What I Learned About Photography from a Day Trip to Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is known for its iconic J-trees, jumbo rocks, and starry nights. The great thing about Joshua Tree if you’re a SoCal native is that it is easily accessible with a car. It’s a great place for a weekend adventure, and this past weekend my friend Andrew and I spontaneously decided to drive there for astrophotography and a day of bouldering. This little adventure to Joshua Tree taught me a lot about photography, and now I’m lending these tips to you.

1. Use your phone as a remote clicker for long exposure shots.

For astrophotography, a remote clicker is absolutely necessary (well not really because you can set a self-timer). Either way, any kind of movement will blur and change your shot. The way to get around that is by using a tripod, and a remote clicker. Luckily you don’t have to go out to the store and spend money on a clicker because your camera may have capabilities that will let you shoot remotely with your cell phone. My Nikon D750 has wifi and uses the Nikon Mobile Utility App. This lets me time my shots and has bulb capabilities. Check your camera’s manual to see if you can connect it wirelessly to your cell phone.

J-Tree and the highway
This long exposure captured the shine of the stars along with the car lights from Park Boulevard.

2. Focus your camera on the stars before it gets dark

I made the mistake of forgetting to focus my camera during the day time. Initially, most of my photos captured a blurry night sky. I almost gave up hope, but I learned that I could blur out a subject, which would consequently sharpen my background. You can avoid this trial and error by focusing before the sun sets.


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Blurring the subject will sharpen the stars (you want this).

3. Artificial light can be your friend

Shooting astrophotography can potentially leave everything but the sky in a silhouette. You can use light from a lantern or your iPhone to bring some more color into your shot.

J-tree and a starry night
iPhone light shining on a J-tree + night sky

4. Play around with your ISO and shutter speed to get different colors in the sky

Something that may be fun to try out is playing with your camera settings (generally a shutter speed starting from 15 seconds onward and ISO from 1250 to 2000 is what I did). The results will vary. For me, I got different color hues. Each photo gives off its own unique feeling.


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Blue Sky

5. Use a pouch or backpack to protect your camera from dirt

Bouldering can be a great experience. It was my first time climbing, and the excitement made me forget my camera bag in my car. Don’t forget your camera bag in your car! Use a smaller camera pouch, so you don’t damage or dirty the sensitive technology in your camera. Remember memories are priceless and you want to capture those memories with quality photos. Don’t mess up that experience by ruining your camera.

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