Lick Observatory Summer Series of Events are on for 2022! Tickets go on sale on April 13th, 2022 at Noon.
Event Information

Photographers enjoying a spectacular sunset at a Photography Night on September 30th, 2017. Photo by (c) Michael Coustier.

Update January 2022:  While things are still uncertain due to the current COVID omicron variant surge, we are moving forward with planning the 2022 event season.

 

Photography Nights at Lick Observatory

At the summit of Mt. Hamilton, above the city of San Jose, we have spectacular views of the night sky. Due to Lick Observatory’s popularity with photographers, we are organizing photography events this year.

Photography Night dates in 2022

  • Saturday, May 7th (gates open at 7:00 pm)
  • Saturday, June 18th (gates open at 7:30 pm)
  • Saturday, July 30th (gates open at 7:30 pm)
  • Saturday, August 27th (gates open at 7:00 pm)
  • Saturday, September 24th (gates open at 6:30 pm)

We will open up the main building after normal visiting hours for photographers and their equipment. We will have the 36-inch Great Refractor telescope in a photogenic position, with the dome open, weather permitting. (Note: viewings or taking pictures through the telescope will not be offered at this event.) Photographers will also be able to set up their camera equipment and/or telescopes in the parking lot in order to capture the exterior of the main building, the San Jose city lights, and stars in the night sky. Drones may not be flown on the Observatory property.

Tickets

Admission fee: $75.00 per vehicle (one ticket per vehicle, 4 people maximum per vehicle)
Tickets will go on sale on April 13th, 2022 at Noon PDT at ucsctickets.com.

We have space for a maximum of 25 vehicles, up to four people per vehicle / ticket (buses, RVs, and trailers are not permitted to the Photography Night). In the event of poor weather, registrants will be notified of event cancellation via e-mail on the day of the event, and your tickets will be refunded. Please subscribe to our photography events mailing list (see below) in order to receive information about future Photography Night events.

Our upcoming Photography Nights will have the following COVID-19 safety protocols:

  • Starting April 10th, visitors to Lick Observatory are no longer required to wear a face mask while indoors, but it is strongly recommended.
  • All guests must fill out our UC Santa Cruz COVID Daily Symptom Check either online before arrival at the observatory or via a paper form upon arrival and before the start of the event. You will receive more information regarding this COVID-19 requirement in a separate communication prior to the event.
  • All attendees must show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative PCR test within the previous 72 hours.
  • By purchasing a ticket, you agree to abide by these policies.

 

Need inspiration for what to shoot?
Check out the Lick Observatory Flickr collection and Instagram feed for ideas.

Driving to Lick Observatory
Allow a one hour drive from San Jose. Please drive carefully; the road is scenic, but winding. There are no gas or automotive services on Mount Hamilton Road, so please plan accordingly. Find more travel information here.

Event Schedule for May 7th, 2022

7:00 pm Gates open for event: sunset photography, 36-inch Refractor dome open
7:00-9:00 pm Gift Shop is open
8:08 pm Sunset
8:30 pm Gates close – all photographers must have arrived by this time
9:04 pm 12 degree twilight (nautical twilight)
9:41 pm 18 degree twilight (astronomical twilight)
11:30 pm Main building and 36-inch Refractor dome will close
12:21 am Moon set (waxing crescent)
12:30 am Photography event ends (post office lobby will remain open for access to restrooms and vending machines)

Event Schedule for June 18th, 2022

7:30 pm Gates open for event: sunset photography, 36-inch Refractor dome open
7:30-9:30 pm Gift Shop is open
8:37 pm Sunset
9:00 pm Gates close – all photographers must have arrived by this time
9:39 pm 12 degree twilight (nautical twilight)
10:23 pm 18 degree twilight (astronomical twilight)
12:00 am Main building and 36-inch Refractor dome will close
12:20 am Moon rise (waning gibbous)
1:00 am Photography event ends (post office lobby will remain open for access to restrooms and vending machines)

Event Schedule for July 30th, 2022

7:30 pm Gates open for event: sunset photography, 36-inch Refractor dome open
7:30-9:30 pm Gift Shop is open
8:24 pm Sunset
9:00 pm Gates close – all photographers must have arrived by this time
9:22 pm 12 degree twilight (nautical twilight)
9:58 pm Moon set (waxing crescent)
10:00 pm 18 degree twilight (astronomical twilight)
12:00 am Main building and 36-inch Refractor dome will close
1:00 am Photography event ends (post office lobby will remain open for access to restrooms and vending machines)

