After each of the Jasper Dark Sky Festivals I've attended, I've always left with the same bit of excitement that made me love the festival the first time six years ago. I'd by lying if I said this year was no different.
I've been fortunate enough to have small parts here and there with the festival over the last few years. I previously set up a live stream that gave a real time view of the stars from one of my favorite events, Beyond the Stars at Lake Annette. I've even shared a bit of behind the scenes on the Tourism Jasper Instagram account as I made my way around the town and visited various talks and activities. 

This year was different. Leading up to the festival, I taught a 7 day (night!) workshop with good friend and previous Jasper resident, Jeff Bartlett. Our 7 participants had varying levels of experience out under the night sky and impressed me throughout the entire week. Each night, we ventured throughout the park and photographed a little of everything that Jasper has to offer. It was such a pleasure to get to teach them about photographing the night sky in one of my favorite places to be under the stars. 

7 nights of shooting the night sky accompanied by full class room edit sessions during the day certainly was exhausting to say the least. If I were to try and measure it, I would say it would be nearly 5 pounds of coffee tired.  I didn't drink all 5 pounds by myself, but I put a pretty solid dent in it. 

With a string of incredibly beautiful weather and clear skies, we were able to hit more locations than I've ever been to in a single trip to Jasper. Overall, I wasn't shooting much during the workshop including a few nights where my camera didn't leave the bag at all. As the week went on though, all of the participants started feeling more comfortable and I was able to line up beside them as we shot some of my favorite locations. This was actually the first time I've been to Jasper where I wasn't rushing to shoot as much timelapse as possible. It was a lot of fun to focus on shooting a couple still images a bit differently than I've approached it in the past and share the experience with our workshop participants. Excitement grew throughout the week as each night of shooting meant the festival events would be getting closer and closer.

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Festival in Full Swing - NASA's Mark and Scott Kelly & Beyond the Stars

As the workshop drew to a close on Friday, the festival events began to kick back in to swing. The Dark Sky Festival is normally broken in to two weekends with the first focusing a bit more on music and the second being full of space and science driven celebrities. In the past, some of the keynote speakers have included Colonel Chris Hadfield, Bill Nye (the Science Guy!), George Takei and many others. This year, NASA astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly shared their stories from the path to becoming part of an on-going study of twins by NASA. Their talk had moments of humor that was only outweighed by their message of teamwork and perseverance. Living up to the previous keynote talks is no easy task, but the Kelly brothers were certainly up to the task. If you're planning on visiting next years festival, definitely make sure to grab tickets for the keynote talk early as they tend to sell out.

In addition to the Kelly brothers, I was also really excited that one of my favorite events, Beyond the Stars and Lake Annette would be happening on both Friday and Saturday night! Upon arrival at Lake Annette, skywatchers are greeted by a beautiful display of dark sky inspired artwork. This artwork all leads the way to an open field with a number of different telescopes to check out different celestial objects. As you walk around Lake Annette, you can hear the excitement in everyone's voice. You can hear how excited everyone is about the night sky and just getting to share a bit of what they love with everyone else. It really makes this a special event and one of my favorites.

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Star Tales and Timelapses

This year, I was incredibly honored to be giving and our long lecture with Jeff Bartlett about our 5000k/m road trip photographing all six of the Alberta Dark Sky Preserves.  The lecture was held in the Chaba Theater and we given to a completely packed room! Through our hour long talk, we shared photos and stories from each park, joked about some of the mishaps, and spent a bit of extra time chatting about some of favorite nights in Jasper.  Over the last six years, the Dark Sky Festival has truly become my favorite event of each year. I start looking forward to it pretty much as soon as I leave. While I've been involved a bit in the past, this year was really special for me. Getting to share some of what I love about the festival and the night sky with other people and hopefully inspire them to spend some more time out under the stars really means a lot.

Because of our talk and our workshop, I ended up missing a few festival events but we were all wrapped up in time for the one of my favorite, newer additions to the lineup, SpaceTalks!         


I'm not sure if SpaceTalks is still considered a new event, so I guess we can call it "newer." While the small details and the participants have changed throughout the 3 years that SpaceTalks has been a part of the festival, the core details are the same. The panel consists of astronomers, astronauts, academics, astrophysicists...basically some of the most qualified and respected people you can find in the space and science field. Each panelists has a moment after they're introduced and then questions are given to the group both from the host and crowd.

This years panel might've been the best yet. 

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Hosting the panel was the wonderful Nadia Drake. Nadia has been a part of SpaceTalks in the past and hopefully will continue to be a part as it moves forward. The panelists this year included Emily Calendrelli, Leland Melvin, Scott Ransom, and Seth Shostak. The topics ranged from pulsars, aliens, space travel, getting more women involved in science, and a fun truth or lie game that wrapped things up. I honestly could write an entire post about how much I love SpaceTalks. I haven't been familiar with each panelists ahead of time, but I always walk away with someone whose work I can't wait to follow. 

One of my favorite takeaways from SpaceTalks this year was learning about Emily Calendrelli's book series Ada Lace. It's a children's book series staring an 8th grader that is ready to use her science and math skills to solve mysteries. Thankfully, I don't think my niece and nephews read my blog posts or else their upcoming gifts might be spoiled! 

Bringing the Festival to a Close

After SpaceTalks, Jeff and I swung by Jasper Brewing Co to meet up with some other photographers and writers for a nice sit down dinner. We chatted a bit about our plans for the rest of the our time in in town and generally agreed we were all pretty exhausted. Night two of the Beyond The Stars event would start in a few hours and there was also a Space Trivia event at that legion starting a bit later.  

The Moon was setting a bit later, but Jeff and I had a few spots we wanted to try and get some photos of still. Since we were at Lake Annette the night before we decided to join some friends from Tourism Jasper at the Legion and try out hand at some space trivia! Unfortunately for us, most of the panel from SpaceTalks was also there. As you might've guessed, they were the clear winners of trivia night. The first place prizes were graciously given to the runner-ups.

Keeping with the theme for the week, Jeff and I made some coffee and made out way back out to shoot. I was pretty excited to finally get a shot I was chasing at Horseshoe Lake on this trip. It's been nearly 2 years that I've been hoping to get this shot, so it was felt really good to have it come together.

I feel like I find myself saying this every year, but I think this was my favorite Dark Sky Festival to date. Seeing the festival grow from year to year and being able to be so involved really means a lot to me. Getting to share the excitement I've had about the festival with people coming for the first time and friends returning to enjoy another year is something I'm truly thankful for.

Thanks to Jeff Bartlett for all the effort put in to our workshop and lecture. Thank you to all of the awesome workshop participants we had! I hope to see each of you back at the festival next year! Thank you to all to everyone that came to our lecture at the Chaba Theater. 

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the Tourism Jasper team for all their work and for having me back. 

I'll be sharing a closer look at my image from Pyramid Lake and some of the behind the scenes thought process during shooting and editing soon! Keep an eye out for that! 

Horseshoe Lake
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