Travel Destinations

Monday, April 25, 2016

Eastern California Astrophotography: Beautiful Bishop at Night

With so much light pollution in the sky, there aren’t many opportunities for astrophotography when traveling, especially when visiting cities.  When we decided to head out to Bishop in Eastern California this winter, we were excited by the idea of trying out some night photography since, as the city of Bishop is only one square mile, it is pretty easy to get away from the lights without having to travel very far.  During our explorations, we found some great places for astrophotography in Bishop.

For information about camera settings for astrophotography,

When we were driving to our hike in Pine Creek Crags, I spotted a scraggly, leafless tree on the side of Pine Creek Road that I thought would be the perfect foreground for astrophotography.  The Sierra Nevada mountain range was close by, which would allow us to start a little earlier as the mountain range from this position would block the bright light of the moon.  This spot is just west of Round Valley.

Another great photography spot we found was at the sharp curve in the road where North Round Valley Road turns into South Round Valley Road.  I wanted to get a shot with one of Bishop’s great old silos in the foreground.  

The vast open field to the south with the Sierra Nevada Mountains far in the background provided a beautiful night vista as well.

I had visions of a shot of the road leading straight into the snowy mountains.  We found that shot by heading out of town west along West Line Street towards the mountains.  When you get out far enough there is little chance of cars driving by at night, so you can even set up your tripod in the middle of the street.  Just make sure you have a lookout so you don’t get run over!  We found a great pullout right before Highway 168 begins to turn south and head into the mountains.  Since this area is a little higher in elevation, it also provides a view of the lights of Bishop below, but behind you so it doesn’t affect your night photography.

One of the best places near Bishop for unique astrophotography is Owen’s Valley Radio Observatory.  To get there, you have to drive south along Highway 395 to Big Pine, turn left onto Highway 168 and then left again after crossing the river.  There are a number of radio telescopes which provide a very science fiction aspect to night shots.  Here the road branches.  Most of the radio telescopes are reached via the left branch.  However, you have to pass through a gate that says authorized access only.  If you want to add the OVRO to your astrophotography sites in Bishop, email the Bishop Visitor Center at and they will alert the OVRO of your visit.  Also, note that using photos from the OVRO for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited.

The section of Highway 168 between Big Pine and the turn up to Owen’s Valley Radio Observatory also provides great astrophotography opportunities.  While we were driving along this stretch we saw others on the side of the road with their tripods that had the same idea as we.

We were able to get a faint hint of the tiny tail-end of the Milky Way in a few of our photographs, but since it was winter, that was the best we could get.  While we suggest traveling to Bishop in winter because it is less crowded and there is more snow on the mountains, which provides a great contrast to the stars in the sky, summer provides an opportunity for Milky Way photography in Bishop.

Sometimes, after a busy day of hiking and sightseeing, it’s hard to drag yourself out at night when there’s a nice warm bed waiting in your hotel room for you.  But when visiting Bishop, no matter the time of year, there are some fantastic spots for astrophotography in this eastern piece of California.

Thank you to the Bishop Chamber of Commerce for hosting our trip to Bishop and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are our own.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.