Capitol Reef National Park
Starry sky over butte in Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, Utah. Scott Barlow via Getty Images

Bryce Canyon

Scenic view of the night sky in Bryce Canyon, Utah.

In the United States there are 640 million acres of public lands, much of which makes up the country’s National Parks. Nature and wildlife photographers consider them hallowed ground. On September 29 we will be celebrating the 25th annual National Public Lands Day, a day set up to promote the conservation of these beautiful areas so that generations after ours can continue to appreciate their beauty. This is a particularly great time of year to try your hand at astrophotography. Cooler temperatures make for clearer skies because the air can’t hold as much moisture—making for fewer obstacles between your camera and the stars above. Shooting in a remote location, like many of the regions that have been designated as public lands, also eliminates light pollution. It’s the perfect time to get outside and shoot the stars above.


Capitol Reef National Park

Starry sky over butte in Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, Utah.


If you plan to head out this weekend make sure to bring lots of layers. Epic starscapes take time, and you can expect to be sitting still for a long time and in desert climates it’s not unusual for temperatures to drop quickly once the sun sets. A fast wide angle lens, plenty of extra batteries and a sturdy tripod—great for long exposure—will also be useful when shooting the stars at night.

Camera Settings:

Try starting at an ISO of 3200, a 15 or 30 second exposure (that’s where the tripod will come in handy) and your aperture set to at least F2.8. Shoot RAW to give yourself the most leeway in the edit room.


Big Bend National Park

Night view of Dorgan House located in Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Let the photos in the gallery below serve as inspiration for your nighttime shoots.

Planning to shoot on public lands this weekend? We’d love to see the results! Post your images to Instagram, tag us (@popphotomag) and use the hashtag #popphotopubliclands in your caption. We’ll share some of our favorite reader photos next week.


Canyonland National Park

False Kiva at night with Milky Way in Canyonland National Park.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua tree and the Milky Way.

Lost Lake, Oregon, USA

Starry night sky with Mars rising over Mt. Hood.

Crater Lake

Aurora Milky Way sky over Crater Lake Island.

Death Valley National Park

Beautiful night sky with the Milky Way over an empty road in Death Valley National Park.

Grand Teton National Park

A beautiful night view of the Milky Way along the banks of the Snake River.

Arches National Park

Milky Way swirls over Arches Park.

Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve

Milky Way rising over Tufa Formations at Mono Lake in California.

North Dakota

Star trails in North Dakota.

Denali National Park

Northern Lights and the Big Dipper over Denali.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, and it’s constellation Cains Major, sets over the divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.

Yellowstone National Park

Scenic view of stars over Yellowstone National Park.

Yosemite National Park

Low angle view of trees against a star field at night in Yosemite National Park.