Event Schedule for August 27th, 2022

7:00 pm Gates open for event: sunset photography, 36-inch Refractor dome open
7:00-9:00 pm Gift Shop is open
7:51 pm Sunset
8:27 pm Moon set (new moon)
8:30 pm Gates close – all photographers must have arrived by this time
8:43 pm 12 degree twilight (nautical twilight)
9:17 pm 18 degree twilight (astronomical twilight)
11:30 pm Main building and 36-inch Refractor dome will close
12:30 am Photography event ends (post office lobby will remain open for access to restrooms and vending machines)

Event Schedule for September 24th, 2022

6:30 pm Gates open for event: sunset photography, 36-inch Refractor dome open
6:30-7:30 pm Gift Shop is open
6:55 pm Moon set (new moon)
7:09 pm Sunset
7:58 pm 12 degree twilight (nautical twilight)
8:00 pm Gates close – all photographers must have arrived by this time
8:29 pm 18 degree twilight (astronomical twilight)
11:00 pm Main building and 36-inch Refractor dome will close
12:00 am Photography event ends (post office lobby will remain open for access to restrooms and vending machines)

Join the Photography Events Mailing List

If you’d like to receive information about Photography Nights at Lick Observatory, please join our Photography Events mailing list. Subscribers of this list will receive the pre-sale link and pre-sale access code to purchase a ticket.

Photography Night Etiquette

With so many avid photographers on site, all wanting to get that special shot of Lick Observatory, the 36″ Great Refractor, the night sky, and/or city view, attendees must be aware of how their actions affect those around them.  Here is a short etiquette guide to help make sure everyone gets a fantastic photo and enjoys the evening.

  • Be courteous and considerate of other photographers, remember that you are not the only photographer on site.
  • Do not position yourself in front of other photographers – ask if you are in their field of view.
  • Check with those to either side before walking in front of their camera – they may be in the middle of a long exposure.
  • Check with those to either side of you before turning on a light (flashlight, headlamp, phone, etc.) – they may be in the middle of a long exposure.
  • If you do want a closer view/perspective, check with others before you move forward to be sure you don’t walk into their frame.  Please make it a quick intrusion and don’t stay there too long!

Tips for Nighttime Photography

Photography Nights are a great opportunity to hone your photography skills.  There is no one way to get beautiful photographs after sunset, but here are a few points to get you started.

Equipment

While you don’t need all the equipment listed below to get great nighttime photos, it certainly helps.

  • Tripod – Most nighttime photography requires longer exposures, so a stable tripod is essential for most photos.
  • Fast lens – A lower-aperture lens will let in more light, with generally f/1.4 or 2.8 or similarly low f-ratios being preferred.   If you don’t have a lens with that low an f-stop setting, you can still get great nighttime photos, but you may have to do longer exposures.
  • Learn to use the Bulb setting on your camera before it is dark – figuring out how to manually set the aperture and exposure time in the dark is challenging at best.
  • Cable release – While not essential, it is very helpful to use a cable release to start your exposures.  This reduces the chance of shaking the camera when pushing the shutter release button.
  • Lens stabilization – In most cases if you are using a tripod, you’ll want to turn off the lens stabilization if the lens has that feature.  The tripod is doing the stabilizing work so the lens doesn’t have to.
  • Batteries – Make sure you have extra batteries for your camera.  Holding the shutter open for many long exposures will drain the battery more quickly than with general daytime use.

Techniques

  • Wide Angle Shots:  Lenses less than 16mm focal length are great for wide angle shots of the nighttime sky.  The shorter the focal length, the longer the exposure can be before you see star trails instead of point-like stars.  A quick rule of thumb to avoid star trails is to divide 600 by the focal length of the lens to get the longest exposure time that will not show star trails.  For example, if you are using an 16mm lens, 600/16=37.5, so the longest exposure time you’d want to use is 37 seconds.
  • ISO: The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive to light the film or detector will be, but there will be more noise with higher ISOs.  The ideal ISO for nighttime photography varies depending on the camera and the subject matter.  In most cases using ISO 800 to 2000 works well for nighttime and astrophotography.
  • Focusing:  Focusing in dark settings can be challenging and in most cases the camera auto focus function will fail.  Hence, learning to use the manual focus of your camera/lens is crucial. Most lenses have a mark indicating the Infinity focus setting, which you want to use for astrophotography.  Once that is set, zoom in on a star on the LCD display using the magnify icon and finely adjust the focus until the star is as well focused as you can make it.  This procedure may involve taking many exposures to make sure you have the best focus.  If you want to focus on a foreground object, if you can illuminate it with a flashlight, the autofocus setting of the camera can adjust the lens to the right focus.  At that point you’ll want to put the camera back in manual focus mode without changing the focus, turn off the flashlight, and take your nighttime photo.