Virginia’s Eastern Shore has gorgeous sunrises, unreal sunsets, and the clearest night skies, perfect for landscaping photography or as the background to a photoshoot. In addition to the gorgeous nature, there are some unique places on the Shore where the nature and whimsicality of the area create a scene you’ve never seen on your Instagram feed. If you love taking photos on family vacations of your friends and family, capturing the light off the waves of the sea, setting up the perfect long exposure shot to see all of the stars in the sky, or just want to snap a quick iPhone picture of today’s sunset color scheme on the Chesapeake Bay, this blog is for you.
Picture this: It’s 5am. You and your friends have packed up the car with blankets, granola bars, hot coffee, and your phones. Heading down the road, you make it to Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve for a hike through the woods down to the water. When you get there, you snuggle up with your friends, drink coffee, and watch the sunrise above the Atlantic.
Sunrise is a magical time of the day. Watching the world around suddenly fill with light as that giant ball of fire makes it’s way over the horizon gives you a chance to be present first thing in the morning. Why not grab a picture of your friends all snuggled up watching the sunrise? We promise you it’s a memory you’ll cherish forever.
Okay, we know every place on earth thinks they have the best sunsets, but have you seen an Eastern Shore sunset? They are remarkable! You can be relaxing at the beach all day and watch it settle behind the Concrete Ships at Kiptopeke State Park or you can be setting sail on a sunset cruise from Onancock Wharf, watching the creek turn pink, purple, and orange as you glide past. It’s what makes Shore summers so magical and Shore winters worth the 6pm darkness.
If you’re planning to set up the tripod and the fancy camera to capture the sunset, we recommend bug spray, sunscreen, and a flashlight. If you want to get out on the water for your photo, book a kayaking trip or a boat ride with a local guide. You’ll get the immersive experience of watching the sun go down over they bay while simultaneously being on the water.
Dark Sky Spots
Now, for those who are not serious photographers, your iPhone probably won’t be able to catch all of the stars in the sky, however your eyes will. We recommend checking out the spots listed in this trail for stargazing or professional photographers.
For this section, we reached out to local photographer Jim Baugh for his advice on capturing the stars in the sky on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. You can check out his Astrophotography prints at At Altitude Gallery in Cape Charles or watching his film, “The Milky Way Galaxy, Our Home,” here.
Jim Baugh’s Take: If you want to go stargazing there are two things you want to avoid, light pollution and overcast skies. The cure for both usually means driving long distances to find clearer and darker skies. Fortunately, the Eastern Shore of Virginia is located centrally in the Mid Atlantic. The ocean or “seaside” is very unique for stargazing because there is very little light pollution coming from the small towns on the Eastern Shore, and no light pollution over the Atlantic Ocean.
The further North you drive along Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the darker the skies will be. This is due to the fact that by traveling North one is further distancing themselves from the light pollution of Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads Area.
A good place to start your stargazing adventure is a place called Red Bank. This is actually a state boat ramp on the seaside and has plenty of room for parking. This area is surrounded by marsh and faces the Atlantic Ocean with a barrier island to the East. This is a fantastic area to see the Milky Way from April through June.
Probably my favorite place on the Eastern Shore for nightscape photography is Wachapreague. A quaint and beautiful historic fishing town that has some of the darkest skies on the East Coast. There is a wonderful place to stay called the Wachapreague Inn, and the Island House restaurant is a must-visit while stargazing.
My favorite place to shoot is four miles North to a short road call Sea Gull Lane. This road dead ends at a small beach on the ocean front. It is here where you will want to set up your camera for an excellent view of the Milky Way. This is a bortle class 1 sky. It is so dark there that I filmed Saturn’s shadow on Cedar Island which is right across from this little beach.
A great thing about these locations is they are open to the public and no hiking is required. You can just get out of the car and start stargazing. This is true for most stops along Seaside Road all up and down the Eastern Shore. Just keep in mind it is best to stargaze outside of any of the small towns to get away from street lights.
If you are new to stargazing and not that familiar with the Shore, a big tip if your coming in late May or June is to be armed with bug repellent. A good spray is fine that you can coat your clothes with but you will also want to bring a fogger for back up. Once you get to your location if the insects are out big time just set off a fogger where your camera will be and that will really help out a lot. It is a decent idea to wear gym pants and keep as much of your body covered as possible. I have been filming astrophotography many times on the Shore and have not had many issues. However, if it is the right time of year and there is no wind, the flies can ruin an otherwise beautiful night.
Planning for your stargazing trip is essential. First off, if you love to gaze at the Milky Way, I recommend visiting the Shore between April and June. The Milky Way will be very visible in the night sky. By July, the Milky Way is further south over the light pollution of Virginia Beach. The only times you can see the Milky Way in March is between 3-4am.
Once you know what month you can come to the Shore, then you will need to look at a moon chart to see what day the new moon is. One can view the stars the best up to three days prior, during, or after a new moon. If the moon is full, forget about it. Always plan your stargazing adventure around the new moon phase. If you plan a trip to Red Bank and Wachapreague in May or June and do so during the new moon phase, you will be absolutely amazed at what you will see. Plan now!
As far as photographing the Milky Way, remember we are talking about long exposure photography here. Get to know your camera well in manual mode and be very familiar with how to adjust shutter speed and ISO. Generally the 500 rule applies, but experiment with your camera to get the best results.
I film with, a Canon 200D with a Tokina 11-16, F2,8 lens and an ISO set to 100 on a tracking mount and usually take 5-10 minute exposures. Without the tracker filming single exposures, I shoot at 15 seconds and an ISO of 1600. For your lens, you want a wide an aperture and use it at its widest setting. These are considered “fast” lenses. These lenses simply let more light into the camera which is what one wants for astrophotography. Don’t forget, you’ll need a tripod!
One other thing to plan for is the weather. Overcast skies will do you no good on an evening of stargazing so check the local weather of where you will be traveling to. Here is a link I use to plan for Astro shoots. Also be sure to look at the wind information on the weather site, if it is blowing 20 knots or more you will get camera shake.