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Idaho After Dark

8 Quick Studies In Easy-Access, Dusk-To-Dawn Photography

Published in the August 2022 Issue Published online: Aug 04, 2022 Articles, Outdoors, Photography, East Idaho Outdoors Steve Smede
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IN THE MORE ABLE-BODIED CHAPTERS OF MY LIFE, I did my best to rise early on summer Saturday mornings and hit the trails to shoot pictures, or hoof it around the local golf courses, or maybe stomp along the streambanks in search of trout. Times have changed.

Over the past few years, a nagging disability has brought my footloose daytimeadventures to a standstill. I no longer hoof it. I no longer stomp along. But thanks in part to these limitations, I now shoot like I’ve never shot before. In fact, I’ve discovered a whole new world of possibilities to feed my life-long photography obsession, and much of what I now capture–nightscape photos and timelapse videos–can be done safely from inside (or at least within an arm’s reach) of my vehicle. On that note, please indulge me while I shamelessly show off some of my favorite cases in point.

Midnight at Massacre Rocks

When the great fireball of daytime ducks well below the horizon, it’s the stars’ turn to shine. The only spoilers are the moon and the lights of human civilization. This image had its share of each, but thanks to the accumulation of starlight (strung together in a composite image of 420 photographs), I was able to find a balanced exposure between the night sky and the landscape below it. I had a crescent moon at my back, but the main light source on the formation was courtesy of a southbound semi truck on Interstate-15.

Neowise Over Idaho Falls

Conventional wisdom dictates that if you want to photograph the night sky, you should head for the backcountry, far away from the light pollution of the city. I couldn’t agree more. But what if you want the city lights to be part of the story? In lieu of some exercise in dubious Photoshoppery, I was eager to see if I could catch the passing Neowise comet and the lights of my hometown in one image. The key element was lens selection. My 90mm tilt-shift lens naturally creates a vignette on whatever portion of the frame is “tilted out of focus.” What I ended up with was a balanced exposure and a scene that could be nicely anchored with the defocused city lights. Not the best comet pic out there, but pretty slick.

Anomaly on Ice

Winter log jams are not unusual where the river compresses south of the Broadway bridge, but some of the resulting formations can be interesting, especially at night. Stray light from the adjacent Japanese Friendship Garden created an otherworldly glow on the surrounding ice and snow.

Boo from the Birds

These flamingos were all but invisible to me as I hobbled past them en route to our I.F. Magazine booth at the annual Boo at the Zoo event in late October, 2019. At this point my mobility issues were well-established. To its credit, the zoo has no shortage of smooth walkways and handrails, which allowed me to safely steady myself, brace the camera and capture this scene. It is entirely lit by the decorative fixtures around the property.

Sun Pillar at Camas

Sometimes, as you scan the horizon between sunset and the fading light of dusk, you’ll witness an unusual atmospheric incident called a sun pillar, caused by the sunlight’s interaction with ice crystals. This scene is a handheld grab shot aimed at the sun setting behind the Lemhi mountains west of Camas National Wildlife Refuge.

Craters by Moonlight

I’ve always wanted to shoot a nice nightscape at Craters of the Moon National Monument. It’s one of the few designated International Dark Sky Parks on the planet, thanks in large part to management efforts and its isolated location out on the unpopulated lava fields 90 miles west of town. Just my luck, though, I went out there on a nice clear summer night, set up my camera, hit the shutter for a nice long 30-second exposure… and up pops the moon. Rather than pack up and call it a night, I made the most of it by shooting a few silhouettes of resident junipers and limber pines. This one, now on display at the Museum of Idaho’s Way Out West exhibit, is from about 1:30 a.m.

Polaris Meets Market Lake

Thanks to a nifty (and totally free) iPhone app called SkyView, I was able to dial in the location of the North Star, which is the axis point for our planet’s rotation (no offense to the flat earthers out there). The final image, captured this spring near Roberts at the Market Lake Wildlife Management Area, is the result of a 136-frame accumulation.

Easy Access at the Gates of Hell

Craters of the Moon is a two-hour jaunt from Idaho Falls, more or less. The designated dark skies of the Sawtooths are even further. But if you want some exceptional dark-sky opportunities just a stone’s throw from Idaho Falls, my No. 1 recommendation is actually the Hell’s Half Acre lava trail, less than 20 minutes west of town. It’s got decent parking,few crowds and, if you’re strategic in your setup, pretty clean horizons and foregrounds. This 10-second shot of the galactic band of the Milky Way is aimed southwest towards Blackfoot.

In all of photography, light is everything. We tend to think of nighttime as devoid of light, but in reality, light is its defining feature. Regardless of your skill level, equipment or level of mobility, the nightscapes of East Idaho are awaiting your discovery. Happy shooting!

Author’s Note: I consider some of the material in this piece to serve as a prelude to a related project now in the works. It’s about recreational access (not just for photography) around the region for people with disabilities. If you have a disability or mobility issue and would like to share your thoughts on this pursuit, please hit me up at


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