Astrophotography, the Night Sky, and the Power of Light 


Before I spoke with trip facilitator and non-profit worker Bettymaya Foott, I had never heard of astrophotography. In fact, even now as I type it out, I find myself wondering whether or not it’s one word, two words, or requires a hyphen. According to spell check, it’s one word, which was quite honestly going to be my last guess. 


Despite my lack of knowledge, however, during our short but illuminating conversation, Bettymaya did a great job not only explaining the ins and outs of astrophotography but also made me desperately want to rent a nice camera and try it out for myself. 


Astrophotography, in her words, “incorporates the night sky with the landscape,” and being under said night sky is “the most peaceful, rejuvenating place to be. Under the sky with my camera—really makes my life better. It’s a perfect contemplative space. It’s spiritual.” 


What’s truly exciting about Bettymaya’s work as a nighttime photographer though, is that she’s sharing her expertise with all the trip attendees on a six-day river rafting trip through Desolation Canyon later this summer

You Just Need a Camera and a Tripod

Bettymaya, a Moab native, has been attending river trips with Holiday River Expeditions for years now, starting first as a night sky guide. On one faithful trip, she took some photos and showed them to fellow river guide and administrator for Holiday, Lauren Wood. “I took some pictures, and gave them to Lauren, who said ‘We should bring you on as a photographer’.” 


And thus, Bettymaya’s astrophotography trip was born. “This is the first time where the trip is focused on instruction. For people who want to learn how to do astrophotography, I will be available to do hands-on instruction. They just need a camera and a tripod… And maybe interchangeable lenses.” Bettymaya did stress, however, that she would help attendees make do with whatever equipment they were able to get their hands on. 


stargazing stacked reflectionWhen asked what she hoped attendees would get out of this trip, other than a memory card full of amazing photos, she told me she hopes to be able to share “how it makes me feel to be under the night sky… I hope to inspire other people to remember that nature exists in the dark too. Nature exists under the stars, and it’s a whole half of our world that we discount sometimes. Astrophotography is a way to reconnect people and community to our nighttime world, to inspire people to protect the night.” 


Protecting the Night

About halfway through our conversation, I learned that Bettymaya has “always worked in light pollution”. I had just finished reading a book that helped me better understand the dangers of light pollution myself, so I was very excited to hear about her work. 


Through both her photography and her work with DarkSky International, a non-profit she’s been affiliated with for six years, Bettymaya wants to help people be more conscientious about their lighting choices. “The great thing about light pollution,” she said, “is that the solutions are entirely scalable. You can work on the lighting in your own home, you can work on the lighting in your neighborhood, city, and statewide.” 


“Light is powerful,” she went on to say. “We don’t think about light as really powerful, but it is… Photography also taught me the power of light, one little light on the back of the camera can blow out your whole image.” 


Nighttime Photography — A Unique Experience Everyone Should Have 

As we were wrapping up, and I was asking Bettymaya more about the photos themselves, she commented on how a lot of nighttime sky photos look fake. I understood the point she was making, but it wasn’t until later on when I sat down to write this piece and I did a quick Google search myself, that it hit me. Many of the photos I saw were almost alien, they were so stunning. Then I thought about how cool it would be to take a picture like that with my own two hands, and capture a little slice of the night sky through my camera lens. 


“My favorite thing in the whole world is helping someone take an image of the Milky Way for the first time,” Bettymaya told me, and I could tell she meant it. “When you take a picture yourself, when you see the Milky Way on your camera screen, it’s a unique experience.”

If you want to have this amazing experience yourself, sign up for Bettymaya’s Desolation Canyon trip! And if you want to learn more about how you can personally cut down on light pollution, check out DarkSky’s guide to responsible lighting here!



Sawyer Smith WriterSawyer Smith is a Utah native currently residing in St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t working as a freelance writer or hiking through sections of the Mark Twain National Forest, she is planning trips in her head back to her beloved state to once again climb on the red rocks and ski down the snowy mountains.