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Enter IDA’s ‘Capture the Dark’ Photography Contest

Enter IDA’s ‘Capture the Dark’ Photography Contest Image

A photographer captures the dark, Utah, May 2019. Photo: Bettymaya Foott

Nighttime photography plays an important role in the dark sky movement. A photograph of a naturally starry sky connects those who’ve never laid their eyes on the Milky Way to a universe hidden behind the veil of skyglow. It has the power to transport us, understand our place in the world, and inspire us to connect with, and ultimately protect, the night. 

In celebration of the night, IDA is hosting a Dark Sky ‘Capture the Dark’ Photography Contest during May 2020. The contest is free to enter, open to entrants around the world, and there are five categories for submission. Winning photos will be prominently featured on IDA social media accounts and included in our popular IDA Annual Calendar for 2021. Winners will also receive one year of IDA membership and an IDA merchandise package. 

Entry Period
Contest submission window opens on May 8th, 2020 at 12pm PDT and closes on May 25th, 2020 at 12pm PDT. To participate in the contest, please review details below and enter your submission here

One winner will be selected for each category. Limit one entry per category per person

  • Connecting to the Dark – Experiencing a natural night provides perspective, inspiration, and leads us to reflect on our humanity and place in the universe. Share a shot that illustrates our connection to the night. 
  • International Dark Sky Place – Over 130 protected lands and municipalities have been certified by IDA as an International Dark Sky Place creating havens for astrophotographers around the world. Share a shot taken in one of these locations.
  • The Impact of Light Pollution – Light pollution can have significant impacts on the environment, human health, and our access to the universe. Share a shot that demonstrates the impact of light pollution.
  • The Bright Side of Lighting – Light pollution can give lighting a bad rap. But lighting that follows IDA’s Principles for Responsible Outdoor Light can be beautiful, healthy, and functional. Share a shot of lighting that respects the dark. 
  • Youth – Entrant must be 17 years old or younger. Share a shot for any of the above categories. 

To judge submissions, IDA has coordinated a panel of astrophotographers from around the world:

Photos will be judged on technical skill (25%), composition (25%), connection to contest category (25%), and overall ‘wow’ factor (25%). 

Each judge will select their top three photos for each category and provide a score based on a rubric. IDA staff will then compile scores for each top photo and select the winning submission. If there is a tie in the highest scoring photo in one category, judges will be asked to vote again to determine one winner. 

Entrants will remain anonymous to the panel during the judging period. 

Contest Details 

  • No purchase necessary. Contest is free to enter. 
  • One entry per category per person.
  • The same photograph cannot be submitted to more than one category.
  • Submissions must be received between May 8th, 2020 at 12pm PDT and May 25th, 2020 at 12pm PDT using submission form. 
  • Be sure to fill in all required fields in the submission form. Failure to do so may result in disqualification.
  • Be sure that the link you provide to your photo is publically accessible (website, Drop Box, Google Drive, WeTransfer, etc). 
  • Photo must be in JPEG format. 
  • Entrants applying to the Youth category must be 17 years of age or younger at time of submission. 
  • Entrants must be the sole and exclusive author and owner of the photograph and have the full and exclusive right, power, and authority to submit the photograph to IDA’s Capture the Dark contest. 
  • In contest submission form, you can select whether or not you grant IDA permission to use your photo, with credit, in future publications or communications.
  • All photos should follow ethical dark sky photography practices and be taken legally (see below). 
  • In order to keep judging process blind, submitted photos cannot be watermarked or be otherwise marked.

Photo Entry Rules:
All photos should follow ethical dark sky photography practices. Images that inappropriately add artificial light at night (such as light painting, shining white light towards the sky, etc.) will not be considered. Before submitting a photo with added artificial light, consider IDA’s Principles for Responsible Outdoor Light

Images must be taken legally, adhering to local access regulations such as nighttime closures or restrictions. Do not go to closed areas to photograph for this contest. 

The following is adapted from Royce Bair’s Nightscaper group.

On the entry submission form, you must indicate how your photo was taken or created. Please identify which category your photo falls into. 

The following images are ALLOWED: 

Single exposure: The image is a single exposure. In expression: the camera triggered only once to acquire the image. The image is a single light frame. 

Blend: A digital combination of several images taken from the same tripod position, during the same night, with the same shooting direction and focal length.

This includes:

  • Foregrounds captured during the blue hour/with moonlight, combined with a sky captured during astronomical night/without the moon in the sky.
  • Focus stacks for an increased depth of field
  • Tracked skies, blended with untracked foregrounds. In this case, small movement of the tripod position (i.e. to the backside of a foreground feature, to avoid too much blur in the tracked sky image) is acceptable, but must be stated.

Stacked: Noise reduction by stacking multiple images taken in immediate succession and with exactly the same settings, focal point and length, field of view and tripod position.

Tracked: A tracking mount was used to capture the sky. These devices rotate the camera to counter earth rotation and thus allow longer exposures without producing trailed stars. Tracked & Blended images are allowed if they were both taken using the same tripod position as stated above. 

Panorama: Multiple images stitched to produce a larger field of view. The individual images must be taken during the same night, from the same tripod position and at the same focal length.

The following images are NOT ALLOWED: 


  • Images merged together from different tripod positions/locations or with different viewing directions
  • Images merged together taken during different nights
  • Images merged together with different focal lengths
  • Images merged together with daylight foregrounds and night skies

Submission Form
Ready to enter?


Questions about IDA’s ‘Capture the Dark’ Photography Contest? Please reach out to Diana del Solar ( Note, submissions will not be accepted by email. 


Looking for some astrophotography tips? We’ve got you covered! Check out this Astrophotography 101 YouTube video with Bettymaya Foott or check out her written guide.

Want to help spread the word about our contest? Check out our social media packet

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