Stunning photos of the night sky remind us why we need to protect it.

The night is beautiful, mysterious, and vital to life on Earth. And night photography has the power to transport us, help us understand our place in the world, and inspire us to connect with, and ultimately protect, the night.

This year, the International Dark-sky Association (IDA) held its first-annual photography competition to capture the meaning of the night for people around the world. Participants were invited to submit images to five categories; Connecting to the Dark, International Dark Sky Places, Impact of Light Pollution, Bright Side of Lighting, and Youth. The 2020 winners of the IDA Capture the Dark Contest are:

First Place

Mihail Minkov, “Star Catcher” | Connecting to the Dark

Jean-Francois Graffand, “Dark Night in Pyrénées Mountains” | International Dark Sky Places

Petr Horálek, “Remembering The Old Times” | Impact of Light Pollution

Jean-Francois Graffand, “The Celestial River” | Bright Side of Lighting

Nayana Rajesh, “The Barn” | Youth

About the Winning Photographs

“Star Catcher” is captured at night with a young girl in the foreground. She is holding an illuminated net, and appears to be ready to catch a bright object in the sky. Photographer Mihail Minkov told IDA, “I have a 4 year old daughter. She is fascinated by the planets, stars and the Milky Way. So I decided to make her part of the process and try to show her what it’s like to be out under the dark sky, and see the beauty of the night sky. I hope that one day, she will remember that and this memory will make her care for the planet and the night sky.”

“Dark Night in Pyrénées Mountains” by Jean-Francois Graffand features a flowing river in the foreground aligned with the “river of the sky,” the Milky Way. The image was captured inside the Pic du Midi Dark Sky Reserve during a summer night. “At 1,400 meters of altitude, the mountain torrent descends the valley where absolutely no source of light is visible at night, and protected from the light pollution far in the valley. From here we can still enjoy the beauty of a pure night sky where the Milky Way center literally shines to the naked eye,” Graffand told the IDA.

“Remembering the Old Times” by Petr Horálek is a panoramic view of the Great Wall of China seen at night. Light pollution from nearby cities spans the horizon and spills into the night sky. Only a hint of stars can be seen in the image. “Stargazing at one of the most legendary ancient human creations, the Chinese Great Wall, makes you deeply think,” Horálek told the IDA. “A piece of deepest history meets current civilization, unfortunately producing light pollution. Think about how wonderful skies could have been for the ancient Chinese while walking the wall. Think about how deeply they respected the nature around. But nowadays it is far gone. And just up above, distant stars, living much longer than the whole civilization, are not even considered as part of our environment.”

A second winning photograph taken from Pic du Midi Dark Sky Reserve by Graffand, “The Celestial River” demonstrates how lighting can be beautiful, functional, and used responsibly. The foreground shows a cascading water feature and a building with its interior warmly lit in the background. The light from the building does not wash out any of the full arch of the Milky Way above the landscape.

Nayana Rajesh’s “The Barn” is the winning image from the Youth category. The image features a field of colorfully blooming bluebonnets under the starry night sky and the Milky Way. “One of my favorite things about living in Texas is the blooming of the bluebonnets each year. I went out to Ennis, Texas to shoot the bluebonnets under the stars at a ranch,” Nayana told the IDA. “It’s important to me to always be learning something new every time I shoot, so I spent the night learning how to focus stack manually and think through different compositions.”

Second and third place winners were also announced. See more photos and learn more about the contest and the winners here.

About IDA

The International Dark-Sky Association is an international nonprofit organization that protects the night from light pollution. Our vision is that the night, filled with stars, is celebrated and protected around the world as a shared heritage for all living things. Learn more about the IDA — and how to join — here.


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