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Utah photographer excited for the Milky Way’s 'rift' and summer astrophotography

By Cara MacDonald, | Posted - Apr. 25, 2019 at 12:15 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — As the weather warms and more Utahns are getting out camping and adventuring in the evenings, the state is heading into peak season for astronomy and astrophotography.

Daniel Smith, nature photography instructor for the University of Utah’s Parks, Rec and Tourism department, has been gearing up for summer night photography opportunities.

“I like to get out and play with (astrophotography) both with the students and on my own,” he said.

Smith’s favorite part of night photography in the summer is the Milky Way, which has a dark rift within it in which new stars are forming. The rift is only visible from around June until October in the Northern Hemisphere, according to Earth Sky. “It’s usually a pretty dramatic shot for people, and it comes out in mid- to late-summer,” Smith said. “Getting out in those times is a good idea, although of course, it stays light later so you’ll have to stay up later.”

The key to seeing the rift, according to Earth Sky, is to hunt for it in the darkest sky possible. The darker the sky, the better the Milky Way photos will be. Smith suggested a variety of ways to get into nature and find some dark skies to photograph or analyze with star charts.

“Some of the most straight-forward locations are the national parks and state parks,” he said. “Some of them are pretty remote and a lot of them have night sky initiatives in the parks. There are numerous opportunities in the parks themselves to find some nice (astronomy) locations.”

Smith has primarily been to southern Utah, which is well-known for its dark skies, for his astrophotography photoshoots because of the lack of population there. He also enjoys shooting star photos on Bureau of Land Management land down by Natural Bridges. “It has some of the darkest skies in the state,” he said. He also enjoys taking photos in the West Desert.

Smith suggested yurt camping as a great way to get into nature and find some dark, unpolluted skies. A number of yurts are scattered around the state in some of the most remote places. Smith explained that it is a lot of fun to go stay in a yurt and recreate in the area during the day and do some nice, dark sky photography at night.

“It’s kind of an eye-opener when you’re out there pointing your camera partially at the horizon and partially at the night sky," he said. "You’ll get some different lighting effects potentially from a town far away, or you might find something out there that your eye doesn’t usually see. The longer exposures can make it a little bit more dramatic. Sometimes every shot is just like ‘oh! I didn’t realize that was out there!’”

For those just starting to get into dark sky photography and astronomy, Smith recommended taking some time to learn photography techniques and understand the stars, constellations and when to go find them.

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