Searching for Dark Skies in Rural Louisiana

Fortunately, I don’t have to spend that many nights away from home. I drive a lot, but it’s usually there and back. I get up early, work, then try to get back at a decent hour.

Sometimes work schedules dictate otherwise. Sitting around a hotel doing nothing drives me nuts, since I’m used to so much going on at home. So if I can I try to go out and shoot. Since I like to shoot at night or very early in the morning this works out sometime.

Recently I was in Lake Charles, Louisiana overnight, and I wanted to try something different. I’m developing an interest in astrophotography and wanted to find a place away from city lights to shoot the night sky. Enter Dark Site Finder.

This site allows users to search locations worldwide for areas away from light pollution. There’s a color coded map overlaid a Google Maps style display. Lighter colors mean bright areas, close to cities, and darker areas mean areas out of town. If you find a site you consider dark, you can add it to the list of sites. In my case this wasn’t a problem – Lake Charles and most of the communities nearby are very brightly lit.

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This box represents where I spend 95% of my time – so mostly very bright areas. But it’s possible to get into some relatively dark areas.

The blue area shown below is where I was heading:

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I ended up driving about an hour northwest of Lake Charles, close to the Louisiana-Texas ┬áborder. It was quiet – and dark. The moon was pretty full, so there was a ton of moonlight. Not ideal conditions, but it’s not like I could pick a different time. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to set up a trip that coincides with the new moon.

In the end I stayed out until around 8. I drove the hour back to Lake Charles, happy that I’d gotten some good (at least for me) shots, and more importantly, increased my skill in finding good locations and working on getting better shots in-camera. This is definitely something I’ll do again when I get a chance.

A Foggy Morning in St. Francisville

Trying to shoot in foggy conditions can bring mixed results. I often find the view from a distance is much different from the conditions at the location. I’m not sure if that’s because the light (or lack of it) as you see a foggy location from far away, or what. Whatever the case, sometimes I stop and take a chance.

I was on my way to visit a project in St. Francisville, and since I’ve taken to having my camera with me as much as I can (probably some of the best photography advice I’ve read in a while), I was able to turn around and get these shots instead of wondering what might have been.

It was one of those cool, damp mornings we get in Louisiana. The fog was still really thick but wouldn’t be for much longer. I had plenty of time before my meeting, so I stopped. If I hadn’t I would have missed it.

This is right off the highway. I pulled in a small drive, got out, and captured these. I like the quiet and stillness of the overall scene, with a little mystery thrown in with the mist. That’s what I tried to capture.

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An Afternoon Stop in Avoyelles Parish

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven by a great photo, only to keep going because I was in too much of a hurry to get somewhere. Or I didn’t have my camera and tripod with me. Or I didn’t feel like shooting just with my phone.

I’ve read blog posts from other photographers that suggest always having your camera with you. I’ve taken that to heart recently, even going out of my way to stop and get pictures if I can. I think it’s paid off. For one thing, I think we can learn from every great or terrible photo – especially when it comes to technique and settings.

About a month ago I drove a couple of hours to a meeting, and along the way saw an open field with a barn and a large tree kind of out in the middle of nowhere. And I thought it’d make for some pretty good afternoon shots if I could get back in time. So I set my odometer (trying not to mess with my phone while I drive!) so I could find my way back.

I made it back and drove along a dirt path to reach the barn and the tree. I setup and got some bracketed shots. Nothing magic here – just used the bracketing feature in my Nikon D5300, my MeFOTO tripod, and Nikon remote. Putting together HDR shots in Lightroom is super easy, especially if you’re shooting on a tripod.

It was so quiet and peaceful. In a way I wish I’d have stayed past sunset, but part of the work/life/photography balance sometimes keeps me from shooting where and when I want. That’s ok – I wanted to get home and see my wife and kids because the next day I was hitting the road again. Sometimes there’s too much noise, too much work, and not enough quality time with them. But the 30 minutes I spent out there was worth it.

So my advice is to carry your camera all the time, and of course, watch the road, but if you see something interesting, make time to stop and get some shots.