Dark Sky Starscapes of Canterbury

Star photography in Canterbury - the best places to visit and get the most out of your camera when there

Some of the best views of the night sky can be made from the shore of Lake Tekapo at the centre of the 4400 sq. km Aoraki- Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Less than a few leisurely hours’ drive from Christchurch and on the way ‘through the middle’ to central Otago and Queenstown- it’s a very popular destination day or night and particularly for photographers. 

The secret is that there are other great locations around Canterbury for those interested in capturing Starscapes and occasionally the Aurora Australis makes an appearance.

The best times to get your shots are with clear skies during a New Moon or when the Moon is below the horizon. There are a number of apps available that gives you the info you need. What is wrong with the Moon you might ask? It’s too bright, outshining lesser stars or it can overexpose the image.

What equipment do you need to take a good starscape photo?

  • A good camera…a late model dSLR is the most commonly used type; they work better in the dark.
  • A sturdy tripod, cheaper models with thin legs may not keep your camera steady enough.
  • A cable release to trigger the shutter. You could also use the self-timer function to stop camera shake.
  • A quality lens- a wide angle lens is normally used with a wide aperture (a low f number e.g. f2.8 or f4)
  • A torch to navigate your way around in the dark

What gear do I use?

Nikon D800 camera body, Gitzo Tripod, Hahnel Giga T pro remote, Nikon Nikkor 14-24mm (f2.8) lens. I have a headlamp and a backup torch, fully charged batteries and spares (cool nights can reduce the battery charge)

What camera settings do I use?
A good start point is ISO 3200, f2.8 (or f4), 30secs and manually focus on ‘infinity’ and turning off any image stabilisation functions.
A high iso makes the camera sensor more sensitive in low light. The f2.8 aperture setting opens the lens diaphragm, letting the most light in and a 30 second exposure lets starlight to be captured but any longer the stars could ‘trail’ or form streaks.
Review your images as you go and make adjustments as necessary.

Where are my recommended locations around Canterbury?

  • Lake Tekapo- around the Church of the Good Shepherd or along the lake front
  • Lake Pukaki and around the Mackenzie basin heading south towards Twizel
  • The Hermitage at Aoraki/ Mount Cook
  • Lake Ellesmere, south of Christchurch
  • Castle Hill, west of Springfield
  • Along Summit Road on the Port Hills above Christchurch
  • Beaches north of Christchurch and south of Kaikoura

Yes that is pretty much everywhere in Canterbury, I hope you make the time to see the beauty both here and beyond.