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Dark Sky Photography Locations

Milky Way by Steve BellMilky Way by Steve Bell

The North York Moors National Park has amazingly dark skies. Little wonder then that astrophotographers from across the UK make a beeline for it when mother nature is putting on a display in the heavens. Head to Dalby Forest during any of these periods and you’ll usually find a huge array of telescopes in all shapes and sizes pointing into the deep dark night skies.

However, the dark skies above the North York Moors are not just limited to enthusiasts with telescopes. Having a simple digital camera, a wide angle lens, tripod and a little bit of knowledge can enable photographers to capture stunning images of the night skies.

Steve Bell, a professional photographer based in Helmsley, shares three of his favourite locations across that National Park that are easy to find and lend themselves to fantastic photo opportunities on clear nights.

Young Ralph’s Cross

Milky Way above Young Ralph's Cross Credit Steve Bell/NYMNPALocated conveniently on the side of the road between Hutton le Hole and Castleton, Young Ralph’s Cross is in the perfect location for year-round images. With its unobstructed views to the north, occasionally it’s possible to capture the Northern Lights dancing behind the cross. In summer months, the rare and elusive Noctilucent Clouds can be photographed.

The Milky Way can always be photographed from this location and, with a little practise, you can easily line it up with the Cross. March to late April and then August through until the end of October are the best months as the Galactic core of the Milky Way will be visible.

Using the numerous free apps that are now available for your mobile phone such as Sky Guide, will not only let you find celestial bodies easily in the sky by pointing your mobile phones camera at it, but they also allow you to plan in advance to optimise the best time to visit.

Bonfield Gill

Head out of Helmsley towards Carlton and follow the road down Cowhouse Bank. After a few miles you will arrive at Bonfield Gill, which has parking for a couple of cars at the side of the road. Being at the bottom of a valley, it has some of the darkest skies across all of the North York Moors. Bonfield Gill does not offer the same opportunities year-round that Young Ralph’s Cross does, however from late March through until early May, the Galactic core of the Milky Way lines up perfectly with the Gill.

It’s a fantastic location for taking single images or you could even try to create some epic time-lapse footage from here. As with all dark sky photography, having a head torch is much easier than using a handheld torch. Ideally one with a red-light option is even better as it protects your night vision, allowing you to see the night sky in all its glory with your own eyes.

Egton Moor – lone tree

Photographer Steve Bell capturing the dark skies above the North York Moors Following Wheeldale Road from Egton Bridge you will soon be onto the open moors. Standing proudly by itself is a lone tree, which makes for great foreground interest in any photo. As with all dark skies photography, is it always advantageous to visit your chosen location in daylight to plan your shoot and become familiar with your surroundings. It would be very easy to drive past the tree here if you do not know exactly where it was.

This is another year-round location for taking great images. A very early start on a clear moonless morning in March or April will enable you to shoot a panoramic image of the Milky Way Arch through the night sky from the south east into the northern skies, with the tree directly under its arc. Later on in the year, as the Milky Way rises vertically, it will align perfectly with the tree.

For the best results in all locations, ideally you need to take images when there is little or no moonlight. A full moon looks beautiful but the light it gives off saturates the skies, making it very tricky to create stunning images.Heather at sunset on Egton moor by RJBPhotographic.co.uk

Photographing the Night Sky e-Book

Steve has produced a free e-Book to further encourage the public to get out and appreciate dark skies. It's aimed at beginners and covers all the necessary information and skills to produce images to be proud of. Download it and discover your inner astro-photographer!