shooting at a very high ISO. The dusk shot above was shot at ISO 1000, however, the darker shot which was taken around midnight required an ISO of 3200. You'll also require a fast, wide angle lens. I used a 14mm f/2.8, and if you can use something even faster then great! That will greatly aid you in not having to bump your ISO levels up beyond what is acceptable. And don't forget your tripod. Out of everything, the tripod is actually the most critical. Without it, astro photography is impossible.

There's different opinions on how to set up your focus. But you will definitely not be able to use your camera's auto focus. So you'll either want to manually set it to infinity, or use a depth of field calculator (PhotoPills has one) to determine your hyperfocal distance...the distance at which everything beyond is in "acceptable" focus at a given aperture.

Above all, take your time, and just enjoy the evening! It doesn't get much better than stargazing at Glacier Point with a nice view of Half Dome off in the distance. And if you just happen to capture that moment with a great shot, that's just icing on the cake!

Pack List

  • Jacket (even in summer)
  • Quality camera
  • Fast, wide angle lens
  • Tripod
  • Mobile apps for planning your shot
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Activities Chillin, Photography
Skill Level Beginner
Season Year Round
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Forest
Handicap Accessible
Scenic

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Superb views of the night sky

While there is some light pollution the stars are definitely bright over Yosemite Valley. Compositions with a good close foreground can be hard here but if you just frame the valley with Half Dome it looks great.


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