California Nightscapes Reviews (Sierras/Death Valley)

Night Sky Photography Workshops, Tours, Talks.

Other reviews: Iceland Aurora Tours, Maine Stargazing & Photography, Astromaster La Palma

Eddy B., California (Sierras 2022) The Sierras have an abundance of scenes, venues, and dark skies that are rich for astrophotography and DSO imaging. Mike and Babak are expert at sussing out good locations, especially during testy weather. And it’s fun hanging out with those guys and the other workshop contestants.

Everyone meets at dinner time, jumps in cars, and heads off to the site of the evening, usually within a half hour drive. There’s time to scout around and then do imaging until midnight or 2:30 in the morning. One is free to head back on their own timeline. Usually, it is difficult to stop photo-imaging as there is so much to take in. During the days there is roughly six hours of indoor presentations that are very informative. You will not be asked to take a test, answer trick questions, or sing. Babak and Mike have an enormous wealth of knowledge to pass on. More than there is time to share in classroom. I would recommend slightly more emphasis on in-class photo editing by the participants while Babak and Mike help with technique and critique. The night time itinerary was fine.

The workshop exactly met my expectations. The balance of photography, information, and sleep were fairly well balanced. My biggest technique learned: I finally got a grasp on Planit App use.

Photo © Eddy B.

Sydney Roberts, California (Sierras 2022) I really wanted to improve my night photography skills, learn how to capture beautiful celestial objects, and have a better understanding of which camera gear is appropriate to use for night time. I also wanted to learn more about astronomy in general. This workshop (June 2022) definitely exceeded my expectations. I had a few goals for this workshop, like capturing the Milky Way and getting to know more about the appropriate camera gear to use at night. Not only was I able to accomplish this within the 4 nights I had, but I ended up learning so much more. By the end of 4 nights, I had captured the Milky Way via panoramas and time-lapses. I also got to learn about post processing, how to plan a shoot beforehand, star trails, and how to locate celestial objects. I had a phenomenal experience at the CA Nightscapes workshop because I was surrounded by a very supportive and inspiring group of people, along with two very knowledgeable and patient instructors. Due to the overall nature of the community, I was able to achieve all of my goals. I really valued the classroom lectures because they helped me understand more about why we do photography. Specifically focusing on night photography, I learned about the importance of reserving dark skies and how, sadly, light pollution has started to become normalized in most areas. Photography is a way to show the beauty of nature in its raw form and inform others of how critical it is to protect these areas. I also enjoyed the nightly itineraries and how everyone was super flexible with where to go and how late to stay out. Something I learned was how to successfully create time lapses. The instructors taught us about golden numbers during the classroom lectures and what the appropriate settings are for capturing the night sky in its best form. I also learned how important it is to have patience when capturing the night sky and how timing is everything. This class was very beneficial and inspiring. I walked into the workshop thinking we were just going to focus on photography. Instead, I came out learning not only how to capture the night skies via technical photography skills, but also understand the importance of preserving the night sky and I created lifelong friendships, connections, and memories. 

Photo © Sydney Roberts

Kiran Varma, California ( Sierras 2022) I follow Babak and his work inspires me. I took this workshop because I wanted to learn about night scape photography from him and also learn more about dark skies and light pollution.  This was the best 5 days and nights of my life. This is what I can say about my experience in the workshop: Babak and Mike were extremely humble, helpful and very easy to approach. They were always there guiding us and teaching us what they know. Not once I felt the inferior around them despite their stature being so high in photography community, all thanks to their humility. My tip for future potential participants, money can be earned back but experiences like these are rare, just go ahead with this workshop.

The workshop was beyond my expectations. Right from learning about the gear, to settings for capturing night skies, I have learnt a lot. The classroom lectures were extremely fun and informative. I learned the following: Focusing in the dark, concept of infinite depth of field, long exposure photography, stacking, time lapse of twilight to dark night, lots more. It had been amazing 5 days. Despite the day running from 10 am to 2 am every day, I was still looking forward for more.

Photos © Kiran Varma

Sara Brittain, US (Sierras – 2019) The one I’ve been to was well organized, informative and enjoyable.

Dana Joachim-Motoc, Minnesota (Sierras 2019) I had a great experience and loved both the hands-on photography sessions and the lectures. Babak and Mike are excellent and inspiring teachers. I appreciated all the valuable advice on night photography techniques, celestial events and how to plan for various projects.

Photo © Dana Joachim-Motoc

Laura Perez, Mexico (Sierras 2017) Great organization, a great team to work with!

Photo © Laura Perez

Chirag Upreti, New York (Sierras 2017) This was the first program I attended with Babak. I was new to night sky photography but was blown away by the personal time and teachings he shared with the group. For a three-night exercise, this is an intensive workshop!! Overall, I had a memorable experience mainly because Babak, Mike and TWAN photographer, Oshin Zakarian, as a guest were all very approachable and generous with their time and expertise. If you think of it, that is a lot of experience to tap into.. and we all did.  Also, the choice of locations was fantastic! (even with the traffic at the ancient Bristlecone trees), just to experience the night sky under the bare silhouettes of these ageless giants will always be a memorable experience. My favorite place was Mono Lake. The night sky was stellar but the cherry on top was the fiery sunrise. Awesome planning and locations. Highly recommend this workshop to anyone who wants to do a ‘boot camp’ to learn night sky photography. I was also privileged to get my first magazine print, a double-page spread in Astronomy magazine of a picture I took in the Bristlecone Pine forest on this trip. A special trip with wonderful instructors for sure, you can take it to the bank. 

Photo © Chirag Upreti

Dana Joachim-Motoc, Minnesota (Death Valley 2018) I had a great experience and loved both the hands-on photography sessions and the lectures. The photography locations were beautiful and different each night. I hope to join other programs in future.

Photo ©Dana Joachim-Motoc

Patrick Taylor, California (Death Valley 2018) I’m blessed to work as a ranger in Death Valley and had spent a few months trying to learn astrophotography through books and videos. I learned more with Babak and Mike in a few hours than I had in months by myself. The workshop was well organized, respectful of different skill levels, and took participants to all the best night time spots.

Photo © Patrick Taylor