Dark Skies

Canadian photographer captures breathtaking images of Jasper’s night sky

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If we had to come up with a list of our favourite things about getting out of the city, gazing up at a clear night sky would definitely be at the top. And though laying on your dock may seem like the best possible place to take in the stars, there are actually 17 parks and observatories across the country that have been designated as official Dark Sky Preserves by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Jasper National Park received the official label in 2011, becoming one of the world’s largest preserves.

To celebrate the special designation, Jasper now holds a Dark Sky Festival every October. This year’s (which ran from the 17th to 26th) featured a guest appearance by Chris Hadfield, photography workshops, stargazing tours, starlit musical performances, and more. If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend, take a look at Jasper-based photographer Jeff Bartlett’s photos below; they provide an incredible glimpse of what it’s like to spend time under the country’s darkest skies.

 

Words and Photos by Jeff Bartlett

I love stargazing from remote campsites as much as any outdoor adventurer, but I have always been more intrigued by astrophotography. Images of the Milky Way frozen in place or stars streaking across the sky reveal details that our eyes simply cannot capture.

In 2011, I moved to Jasper, Alberta, just as the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated the national park a Dark Sky Preserve, an area free from artificial light. I was instantly hooked on capturing the night sky; however, I soon learned it was a long-term commitment. Perfect conditions—with clear skies and no moonlight—are rare.

Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is the only Dark Sky Preserve in Canada that contains a town. Normally, towns create too much light pollution—best described as that iridescent glow that spreads skywards above all major cities. This image shows the minimal lighting impact that the town of Jasper has on its surroundings.
Pyramid Lake, located just seven kilometres from the town of Jasper
Pyramid Lake, located just seven kilometres from the town of Jasper, is one of my favorite photography destinations. In less than 15 minutes, I can go from watching TV at home to capturing the Milky Way above the Canadian Rockies.
Moonless nights are prime for astrophotography
Moonless nights are prime for astrophotography because there is no ambient light to spoil the view of the night sky. Sadly, this means that foregrounds are left in darkness, too, unless I paint light into the scene with a flashlight.
I am always amazed at how much light a single passing car can throw into a landscape.
I am always amazed at how much light a single passing car can throw into a landscape. With good timing—or simply good luck—it’s possible to illuminate an entire scene.
Full moons create even lighting
Full moons create even lighting, which makes for some very calm landscapes. Unfortunately, the added light does hide all but the brightest stars.
Despite the amount of time I spend photographing at night, I am still terrified of the dark.
Despite the amount of time I spend photographing at night, I am still terrified of the dark. While I make these images—which require I shut off my headlamp for only 30 seconds—my imagination cycles through every horror movie I have ever watched.
Photos at a small Jasper runway
The evening I made these photographs at Jasper’s small runway, I hadn’t planned to make any star images. I was searching for the Northern Lights, which failed to appear, so I made the most of the clear skies to make sure I didn’t return empty-handed.
Sometimes it’s easiest to keep these images simple.
Sometimes it’s easiest to keep these images simple. I’ll often simply drive around Jasper National Park, searching for a clear view of the Milky Way. When I find it, I simply point the camera towards the scene and trip the shutter.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, established in 1915 under the name of Tent City, was the first tourism business in Jasper National Park. It’s still one of the busiest, too, and it caters to the dark-sky crowd with weekly astronomy nights hosted by the lodge’s own resident astronomer.

After many years spent abroad, in 2011, freelance photographer and writer Jeff Bartlett settled in Jasper National Park, where he now photographs adventure sports, travel, and weddings. His words and images above originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Travel and Escape Magazine