4 Lenses, 4 Weeks, 4 Trips: Lake McDonald



Tim Rains

Trip #4: LAKE MCDONALD
Lens #4: NIGHT SKY LENS

The night sky around Glacier National Park is phenomenal. When the sun goes down in late summer and early fall, the sky comes to life with billions of stars and the great glowing fabric of the Milky Way stretching out across the sky. On some nights you can see the green glow of the aurora off in the distance, and on a full moon, the mountain ranges shimmer eerily.

You’ll need a sweater, a fast lens, and a tripod. I use a Rokinon 2.8 14mm lens.

A couple of tips:

  • Bring a headlamp so you can see the settings on your camera.
  • To minimize motion blur for the long exposures, use a remote switch, or like I do, set your camera for a 10-second delay and then step away.
  • Bump your iso as high as your camera will allow. I use ISO 3200 as I can fix most of the noise in Photoshop.
  • To minimize star trails, shoot for 25-second long exposures and 2.8mm aperture.
  • Bring gloves and stay warm.

LAKE MCDONALD

There are two great places near the west entrance of the park. The Apgar Public Boat Dock near Apgar Village is great for observing the Northern Lights when they are out. There are great apps for your smartphone which will let you know the likelihood of a viewing. Look for a level 4 or 5 for the area, but be prepared. Anything is possible.

The early pullouts along the shoreline of the lake on the Going-To-The-Sun Road provide a relatively easy access to the lake shore away from the lights. During the right time of the year, you can observe the Milky Way hanging over the Flathead Valley. On a clear, calm night you can see the constellations reflected in the shallow pools on the lake’s edge. I usually wear my muck boots, because I can’t always easily see the water’s edge and it helps keep my toes dry.

GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD

On a full-moon night, the Loop halfway up the road is an excellent spot to photograph Heaven’s Peak, especially during the early parts of the summer when there is still snow on the summit. Farther up the road, stop at one of the many pullouts. If you know when the moonrise is, spend the time to get there before, and you will be treated to moon rays filtering through the clouds, fog, and peaks as it begins to illuminate the dark valleys below.

TRIP BONUS: NIGHT SKY PARTIES

Several times throughout the summer, the National Park Service hosts star parties at Logan Pass. Tickets are limited, so check with the rangers for times and reservations. Logan Pass is a favorite of many night-sky photographers, and the star parties are an excellent way to meet fellow photographers, learn about the night sky, and tips on other great spots to photograph.  

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About This Blog

An explorer, wanderer, photographer-artist, Tim Rains is a national park ranger seeking out connection and community to Montana’s wild places.  Come, explore with him as he discovers why Montana's glacier country is considered "the last best place." Follow Tim on Instagram @rangerrains or view more of his work at timrains.com

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