This is why your night sky photography sucked last night

Aug 17, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This is why your night sky photography sucked last night

Aug 17, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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astrophotography

It’s why mine always suck, too. Light pollution. It’s hard to escape it these days. It’s the thing that puts many budding astrophotographers off before they’ve really  even got started. This video from Sriram Murali puts things into context.

Filmed mostly in California, this short shows how the night sky changes as you get further from the city lights. Sriram uses the Bortle Scale, which ranks skies from 1-9 in order of darkness. 1 is the deepest darkest sky, while 9 is the inner city sky.

The video was shot with a pair of Canon 6D DSLRs with Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 and 14mm f/2.8 lenses. It’s a fascinating look at exactly how light pollution affects our night shots.

For new astrophotographers, the disappointment of shooting with a bright sky can often put them off for good. They do some reading online, watch a few instructional videos, head to the local park and give it a try. When they get home and check out the images on the big screen, they don’t see what they had hoped for.

light_pollution_level_8

Light pollution is the biggest enemy of night sky photographers, but getting to the middle of nowhere in the dark can be a daunting task. Some new astrophotographers haven’t yet learned about light pollution and that they need a super dark sky. Others just don’t want to have to fumble around in the dark in unknown remote locations. But, perhaps they simply don’t have easy access to them.

If you can find a way to make it happen, though, the results are definitely worth it.

light_pollution_level_1

It’s not always easy to know where to go to minimise light pollution. I’ve been to many places with my camera that I thought would be dark but weren’t. Likewise, I’ve been to many places I didn’t expect to be dark, wishing I’d brought my tripod.

Thankfully, there are one or two services online that show light pollution maps to help us plan our journeys. Even Google Earth apparently has a night sky feature.

Most of us live under heavily light polluted skies and some have never even seen the Milky Way. We take the skies for granted and are rather lost in our busy lives without much care for the view of the stars.

– Sriram Murali

So, tonight, find somewhere with a dark sky. It’s the single biggest improvement you can make to your astrophotography. And don’t forget your tripod!

What are some of your favourite dark sky locations around the world for astrophotography? Have you gone to remote locations and randomly stumbled across other night sky photographers who had the same idea? What apps or research do you do to find locations at which to shoot? Let us know in the comments.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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3 responses to “This is why your night sky photography sucked last night”

  1. Jan Leah Avatar
    Jan Leah

    We have an amateur photography club here in Winnipeg. You must see pictures that one of our members takes of night skies. They are so incredible, they will make you cry.
    https://www.facebook.com/EFillionphotos

  2. Jan Leah Avatar
    Jan Leah

    We have an amateur photography club here in Winnipeg. You must see pictures that one of our members takes of night skies. They are so incredible, they will make you cry.
    https://www.facebook.com/EFillionphotos

  3. elohiym Avatar
    elohiym

    You can use a Hoya Red filter to cut down on the light pollution. I discovered it over on lonelyspeck.com. They are hard to find and not very cheap but I can tell you they work great.