Where to go for the best astrophotography sites in Australia.

While you can photograph the night sky from your backyard or a nearby park or football field, if you live in a city – or even a moderately large town – light pollution reduces the number of stars you can see and the quality of the images you record. Urban lighting creates light pollution and can be a serious issue in the settled areas, as shown in the map below. Many businesses and private institutions don’t comply with international standards for reducing light pollution, according to the Astronomical Society of NSW.

A map of light pollution around Australia, copied from the Global Map of Light Pollution produced by the Instituto di Scienza e Tecnologia dell’Inquinamento Luminoso.

General guidelines

The following general guidelines can help you obtain the best possible images.
1. Go somewhere dark.
2. Avoid shooting on hot nights as heat increases image noise. Better results are obtained in winter than summer.
3. Keep ISO settings below ISO 1600 – or below ISO 400 for star trails.
4. Capture raw files maximise editing opportunities.
5. If your camera includes a Live Composite mode, use it.

The light from the moon can prevent you from capturing the full glory of the night sky, even when you’re well away from urban light pollution. This 60-second exposure was taken in the Simpson Desert with a 28mm lens at f/11 and ISO 200. The small aperture reveals six points, produced by three iris diaphragm blades in the lens.

Best places for astrophotography
Australia has some great places for astrophotography, including places that include tours and other activities that are of more general interest. These are ideal for holiday trips with families that include school-age children. Below is a list of some of the sites dedicated to astrophotography on a state-by-state basis. It’s worth noting they mainly cater for night photography.

New South Wales

The Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park is a 23,312-hectare park in the Orana region of NSW, which was set up as the first IDA Dark Sky Park in Australia in 2016 as an extension of the work done by the Siding Spring Observatory.

The Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park, which is located in the Warrumbungle National Park, near Coonabarabran in central western NSW, was the first IDA Dark Sky Park in Australia.

The nearby Milroy Observatory just off the Baradine Road about 10 km from Coonabarabran runs nightly tours showcasing the wonders of the southern night sky with local comet discoverer, ‘Donna the Astronomer‘. Bookings are essential.

Visitors to Milroy Observatory can enjoy clear night skies and learn about astronomy from local comet discoverer, ‘Donna the Astronomer’. (Image © Donna Burton.)

South Australia

Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary contains six Designated Observatories that offer guided tours plus traditional eye-to-telescope observing, a state-of-the-art digital Astro Experience and opportunities to learn about the night sky using astronomical binoculars from a comfortable camp lounge chair. Astronomers are encouraged to bring their equipment and utilise the roll-off roof observatory. The best months to visit are from March to October.

The River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve is roughly 90 minutes north from Adelaide in the heart of South Australia’s Swan Reach Conservation Park. Rated as one of the darkest places in the world, it was nominated as an IDA Dark Sky Park in 2019 and flagged as a potential education hub for stargazing.

The River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve, which is rated as one of the darkest places in the world, is a great place for photographing star trails.

Also in South Australia is the Innes National Park on Yorke Peninsula, a remote location with dark skies that is one of the best spots in South Australia to see the Milky Way.

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Taking your photographs when there’s no Moon in the sky makes it easier to bring out fainter stars, resulting in a more dramatic picture. (© Andrew Murrell.)

This article by Margaret Brown is an excerpt from Astrophotography pocket guide – click here to order print or ebook edition.

Pocket guide Partner: Camera House